RASH ARROGANCE AND RELIGIOUS EXPEDIENCY SPLINTER GOD’S PEOPLE AND PROVIDE A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY
Chapter 12 marks the watershed mark in the Book of Kings. The reign of Solomon has ended with serious spiritual slippage from the high water mark of its glorious prosperity and blessing. The seeds of compromise and idolatry will now quickly lead to the disintegration of the kingdom as the leadership vacuum resulting from Solomon’s death is contested. The rash arrogance of Rehoboam and the religious expediency of Jeroboam lead to a divided kingdom devoid of God’s covenant blessing. The narrative now switches to a two track format with occasional reform in the Southern Kingdom but persistent wickedness in the Northern Kingdom.
Thomas Constable: The second major part of the Book of Kings [1 Kings 12 – 2 Kings 17] records the histories of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah During this era of 209 years (931-722 B.C.) the two kingdoms experienced differing relations with one another. For 57 years (931-874 B.C.) they were antagonistic (12:1—16:28). Then for the next 33 years (874-841 B.C.) they were allies (1 Kings 16:29—2 Kings 9:29). Then renewed antagonism erupted and continued for the final 119 years (841-722 B.C.; 2 Kings 9:30—17:41).
Throughout this history the writer’s purpose continued to be what it had been: to demonstrate that failure to honor the Mosaic Covenant brings ruin and destruction, but obedience brings blessing. This is clear from the material he chose to record. While he gave a basic historical record of the period, he departed often from official matters to record events that have theological and practical significance. He also gave more information about the Northern Kingdom of Israel than he did about the Southern Kingdom of Judah. . .
There were several reasons for the division of the kingdom. The primary one was Solomon’s apostasy. However, tribal jealousy, sectionalism, and Solomon’s exploitation of the people were contributing causes.
John Gates: The immediate natural cause for the impending disruption of the kingdom was the heavy taxation brought about through the vast expenditures of Solomon (cf. II Chr 10). The unseen cause was the divine discipline.
Peter Pett: The death of Solomon, as always with the death of a king who had ruled powerfully for a long time and had been somewhat autocratic, resulted in hopes being raised among the people that things might now be made better for them. Indeed they appear to have been quite satisfied with the thought of Rehoboam being their king, as long as he would meet them halfway, and they actually gathered at Shechem to negotiate with him for that purpose. It was a real opportunity. Had Rehoboam made concessions, and retained the loyalty of Israel, the combined kingdom would have remained a power, and the tributaries watching in expectation might have hesitated about making trouble. But let Israel and Judah once become divided into two nations, and the driving force and the power base would be lost, and men like Hadad in Edom and Rezon in Damascus (1 Kings 11:14-25) would soon ensure the collapse of the empire. And ever waiting in the wings for the collapse of the empire was the powerful Shishak of Egypt in a revived Egypt, just waiting for his opportunity to break up the trade monopoly which Solomon had built up. . .
But sadly Rehoboam had been brought up in Solomon’s court, and he had been bred with a sense of arrogance and with the feeling that all Israel and Judah were there to do his bidding. He saw himself as ‘a king like the kings of the nations’. In his view the people were simply there to be whipped into line. And while when he took advice from his father’s older counsellors they gave him good advice as to the need to meet the people half way, he preferred the advice of the younger arrogant aristocrats like himself who assured him that what was needed was to show them who was in charge. So what brought about Rehoboam’s rejection was the arrogance that had become so much a part of Solomon’s lifestyle, and which he had passed on to his son. In contrast, in the case of Jeroboam, his downfall would come about through his turning his back on the covenant and diluting Yahwism, in order, as he saw it, to protect his kingdom. This would result in his destroying the religious heart of Israel, something which would affect all the kings who followed him. Thus both aspects of Solomon’s failures came out in his successors.
I. (:1-24) REHOBOAM’S RASH ARROGANCE ALIENATES ISRAEL UNNECESSARILY AND SPLINTERS GOD’S PEOPLE
A. (:1-5) Test of Rehoboam’s Wisdom = Demand to Lighten the Yoke
1. (:1) Potential for Coronation of Rehoboam at Shechem
“Then Rehoboam went to Shechem,
for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king.”
Iain Provan: We are not explicitly told why he comes to Shechem. Shechem does not appear in the narrative in relation to the kingship of David and Solomon. It is, however, a name that strikes a number of chords with those who know the story of Israel prior to the monarchy. It seems likely, given the dialog that follows, that this is significant. It is a place of covenant renewal (Josh. 24:1–27)—a place where the Israelites, having entered the land, first took stock of themselves and reflected upon their identity and direction. It is the place where Joseph’s bones are buried (Josh. 24:32), bringing the exodus story to its final conclusion (cf. Gen. 50:22–26). It is also the place where kingship first, if briefly, intruded itself into the tribal life of Israel, a mortal being (and a wicked one at that) taking the place of God as ruler over God’s people (Judg. 8:22–23; 9). Shechem is an ideal place, therefore, to which a prospective king might be invited if you wished to ask him (as the Israelites do) how his kingship was going to be exercised so as to be consonant with the nature of the covenant people of God—if you wished to ask him to reflect on the identity of Israel and her future direction.
John Gates: Rehoboam, who is the only son of Solomon mentioned in Scripture [despite all of Solomon’s wives and concubines], had doubtless been appointed by his father to succeed him.
2. (:2) Potential Rival in Jeroboam Taking Refuge in Egypt
“Now it came about when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it,
that he was living in Egypt (for he was yet in Egypt,
where he had fled from the presence of King Solomon).”
Constable: Rehoboam’s name means “The People Are Wide” or “May the People Be Extended.” If this was Rehoboam’s throne name, it appears that Jeroboam’s (throne) name (meaning “May the People Be Great”) may have been a deliberate attempt to raise himself to the level of Rehoboam in the minds of the people and thus snub Rehoboam.
3. (:3-4) Possibility of Reasonable Compromise and Peace
“Then they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam, saying, 4 ‘Your father made our yoke hard; now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you.’”
Donald Wiseman: The demand to alleviate taxation, forced labor and military call-up was reasonable, for they had been an increasing burden under Solomon. . .
If Rehoboam had responded by showing a right understanding of authority, which aims to serve people and make them willing to serve together, the outcome could have been far different and the break-up of that unity which should characterize God’s people might never have happened. His indecision shows him unaware that immediate action (today) often influences life for ‘all the days’ (Heb. always). Was Rehoboam’s concern for his own position? The elders’ request was for ‘good words’ or favourable terms, i.e. for leniency, not independence.
Mordechai Cogan: The figure of a “yoke” (ʿōl) is frequently used when speaking of burdens and service imposed by a superior—e.g., Gen 27:40; Deut 28:48; Isa 14:25; 47:6; Jer 27:8; Ezek 34:27. In Mesopotamian texts, nīru, “yoke,” is the common term signifying dominion and rule, especially in Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions; cf. CAD N/2, 262–63.
John Gates: The petition asked primarily for a lightening of the economic load, but perhaps it also had in view political and social oppression.
Bob Henkins: The issue that was most important to them was that they might live at ease and pay lower taxes. Does that sound eerily familiar to you? What’s the biggest complaint we hear about these days around election time? The unemployment rate being too high, we are taxed too much. Thousands of years after Rehoboam’s time, and things haven’t changed much huh. I find that interesting.
4. (:5) Predetermined Decision-Making Process
“Then he said to them, ‘Depart for three days, then return to me.’
So the people departed.”
Wiersbe: The story reveals that, whatever gifts Rehoboam may have possessed, he didn’t have the gift of relating to people and understanding their needs. . .
There’s no evidence that the king sought the Lord in prayer or that he consulted with the high priest or with a prophet. We get the impression that his mind was already made up but that he was willing to go through the motions in order to please the people.
B. (:6-15) Two Contrasting Courses of Action
1. (:6—7) Wise Counsel of the Elders = Faithful Servants of Solomon =
Servant Leadership – Treat Them Kindly
a. (:6a) Their Credentials as Counselors
“And King Rehoboam consulted with the elders who had served his father Solomon while he was still alive,”
b. (:6b-7) Their Counsel
“saying, ‘How do you counsel me to answer this people?’ 7 Then they spoke to him, saying, ‘If you will be a servant to this people today, will serve them, grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.’”
2. (:8-11) Rash Counsel of the Young Men = His Peer Group =
Tyrannical Leadership – Oppress Them
a. (:8) Their Credentials as Counselors
“But he forsook the counsel of the elders which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him.”
This verse is the heart of the chiastic section of vv. 1-16. [see Peter Pett]
David Guzik: This is a common phenomenon today – what some call advice shopping. The idea is that you keep asking different people for advice until you find someone who will tell you what you want to hear. This is an unwise and ungodly way to get counsel. It is better to have a few trusted counselors you will listen to even when they tell you what you don’t want to hear.
b. (:9-11) Their Counsel
“So he said to them, ‘What counsel do you give that we may answer this people who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Lighten the yoke which your father put on us’?’ 10 And the young men who grew up with him spoke to him, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to this people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, now you make it lighter for us!’ But you shall speak to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! 11 ‘Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”
Donald Wiseman: Rehoboam, now aged forty-one (14:21), identified more readily with the younger group, who quoted a popular proverb (v. 10). Their uncompromising answer (vv. 10–11) seems to have swayed Rehoboam to favour increased state-imposed burdens: he would scourge them with scorpions (vv. 11, 14)—a (nail)-barbed scourge as opposed to the common ‘whip’ (neb ‘lash’). Though these human elements and possibly personality clashes leading to the breakdown are clear, the historian interprets them as divinely overruled to bring about the will and judgment of God as prophesied by Ahijah (v. 15, cf. 11:11–12).
William Barnes: This is the talk of mental adolescents (Sweeney 2007:170); the term “little finger” (qatonni [TH6995, ZH7782]) actually signifies “penis” (cf. Cogan [2001:348–349], citing the medieval sage David Qimhi). It was probably a popular proverb of the day (Wiseman 1993:141), and particularly apt in light of Solomon’s proverbial harem. But, like adolescent sayings of any age, it lacked in cogency and focus what it may have contained in ribald humor.
August Konkel: As might be expected, the opinions of the two groups of advisors are diametrically opposed. The elders, well tempered by years of political experience, urge moderation; they remind the king that he is the servant of the people (12:7), and only by acting in that capacity can he expect the people to be willing to serve him. The younger princes, having enjoyed a sense of power and status all of their lives, urge the new king to proceed in an autocratic manner, using political force to increase control over the populace. Their rhetoric is designed to inspire fear: “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist” (v. 10); “my father chastised you with whips, I will use scorpions” (v. 11). The sting of the “scorpion” is apparently a weighted or spiked lash that can be wielded by a taskmaster. The younger counselors see no need for conciliation. They cannot conceive of a leader as a servant to the people.
Dilday: With a dozen rash words, Rehoboam, the bungling dictator, opened the door for four hundred years of strife, weakness, and, eventually, the destruction of the entire nation.
3. (:12-15) Harsh Response to Jeroboam and the People
a. (:12-14) Tyrannical Tone of the Harsh Response
“Then Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day as the king had directed, saying, ‘Return to me on the third day.’ 13 And the king answered the people harshly, for he forsook the advice of the elders which they had given him, 14 and he spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, saying, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”
b. (:15) Divine Direction behind the Harsh Response
“So the king did not listen to the people; for it was a turn of events from the LORD, that He might establish His word, which the LORD spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”
Peter Pett: history was moving forward in accordance with the word of YHWH. . . The reply was so foolish that the prophetic author knew that there could only be one explanation for it. It was of YHWH, so as to bring about His purposes. It was in order that He might establish the word that He had spoken to Ahijah the Shilonite, to be passed on to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:35-39). That did not, of course, excuse Rehoboam, whose behaviour was simply that of a spoiled and very arrogant person. He had behaved as he had been brought up to behave, following the example of his father. But the prophetic author points out that YHWH takes up such folly and uses it to bring about His purposes.
Robert Rayburn: Rehoboam’s listening to bad advice and his provocative statement to the representatives of the ten northern tribes were simply the means by which the Lord brought about the division of the nation as a judgment upon Solomon’s idolatry. It is one of a great many similar texts in the Bible that teach us that the Lord accomplishes his will even through the sinful thoughts and actions of human beings.
C. (:16-20) Treason of Israel Leaving Only the Tribe of Judah Loyal to Rehoboam
1. (:16) Rallying Cry for the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom
“When all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, ‘What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; To your tents, O Israel! Now look after your own house, David!’ So Israel departed to their tents.”
MacArthur: These words of Israel (v. 16) expressed deliberate, willful rebellion against the dynasty of David (cf. v. 19). Defiantly, the Israelites quoted the rallying cry used in Sheba’s failed rebellion against David (25a 20:1). The northern tribes declared that they had no legal tie with David and went their way.
2. (:17) Reign of Rehoboam in Southern Kingdom
“But as for the sons of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah,
Rehoboam reigned over them.”
3. (:18) Reckless Attempt to Consolidate Control
a. Failure of Adoram’s Mission
“Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the forced labor, and all Israel stoned him to death.”
Mordechai Cogan: This looks like a variant form of the name Adoniram given in 4:6; 1Chr 18:10 has Hadoram. If it is the same person, Adoniram would have been an old man by this time, since he had already held this post under David (cf. 2 Sam 20:24), a fact that leads many to doubt the integrity of the notice. Most readers note the lack of political sensitivity in the choice of Adoniram as the person to negotiate with the rebel tribes: “how little Rehoboam and his youthful advisers understood the gravity of the situation” (Skinner); but such evaluations represent, at best, after-the-fact wisdom, reading back from the historical developments.
Schultz: In sending Adoniram as his representative, Rehoboam indicated that he regarded the people virtually as his slaves. Adoniram was “in charge of forced labor.” The poor man paid for his mission with his life.
b. Flight of King Rehoboam
“And King Rehoboam made haste to mount his chariot
to flee to Jerusalem.”
John Gates: It seems that Rehoboam himself narrowly escaped the same fate.
4. (:19) Rebellion of Israel
“So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.”
5. (:20) Recall of Jeroboam
“And it came about when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, that they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. None but the tribe of Judah followed the house of David.”
Barnes Notes: The first act of the Israelites, on learning what had occurred at Shechem, was to bring together the great “congregation” of the people (compare Judg 20:1), in order that, regularly and in solemn form, the crown might be declared vacant, and a king elected in the room of the monarch whose authority had been thrown off. The congregation selected Jeroboam. The rank, the talent, and the known energy of the late exile, his natural hostility to the house of Solomon, his Ephraimitic descent, his acquaintance with the art of fortification, and the friendly relations subsisting between him and the great Egyptian king, pointed him out as the most suitable man for the vacant post. If, according to the Septuagint, Shishak had not only protected him against Solomon, but also given him an Egyptian princess, sister to his own queen, in marriage, his position must have been such that no other Israelite could have borne comparison with him. Again, the prophecy of Ahijah would have been remembered by the more religious part of the nation, and would have secured to Jeroboam their adhesion; so that every motive, whether of policy or of religion, would have united to recommend the son of Nebat to the suffrages of his countrymen.
D. (:21-24) Tempering Rehoboam’s Call for Civil War
1. (:21) Calling for Civil War
“Now when Rehoboam had come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, 180,000 chosen men who were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.”
Wiersbe: Rehoboam had followed the wrong counsel, used the wrong approach, and chosen the wrong mediator. What else wrong could he do? He could declare war!
2. (:22-24) Calming Word from the Lord
“But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, 23 ‘Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin and to the rest of the people, saying, 24 Thus says the LORD, You must not go up and fight against your relatives the sons of Israel; return every man to his house, for this thing has come from Me.’ So they listened to the word of the LORD, and returned and went their way according to the word of the LORD.”
Constable: Rehoboam’s pride led him into further trouble. He wanted to start a civil war to recapture the throne. Benjamin joined with Judah at this time and remained allied from then on (cf. 2 Sam. 19:16-17). God had to intervene through a prophet to get Rehoboam to turn back (vv. 22-24). The term “man of God” is synonymous with prophet (cf. 13:18; 2 Kings 5:8; 2 Chron. 12:5). To his credit Rehoboam obeyed God.
II. (:25-33) JEROBOAM’S RELIGIOUS EXPEDIENCY SUBSTITUTES HUMAN INVENTION FOR DIVINE DESIGN AND PROVIDES A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY
A. (:25-27) Capital Centers — Substitute Geography to Replace Jerusalem
1. (:25) Designated Capital Cities
“Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim,
and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel.”
John Whitcomb: he established two northern capitals:
– Shechem, near the border of Ephraim and Manasseh at the location of Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim where Joshua had first dedicated the Promised Land to Jehovah (Josh. 8:30-35),
– and Penuel across the Jordan ( 1 Kings 12:25). This trans-Jordan capital may have been necessitated by the anticipated invasion of Pharaoh Shishak (his former protector – 1 Kings 11:40), which occurred in the fifth year following the division of the kingdom (1 kings 14:25).
– Later on, for an unknown reason, he established another west-Jordan capital at Tirzah (1 Kings 14:17; 15:33).
2. (:26-27) Danger of Continuing to Worship in Jerusalem
“And Jeroboam said in his heart, ‘Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. 27 If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.’”
Ligonier Ministries: Jeroboam should not have feared the loss of his throne, for God had promised to establish his kingdom if he obeyed the Lord (1 Kings 11:26–40). Instead of trusting God’s promise, however, Jeroboam sought to maintain control his way, leading to the eventual loss of the northern kingdom (2 Kings 17:21–23).
Dale Ralph Davis: Jeroboam then turns away from orthodoxy, not because it is no longer true but because it is no longer useful. He does not find it false but fearful. You see his thinking then. He must hold on to ‘his’ kingdom, and, since he cannot simply trust Yahweh’s word for that, he must make himself secure. That is the stimulus here for false religion. If you cannot trust God, you will use religion. In Jeroboam’s case, what matters is not truth but position—his position.
Donald Wiseman: Jeroboam’s sin of making a rival capital was compounded by his disbelief in God’s promise to him made through Ahijah (11:38). His decision was deliberate, after seeking advice (v. 28) or ‘after giving thought to the matter’ (neb, cf. nrsv ‘took counsel’), and defensive. The two bull-calves represented fertility symbols to which the power of God was attributed, despite their ineffectual nature as idols having been shown already by Aaron (Exod. 32:4–8). Some think the golden calves were pedestals on which the invisible god stood (cf. the Assyrian practice of showing bulls on which deities stood). The aim was to divert worship by the Israelites far from Jerusalem and to mark the borders of the new kingdom. Jeroboam himself may not have initially intended any anti-Yahwehism.
MacArthur: The Lord had ordained a political, not a religious, division of Solomon’s kingdom. The Lord had promised Jeroboam political control of the 10 northern tribes (11:31, 35, 37). However, Jeroboam was to religiously follow the Mosaic law, which demanded that he follow the Lord’s sacrificial system at the temple in Jerusalem (11:38). Having received the kingdom from God, he should have relied on divine protection, but he did not. Seeking to keep his subjects form being influenced by Rehoboam when they went to Jerusalem to worship, he set up worship in the north (vv. 27, 28).
Wiersbe: One of the first evidences of unbelief is fear. We get our eyes off the Lord and start looking at the circumstances. “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Jesus asked His disciples (Matt. 8:23-27, NKJV), reminding them that faith and fear can’t coexist in the same heart for very long. Jeroboam’s fear was that the Southern Kingdom would attack him and his own people desert him and go back to Jerusalem to worship.
B. (:28-30) Worship Symbols — Substitute Golden Calves to Replace the Cherubim Above the Ark of the Covenant for Symbolizing Strength, Power and Majesty
1. (:28) Building the Golden Calves
“So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.’”
Dale Ralph Davis: That was, tragically, Jeroboam’s genius. Linking his new cult with the bull worship at Sinai seems to have cast a mantle of legitimacy over his innovation. It was not apostasy but diversity. It was not novel but historical; it had roots, precedence. So much depends on how it’s pitched. False religion majors in such subtlety. It will use terms like redemptive, reconciling, atoning, etc., for their positive, emotive value but without their proper biblical content. . .
One footnote. This text breathes such an air of tragedy, for it shows us that the deviation of Israel and Aaron in Exodus 32 and that of Micah and of the tribe of Dan in Judges 17–18 gave the excuse to someone (Jeroboam) years later to advocate falsehood, and in such a way that finally destroyed a nation. We may think our infidelity is our own business, but, sadly, it may be embraced by those who come after and damn a whole generation. A little covenant-breaking at Sinai, a deviant cult at Dan—and a future in ruins.
David Guzik: Jeroboam appealed to their natural desire for convenience. Men will usually take the easy way out when they can; therefore, it was thought to be good if an idol in Bethel or Dan could replace the trip all the way to Jerusalem.
John Whitcomb: Calves or bulls were sacred to the Egyptians, and during his stay in Egypt Jeroboam had doubtless become fascinated by the popularity of this cult. . . Aaron had presented the calf as a visible symbol of Jehovah’s strength and power.
In like manner, Jeroboam, determined to satisfy the desire of the average Israelite for a spectacular symbol of his God, probably assured the people that these calves were intended only to point to Jehovah. And, after all, this was nothing really new, but was merely an amplification of that form of Israel’s wilderness religion which Aaron himself had established! Thus Jeroboam assumed the position of high priest himself, and by a clever mixture of popular pagan idolatry with the name of Jehovah, brought forth a compromise religion far more dangerous for the nation than out and out paganism could ever be. Like Satan, his supreme master, he attempted to pose as an angel of light and a minister of righteousness (II Cor. 11:14-15), and thus succeeded in “slaying” his tens of thousands. Twenty-one times after this, Old Testament writers refer to Jeroboam as the one who “made Israel to sin” (I Kings 14:16, etc.).
2. (:29) Locating the Golden Calves = New Worship Centers
“And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.”
Dale Ralph Davis: What about the geography? Why were the bulls placed at Bethel and Dan? Some say because of location, Bethel at the southern and Dan at the northern end of the ten-tribe turf. Accessibility, you see. Probably not. More likely, tradition and associations were decisive. Bethel had sacred links to the patriarchs, Abraham (Gen. 12:8; 13:3–4) and especially Jacob (Gen. 28:10–22; 31:13; 35:1–16). How can Abraham’s and Jacob’s descendants go wrong worshiping in a place where their ancestors worshiped and encountered God (cf. also Judg. 20:26–28)? And what of Dan? Alternative worship had been established there in the time of the judges, with no less than a grandson (or descendant) of Moses as presiding priest (Judg. 17–18, esp. 18:30–31). Bethel and Dan had worn halos for some time.
3. (:30) Worshiping the Golden Calves
“Now this thing became a sin,
for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan.”
Peter Pett: The bulls were not intended to be seen as images of God, but were rather probably intended to replace the Ark as the place where YHWH would invisibly meet with His people, stood, as it were, on the back of the bull, for elsewhere gods were regularly depicted as standing on the backs of bulls. Theoretically it still recognised the invisibility of YHWH, but dangerously the images were also reminiscent of Baal worship, for Baal was regularly depicted by means of the image of a bull. It was thus a compromise, possibly partly with the hope of placating his Canaanite subjects and integrating them into Israel, and definitely with a view to turning his people’s thoughts away from Jerusalem. He also altered the timing of the popular Autumn festival, the time when all the harvests of the year were celebrated, which occurred prior to the coming of the rain in October/November. The result could only be a Yahwism that lost its purity, and became diluted and syncretised with Canaanite worship, bringing YHWH down to the level of other ‘gods’. This was ‘the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat’.
C. (:31-33) Worship Institutions — Substitute Religious Institutions to Replace the Sacrificial Altar, the Priests and the Mandatory Feasts
1. (:31a) New Sacrificial Altars
“And he made houses on high places,”
2. (:31b) New Priests
“and made priests from among all the people
who were not of the sons of Levi.”
John Whitcomb: Utterly disgusted at this drastic departure from divinely revealed tradition, the vast majority of priests and Levites fled southward to Judah, taking with them the remnant of true believers from the northern tribes and leaving behind them a situation of near-total apostasy (II Chron. 11:13-17).
3. (:32-33) New Mandatory Feast on a New Calendar Date
“And Jeroboam instituted a feast in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast which is in Judah, and he went up to the altar; thus he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves which he had made. And he stationed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. 33 Then he went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised in his own heart; and he instituted a feast for the sons of Israel, and went up to the altar to burn incense.”
John Whitcomb: In our own day, religious movements which possess the least Biblical truth often have the most elaborate ceremonies and the most impressive worship centers.
Dale Ralph Davis: So Jeroboam inaugurated his deviant religious cult. The new ‘church year’ scheduled the Feast of Tabernacles in the eighth month, a date Jeroboam ‘invented from his own heart’ (v. 33). That clause could describe all the trappings of Jeroboam’s cult.
Jeroboam clearly rejected revelation governing Israel’s worship, for Yahweh had prescribed the personnel (the priests were to come from the Levites, vv. 31b, 32b), periods (e.g. the festival in the seventh month, vv. 32a, 33b), and place (Jerusalem, not Bethel, v. 33a) for public worship. Jeroboam violated all these stipulations. Religion for Jeroboam was not a ‘given,’ but something pliable to be massaged and shaped as one prefers. . .
One must be cautious, for ‘āśāh is a common verb, but when the writer uses it with repetitive overkill one can’t help but ask the reason. I propose he is not merely reporting but ridiculing. He made high places, he made priests, he made a festival, he made bulls, he made an altar. Don’t you see it? The writer has dipped his pen in acid. Jeroboam’s religion, he says, is Jeroboam’s concoction. Concoctions should not be taken seriously.
Donald Wiseman: The sin of Jeroboam and his ‘way of life’ to which the historian often refers (15:30, 34 and twenty other times in the books of Kings; cf. Hos., Amos) is clearly described as:
(i) Breaking up the unity of God’s people, both physically (vv. 25–26) and spiritually (vv. 26–27).
(ii) Creating man-made idols to be worshipped as national gods (vv. 28–30).
(iii) Increasing the role of Israelite sanctuaries. On the high places see on 3:3. For building up shrines cf. 1 Kings 13:32; 2 Kings 17:29, and for detestable practices cf. Deuteronomy 18:9–13.
(iv) Diverting worship from the Lord and his house in Jerusalem where his presence was attested and declared.
(v) Possibly taking on himself the role of priest (vv. 32–33; cf. 2 Chr. 26:16–21).
(vi) Introducing non-levitical priests taken from ‘every class of the people’ (v. 31, neb) against Deuteronomy 18:1–8. This action led to the evacuation of true priests (2 Chr. 11:13–14) and the introduction of priests from Canaanite shrines in the country (1 Kgs 13:33–34).
(vii) Reorganizing the religious calendar and festivals (vv. 32–33). The Feast of Tabernacles was put a month early (cf. Lev. 23:24) to forestall that at Jerusalem. There is no sure evidence that this was to link it with the common New Year Festival (Gray) at which a new king was inaugurated. It may have been a new institution and not simply to adjust the calendar to the solar year (DeVries). Nor is it likely that Jerusalem itself made the change of timing.
Each of these actions defied and broke God-given requirements in the law and implied that civil matters were considered more important than religious principle and practice. Such expediency directly forfeited God’s promise (11:38) and brought upon the sinner punishment that was self-inflicted yet divinely allowed.
Thomas Constable: All of Jeroboam’s so-called reforms involved religious apostasy. He set up new objects of worship, new places of worship (temple and altar), new leaders of worship, and new times of worship. These “reforms” proved to be the undoing of the Northern Kingdom. All the kings who followed Jeroboam perpetuated this idolatry..
Wiersbe: Jeroboam made himself a priest (vv. 32-33)! He offered incense and blood sacrifices just as the authorized priests did at the temple, except that the Lord never acknowledged his sacrifices.
Clarke: Jeroboam probably performed the functions of high priest himself, that he might in his own person condense the civil and ecclesiastical power.