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Chapter 8: The Character Of Jeroboam

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 another way.  

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 of service.  The character of Jeroboam reveals how he failed in this.

Total commitment

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 God's nature.