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published: 6/10/13

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Jeroboam I



ten commandments
The 10 Commandments
Circa 2nd century B.C.

Who was Jeroboam I?

Jeroboam I , son of Nebat, an Ephraimite, and of Zeruah, a widow ( 1 Kings 11:26-40 ; 12 through 14:20). He was the first king of Israel after the disruption of the kingdom, and he reigned 22 years (937-915 bc).

1. Sources

The history of Jeroboam is contained in 1 Kings 11:26-40 ; 12:1 through 14:20; 2 Ch 10:1 through 11:4; 2 Chronicles 11:14-16 ; 2 Chronicles 12:15 ; 13:3-20, and in an insertion in the Septuagint after 1 Kings 12:24 ( a-z ). This insertion covers about the same ground as the Massoretic Text, and the Septuagint elsewhere, with some additions and variations.

The fact that it calls Jeroboam's mother a pórnē (harlot), and his wife the Egyptian princess Ano (compare 1 Ki 11); that Jeroboam is punished by the death of his son before he has done any wrong; that the episode with the prophet's mantle does not occur until the meeting at Shechem; that Jeroboam is not proclaimed king at all - all this proves the passage inferior to the Massoretic Text. No doubt it is a fragment of some historical work, which, after the manner of the later Midrash, has combined history and tradition, making rather free use of the historical kernel.





2. His Rise and Revolt

Jeroboam, as a highly gifted and valorous young Ephraimite, comes to the notice of Solomon early in his reign (1 Kings 11:28 ; compare 1 Kings 9:15 , 1 Kings 9:24 ). Having noticed his ability, the king made him overseer of the fortifications and public work at Jerusalem, and placed him over the levy from the house of Joseph. The fact that the latter term may stand for the whole of the ten tribes (compare Amos 5:6 ; Amos 6:6 ; Obadiah 1:18 ) indicates the importance of the position, which, however, he used to plot against the king. No doubt he had the support of the people in his designs.

Prejudices of long standing (2 Samuel 19:40 f; 20 f) were augmented when Israelite interests were made subservient to Judah and to the king, while enforced labor and burdensome taxation filled the people's hearts h bitterness and jealousy. Jeroboam, the son of a widow, would be the first to feel the gall of oppression and to give voice to the suffering of the people. In addition, he had the approval of the prophet Ahijah of the old sanctuary of Shiloh, who, by tearing his new mantle into twelve pieces and giving ten of them to Jeroboam, informed him that he was to become king of the ten tribes. Josephus says ( Ant. , VIII, vii, 8) that Jeroboam was elevated by the words of the prophet, "and being a young man of warm temper, and ambitious of greatness, he could not be quiet," but tried to get the government into his hands at once. For the time, the plot failed, and Jeroboam fled to Egypt where he was received and kindly treated by Shishak, the successor to the father-in-law of Solomon.

3. The Revolt of the Ten Tribes

The genial and imposing personality of Solomon had been able to stem the tide of discontent excited by his oppressive régime, which at his death burst all restraints. Nevertheless, the northern tribes, at a popular assembly held at Shechem, solemnly promised to serve Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, who had already been proclaimed king at Jerusalem, on condition that he would lighten the burdens that so unjustly rested upon them. Instead of receiving the magna charta which they expected, the king, in a spirit of despotism, gave them a rough answer, and Josephus says "the people were struck by his words, as it were, by an iron hammer" ( Ant. , VIII, viii, 3). But despotism lost the day. The rough answer of the king was met by the Marseillaise of the people:

"What portion have we in David?

Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse:

To your tents. O I srael:

Now see to thine own house, David" (1 Kings 12:16 ).

Seeing the turn affairs had taken, but still unwilling to make any concessions, Rehoboam sent Adoram, who had been over the levy for many years (1 Kings 5:14 ; 1 Kings 12:18 ), and who no doubt had quelled dissatisfaction before, to force the people to submission, possibly by the very methods he had threatened to employ (1 Kings 12:14). However, the attempt failed. The aged Adoram was stoned to death, while Rehoboam was obliged to flee ignominiously back to Jerusalem, king only of Judah (1 Kings 12:20 ). Thus, the great work of David for a united kingdom was shattered by inferiors, who put personal ambitions above great ideals.

4. The Election

As soon as Jeroboam heard that Solomon was dead, he returned from his forced exile in Egypt and took up his residence in his native town, Zeredah, in the hill country of Ephraim Septuagint 1 Kings 12:20 ). The northern tribes, having rejected the house of David, now turned to the leader, and perhaps instigator of the revolution. Jeroboam was sent for and raised to the throne by the choice and approval of the popular assembly. Divinely set apart for his task, and having the approval of the people, Jeroboam nevertheless failed to rise to the greatness of his opportunities, and his kingdom degenerated into a mere military monarchy, never stronger than the ruler who chanced to occupy the throne. In trying to avoid the Scylla that threatened its freedom and faith (1 Kings 11:33 ), the nation steered into the Charybdis of revolution and anarchy in which it finally perished.

5. Political Events

Immediately upon his accession, Jeroboam fortified Shechem, the largest city in Central Israel, and made it his capital. Later he fortified Penuel in the East Jordan country. According to 1 Kings 14:17 , Tirzah was the capital during the latter part of his reign. About Jeroboam's external relations very little is known beyond the fact that there was war between him and Rehoboam constantly (1 Kings 14:30 ). In 2 Ch 13:2-20 we read of an inglorious war with Abijah of Judah. When Shishak invaded Judah (1 Kings 14:25 f), he did not spare Israel, as appears from his inscription on the temple at Karnak, where a list of the towns captured by him is given. These belong to Northern Israel as well as to Judah, showing that Shishak exacted tribute there, even if he used violence only in Judah. The fact that Jeroboam successfully managed a revolution but failed to establish a dynasty shows that his strength lay in the power of his personality more than in the soundness of his principles.

6. His Religious Policy

Despite the success of the revolution politically, Jeroboam descried in the halo surrounding the temple and its ritual a danger which threatened the permanency of his kingdom. He justifiably dreaded a reaction in favor of the house of David, should the people make repeated religious pilgrimages to Jerusalem after the first passion of the rebellion had spent itself. He therefore resolved to establish national sanctuaries in Israel. Accordingly, he fixed on Bethel, which from time immemorial was one of the chief sanctuaries of the land (Genesis 28:19 ; Genesis 35:1 ; Hosea 12:4 ), and Dan, also a holy place since the conquest, as the chief centers of worship for Israel.

Jeroboam now made "two calves of gold" as symbols of the strength and creative power of Yahweh, and set them up in the sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan, where altars and other sacred objects already existed. It appears that many of the priests still in the land were opposed to his image-worship (2 Chronicles 11:13 ). Accordingly, he found it necessary to institute a new, non-Levitical priesthood (1 Kings 13:33 ). A new and popular festival on the model of the feasts at Jerusalem was also established. Jeroboam's policy might have been considered as a clever political move, had it not contained the dangerous ppeal to the lower instincts of the masses, that led them into the immoralities of heathenism and hastened the destruction of the nation. Jeroboam sacrificed the higher interests of religion to politics. This was the "sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, wherewith he made Israel to sin" (1 Kings 12:30 ; 1 Kings 16:26 ).

7. Hostility of the Prophets

It may be that many of the prophets sanctioned Jeroboam's religious policy. Whatever the attitude of the majority may have been, there was no doubt a party who strenuously opposed the image-worship.

(1) The Anonymous Prophet

On the very day on which Jeroboam inaugurated the worship at the sanctuary at Bethel "a man of God out of Judah" appeared at Bethel and publicly denounced the service. The import of his message was that the royal altar should some day be desecrated by a ruler from the house of David. The prophet was saved from the wrath of the king only by a miracle. "The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar." This narrative of 1 Kings 13 is usually assumed to belong to a later time, but whatever the date of compilation, the general historicity of the account is little affected by it.

(2) The Prophet Ahijah

At a later date, when Jeroboam had realized his ambition, but not the ideal which the prophet had set before him, Ahijah predicted the consequences of his evil policy. Jeroboam's eldest son had fallen sick. He thought of Ahijah, now old and blind, and sent the queen in disguise to learn the issue of the sickness. The prophet bade her to announce to Jeroboam that the house of Jeroboam should be extirpated root and branch; that the people whom he had seduced to idolatry should be uprooted from the land and transported beyond the river; and, severest of all, that her son should die.

8. His Death

Jeroboam died, in the 22nd year of his reign, having "bequeathed to posterity the reputation of an apostate and a succession of endless revolutions."



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Source

IBSE, "Absalom" (in the public domain) with minor edits.