Last Sunday I preached on the first 24 verses of 1 Kings 12 where Rehoboam made a foolish decision when dealing with the people’s demand and caused the kingdom to be divided as a result. I made two assumptions, i.e. insisting that the people weren’t really there to crown a king but to look for opportunity to break away and that their demand to have their yoke lightened wasn’t justified. I looked back at 1 Kings to see how Israel weren’t forced into hard labour as if they were slaves back in Egypt and that most of the major building work by Solomon would have been completed midway through his reign and not until the day he died. Well, if we look forward into the remaining verses of chapter 12, we find another reason to believe that they were merely using the yoke as an excuse. So allow me to continue from where I left off.
Verse 25 says, “Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel.” Scholars understand these two building projects to be massive enough to be mentioned among other things. The first was to turn the city into the capital and the other as a fortification in the east against foreign intrusion. Their yoke seemed to have increased instead but we do not hear them complaining to their new king this time round. That’s why I believe the people were simply looking for opportunity to break away. The remaining verses in the chapter tell us briefly what Jeroboam did after he was made king over Israel. He made two golden calves and placed them in Dan and Bethel. He also built temples on high places and appointed priests among all people who were not of Levites. Finally, he appointed a feast on the fifteen day of the eighth month and made sacrifices to the calves himself. Rehoboam might have been foolish but Jeroboam was even more foolish than the king of Judah.
So how was Jeroboam more foolish? The northern kingdom might have broken away but the northern tribes were not exempted from their covenantal obligations to follow God’s laws and commandments. The new king himself was reminded of it by God through Ahijah (1 Kings 11:38). Yet the two golden calves he made were not idols of other gods but of the God who delivered Israel from Egypt. In doing so, he broke God’s commandment not to make any image of him (Exodus 20:4). He also disregarded other religious guidelines by appointing non-Levites as priests (Numbers 8) and changing the date for an appointed feast (Leviticus 23:33-34). But why would he do all these things?
Verses 26-27 tell us that he did so because he feared the people might turn against him if they kept going back to Jerusalem to fulfil their covenantal obligations. So like Rehoboam, he took counsel and did these foolish acts out of fear for his own life. The sad thing was that his tricks worked and the people were happy to go along. I suppose it worked because it appealed to their desire for convenience, which was made even more convenient by the addition of temples at high places. Jeroboam turned true religion into useful religion in order to serve his own purposes. In doing so, he led his kingdom into worshipping the true God the wrong way before they began worshipping other gods along the way.
So what can we learn from Jeroboam? He is a classic example of people who create their own religion according to their own taste and there are people out there who love such religions, especially when it also suit their taste or appeal to their desire for convenience. And the sad thing is that Christianity is becoming a religion of convenience in our generation, i.e. all you need is ‘just believe’ so that grace remains grace without being annulled by works or the law. If I may put it, this is foolishness. If it is not, then the saints of the early church would all have been fools for the way they lived and gave of their lives for the glory of the kingdom.
Then we also read of those who twist religion to secure their personal goals. True religion becomes useful religion as they get to fly in their private jets and live in sprawling mansions. The sad thing is that their tricks work because people are happy to fund their lifestyles. These people believe that in giving much, they will receive much more in return. Is this also foolishness? I suppose there are people who have indeed received more in return. They will therefore vouch for their twisted religion because their personal goals are secured. But if they seriously think that this is what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about, then I say it is foolishness. So how can we be foolish like Jeroboam? Well, it is when we begin to care more about personal goals or convenience than about kingdom goals or discipleship. If so, we should pause and ponder lest we begin to worship the true God the wrong way.
Rev Ronnie Ang
January 31, 2016