Departing from the Sins of Jeroboam

Departing from the Sins of Jeroboam | Land of Honey

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Reading through Kings so many of their lives contain what appears to be a footnote and it goes like this, "But nevertheless he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin." This summation is at the end of almost every King of Israel's story. "He did some good stuff, but he walked like Jeroboam." No matter how many things they did for YHWH, military victories, and accomplishments of their reign, if they lived like Jeroboam that's the defining theme of their lives in Scripture.

If you aren't familiar with him, Jeroboam was the first king of the Northern House of Israel, which first gets mentioned in 1 Kings 11 after the ten tribes of Israel split away from the tribe of Judah. While Israel refers collectively to all twelve tribes from Genesis up through the reigns of Kings Saul, David, and Solomon, after the split under Solomon's son Rehoboam, the term 'Israel' refers to the ten northern tribes.

What did Jeroboam do that made his name one of the biggest insults in Scripture? Generation after generation YHWH traced the blame for Israel's sins to this man. You might be surprised by how innocuous his offensives seem in our culture.

-made two golden calves
-set up temples in high places
-decided himself who could be a priest
-moved the feast dates

I certainly don't want to downplay how he transgressed against YHWH, but those things seem fairly low-key don't they? He is not described as a murderer or war hungry. He did not make it illegal to worship YHWH in his kingdom. In fact, 1 Kings 12:28 tells us that he was trying to make worship of YHWH more convenient for his people as, "it is too much for you to go to Jerusalem."

(You can read about Jeroboam in 1 Kings 11:26 - 12)

So Jeroboam: did the same thing as Aaron by creating golden calves; set up a house of worship according to what he felt like doing; used his own standards for who would work in this ministry; moved the date of a Biblical festival. Do these things sound eerily familiar? A leader has decided that the things YHWH has asked are too difficult for the people, so he announces his alternative ideas, as if they were commandments. That can be seen in every pastor that teaches YHWH's instructions are too hard and every rabbi that says a chicken is an appropriate Yom Kippur sacrificial substitute. They are going to do what they see is best, while ignoring the word of YHWH.

It's interesting that 1 Kings 12:32 describes Jeroboam's feast "like the feast that is in Judah." He did not create a new feast to worship a false god or himself. He simply decided to move the feasts of the seventh month (Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot) to the eight month of the year. This seemingly unimportant adjustment is hugely offensive to YHWH. Rescheduling something that YHWH instructed caused Israel to sin for generations. In light of that, it is extremely important for Christians to evaluate the holidays that they keep. In many ways how Easter is celebrated in churches is very similar to Passover. It's like the feast that happens in Scripture, but traditions are valued more than the word of YHWH. Christmas is somewhat like the festival of Sukkot, except it's not YHWH's idea. Do we want to have something in common with a man who caused all of Israel to walk in sin?

In the first golden calf story in Exodus 32 Israel did not mean to turn away from YHWH. They simply decided for themselves rather than following YHWH's instructions how they would worship. In verse five it says that all the golden calf business was meant to be "a festival to YHWH." Like Jeroboam, their plan wasn't to jump ship entirely and worship a false god. They just wanted to decide how they would serve the Living God. But YHWH has not left that up to us.

Jeroboam did not stop at offending YHWH with his disobedience. He made the culture of Israel one where it was easy to sin. He created a lifestyle of defying what YHWH said, while having it be close enough that people could think they were on the right track. Probably all of us were born into circumstances like that, where the decisions of those before us caused us to sin. A culture of celebrating Easter instead of Passover. Of worship on Sunday instead of Shabbat. Church potlucks serving ham. We were made to sin by those who came before us. We were born into traditions we never realized we should question. Like Israel's kings who had their walk after Jeroboam, YHWH wants us to turn away from that.

The story of Jehu is striking. Israel's 11th king lead a military coup against a corrupt ruler, put to death the infamously wicked Jezebel, killed all the relatives of perhaps Israel's most evil king Ahab, staged a coercive operation to destroy the temple of Baal and it's worshippers, and tore down graven images of Baal. YHWH was pleased with his actions and even said that Jehu "did well in executing that which is righteous in my eyes." But then, just one sentence later, in 2 Kings 10:31, it says, "But Jehu took no heed to have his walk in the Torah of YHWH Elohim of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin."

That sentence speaks a strong truth of YHWH that we often forget: he's not that interested in our resumes. Tales of grandeur are not what he's after. You can fight amazing battles, and accomplish the bravest of feats, and still hear, "Nevertheless, he didn't turn away from simple sins. He walked like a man who wasn't even willing to attend a party when I wanted." That sentence of not departing from Jeroboam's ways is used something like 17 times in Kings because YHWH wants us to see that no matter what he wants us to live according to his instructions. This is the point Samuel made to King Saul when he said, "Obedience is better than sacrifice." To depart from the sin of Jeroboam's walk we need to follow YHWH's paths.


  1. This is a GREAT post. Thank you for writing it. :)

    1. Thank you Talia! That means a lot from you! :)

  2. Thanks so much Taylor! I always appreciate your blog and perspective and learn from you. You do such a good job with the presentation, explanation, supporting verses, etc. I also appreciate your beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing your study of scripture!