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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

1 Kings 12

 

 

Verses 1-5

A NEW REIGN

1 Kings 12:1-5

"A foolish son is the calamity of his father."

- Proverbs 19:13.

"He left behind him Roboam, even the foolishness of the people, and one that had no understanding."

- Sirach 47:23.

REHOBOAM, who was Solomon’s only son, succeeded in Jerusalem without opposition, B.C. 937. But the northern tribes were in no mood to regard as final the prerogative acceptance of the son of Solomon by the rival tribe of Judah. David had won them by his vivid personality; Solomon had dazzled them by his royal magnificence. It did not follow that they were blindly to accept a king who emerged for the first time from the shadow of the harem, and was the son of an Ammonitess, who worshipped Chemosh. Instead of going to Rehoboam at Jerusalem as the tribes had gone to David at Hebron, they summoned an assembly at their ancient city of Shechem, on the site of the modern Nablus, between Mount Ebal and Gerizim. In this fortress-sanctuary they determined, as "men of Israel," to bring their grievances under the notice of the new sovereign before they formally ratified his succession. According to one view they summoned Jeroboam, who had already returned to Zeredah, to be their spokesman. When the assembly met they told the king that they would accept him if he would lighten their grievous service which his father had put upon them. Rehoboam, taken by surprise, said that they should receive his answer in "three days." In the interval he consulted the aged counselors of his father. Their answer was astute in its insight into human nature. It resembled the "long promises, short performance" which Guido da Montefeltro recommended to Pope Boniface VIII in the case of the town-of Penestrino. They well understood the maxim of "omnia serviliter pro imperio," which has paved the way to power of many a usurper front Otho to Bolingbroke. "Give the people a civil answer," they said; "tell them that you are their servant. Content with this they will be scattered to their homes, and you will bind them to your yoke forever." In an answer so deceptive, but so immoral, the corrupting influence of the Solomonian autocracy is as conspicuous as in that of the malapert youths who make their appeal to the king’s conceit.

"Who knoweth whether his son will be a wise man or a fool?" asks Solomon in the Book of Proverbs. Apparently he had done little or nothing to save his only son from being the latter. Despots in polygamous households, whether in Palestine or Zululand, live in perpetual dread of their own sons, and generally keep them in absolute subordination. If Rehoboam had received the least political training, or had been possessed of the smallest common sense, he would have been able to read the signs of the times sufficiently well to know that everything might be lost by blustering arrogance, and everything gained by temporizing plausibility. Had Rehoboam been a man like David, or even like Saul in his better day, he might have grappled to himself the affections of his people as with hooks of steel by seizing the opportunity of abating their burdens, and offering them a sincere assurance that he would study their peace and welfare above all. Had he been a man of ordinary intelligence, he would have seen that the present was not the moment to exacerbate a discontent which was already dangerous. But the worldly-wise counsel of the elders of Solomon was utterly distasteful to a man who, after long insignificance, had just begun to feel the vertigo of autocracy. His sense of his right was strong in exact proportion to his own worthlessness. He turned to the young men who had grown up with him, and who stood before him-the jeunesse doree of a luxurious and hypocritical epoch, the aristocratic idlers in whom the insolent self-indulgence of an enervated society had expelled the old spirit of simple faithfulness. Their answer was the sort of answer which Buckingham and Sedley might have suggested to Charles II in face of the demands of the Puritans; and it was founded on notions of inherent prerogative, and "the right Divine of kings to govern wrong," such as the Bishops might have instilled into James I at the Hampton Court Conference, or Archbishop Laud into Charles I in the days of "Thorough."

"Threaten this insolent canaille," they said, "with your royal severity. Tell them that you do not intend to give up your sacred right to enforced labor, such as your brother of Egypt has always enjoyed. Tell them that your little finger shall be thicker than your father’s loins, and that instead of his whips you will chastise them with leaded thongs. That is the way to show yourself every inch a king."

The insensate advice of these youths proved itself attractive to the empty and infatuated prince. He accepted it in the dementation which is a presage of ruin; for, as the pious historian says, "the cause was from the Lord."

The announcement of this incredibly foolish reply woke in the men of Israel an answering shout of rebellion. In the rhythmic war-cry of Sheba, the son of Bichri, which had become proverbial, {2 Samuel 20:1} they cried:-

"What portion have we in David? Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse, To your tents, O Israel: Now see to thine own house, David!"

Unable to appease the wild tumult, Rehoboam again showed his want of sense by sending an officer to the people whose position and personality were most sure to be offensive to them. He sent "Adoram, who was over the tribute"-the man who stood, before the Ephraimites especially, as the representative of everything in monarchical government which was to them most entirely odious. Josephus says that he hoped to mollify the indignant people. But it was too late. They stoned the aged Al-ham-Mas with stones that he died; and when the foolish king witnessed or heard of the fate of a man who had grown grey as the chief agent of depotism he felt that it was high time to look after his own safety. Apparently be had come with no other escort than that of the men of Judah who formed a part of the national militia. Of Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites we hear no more. The princeling of a despoiled and humiliated kingdom was perhaps in no condition to provide the pay of these foreign mercenaries. The king found that the name of David was no longer potent, and that royalty had lost its awful glamour. He made an effort to reach his chariot, and, barely succeeding, fled with headlong speed to Jerusalem. From that day forever the unity of Israel was broken, and "the twelve tribes" became a name for two mutually antagonistic powers. The men of Israel at once chose Jeroboam for their king, and an event was accomplished which had its effect on the history of all succeeding times. The only Israelites over whom the House of David continued to rule were those who, like the shattered remnant of Simeon, dwelt in the cities of Judah. {1 Kings 12:17}

Thus David’s grandson found that his kingdom over a people had shrunk to the headship of a tribe, with a sort of nominal suzerainty over Edom and part of Philistia. He was reduced to the comparative insignificance of David’s own position during the first seven years, when he was only king in Hebron. This disruption was the beginning of endless material disasters to both kingdoms; but it was the necessary condition of high spiritual blessings for "it was of the Lord."

Politically it is easy to see that one cause of the revolt lay in the too great rapidity in which kings, who, as it was assumed, were to be elective, or at least to depend on the willing obedience of the people, had transformed themselves into hereditary despots. Judah might still accept the sway of a king of her own tribe; but the powerful and jealous Ephraimites, at the head of the Northern Confederation, refused to regard themselves as the destined footstool for a single family. As in the case of Saul and of David, they determined once more to accept no king who did not owe his sovereignty to their own free choice.


Verses 6-20

THE DISRUPTION

1 Kings 12:6-20

"It was of the Lord." It is no small proof of the insight and courageous faithfulness of the historian that he accepts without question the verdict of ancient prophecy that the disruption was God’s doing; for everything which happened in the four subsequent centuries, alike in Judah and in Israel, seemed to belie this pious conviction. We, in the light of later history, are now able to see that the disseverance of Israel’s unity worked out results of eternal advantage to mankind; but in the sixth century before Christ no event could have seemed to be so absolutely disastrous. It must have worn the aspect of an extinction of the glory of the House of Jacob. It involved the obliteration of the great majority of the descendants of the patriarchs, and the reduction of the rest to national insignificance and apparently hopeless servitude. Throughout those centuries of troubled history, in the struggle for existence which was the lot of both kingdoms alike, it was difficult to say whether their antagonism or their friendship, their open wars or their matrimonial alliances, were productive of the greater ruin. Each section of the nation fatally hampered and counterpoised the other with a perpetual rivalry and menace. Ephraim envied Judah, and Judah vexed Ephraim. In extreme cases the south was ready to purchase the intervention of Syria, or even of Assyria, to check and overwhelm its northern rival, while the north could raise up Egypt or Edom to harass the southern kingdom with intolerable raids.

To us the Southern Kingdom, the kingdom of Judah, seems the more important and the more interesting division of the people. It became the heir of all the promises, the nurse of the Messianic hope, the mother of the four greater prophets, the continuer of all the subsequent history after the glory of Israel had been stamped out by Assyria forever.

1. But such was not the aspect presented by the kingdom of Judah, to contemporary observers. On the contrary, Judah seemed to be a paltry and accidental fragment-one tribe, dissevered from the magnificent unity of Israel. Nothing redeemed it from impotence and obliteration but the splendid possessions of Jerusalem and the Temple, which guaranteed the often threatened perpetuity of the House of David. The future seemed to be wholly with Israel when men compared the relative size and population of the disunited tribes. Judah comprised little more than the environs of Jerusalem. Except Jerusalem, Mizpeh, Gibeon, and Hebron, it had no famous shrines and centers of national traditions. It could not even claim the southern town of Beersheba as a secure possession. The tribe of Simeon had melted away into a shadow, if not into non-existence, amid the surrounding populations, and its territory was under the kings of Judah; but they did not even possess the whole of Benjamin, and if that little tribe was nominally reckoned with them, it was only because part of their capital city was in Benjamite territory, to which belonged the valley of Hinnom. To Israel, on the other hand, pertained all the old local sanctuaries and scenes of great events. On the east of Jordan they held Mahanaim; on the west Jericho, near as it was to Jerusalem, and Bethel with its sacred stone of Jacob, and Gilgal with its memorial of the conquest, and Shechem the national place of assembly, and Accho and Joppa on the sea shore. Israel, too, inherited all the predominance over Moab and Ammon, and the Philistines, which had been secured by conquest in the reign of David. {1 Kings 16:34; 2 Kings 2:4}

2. Then, again, the greatest heroes of tradition had been sons of the northern tribes. The fame of Joshua was theirs, of Deborah and Barak, of fierce Jephthah, of kingly Gideon, and of bold Abimelech. Holy Samuel, the leader of the prophets, and heroic Saul, the first of the kings, had been of their kith and kin. Judah could only claim the bright personality of David, and the already tarnished glories of Solomon, which men did not yet see through the mirage of legend but in the prosaic light of every day.

3. Again, the Northern Kingdom was unhampered by the bad example and erroneous development of the preceding royalty. Jeroboam had not stained his career with crimes like David; nor had he sunk, as Solomon had done, into polygamy and idolatry. It seemed unlikely that he, with so fatal an example before his eyes, could be tempted into oppressive tyranny, futile commerce, or luxurious ostentation. He could found a new dynasty, free from the trammels of a bad commencement, and as fully built on Divine command as that of the House of Jesse.

4. Nor was it a small advantage that the new kingdom had an immense superiority over its southern compeer in richness of soil and beauty of scenery. To it belonged the fertile plain of Jezreel, rolling with harvests of golden grain. Its command of Accho gave it access to the treasures of the shore and of the sea. To it belonged the purple heights of Carmel, of which the very name meant "a garden of God"; and the silver Lake of Galilee, with its inexhaustible swarms of fish; and the fields of Gennesareth, which were a wonder of the world for their tropical luxuriance. Theirs also were the lilied waters and paper-reeds of Merom, and the soft, green, park-like scenery of Gerizim, and the roses of Sharon, and the cedars of Lebanon, and the vines and fig trees and ancient terebinths of all the land of Ephraim, and the forest glades of Zebulon and Naphtali, and the wild uplands beyond the Jordan-which were all far different from the "awful barrenness" of Judah, with its monotony of rounded hills.

3. Under these favorable conditions three great advantages were exceptionally developed in the Northern Kingdom.

(1) It evidently enjoyed a larger freedom as well as a greater prosperity. How gay and bright, how festive and musical, how worldly and luxurious, was the life of the wealthy and the noble in the ivory palaces and on the gorgeous divans of Samaria and Jezreel, as we read of it in the pages of the contemporary prophets! {Amos 5:11; Amos 6:4-6} Naboth and Shemer show themselves as independent of tyranny as any sturdy dalesman or feudal noble, and "the great lady of Shunem, on the slopes of Esdraelon, in her well-known home, is a sample of Israelite life in the north as true as that of the reaper Boaz in the south. She leaves her home under the pressure of famine, and goes down to the plains of Philistia. When she returns and finds a stranger in her corn-fields, she insists on restitution, even at the hand of the king himself."

(2) The Ten Tribes also developed a more brilliant literature. Some of the most glowing psalms are probably of northern origin, as well as the Song of Deborah, and the work of the writer who is now generally recognized by critics under the name of the Deuteronomist. The loveliest poem produced by Jewish literature-the Song of Songs-bears on every page the impress of the beautiful and imaginative north. The fair girl of Shunem loves her leopard-haunted hills, and the vernal freshness of her northern home, more than the perfumed chambers of Solomon’s seraglio; and her poet is more charmed with the luster and loveliness of Tirzah than with the palaces and Temple of Jerusalem. The Book of Job may have originated in the Northern Kingdom, from which also sprang the best historians of the Jewish race.

(3) But the main endowment of the new kingdom consisted in the magnificent development and independence of the prophets.

It was not till after the overthrow of the Ten Tribes that the glory of prophecy migrated southwards and Jerusalem produced the mighty triad of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. For the two and a half centuries that the Northern Kingdom lasted scarcely one prophet is heard of in Judah except the scarcely known Hanani, the Eliezer, the son of Mareshah, {2 Chronicles 20:37} who is little more than a nominis umbra. To the north belongs the great herald-prophet of the Old Dispensation, the mighty Elijah; the softer spirit of the statesman-prophet Elisha; the undaunted Micaiah, son of Imlah; the picturesque Micah; the historic Jonah; the plaintive Hosea; and that bold and burning patriot, a fragment of whose prophecy now forms part of the Book of Zechariah. Amos, indeed, belonged by birth to Tekoa, which was in Judah, but his prophetic activity was confined to Bethel and Jezreel. The Schools of the Prophets at Ramah, Bethel, Jericho, and Gilgal were all in Israel. The passages in the third section of the Book of Zechariah are alone sufficient to show how vast was the influence in the affairs of the nation of the prophets of the north, and how fearless their intervention. Even when they were most fiercely persecuted, they were not afraid to beard the most powerful kings-an Ahab and a Jeroboam II-in all their pride. {Zechariah 11:4-17; Zechariah 13:7-9} Samaria and Galilee were rich in prophetic lives; and they, too were the destined scene of the life of Him of whom all the prophets prophesied, and from whose inspiration they drew their heavenly fire.

Against these advantages, however, must be set two serious and ultimately fatal drawbacks-germs of disease which lay in the very constitution of the kingdom, and from the first doomed it to death.

One of these was the image-worship, of which I shall speak in a later section; the other was the lack of one predominant and continuous dynasty. The royalty of the north did not spring up through long years of gradual ascendency, and could not originally appeal to splendid services and heroic memories. Jeroboam was a man of humble, and, if tradition says truly, of tainted origin. He was not a usurper, for he was called to the throne by the voice of prophecy and the free spontaneous choice of his people; but in Solomon’s days he had been a potential if not an actual rebel. He set the example of successful revolt, and it was eagerly followed by many a soldier and general of similar antecedents. In the short space of two hundred and forty-five years there were no less than nine changes of dynasty, of which those of Jeroboam, Baasha, Kobolam, Menahem, consisted only of a father and son. There were at least four isolated or partial kings: Zimri, Tibni, Pekah, and Hosea. Only two dynasties, those of Omri and Jehu, succeeded in maintaining themselves for even four or five generations, and they, like the others, were at last quenched in blood. The close of the kingdom in its usurpations, massacres, and catastrophes reminds us of nothing so much as the disastrous later days of the Roman Empire, when the purple was so often rent by the dagger-thrust, and it was rare for emperors to die a natural death. The kingdom which had risen from a sea of blood set in the same red waves.

On the other hand, whatever may have been the drawback of the small and hampered Southern Kingdom, it had several conspicuous advantages. It had a settled and incomparable capital, which could be rendered impregnable against all ordinary assaults; while the capital of the Northern Kingdom shifted from Shechem to Penuel and Tirzah, and from Tirzah to Samaria and Jezreel. It had the blessing of a loyal people, and of the all-but-unbroken continuity of one loved and cherished dynasty for nearly four centuries. It had the yet greater blessing of producing not a few kings who more or less fully attained to the purity of the theocratic ideal. Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, were good and high-minded kings, and the two latter were religious reformers. Whatever may have been the sins and shortcomings of Judah-and they were often very heinous-still the prophets bear witness that her transgressions were less incurable than those of her sister Samaria. All good men began to look to Jerusalem as the nursing mother of the Promised Deliverer. "Out of Judah," said the later Zechariah, "shall come forth the corner stone, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow, out of him every governor together." Amos was horn in Judah; Hosea took refuge there; the later Zechariah labored (9, 11, Zechariah 13:7-9) for the fusion of the two kingdoms. From the unknown, or little known, seers who endeavored to watch over the infant destinies of Judah, to the mighty prophets who inspired her early resistance to Assyria, or menaced her apostasy with ruin at the hands of Babylon, she rarely lacked for any long period the inspired guidance of moral teachers. Judah was for many years behind-hand in power, in civilization, in literature, even in the splendor of prophetic inspiration, she still managed on the whole to uplift to the nations the standard of righteousness. That standard was often fiercely assaulted, but the standard-bearers did not faint. The torn remnants of the old ideal were still upheld by faithful hands. Neither the heathen tendencies of princes nor the vapid ceremonialism of priests were allowed unchallenged to usurp the place of religion pure and undefiled. The later Judaean prophets, and especially the greatest of them, rose to a spirituality which had never yet been attained, and was never again equaled till the rise of the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings.

How clearly, then, do we see the truth of the prophetic announcement that thy disruption of the kingdom was of the Lord out of apparent catastrophe was evolved infinite reparation. The abandonment of the Davidic dynasty of the Ten Tribes looked like earthly ruin. It did indeed hasten the final overthrow of all national autonomy; but that would have come in any case, humanly speaking, from Assyria, or Babylonia, or Persia, or the Seleucids, or the Ptolemies, or Rome. On the other hand, it fostered a religious power and concentration which were of more value to the world than any other blessings. "On all the past greatness and glory of Israel," says Ewald, "Judah cast its free and cheerful gaze. Before its kings floated the vision of great ancestors; before its prophets examples like those of Nathan and Gad; before the whole people the memory of its lofty days. And so it affords us no unworthy example of the honorable part which may be played for many centuries in the history of the world, and the rich blessings which may be imparted, even by a little kingdom, provided it adheres faithfully to the eternal truth. The gain to the higher life of humanity acquired under the earthly protection of this petty monarchy far outweighs all that has been attempted or accomplished for the permanent good of man by many much larger states." "The people of Israel goes under," Says Stade, "but the religion of Israel triumphs over the powers of the world, while it changes its character from the religion of a people into a religion of the world." This development of religion, as he proceeds to point out, was mainly due to the long, slow enfeeblement of the people through many centuries, until at last it had acquired a force which enabled it to survive the political annihilation of the nationality from which it sprang.

In reality both kingdoms gained under the appearance of total loss. "Every people called to high destinies," says Renan, "ought to be a small complete world, enclosing opposed poles within its bosom. Greece had at a few leagues from each other, Sparta and Athens, two antipodes to a superficial observer, but in reality rival sisters, necessary the one to the other. It was the same in Palestine."

The high merit of the historian of the two kingdoms appears in this, that, without entangling himself in details, and while he contents himself with sweeping and summary judgments, he established a moral view of history which has been ratified by the experience of the world. He shows us how the tottering and insignificant kingdom of Judah, secured by God’s promise, and rising through many backslidings into higher spirituality and faithfulness, not only out-lasted for a century the overthrow of its far more powerful rival, but kept alive the torch of faith, and handed it on to the nations of many centuries across the dust and, darkness of intervening generations. And in drawing this picture he helped to secure the fulfillment of his own ideal, for he inspired into many a patriot and many a reformer the indomitable faith in God which has enabled men, in age after age, to defy obloquy and opposition, to face the prison and the sword, secure in the ultimate victory of God’s truth and God’s righteousness amidst the most seemingly absolute failure, and against the most apparently overwhelming odds.


Verses 21-23

"JEROBOAM THE SON OF NEBAT, WHO MADE ISRAEL TO SIN"

1 Kings 12:21-23.

"For from Israel is even this; the workman made it and it is no god: yea, the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces."

- Hosea 8:6

THE condemnation of the first king of Israel sounds like a melancholy and menacing refrain through the whole history of the Northern Kingdom. Let us consider the extent and nature of his crime; for though the condemnation is most true if we judge merely by the issue of Jeroboam’s acts a man’s guilt cannot always be measured by the immensity of its unforeseen consequences, nor can his actions and intentions be always fairly judged after the lapse of centuries. The moral judgments recorded in the Book of Kings concerning legal and ritual offences are measured by the standard of men’s consciences nearly a century after Josiah’s Reformation in B.C. 623, not by that which prevailed in B.C. 937, when Jeroboam came to the throne. It seems clear that, even in the opinion of his contemporaries, Jeroboam was unfaithful to the duties of the call which he had received from God; but it would be an error to suppose that his sin was, in itself, so heinous as those of which both Solomon and Rehoboam and other kings of Judah were guilty. "Calf-worship," as it was contemptuously called in later days, did not present itself as "calf-worship" to Jeroboam or his people. To them it was only the more definite adoration of Jehovah under the guise of the cherubic emblem which Solomon had himself enshrined in the Temple and Moses himself had sanctioned in the Tabernacle. There is not a word to show that they were cognizant of the book which had narrated the fierce reprobation by Moses of Aaron’s "golden calf" in the wilderness. Jeroboam’s chief sin was not that as a king he tolerated, or even set up, a sort of idolatry, but that he induced the whole body of his subjects to share in his evil innovations.

The charge brought against him was threefold. First, he set up the golden calves at Dan and Bethel. Secondly, he "made priests from among all the people, which were not of the sons of Levi." Thirdly, he established his "harvest feast" not on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, which was the Feast of Tabernacles, but on the fifteenth day of the eighth month. In estimating these sins let us endeavor-for it is a sacred duty-to be just.

1. We read in the Authorized Version that "he made priests of the lowest of the people," and this tends to increase the prejudice against him. But to have done this willfully would have been entirely against his own interests. The more honorable his priests were, the more was his new worship likely to succeed. The Hebrew only says that "he made priests of all classes of the people," or, as the Revised Version renders it, "from among all the people." No doubt this would appear to have been a heinous innovation, judged from the practice of later ages; it is not clear that it was equally so in the days of Jeroboam. If David, unrebuked, made his sons priests; if Ira the Ithrite was a priest; if Solomon, by his own fiat, altered the succession of the priesthood; if Solomon (no less than Jeroboam) arrogated to himself priestly functions on public occasions, the opinion as to priestly rights may not have existed in the days of Jeroboam, or may only have existed in an infinitely weaker form than in the days of the post-exilic chronicler. An incidental notice in another book shows us that in Dan, at any rate, he did not disturb the Levitic ministry. There the descendants of Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the grandson of Moses, continued their priestly functions from the day when that unworthy descendant of the mighty lawgiver was seduced to conduct a grossly irregular cult for a few shillings a year, down to the day when the golden calf at Dan was carried away by Tiglath-Pileser, King of Assyria. If the Levites preferred to abide by the ministrations of Jerusalem, and migrated in large numbers to the south, Jeroboam may have held that necessity compelled him to appoint priests who were not of the House of Levi. Neither for this, nor for his new feast of Tabernacles, nor for the calf-worship, were the kings of Israel condemned (so far as is recorded) even by such mighty prophets as Elijah and Elisha.

In choosing Dan and Bethel as the seats for his new altars, the king was not actuated by purely arbitrary considerations. They were ancient and venerated shrines of pilgrimage and worship { 18:30; 20:18; 20:26 1 Samuel 10:3} He did not create any sacredness which was not already attached to them in the popular imagination. In point of fact he would have served the ends of a worldly policy much better if he had chosen Shechem; for Dan and Bethel were the two farthest parts of his kingdom. Dan was in constant danger from the Syrians, and Bethel, which is only twelve miles from Jerusalem, more than once fell into the hands of the kings of Judah, though they neither retained possession of it, nor disturbed the shrines, nor threw down the "calf" of the new worship. Jeroboam could not have created the "calf-worship" if he had not found everything prepared for its acceptance. Dan had been, since the earliest days, the seat of a chapelry and ephod served by the lineal descendants of Moses in unbroken succession; Bethel was associated with some of the nation’s holiest memories since the days of their forefather Israel.

2. Again, if in Jeroboam’s day the Priestly Code was in existence, he was clearly guilty of unjustifiable willfulness in altering the time for observing the Feast of Tabernacles from the seventh to the eighth month. But if there be little or no contemporary trace of any observation of the Feast of Tabernacles-if, as Nehemiah tells us, it had not once been properly observed from the days of Joshua to his own, or if Jeroboam was unaware of any sacred legislation on the subject-the writers of the tenth century may have judged too severely the fixing of a date for the Feast of Ingathering, which may have seemed more suitable to the conditions of the northern and western tribes. For in parts of that region the harvest ripens a month earlier than in Judah, and the festival was meant to be kept at the season of harvest.

3. These, however, were but incidental and subordinate matters compared with the setting up of the golden calves.

Jeroboam felt that if his people flocked to do sacrifice at the new and gorgeous Temple in Jerusalem they would return to their old monarchy and put him to death. He wished to avoid the fate of Ishbosheth {2 Samuel 4:7} He believed that he should be doing both a popular and a politic act if he saved them from the burden of this long journey and again decentralized the cult which Solomon had so recently centralized. He determined, therefore, to furnish the Ten Tribes with high places, and temples of high places, and objects of worship which might rival the golden cherubim of Zion, and be honored with festal music and royal pomp.

He never dreamed either of apostatizing from Jehovah, or of establishing the worship of idols. He broke the Second Commandment under pretence of helping the people to keep the first. The images which he set up were not meant to be substitutes for the one God, the God of their fathers, the God who had brought them from the land of Egypt; they were regarded as figures of Jehovah under the well understood and universally adopted emblem of a young bull, the symbol of fertility and strength. Some have fancied that he was influenced by his Egyptian reminiscences, and perhaps by Ano, his traditional Egyptian bride. This is an obvious error. In Egypt living bulls were worshipped under the names of Apis and Mnevis, not idol-figures. Egyptian gods would have been strange reminders of Him who delivered His people from Egyptian tyranny. It would have been insensate, by quoting the very words of Aaron, to recall to the minds of the people the disasters which had followed the worship of the golden calf in the wilderness. Beyond all question, Jeroboam neither did nor would have dreamed of bidding his whole people to abandon their faith and worship Egyptian idols, which never found any favor among the Israelites. He only encouraged, them to worship Jehovah under the form of the cherubim. Whatever may have been the aspect of the cherubim in the Oracle of the Temple, cherubic emblems appeared profusely amid its ornamentation, and the most conspicuous object in its courts was the molten sea, supported on the backs of twelve bulls. It is true that later prophets and poets, like Hosea and the Psalmist, spoke in scorn of his images as mere "calves," and spoke of him as likening his Maker to "an ox that eateth hay." They even came in due time to regard them as figures of Baal and Astarte, but this view is falsified by the entire annals of the Northern Kingdom from its commencement to its close. Jeroboam was, and always regarded himself as, a worshipper of Jehovah. He named his son and destined successor Abijah ("Jehovah is my Father"). Rehoboam himself was a far worse offender than he was, so far as the sanction of idolatry was concerned.

And yet he sinned, and yet he made Israel to sin. It is true that he did not sin against the full extent of the light and knowledge vouchsafed to men in later days. The sift of which he was guilty was the sin of worldly policy. With professions of religion on his lips he pandered to the rude and sensuous instinct which makes materialism in worship so much more attractive to all weak minds than spirituality. Proclaiming as his motive the rights of the people, he accelerated their religious degeneracy. "The means to strengthen or ruin the civil power," says Lowth, "is either to establish or destroy the right worship of God. The way to destroy religion is to embrace the dispenser of it. This is to give the royal stamp to a piece of lead." If we may trust to Jewish tradition, there were some families in Israel who, though they clung to their old homes, and would not migrate to the south, yet refused to worship what is, not quite justly, called "the heifer Baal." The legendary Tobit (1. 4-7) boasts that "when all the tribes of Naphthali fell from the house of Jerusalem and sacrificed to the heifer Baal I alone went often to Jerusalem at the feasts," and, in general, observed the provisions of the Levitic law.

There seems to have been but little religion in Jeroboam’s temperament. In every other great national gathering at Shechem and other sacred places we read of religious rites. {1 Samuel 10:19; 2 Samuel 5:1-3; 1 Kings 8:1-5} No mention is made of them, no allusion occurs respecting them, in the assembly to which Jeroboam owed his throne. He might at least have consulted Abijah, who had given him, when he was still a subject, the Divine promise and sanction of royalty. He might, had he chosen, have followed a higher and purer guidance than that of his own personal misgiving and his own arbitrary will. The error which he committed was this-he trusted in policy, not in the Living God. "It was," says Dean Stanley, "precisely the policy of Abder-Rahman, Caliph of Spain, when he arrested the movement of his subjects to Mecca, by the erection of a Holy Place of the Zeca at Cordova, and of Abd-el-Malik when he built the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem, because of his quarrel with the authorities at Mecca." He was not guilty of revolt, for he acted under prophetic sanction; nor of idolatry, for he did not abandon the worship of Jehovah; but he broke the unity and tampered with the spiritual conception of the national worship. From worshipping God under a gross material symbol, the Israelites gradually learnt to worship other gods altogether; and the venerable sanctuaries of Dan and Bethel prepared the way for the temples of Ashtaroth and Bethel at Samaria and Jezreel. The religion of the kingdom of Israel at last sank lower than that of the kingdom of Judah against which it had revolted. The sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, is the sin again and again repeated in the policy, half-worldly, half religious, which has prevailed through large tracts of ecclesiastical history. Many are the forms of worship which, with high pretensions, have been nothing else but so many various and opposite ways of breaking the Second Commandment. Many a time has the end been held to justify the means, and the Divine character been degraded by the pretence, or even the sincere intention, of upholding His cause, for the sake of secular aggrandizement; for the sake of binding together good systems, which it was feared would otherwise fall to pieces; for the sake of supporting the faith of the multitude for fear they should otherwise fall away to rival sects, or lest the enemy should come and take away their place and nation. False arguments have been used in support of religious truths, false miracles promulgated or tolerated, false readings in the sacred text defended And so the faith of mankind has been undermined by the very means intended to preserve it. The whole subsequent history is a record of the mode by which, with the best intentions, a Church and nation may be corrupted.

This view of Dean Stanley is confirmed by another wise teacher, Professor F.D. Maurice. Jeroboam, he says,

"did not trust the Living God. He thought, not that his kingdom stood upon a Divine foundation, but that it was to be upheld by certain Divine props and sanctions. The two doctrines seem closely akin. Many regard them as identical. In truth there is a whole heaven between them. The king who believes that his kingdom has a Divine foundation confesses his own subjection and responsibility to an actual living ruler. The king who desires to surround himself with Divine sanctions would fain make himself supreme, knows that he cannot, and would therefore seek help from the fear men have of an invisible power in which they have ceased to believe. He wants a God as the support of his authority. What God he cares very little."

And thus, to quote once more, "The departure from spiritual principles out of political motives surely leads to destruction, and is here portrayed for all times."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-kings-12.html.

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