A Time for Grace, a Time for Judgment
1 Kings 13 and 14
(A supplemental teaching to augment the Study of the Prophets (Amos)
This week I want to divert a bit from our study on the book of Amos to go into detail about Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. I believe this information will provide a more comprehensive perspective of the situation Amos faced as he delivered the word of the L-rd to the Ten Tribes. The name Jeroboam (יָרָבְעָם) is commonly held to have been derived from riyb (רִיב) and `am (עַם), and signifying “the people contend,” or, “he pleads the people’s cause” It is alternatively translated to mean “his people are many” or “he increases the people” (from רבב (rbb), meaning to increase); or even “he that opposes the people”. In the Septuagint he is called Hieroboam (Ιεροβοάμ). Jeroboam was a man of many natural talents, and G-d chose him for a tremendously important purpose. G-d promised to be with him, and to give him a dynasty as enduring as that of David if Jeroboam would walk in G-d’s ways and obey His commandments. G-d did not require perfection from Jeroboam, but a heart like David’s, a heart that would repent and seek G-d’s mercy when confronted with its own sinfulness.
G-d Himself exalted Jeroboam and made him king. G-d had His servant Ahijah the prophet predict that this would happen years ahead of time, and then G-d brought it about by His miraculous power – Jeroboam did not become king through his cleverness or his abilities.
But then Jeroboam turns his back on G-d. Afraid that the people will lose their loyalty to him if they travel to the southern kingdom of Judah to offer sacrifices and attend festivals at the temple in Jerusalem, he sets up worship centers in his own kingdom –erecting golden claves expressly violating G-d’s commandments. Jeroboam does not so much reject G-d outright as he twists the worship of G-d, letting pragmatic considerations govern his religious observances. Today we face similar pragmatic considerations today, and must be careful not to follow Jeroboam’s lead.
What was Jeroboam’s legacy? Every king of Israel after Jeroboam is said to have “walked in all the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit.” We remember Jeroboam not for the legacy of his talents or accomplishments, but for the legacy of his sin.
How tragic! How terrible to be remembered as the one who led others into sin!
As we explore Jeroboam’s life we see that G-d does not zap Jeroboam after he creates the golden calves. Instead, G-d reaches out to Jeroboam, in a way that has many parallels with His reaching out to David by Nathan the prophet. G-d shows Jeroboam his sin, shows him the consequences of continuing in the path he is walking – and shows that He is a G-d who answers prayer, a G-d who heals, a G-d who will forgive. But Jeroboam rejects G-d’s grace – and then, later in his life, in a moment of personal tragedy when he seeks prophecy from G-d, he hears not grace but judgment. And Jeroboam’s legacy of sin is all that is left.
This is a sobering story, a story that G-d brought you here this evening to hear. There are no accidents in G-d’s plan. You are here by His will, to hear this His word proclaimed to you. As we consider this man’s tragic life, ask yourself two sets of questions:
• What is my legacy? If I were to die today, what would my legacy be?
• And even more importantly: Am I trifling with G-d, like Jeroboam? If I were to die today, do I face only a terrifying expectation of judgment?
I want you and I to consider this message under only two headings: The Offer of Grace and the Certainty of Judgment.
The Offer of Grace
Jeroboam has set up one of his golden calves at Bethel, in the southern part of his kingdom, only a dozen or so miles from the border with the kingdom of Judah. Jeroboam had also wrongly set himself up as priest:
1 ¶ Now behold, there came a man of G-d from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. 2 And he cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’” 3 Then he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign which the LORD has spoken, ‘Behold, the altar shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.’” (1 Kings 13:1-3 NASB)
Note that the prophet proclaims judgment against the altar; he does not at this time proclaim judgment against Jeroboam. Now, Jeroboam commanded that the altar be made – but G-d is not yet condemning Jeroboam.
This prophecy against the altar is fulfilled completely about 300 years later, when Josiah, king of Judah, completely destroys and desecrates the altar. (You can read about this in 2 Kings 23). Think about that: G-d through Ahijah names the king who will desecrate the altar 300 years before it happens. But G-d not only prophesies the name of the king, He tells us of one of his actions.
4 Now it came about when the king heard the saying of the man of G-d, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, that Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. 5 The altar also was split apart and the ashes were poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of G-d had given by the word of the LORD. 6 And the king answered and said to the man of G-d, “Please entreat the LORD your G-d, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.” So the man of G-d entreated the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored to him, and it became as it was before.
Imagine the scene: The king is standing at the altar, performing this supposedly sacred duty. The occasion is solemn, serious. And right at the most important moment, this prophet barges in, denouncing the entire proceeding and Jeroboam shouts: “Seize him!”
Surely this prophet knew he was risking his life by carrying out G-d’s command, for this was an audacious act – and a dangerous act.
Jeroboam sees this as a threat to his kingdom, so he calls for the arrest of the prophet. As soon as he does so, his arm shrivels up, and the altar splits in two.
So G-d in His mercy and grace provides Jeroboam with two miracles – clear evidence that the prophet speaks by G-d’s command. And as we mentioned, G-d has not condemned Jeroboam personally; the king now has an opportunity to acknowledge that G-d’s judgment is right, that he has sinned; he has an opportunity to repent, to walk in G-d’s ways, and to become the kind of king G-d intended him to be.
But Jeroboam doesn’t do that. Instead, how does he respond?
“Please, pray for me!” (that’s ok so far . . .) “that my hand may be restored to me.”
And Jeroboam asks for no more from G-d! He only wants His hand healed! Here he is, in gross violation of G-d’s commands, leading G-d’s people away from Him. G-d mercifully reaches out, sending His prophet to proclaim judgment against the altar, and to perform miracles – yet Jeroboam only asks to have his hand healed.
How often do you and I do the same! Jeroboam needed to ask for forgiveness, he needed to turn in repentance for what he had done. He needed to say, “Lord, you exalted me above all men in making me king, and look how I have turned against you. Forgive me in your mercy, and enable me to walk according to your Torah!”
Does G-d want us to go to him when we are ill or in trouble, yes! But we should not act as did Jeroboam and ask only about the minor matters, forgetting those things that are of most importance. For in the end – at the final judgment — physical health, jobs, marriages, safety in travel, and all the other things we spend so much time praying for matter not. What matters is the glory of G-d, and our spreading a passion for that glory.
7 Then the king said to the man of G-d, “Come home with me and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.” 8 But the man of G-d said to the king, “If you were to give me half your house I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place. 9 “For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.’” 10 So he went another way, and did not return by the way which he came to Bethel.
Now what does the king do? Jeroboam (a) tries to spin this to his political advantage and (b) tries to buy off the prophet’s and G-d’s good favor. Astounding! Instead of throwing himself on G-d’s mercy, He tries to buy G-d off! He tries to change his status from condemned lawbreaker to major donor, from G-d’s enemy to G-d’s patron. He tries to become number one on the list of donors to the temple.
G-d just went to great lengths to remind him that his security lay in G-d alone, that G-d had put him in office and G-d remains his only hope. But Jeroboam thinks he has something to offer G-d.
Once again, many are tempted to do the same? G-d doesn’t want our money if He doesn’t have our hearts. G-d is the source of all that we need, and we honor Him by receiving from Him, by acknowledging that everything we have, all that we own and our very lives, are gifts from him. When will we see that whatever we give and whatever good we do is His work, accomplished by His power in us?
The prophet refuses Jeroboam’s offer, having received explicit instructions from G-d: “Go to the northern kingdom, to Bethel, proclaim my judgment, and go back.” But in verses 11 to 32 we find that the prophet allows himself to be distracted from his task by an elderly man who in times past had served as a prophet of G-d. This elderly man lies to the younger prophet, telling him that G-d instructed him to bring the young prophet home. G-d then has a lion kill the young prophet because of his disobedience. Many of us are tempted to say how cruel that G-d would reward this prophet in such a way after having done at least the important part of his mission, but remember that to “whom much is given much is required.”
This however serves as a further warning to Jeroboam: if G-d did not spare this man whom he used mightily for His purposes, when he only disobeyed instructions about stopping along the way, why does Jeroboam think G-d will spare Him if he continues to violate G-d’s Torah?
In summary, this entire chapter displays G-d’s grace, His offer of mercy to Jeroboam. Like Nathan going to David after the sin with Bathsheba, G-d sends this man to Jeroboam. And G-d performs four miracles to drive the message home: the destruction of the altar, the shriveling of Jeroboam’s hand, the healing of his hand, and the killing of the prophet. G-d confronts Jeroboam with the evil of his ways and the necessity of repentance to avoid condemnation. How does Jeroboam respond? Let’s read verses 33 and 34:
33 Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places. 34 This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth. (NIV)
G-d proclaims the coming judgment, but Jeroboam ignores G-d and continues in his evil ways. Unfortunately, most Preachers will not preach about sin and judgment for fear of offending people. They are told “Just help people to feel better about themselves, assist them in having a positive self-image.” But given the reality of judgment, such preaching is not merciful at all. The most merciful thing you can do for someone who is headed for destruction is to give him warning.
We must proclaim G-d’s judgment “from heaven against all the G-dlessness and wickedness of men.” (Romans 1:18) And it is merciful and loving to do so.
But Jeroboam doesn’t respond to G-d’s mercy. Consequently, G-d’s next words to Jeroboam are no longer judgments against the altar, but against him. Let’s read this entire sad story, verses 1-18 of chapter 14:
The Certainty of Judgment
1 ¶ At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam became sick. 2 And Jeroboam said to his wife, “Arise now, and disguise yourself so that they may not know that you are the wife of Jeroboam, and go to Shiloh; behold, Ahijah the prophet is there, who spoke concerning me that I would be king over this people. 3 “And take ten loaves with you, some cakes and a jar of honey, and go to him. He will tell you what will happen to the boy.” 4 And Jeroboam’s wife did so, and arose and went to Shiloh, and came to the house of Ahijah. Now Ahijah could not see, for his eyes were dim because of his age. 5 Now the LORD had said to Ahijah, “Behold, the wife of Jeroboam is coming to inquire of you concerning her son, for he is sick. You shall say thus and thus to her, for it will be when she arrives that she will pretend to be another woman.” 6 And it came about when Ahijah heard the sound of her feet coming in the doorway, that he said, “Come in, wife of Jeroboam, why do you pretend to be another woman? For I am sent to you with a harsh message.
7 ¶ “Go, say to Jeroboam, ‘Thus says the LORD G-d of Israel, “Because I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over My people Israel, 8 and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you—yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only that which was right in My sight; 9 you also have done more evil than all who were before you, and have gone and made for yourself other G-ds and molten images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back— 10 therefore behold, I am bringing calamity on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male person, both bond and free in Israel, and I will make a clean sweep of the house of Jeroboam, as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone. 11 “Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs will eat. And he who dies in the field the birds of the heavens will eat; for the LORD has spoken it.”‘ 12 “Now you arise, go to your house. When your feet enter the city the child will die. 13 “And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he alone of Jeroboam’s family shall come to the grave, because in him something good was found toward the LORD G-d of Israel in the house of Jeroboam. 14 “Moreover, the LORD will raise up for Himself a king over Israel who shall cut off the house of Jeroboam this day and from now on. 15 “For the LORD will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; and He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking the LORD to anger. 16 “And He will give up Israel on account of the sins of Jeroboam, which he committed and with which he made Israel to sin.” 17 Then Jeroboam’s wife arose and departed and came to Tirzah. As she was entering the threshold of the house, the child died. 18 And all Israel buried him and mourned for him, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke through His servant Ahijah the prophet.
Did you note the name of Jeroboam’s son? “Abijah” is a name honoring YHVH, the G-d of Israel. The name means “YHVH is my father.” This is more evidence that Jeroboam still maintained that he was following the G-d of Israel, just in his own way. Indeed, he might very well have argued that he did not turn to foreign G-ds, as did Solomon, but just brought the worship of G-d up to date, acknowledging the present political situation.
But now this son, his heir, whom he loves, is sick, and looks like he might die. Now, where does Jeroboam seek help? From the priests he himself ordained? From the places of worship he has set up? No. He seeks out the very man who proclaimed that he would become king.
Yet while he seeks supernatural knowledge from this man, he thinks he can deceive him by dressing up his wife in disguise! And note that the prophet is blind! He can’t even see the disguise! Further, Jeroboam never learned the lesson of chapter 13: he still tries to buy off G-d, this time with a few loaves of bread.
Don’t we do the same as Jeroboam and his wife? Don’t some of us pretend to be believers, going through all the motions, trying to deceive others, trying to deceive G-d. All the time our hearts are set on this world, desiring its pleasures and comforts. We turn to Him in times of crisis, like Jeroboam. “Oh, here G-d, take this gift and help me, help me, help me! Heal this disease, give me a job, cure this hangnail.” But we don’t desire to be made holy. We don’t desire to glorify G-d at all times and in all ways. We want a genie from a bottle to grant us three wishes, not the holy and righteous and almighty G-d of the universe.
As Jeroboam’s wife arrives, thinking how clever she and her husband are, Ahijah’s first words to her: “Come in, wife of Jeroboam, why do you pretend to be another woman? For I am sent to you with a harsh message.”
Who is sent to whom? Jeroboam’s wife thinks she is sent by her husband, but G-d is in control. She came by G-d’s appointment, and Ahijah is the messenger, not Jeroboam’s wife.
Verses 7 to 16 recording Jeroboam’s sin, its impact on his country, and G-d’s judgment on that sin are among the saddest verses in Scripture. G-d’s chosen leader, promised great blessings if he would acknowledge G-d and walk in His ways, has instead ignored G-d. Think how Jeroboam dishonored G-d! G-d cries out through his prophet:
• I exalted you!
• I made you leader!
• I tore the kingdom away from David’s descendants!
• But you! You have done more evil than all who were before you!
• You have cast me behind your back!
Nothing is more terrible than to cast G-d behind our backs or put Him in second place! We are to keep our eyes fixed on G-d; yet how often we, like Jeroboam, put G-d behind us, and live our lives as if He did not exist. Oh, we keep Him close by to pull him out in times of crisis; but for so many of us, for most of our lives, G-d is safely tucked behind us. G-d belongs out front, so that we may acknowledge Him and depend upon him every step we take.
G-d states in verse 10 “I will make a clean sweep of the house of Jeroboam, as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone.” Only two years after Jeroboam’s death, his son is assassinated, and the new king wipes out all of Jeroboam’s descendants. G-d had promised him a dynasty as enduring as that of David, if he would follow Him; instead, his lasts 24 years.
But the judgment goes even deeper. Jeroboam has a legacy, an impact on others. His nation, all the northern tribes of Israel, 10 of the 12 tribes, suffers judgment too. There are three levels of judgment contained in verses 15 and 16. G-d says He will:
• Strike Israel
• Uproot Israel from the land He gave them, scattering them beyond the Euphrates
• He will give Israel up because of the sins Jeroboam has committed and caused
The uprooting is still 200 years off; but the impact of Jeroboam’s sin makes it certain. And can there be more painful words than “He will give Israel up”?
In the event, all this comes to pass. In 2 Kings 17, after recording the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians and the scattering of the ten tribes, the chronicler places the blame squarely on Jeroboam, who “drove Israel away from following the Lord.” That is Jeroboam’s legacy.
Are you pretending to be something you’re not? Do you consider yourself just, condemning others while missing the beam n your own eye? Are you trifling with G-d, saying you believe in G-d, saying Yahshua is your Lord, but putting Him behind your back, turning to Him only in tragic situations and crying out “I’m your child, help me! Help me!”
If you find yourself exhibiting behaviors similar to those of Jeroboam, I admonish you to take the message of Jeroboam as a warning: You cannot trifle with G-d. Do not play these games. Do you really think your attempt to play-act as a believer will be any more successful than the disguise of Jeroboam’s wife? You may fool your neighbors, family, friends, and others, but G-d knows your heart. Do not test the Lord your G-d or plan to sincerely turn to Him at a more “convenient” time. Our lives are but a breath that can be taken at any moment.
Yochanan tells us that “G-d is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie” (1 John 1:5,6)
Do not be deceived. We cannot mock G-d. Cry out for mercy, admit to G-d that you are worthy judgment, and ask Him for a new heart; ask Him to make you a new creation, beg Him to give you Himself. For a broken and contrite heart, G-d will never despise.
• Are you learning how to love mercy and walk humbly before G-d?
• Are you learning how to love their neighbors as they love themselves?
• Are you learning how to love the Lord their G-d with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength?
G-d holds out before you life and death; a legacy of radical discipleship or a legacy of leading others into sin. Jeroboam chose to walk in sin – to the destruction of his nation, his family, and himself. Which will you choose?
Rabbi Tamah Davis
A Time for Grace, a Time for Judgment