Chapter 8: The Character Of Jeroboam
It's easy to read the record of a man like Jeroboam and have a few superficial
thoughts, and then pass on. But God's spirit is calling to us through
all His words, like all the manna had to
be used and eaten. And we know that the manna symbolized God's word. The
spirit of Christ is God's spirit; they are one Spirit, therefore the writings
of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament must in some way reflect the
spirit of Christ, things to do with him and his character. Therefore Peter
could say that the spirit of Christ was in all the prophets, all those
who spoke forth the word of God by inspiration. Christ showed the disciples
how all the Scriptures spoke of him- including the historical
books. So I want us to make a special effort today to glean the spirit
of Christ from the Old Testament. We keep reading, like a refrain, that
Jeroboam the son of Nebat " made Israel to sin" . So somehow
God is directing our attention towards him.
Type of Christ?
I want to show that in a distorted way, Jeroboam was almost a type of
Christ. I'd suggest that many wicked Old Testament characters could
have been types of Christ if they had lived righteously, and the record
indirectly indicates this. Look back at 1 Kings 12:2,3. Here we've got
the record of how Jeroboam fled to Egypt because of the persecution of
Solomon. When Solomon died, " they sent and called him" , v.3.
This of course rings bells with Jesus going to Egypt and coming back after
Herod's death. Jeroboam came back on the third day (v.12) and offered
freedom from bondage to Israel, as did Christ on his resurrection. In
1 Kings 13:10 we read of the prophet who came to prophesy about Jeroboam;
we are told that he didn't return the way he came, but went back another
way. That's an echo of the wise men, they came to see Jesus, and returned
So through these hints that Jeroboam could have been a type of Christ,
the record seems to imply that Jeroboam had a spiritual side to him. Very
few people are totally reprobate; we all have a spiritual capacity in
us which we partially exercise. This is why apostasy is a mixture of truth
and error, both doctrinally and practically; the spiritual side, the truth,
is realized, but only partially, and men fail to realize that this is
going on, chosing to believe instead that they are totally spiritual.
In 1 Kings 13:6 Jeroboam says :" Entreat now the face of Yahweh"
and pray that God would heal him. This indicates the presence of some
basic spirituality within him. In 1 Kings 11:35 God tells Jeroboam that
He would take the ten tribes from the house of David, and give them to
Jeroboam. This is exactly the language of God speaking about righteous
David, who was given the Kingdom which God took away from Saul. So initially,
Jeroboam had some of David's characteristics; it seems rather strange
for God to take away the ten tribes from one sinner and give them to another
sinner. At that time, Jeroboam's potential spirituality was reasonably
to the fore. If Jeroboam had continued in God's ways, God would have established
Jeroboam as king over His Kingdom (1 Kings 11:38). So Jeroboam was being
given a chance to make the right choices. He had the potential to do so.
This echoes God saying to Moses 'I will make of you a great nation' because
of the apostasy of others. Thus Jeroboam is faintly connected with Moses.
In 1 Kings 13:33 we read that Jeroboam "returned not from his evil
way" again; the implication is that Jeroboam was the kind of person
who had bouts of repentance and true spiritual humility. In 1 Kings 14:13
we are told that in Jeroboam's son "there was found some good thing"
in him toward God. If Jeroboam's son was righteous, it is likely that
Jeroboam and / or his wife had a spiritual side to them. But they didn't
live up to their potential. Now we examine ourselves this morning. We
do clearly have a spiritual side to us . The question is whether we are
living up to our potential.
Mixed up man
Israel were often told to bring their sacrifices to where God's Name
was placed, Jerusalem. But of course Jeroboam didn't want people going
up to Judah, in case they defected. So he reasoned that making the sacrifice
was the important thing, where and how it was done didn't matter. So for
political reasons, he broke away from the temple of God, and set up his
own system of worship. Now there is a lesson here for us. In these troubled
ecclesial times it isn't for us to break away from the temple, God's house,
which is the ecclesia. 1 Kings 12:28 records how Jeroboam made calves
of gold, and proclaimed: "These be thy gods, O Israel" . It's
been suggested that theses calves were false cherubim. There is certainly
a connection between the calf and the cherubim. In Ez. 1:10 we read that
the living creatures had " the face of an ox on the left side"
. In Ez. 10:14 we learn that this face was that of a cherub. Jeroboam placed
the calves at each end of the land of Israel, as if it was the ark (the
ark had the cherubim at each end of it). By doing so, Jeroboam excluded
Jerusalem, the temple, from God's presence. He excluded others from the
presence of God. The calves were therefore a mixture of true religious
symbolism with gross apostasy. In Hosea 8:2,3 we read a prophecy against
Jeroboam: "Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee. Israel
hath cast off the thing that is good...of their silver and their gold
have they made them idols...thy calf, O Samaria hath cast thee off...(it)
shall be broken in pieces" , as they were later by Josiah. So Israel
thought that they knew God at this time, they felt in fellowship with
Him, when actually the anger of God was deeply against them. Jeroboam
was the one on whom the sin of Israel's later idolatry is blamed.
But Jeroboam is not called an idolater. He no doubt had an element of
good spiritual motivation in him. 2 Kings 3:2,3 implies that Jeroboam
did not actually worship Baal. Jehoram put away the image of Baal, but
he cleaved to the sins of Jeroboam. The implication is that Jeroboam was
not a Baal worshipper, which is what the majority of the wicked kings
were guilty of.
Jeroboam was full of works, of activity in fighting the Lord's battles.
He was active in the Truth, as we would say. In 1 Kings 12:32 we read
of Jeroboam ordaining a feast " Like unto the feast
which was in Judah" . He ordained a new feast on the 15th day of
the 8th month, no doubt copying the feast of tabernacles, on the 15th
of the 7th month. So Jeroboam lacked an attention to detail, despite an
appearance of spirituality. 1 Chron. 5:17 says that in Jeroboam's reign,
the genealogies we read in the early chapters of Chronicles were written.
So in some ways, he gave great attention to detail- when it suited him.
He went up to the altar, making himself the priest. It seems that he was
copying David and Solomon, who did just this. But he lacked their motivation
and spirituality. Another example of his mixture of truth and error is
shown by the way he built an altar at Bethel . Now this
had many religious associations; Jacob offered there, Samuel held regular
gatherings there; and as with trying to be like David and Solomon, it
seems that Jeroboam went in for even more self-conscious spiritual exhibitionism
and seeking to publicly associate himself with righteous men.
Aaron: Convenient hero
So Jeroboam is portrayed as a man who worshipped God in his own way;
he had all the trappings of the truth of God, but he failed to grasp the
spirit of real, meaningful spirituality. The character of Jeroboam was
therefore dualistic in the extreme. What a mixture this man was! When
he made the calves, he quotes the words of Aaron about the golden calf:
" These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up from the land
of Egypt" . And then Jeroboam made an altar in front of the calf,
which is exactly what Aaron did! Jeroboam knew his Old Testament history
in some detail. Jeroboam allowed the ordinary people to be priests; in
Ex. 32 we learn that the ordinary people offered the sacrifices to the
golden calf, not the priests. Again, it seems that Jeroboam was trying
to consciously mimic the golden calf apostasy. It is no accident that
Josiah stamped his calves to powder, just as Moses did to the golden calf.
Now why did Jeroboam so consciously lead Israel into the
same apostasy which brought them as it were within a hairs breadth of
national rejection in Ex. 32? Jeroboam wasn't ignorant. Perhaps he had
gone down a path of contorted exposition which made out that Israel didn't
really sin by worshipping the calf. Or perhaps he got so carried away
with the idea that he was like Aaron, the priest, that he thought (like
some modern Rabbis) that Aaron couldn't have done anything wrong, and
therefore he consciously copied Aaron, as he did David, Solomon, Jacob
and Samuel. Again, we see Jeroboam having a familiarity with Scripture,
but not pausing to really meditate upon his actions or upon the real spirit
of the word. We see him failing to analyze why Aaron acted as he did,
failing to see that Aaron acted politically, failing to deeply analyze
his own motives. The character of Jeroboam shines through here. Jeroboam named his sons Abijah [Abihu] and Nadab- the very names of Aaron's sons. It seems Jeroboam tried to model himself upon Aaron, and justify the building of the calves by interpreting what Aaron did as a positive, righteous thing (as some Jewish expositors do today). He politely overlooked the fact that Aaron was condemned for making the calf, and that Nadab and Abihu were slain for unacceptable worship (Lev. 10:1,2). We too can justify outright wrong behaviour in the name of superficial allusion to Scripture, wilfully failing to see the similarities between our actions and those of men who were condemned for doing in essence the things which we seek to justify.
Jeroboam was a believer, he wasn't a man of the world. He had his
eyes open. He was an enthusiast in doing God's work, and working for the
good of His people Israel in strengthening their cities, fighting their
enemies etc.. He had some faith, for example that God would heal him.
He knew the real date of the feast of tabernacles; he knew his Bible,
he had an enthusiasm for studying the genealogies and some aspects of
the Mosaic Law. He seems to have taught the truth to his son. He understood
a little about the symbology of the ark and the cherubim. But he shut
his eyes to the real spirit of God's word. Now we can't say we have no
similarity with that man. 2 Kings 10:31 sums up his real failures. Jehu
" took no heed to walk in the law with all his heart, for (because)"
he followed the sins of Jeroboam. So this was his specific sin; not walking
in God's law with all his heart . It is stressed in the
records that he was " the son of Nebat" . 'Nebat' means 'one
who pays careful attention'; as if to emphasize that Jeroboam was not
that person; he was the son of that person. Israel , Malachi says, were
" partial" in God's law. Are we partial? Are we just focusing
on those parts of spiritual life which we don't find difficult? Are we
avoiding the real pain of spiritual growth? Natural Israel's sin was that
they were half-hearted in their response to God. Israel in the wilderness
were rejected, we are told, because they did not wholly
follow Yahweh, as Caleb did. Spiritual Israel face just the same temptations
as natural Israel. Christ criticized Laodicea for being lukewarm, for
being partial in their response to his love. As we look towards the cross,
to the Son of God kneeling in Gethsemane, we see a totality of commitment.
It shines through the records, if we meditate upon them. It is vitally
important that we grasp at least the spirit of this totality
The character of Jeroboam reveals how he failed in this.
In the Lord Jesus, we see the totality of commitment to true spirituality.
He was the complete whole burnt offering, he fulfilled the idea of whole
and total commitment of which the sacrifices spoke. Here and now, as we
sit and stand here, I want us to settle in our minds at least one thing:
that we are called to completely imitate his spirit, we are called to
this total commitment. O.K., we know that we will not achieve it. But
that mustn't militate against our accepting it as our ultimate aim. We
must lift our sights higher. The fact we won't achieve it shouldn't make
us turn away from this. It is only twentieth century psychology which
has led us to think that we can't conceive of what we can't possibly achieve.
We can, we must conceive of the fact that we are called
to total commitment. For our eternal future, the bulk of our eternal destiny,
99.99% of our existence, will be spent living on a level of total commitment
to God's ways. Picture the Son of God, shifting his weight from his hands
to his feet, then back to his hands, mouth open, throat dry, sweat on
his deeply lined forehead. There we have a picture which we shouldn't
turn away from. Israel as it were hid their faces from the sight of his
face. We mustn't. He could've taken the easy way out, he could have given
up the idea, the concept of total commitment, he could have had those
12 legions of Angels. The spirit of Christ as he hung there can
pass through us just as quickly as the memorial bread and wine passes
through our metabolism. This is why we must continually fill ourselves
up with it, not just by keeping on breaking bread, but by keeping
on in our meditation upon the Lord in his sufferings, not being
afraid to ace up to ourselves, the likely failures we are making, the
frailty of our spirituality, as candles in the wind; ever looking unto
Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. And if we keep on
in our meditation upon him, the triumphant spirit of his resurrection
will be ours, he will lead us in an eternal march of triumph against sin
and partiality, into the fullness, the spiritual fullness, of