Jeroboam Part 2: The Rise of Jeroboam

The proper context is now laid for why Solomon had the kingdom rent away. Jeroboam’s origins become important, mostly detailed in 1 Kings 11-12 and 2 Chronicles 10. Solomon and Judah’s corruption is manifest to all, and as a consequence God raises up adversaries to the one who had been visited by God, given tremendous wisdom, power, and wealth, and had been promised peace and safety so long as he obeyed the commands of God.

Jeroboam, a high placed official in Solomon’s government (1 Kings 11:28 describes him as “over all the forced labor of the House of Joseph”, which was the preeminent tribe of the northern tribes), is met by Ahijah the Shilonite, a prophet, and told that God is going to tear the kingdom from Solomon and give Jeroboam ten of the tribes. The reason the prophet gives is because the Kingdom of Judah had forsaken God and worshiped Ashtoreth, goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom god of the Ammonites. Jeroboam is told that yet one tribe would remain in David’s camp.

Next, Jeroboam is given orders: He will be allowed to rule as long as he heeds the commands of God and walks in his ways as David did, and he would have his own house as was built for David. The prophet indicates that this will be the tool of afflicting the offspring of David for a time. Jeroboam is never told that anything he has done has merited this, or that he is to lead a new religious movement, or to set up any new religious institutions. All which follows in that area is of his own doing.

Solomon is no fool and determines that Jeroboam is a threat – Jeroboam apparently made it clear that Solomon’s choice to rebuild “The Millo” is repugnant to him, so Solomon attempts to kill him. Jeroboam flees to Egypt and is there until Solomon dies.

Jeroboam was originally recognized as skilled and intelligent by Solomon and made foreman of the workers of “the house of Joseph.” He apparently resented the use of workers to rebuild the Millo and the city of David if only because the conditions of the laborers and their burdens were not lightened at the request of the people.

***

Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk from the backwaters of Germany who is one of the most famous figures in Christendom. Although his parents desired he go into law, Luther had an intense spiritual experience that spurred him to go into the priesthood and eventually the rigorous Augustinian order. He serves for some time as a priest, and in 1511 makes a pilgrimage of Rome as a part of Augustinian duties. He never recovers from the disappointment and loathing he felt in seeing the irreverence for Christ and his liturgy, the decadent lifestyle of the inhabitants, and the rank superstitions he witnessed there.

As just about everyone in the western world knows, it was Luther who set off the spark that would set Europe on fire in religious terms. It is important to note, however, that Luther was not excommunicated and branded a heretic because of all of his teachings – the primary issue at stake, which is why Luther’s theses and writings created such a stir, is because he directly targeted the authority of Rome and of Bishops. His writings on faith were nuanced in ways at variance with Catholic teaching, but those alone would not have caused the same stir without the rest of the 41 specifically iterated falsehoods Exsurge Domine lays out as the errors of Luther and his followers.

A question at stake was this: could Rome impose orthodoxy from afar, or would local authorities determine religious adherence in their areas? In the past, Rome had been able to do so. Under the political circumstances of the day, Rome proved unable to do so. The corruption of the church hierarchy perceived by many of the people – although it is worth a caveat that there is also much evidence of sincere, deep Catholic piety and contentment with their regional priests and religious authorities in many regions – combined with the relatively weak, slow response to Luther by church authorities, and that only in Latin, led to Luther’s success. After Luther broke through the dam, a great volume of water in the form of regional Protestant movements came forth. Luther creates an entirely new mass, disparages the papacy as the “seat of Antichrist”, and under the patronage of rulers establishes his Lutheran Church.

However, Lutheran penetration in Europe is relatively limited. It was the proto-Lutheran movements that really took over after his initial success. Zwingli, another Protestant leader, has some varying viewpoints and leads what can be loosely called a Lutheran variant in Switzerland. John Calvin arises and has one of the most (if not the most) rigorously intellectual approach to Protestantism that would ever exist. Luther’s success, directly or indirectly, is the predecessor to tens and hundreds of variants of antipapal, regional Christianities. It is not unfair, given the statements of the Anglican Cranmer, Calvin, Luther himself and many others, that a significant majority of the Protestant movements up to the 1700/1800s considered the seat of the Pope, if not the Pope himself, as the Antichrist, and this formed the justification for their return to the basic elements of the scriptures as they saw them and as they determined the canon for belief.

***

After Solomon’s death, Israel splits into the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel/Joseph (composed of 10 tribes) because of Rehoboam’s refusal to lighten the burdens of the workers. I’ve suggested before that the workers were probably not part of Solomon’s family or only minimally composed of the tribe of Judah. This is representative of the elitism and entitlement that had grown in his regime and carried on through Rehoboam and among Rehoboam’s inner circle.

In response to Jeroboam’s secession, Rehoboam musters the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to fight the other 10 tribes (which is broken up by another prophet in 1 Kings 12). Benjamin appears to be the wildcard (10 tribes to Jeroboam, 1 tribe to David, 1 tribe leftover and unmentioned), as it is written that Rehoboam ruled Judah and Benjamin. This probably meant that he ruled those geographic areas, not necessarily that Benjamin was 100% loyal to him.

After Rehoboam’s troops turn away from going to war with Israel, Jeroboam takes counsel and decides to build two golden calves; one in Dan, and one in Bethel. The reason he did this is because he knew the people would have to fulfill obligations to God in Jerusalem at the temple (in Judah), and he believed this would cause him to lose his throne:

[1Ki 12:26-28 ESV] 26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. 27 If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” 28 So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

Jeroboam also appoints his own priesthood out of the people who weren’t Levites (1 Kings 12:31) and invents a feast day (1 Kings 12:32) to replace the feast days the people had known by declaring one on the fifteenth day of the eighth month (a month after the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem). Jeroboam sets up an altar in Bethel and goes to make sacrifices there on his invented feast day, with him officiating in a pseudo high priest role.

The impact to the spiritual life of the Northern Kingdom is substantial. They become extremely vulnerable to the various religions around them because Jeroboam cut their roots and only retained a semblance of the religion of his fathers which was given to Israel during and after the Exodus. Jeroboam’s lack of perceived legitimacy leads his son to be completely overthrown within a few years and his entire house killed. David and Solomon’s lineage was retained in part by Israel’s common history and its roots in the promised land and Jerusalem, but Jeroboam had opened a door that would not truly close for the rest of the Kingdom’s existence. Power and politics became the way the throne was acquired without the natural legitimacy of David’s lineage. Jeroboam led the ten tribes of the Kingdom of Israel into uncharted territory by cutting those roots and attempting to create his own. For the most part, it was a disaster for Israel.

However, it is important to distinguish the portions of Jeroboam’s revolt which were apparently guided by God as a punishment to the offspring of David:

[1Ki 11:29-31, 35, 37-39 ESV] 29 And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had dressed himself in a new garment, and the two of them were alone in the open country. 30 Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes … 35 But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and will give it to you, ten tribes. … 37 And I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires, and you shall be king over Israel. 38 And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39 And I will afflict the offspring of David because of this, but not forever.‘”

The two most important components here are 1) the fact that Jeroboam’s reign was conditional on how he mirrored David’s adherence to the commands of God; and 2) there was some kind of a time parameter set upon this arrangement of “affliction of David’s offspring.”

Jeroboam was told directly that God was causing this split to punish sins committed by Solomon and his regime (v. 33, mentioning Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Milcom, is too explicit to be targeting anyone else) and God indicated nothing about replacing or superseding Judah or the house of David. Those entities retained their legitimacy. Jeroboam’s innovations to defy that legitimacy were therefore the sin – “The Sins of Jeroboam” which echo through the narratives of the book of Kings and of Chronicles, and aborted his dynasty, plaguing Israel (and to some degree, Judah) until it was destroyed.

***

Why did Jeroboam rebel? The scripture is coy with its description:

[1Ki 11:27 ESV] 27 And this was the reason why he lifted up his hand against the king. Solomon built the Millo, and closed up the breach of the city of David his father.

We are not given a tremendous amount of detail, but it is fascinating that the stated point of contention between Jeroboam and Solomon was a construction project at the religious capital of Israel.

A large minority of Martin Luther’s theses were about indulgences and their use in funding building projects. Luther argued in one of his 95 theses:

“Why does not the pope build St. Peter’s Minster [cathedral] with his own money — since his riches are now more ample than those of Crassus — rather than with the money of poor Christians?” (Theses 86)

Luther is a massive figure, as virtually every Christian denomination other than Catholicism sprung from some variant or other of his initial movement. He is a very controversial figure, with many sides presenting piles of information supporting their judgment of him. Luther wrote such a high volume of information that his humanity and the passage of time must be kept in perspective, as well as his various audiences and contexts.

The environment Jeroboam arrived at was of a likely relatively complacent or corrupt priesthood which enjoyed the wealth of the nation under Solomon’s hegemony. It is likely Solomon was the unquestioned, dominant ruler who had total authority of the nation and the prosperity that abounded reinforced that status. The creation of a slave underclass that did his construction projects likely bubbled with dissent underneath, coupled with the many other ways he violated kingly laws and norms. Jeroboam would have had an infinite number of arguments to pose to important leaders and to the rest of the tribes about how corrupt Jerusalem and Judah were, and that a new order needed to be established based on true worship, not the perceived greed and self-serving elite in Jerusalem.

Solomon went as far as to build idols to other gods on a mountain near Jerusalem specifically for his wives – those faithful Israelites who knew the commandments must have been aghast at such an abomination.

Likewise, the immense riches and political power passing through the hands of many churchmen, clergy, and powerful political figures of Rome inspired the perception of a distant elite. It is important to clarify that modern scholarship is more moderate than the two common extremes of perception in the state of the church and faith at the time of Luther. The notion that the Catholic church of the time was relentlessly, wholly decadent and the people were desperate for reform is one extreme which isn’t fully supported by the facts. Devotion and piety were high given evidence of the frequency of pilgrimages, devotions, and examples of the people of a city banding together to pay for very good priest/preachers. Not in all places, of course – there was a general German distrust of Italian influence in a nationalistic sense, and the creep of overt sexual immorality and secular political influence in the highest levels of church authority shaded the perceptions of many and depleted its moral authority.

It can be argued, as it can in the case of Jeroboam’s revolt (a labor agreement and the authority of the Throne of David), that the Reformation was more of a specific squabble (The issue of indulgences and the authority of the Throne of Peter), that exploded into the rest of Europe than something that was inevitable or obvious given the state of things. There were plenty of corruptions in the church and reforms that needed to occur, but Luther took stances that were rather radical (stances many modern Protestants reject), and put him in the position of being the magisterium (in other words, the source of authentic and authoritative teaching). Luther decided to take a stand on authority he believed he had because he was right, and would only accept argument on the basis of scripture, not authority, and required his own consent to be proven wrong. Interestingly, he frequently insulted in the most ruthless terms those reformers who took the same approach with him. Luther considered himself as having a unique calling, but rejected the notion of others having the same.

Alec Ryrie writes in “Protestants,”:

“…How was this reformation actually to be implemented? By the time Luther himself finally abandoned his monk’s guise, sealed his departure from the vowed life by marrying a former nun, and promulgated a German order for the mass, he was scrambling to catch up with a splintering, restless, hydra-headed movement that offered 100 different local reformations in the name of the same gospel.”

Jeroboam’s movement spawned many regional variations of the high place he created. This leads to a tendency to syncretism with surrounding nations in Jeroboam’s kingdom since cultural influences would inevitably infect religious matters, and Israel devolved so far into Ahab and Jezebel’s worship of Baal that Israel never fully recovered, despite the miraculous efforts of Elijah and Elisha.

As Jeroboam had to completely alter religious practices and authority structures, Luther had to reformulate the Catholic Mass, rules for church leadership, and determine the general structure by which his new movement would persist to prevent people from returning to Catholicism.

Immediately following Luther and even during his lifetime, Protestantism became many splinter groups that all claimed the authority to determine the order or worship and answer questions of belief. Many devoted men who were very effective in spreading the gospel came through these denominations, so this isn’t meant to disparage Protestantism, but to recognize its history and regional character. Some of these factions which still remain held to historically Christian, time-tested concepts regarding the nature of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the essential elements of salvation (with obvious exception to institutionally Catholic-centric portions of the concept of salvation).

Jeroboam’s changes to the nation created a split that did not allow for continuance of the same religious worldview. By their very adherence to their denomination and particular views, Protestants reject the authority of the Pope. Likewise, by accepting the authority of the King of Israel and whichever regional priest they appointed, Israelities necessarily rejected the authority of the Son of David and the Levitical priesthood in Jerusalem. There are writings (such as the book of Tobias) that imply some Israelites still went to Jerusalem at times for worship and still may have honored the throne of David.

Jeroboam eventually expels Levites from his Kingdom entirely:

[2Ch 11:5, 12-16 ESV] 5 Rehoboam lived in Jerusalem, and he built cities for defense in Judah. … 12 And he put shields and spears in all the cities and made them very strong. So he held Judah and Benjamin. 13 And the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel presented themselves to him from all places where they lived. 14 For the Levites left their common lands and their holdings and came to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons cast them out from serving as priests of the LORD, 15 and he appointed his own priests for the high places and for the goat idols and for the calves that he had made. 16 And those who had set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the LORD, the God of their fathers.

Jeroboam’s upheaval of religious institution among the 10 tribes ensured a mostly permanent split (save a few specific acts, such as Hezekiah’s Passover in 2 Chronicles 30) and set the stage for what would happen to his kingdom in time. Jeroboam’s institutional heritage hit its ceiling very quickly; his successor was killed immediately after Jeroboam’s death and another family assumed the throne thereafter.

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