Jeroboam is first mentioned in I Kings 11:26. He was Solomon’s servant, an Ephraimite. His mother was a widow, so he was probably supporting her. She may have even been living with him. He was capable and Solomon noticed him because he was getting things done (11:28). So Solomon put him in charge over his tribe’s labor force. Jeroboam is leadership material on the eyes of men.
Something about Solomon’s building the supporting terraces and repairing the opening in the wall of Jerusalem upset Jeroboam and he rebelled against Solomon (11:27). More leadership material evidence in the eyes of men (and God?).
One day as Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, a prophet met him and walked him to an open field where they could not be overheard. Ahijah tells Jeroboam that God is going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand. He tells him why – for worshipping other gods, not walking in God’s ways, not doing right in His eyes, not carrying out His statutes and judgments as David did. God tells Jeroboam through Ahijah that if he will obey, walk and do right, and keep the laws as David did, He will be with him and build him a lasting dynasty. God lays it out plainly – follow and imitate David, not Solomon. Since Jeroboam had a beef with Solomon, sounds like a piece of cake. Since God told him what was expected of him twice (what Solomon didn’t do, what Jeroboam was supposed to do) you’d think there would be no misunderstanding.
When Solomon became king, the priest anointed him. Samuel anointed David and Saul. Ahijah has the title of prophet just as Samuel did, but he doesn’t anoint Jeroboam. Was it the lack of anointing that caused Jeroboam’s failure, or did God know it would be a waste of oil and so He simply appointed?
In I Kings 12:20, the people summon Jeroboam and make him king. The first thing he does is build a city in the hill country of his home tribe. Then he built a second city. He builds two cities and begins to think to himself instead of seeking God. That’s how we get ourselves into trouble all the time – by thinking to ourselves instead of seeking God. Despite the fact that God gave him the kingdom and promised him a dynasty, Jeroboam worries that if the people regularly go to Jerusalem to worship, they’ll defect. If only he’d recalled his appointment.
After Jeroboam thinks to himself, he begins to think of himself – a natural progression when we leave God out. If the people go to Jerusalem to worship, the heart of the people will return to Rehoboam – really? Has Jeroboam forgotten how he got the kingdom in the first place? If was because of Rehoboam, the unyielding, uncompromising king. The next thought of Jeroboam Lane is that after the people return to Rehoboam, they’ll murder him.
God is totally out of the picture now as Jeroboam makes not one, but two golden calves for the people to worship. So much for God’s instruction to follow in the footsteps of David and not Solomon. He has completely forgotten the result of Aaron making one calf long ago. I wonder if Jeroboam took off down Justification Lane with something like “these are Israelite gods, not Canaanite”.
Once the justification is down pat (the people need to worship closer to home, self-preservation, they’re not foreign gods), Jeroboam goes all out appointing non-Levites as priests, and duplicating the original Hebrew festivals.
All seems to be going well until a prophet from Judah arrives to speak against the altar. Jeroboam stretches out his hand to point at the prophet and it withers and stiffens. He begs the prophet to please to God for him to restore his hand. The prophet does so and Jeroboam’s hand is restored, but alas, not his attitude or his heart for God. Note that he asks the prophet to plead to God for him. Either he doesn’t know God himself, or he knows God would respond more favorably to the prophet’s pleading than to his own.
Next come a sad set of verses (13:33-34). “After this Jeroboam did not repent of his evil ways, but again set up priests from every class of people for the high places. Whosoever desired it, he ordained and they became priests of the high places. For the house of Jeroboam, this was the sin that caused it to be wiped out and annihilated from the face of the earth.”
Jeroboam – capable, got things done, leadership material – had two choices (just as we all do). Follow God or go his own way. He chose to capably lead his family to annihilation and his nation to conquest by the Assyrians.