Jeroboam I (Hebrew ירבעם השני, he pleads the people's cause or increase of the people) (r. 975-954 BC by Ussher, or 930-909 BC by Thiele) was originally a ranking officer and master builder for King Solomon. Inspired by a prophet of God, he led the revolt of the Ten Tribes of Israel and the first King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Sadly, he squandered his opportunity with his evil ways and ultimately died, leaving behind a son who would lose the kingdom within a year.
Jeroboam I was the son of Nebat, an Ephraimite, and of Zeruah, who had outlived Nebat at the time of the revolt. The year of his birth cannot be determined, because his age at accession is not given.Early in his career, Solomon made him superintendent of all the forced laborers in his building program. But one day, in the thirty-first year of Solomon, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite met Jeroboam along the road. In a graphic demonstration of Divine intent, Ahijah took off his robe, tore it into twelve pieces, and invited Jeroboam to take any ten.
For thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee: (But he shall have one tribe for my servant David's sake, and for Jerusalem's sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel:) Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in mine eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, as did David his father. Howbeit I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand: but I will make him prince all the days of his life for David my servant's sake, whom I chose, because he kept my commandments and my statutes: But I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand, and will give it unto thee, even ten tribes. And unto his son will I give one tribe, that David my servant may have a light alway before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there. And I will take thee, and thou shalt reign according to all that thy soul desireth, and shalt be king over Israel. And it shall be, if thou wilt hearken unto all that I command thee, and wilt walk in my ways, and do that is right in my sight, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did; that I will be with thee, and build thee a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel unto thee. And I will for this afflict the seed of David, but not for ever. I_Kings 11:31-39 (KJV)
At length, Solomon died, and Solomon's son Rehoboam prepared to take the throne. The people of every tribe except those of Judah (tribe) and Benjamin (tribe) sent messengers to Egypt asking for Jeroboam to come back and rule over them.Representatives of all the tribes met at Shechem for the coronation. Jeroboam, as spokesman for the ten tribes, sought out Rehoboam and made a simple plea for relief from the burden of taxation and forced labor. Rehoboam asked him to wait three days. Three days later, Rehoboam gave his answer:
My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. I_Kings 12:14 (KJV)
Jeroboam wasted no time. He led the representatives of the ten tribes in a walkout from the coronation. Later, when Rehoboam sent his chief tax collector to collect the annual tribute, Jeroboam's new subjects answered by stoning him to death. Rehoboam climbed back into his chariot and fled all the way back to Jerusalem. There Rehoboam conscripted an army one hundred eighty thousand strong, but nothing came of this. The prophet Shemaiah warned Rehoboam to desist, and he did. Nevertheless, the Northern Kingdom was in a constant state of war with the Southern Kingdom during the entire time of Jeroboam's reign.
A new religious system
Jeroboam was not satisfied with his kingship. He feared that if his people continued to go up to Jerusalem (here "up" means "to a higher elevation" and not "north"), they might revolt against him and reestablish the United Kingdom. Therefore he did two things that would provoke God's vengeance. First he threw out all the Levites from his country, and appointed his own priestly class. Then he set up two golden calves, exactly like the infamous Golden Calf that Moses destroyed centuries ago. He set up one in Dan and one at Bethel. The Levites fled, and so too did all members of the Ten Tribes who still wanted to worship the One True God. Jeroboam does not seem to have cared: he set up "high places," altars of Baal, and Asherah poles all over his kingdom. He even ordained his own feast, on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the year, exactly one month later than the Feast of Tabernacles.
One day, an unnamed prophet came to Bethel from the Southern Kingdom to speak a prophecy against Jeroboam. He declared that one day, centuries later, another king named Josiah would burn on that very altar the bones of the priests of Jeroboam's false religion. He then said that as a sign that God meant what He said, the altar would break apart and spill its ashes. Jeroboam raised his hand in anger to order the prophet's arrest, and the hand immediately shriveled up, and the altar split apart exactly as the prophet had predicted. Jeroboam begged the prophet to intercede with God so that his hand would be restored. It was. Jeroboam then offered the prophet food and drink, but the prophet indignantly refused, saying that God had commanded him neither to eat nor drink in the Northern Kingdom land.
Sadly, that prophet came to a bad end. Another prophet, who lived in Bethel, stopped this prophet and told him the lie that an angel from God had revoked the no-food-and-drink order. The first prophet then took food and water in the second prophet's house. Then the second prophet received a true message from God saying that, because the first prophet had disobeyed God, his dead body would not return to the tomb of his ancestors. That proved true, because the first prophet was killed by a lion before he could get out of the Northern Kingdom. The prophet who had lured him into that disobedience later found his body and gave it an honorable burial.
Jeroboam did not retreat from his apostasy. Indeed, his very name became a proverb in the Northern Kingdom for regal apostasy and "evil-doing in the sight of the LORD."
The Battle of Zemaraim
- Main Article: Battle of Zemaraim
In the nineteenth year of his reign, Jeroboam fought a major battle with King Abijam of Judah. Despite a two-to-one numerical advantage, he lost half a million men--sixty-two-and-a-half percent of his fighting force. He never recovered his military strength from that disaster.
Sickness and Death of his Son
Toward the end of his reign, his son Abijah fell ill. Jeroboam asked his wife to go to Shiloh and seek Ahijah the Shilonite for advice. Jeroboam's wife went there in disguise, but Ahijah recognized her anyway and told her the harsh truth: that not only would Abijah die, but Jeroboam's family would be cut off after his death. Jeroboam's wife returned to her house, with her son in her arms, and as soon as she set foot in her own house again, the child died.
Death and Succession
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003 (ISBN 0890513600), pghh. 475, 480, 481, 484, 488, 491.
- Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, rev. ed. David O'Brien, Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1986 (ISBN 031034770X), pp. 257-260
- I_Kings 11-14
- II_Chronicles 10-13
- Driscoll, James F. "Entry for Jeroboam." The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. VIII. New York. Robert Appleton Co., 1910. Retrieved June 8, 2007 from New Advent.
- Authors unknown. "Entry for Jeroboam." WebBible Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 8, 2007.
- Aust, Jerold. "Jeroboam: First King of the Ten Tribes." Good News, United Church of God, 1999. Retrieved June 20, 2007.
- Authors unknown. "King Jeroboam - Biography." The Kings of Israel, hosted at http://www.geocities.com/ Retrieved June 20, 2007.