Sermon preached on 1 Kings 12:25-13:10 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/10/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 12:25-13:10
Now the Kingdom Will Turn Back to the House of David
How quickly a leader among God’s people can go astray. Think of the shift that we see here today. In last week’s passage Jeroboam looked like a sort of new Moses resisting Heavy-Burden Rehoboam who looked sort of like another Pharaoh enslaving Israel. Jeroboam successfully led that people out of such bondage, according to the will of the LORD. If that imagery were to continue, Jeroboam here should be like Moses at Sinai leading the people in covenant renewal. Faced with the idolatry that Solomon had introduced, Jeroboam should have been a religious reformer among Israel. But Jeroboam doesn’t model Moses at Sinai here. The Exodus imagery continues, but unfortunately here he reprises the role of Aaron with the idolatry of the golden calf. Let’s then study Jeroboam’s failing here to find wisdom and application for us today.
Let’s begin today by observing the problem that Jeroboam was trying to solve. After some initial solidifying of his kingdom by building up key historic cities like Shechem and Penuel, he has a concern. The problem he perceives is listed in verses 26-27. Basically, he fears that the kingdom will revert back to David’s dynasty if the people continue to worship at Jerusalem. Recall, that while God in last chapter told Jeroboam that he would give 10 tribes to Jeroboam, he said he would keep 1 tribe for David’s line for David’s sake. But, God also said there he would do this for the sake of Jerusalem, since he had chosen to put his name there, 11:36. So, up to this point, the northern people of Israel still had their religious headquarters in Jerusalem, even though their political headquarters was now in Shechem. But Jerusalem, of course, was now part of a different kingdom – the southern kingdom of Judah. So, the people of Israel, especially during the three big annual feasts, would have made pilgrimages to Jerusalem. There they would have worshipped the LORD and offered sacrifices at the temple through the Levitical priests. There they would have kept the feasts as a joyous time of worship and fellowship with the one true God. And so, in reflecting on this, Jeroboam has this perceived problem. He fears losing what he now has. He sees that if the people keep going up to worship at Jerusalem where King Rehoboam was reigning, that eventually their hearts would be won back to him. Jeroboam fears that this will not only make him lose the kingdom, but also his life, verse 27!
So that is Jeroboam’s fear and perceived problem before him that he is trying to solve. The problem is that his solution is exceedingly unbiblical. It is an evil solution to a problem that frankly he shouldn’t have even been concerned about. So, what’s his solution? Well, the short answer is that he establishes two new idolatrous centers of worship. He makes two golden calves and places them in the cities of Bethel and Dan and tells the people that this is where they should worship. Instead of going to Jerusalem, they are to go to Bethel or Dan and worship via these golden calves. We might mention, by the way, that both Bethel and Dan have a history as religious sites of worship among God’s people. Bethel’s history is a commendable one, where God appeared to the patriarch Jacob with that dream of a ladder to heaven, Genesis 28. That was when Jacob was fleeing the Promised Land to escape his brother Esau’s fury. Then much later when Jacob finally returns to the Promised Land, he again worships God at Bethel, with God instructing him to make an altar there. So, there was divine warrant, previously, for worship to happen there at Bethel. As for Dan, on the other hand, its historic precedence for a worship site finds it infamous roots during the time of the Judges. Judges 17-18 describes how displaced Danites robbed an Ephramite who had an idol and his own personal Levite serving as his household priest – it was dark times. The Danites stole essentially by force the idol and the priest and go up to the north and destroy a defenseless town, rename it Dan, and rebuild it. That stolen priest and idol then become their center of worship at Dan. And so, Jeroboam picks these two historic worship sites, conveniently located on the northern and southern borders of the nation, to replace worship at Jerusalem. There is much pragmatic wisdom here by Jeroboam, but it was wrong.
So, that’s the short answer of the evil solution that Jeroboam implements to solve his perceived problem of losing the kingdom. The longer answer is that Jeroboam implements other related religious changes to their worship. In verse 31, we see he changes the priesthood. God had said that the Levites were to serve as priests. Certainly, they would have had Levites at their disposal because God had assigned Levitical cities throughout the nation for them to live at. But verse 31 says he appointed priests from among all the people. Again, we might imagine some of the pragmatic wisdom here. The Levites would have surely been the least likely to have gone along with such a change in worship. At the original golden calf incidence, it was the Levites who came to the Lord’s side with Moses (Ex 32:26). Plus, what an egalitarian and inclusive approach to get the people excited and involved in the new worship practices – to open wide the clergy for everyone!
But Jeroboam’s religious changes didn’t stop there. Verse 31 also records that he had additional high places for worship. In other words, in addition to his primary locations of Bethel and Dan, there were additional sites for worship setup like the pagan religions all over the high places of the land. You might recall earlier in 1 Kings it says that this was an issue God addressed via King Solomon building the one central place of worship for the people at Jerusalem. That was religious reformation going on when Solomon turned the people away from the high places. Now, Jeroboam implements religious deformation by going back to the high places.
Lastly, we see that Jeroboam implemented a counterfeit feast. This is recorded starting in verse 32. Exactly one month later than the big Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, Jeroboam held their own religious feast. Presumably that was the feast he was trying to compete with. Why he held it one month later is not stated, but since that feast was also a harvest festival, some have suggested that it lined up better with the harvest time in the north. But either way, it seems that this choice of the 8th month was especially egregious, as it was not in line with the times God had appointed. Again, I could see the pragmatic wisdom here – people like such feasts. Jeroboam surely assumed that if he didn’t have something to compete with the Jerusalem Feast of Booths then the people would make that trip.
We can appreciate Jeroboam’s pragmatic wisdom in trying to deal with this problem he perceived. Yet, even its pragmatic aspects didn’t work out very well. It actually, in part, had the opposite effect. 2 Chronicles 11 records that after Jeroboam did all this, not only did the Levites leave the northern kingdom and resettle in Judah and Jerusalem, but also a bunch of other faithful Israelites did too. As for the majority who didn’t leave Israel for Judah, we see the result for them in verse 30. Jeroboam’s leadership led the people into sin. The capstone of Jeroboam’s evil solution here is that it was not just his own personal sin, but it resulted in a whole nation being led astray into sin.
In our first point for today, I walked us through the perceived problem and Jeroboam’s evil solution. What I want to do next it to observe and apply how Jeroboam’s sin here was ultimately a second commandment violation. What I mean by that, is that Jeroboam does not appear to be trying to institute a brand new religion with brand new gods. He doesn’t tell the people to start worshipping Baal, or Chemosh, or Ashtoreth. That would be a first commandment violation. No, Jeroboam is trying to have the people worship the one true God in these perverted ways. Most explicitly to the second command, he is wanting them to worship the one true God via these idols. I draw your attention to verse 28. The pew bible translates him saying, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” This is a line that gets lost in translation. You see, the one true God of the Bible sometimes is referred to in the Bible with the plural Hebrew generic word for god which is Elohim. That’s the word used in verse 28. The English translators feel the need to translate it in the plural, “gods” because there are two golden calves. Yet, these words are clearly the same words Aaron used of the one golden calf before. Aaron also said that his golden calf was their Elohim who brought them out of Egypt. Jeroboam has almost identical language to Aaron here. In both cases they identify the god – the one who brought them out of Egypt. That’s whom both Aaron and Jeroboam were trying to have the people worship. And that’s what makes this a second commandment violation and not a first. The first commandment says not to have other, different gods besides the one true God. The second commandment says not to worship your one true God by idols.
To be fair, surely Jeroboam wasn’t trying to say that these golden calves were actually God. Surely, he was saying that they were going to worship the one true God representatively through these idols. But again, that’s the exact point of the second commandment. God doesn’t want to be worshipped that way. And when you are God, you get to say how you are to be worshipped. And its our duty to worship him that way, and only that way. That’s what the second commandment is talking about.
And so, from that second commandment, the Christians have derived what we call the “Regulative Principle of Worship”. Like each of the ten commandments, we can see from all of Scripture that each commandment finds more extended applications. Like how the commandment to not commit adultery applies to speak against various forms of sexual immorality. Or how the command to honor our parents applies to how we should show fitting honor to the various authorities in our lives. So too, we see the Bible teach various related applications of the second commandment that would show what we call the regulative principle of worship. It means that not only are we to worship God in the ways he commands us to, but we are also not to worship in ways he hasn’t commanded. In other words, we must not neglect and omit to worship him according to his regulations, but we also must not add new regulations for how to worship him.
So then, all these religious changes to worship here by Jeroboam are violations of this regulative principle of worship espoused by the second commandment. Besides the explicit commandment against idolatry, God had taught that he was to have only one central altar among the people and he made it clear that at that time that was to be Jerusalem – not Bethel, not Dan, not any of the high places. Likewise, God had set apart the Levites for the old covenant worship, not any other tribe. So too for the feasts – the mosaic covenant outlines the biblical feasts and their times in the calendar. No one, Jeroboam included, was free to make up a different date or religious feast apart from the commandment of God. We see all this regulative principle concern summed up nicely there in verse 33 concerning the feast. It says this was something he “devised from his own heart.” Creativity and imagination are prized traits, but not when it comes to the worship of God.
This principle from the second commandment still applies today in our own context of the new covenant. While Scripture teaches us that some aspects of our worship have new expressions under the new covenant, the regulative principle still applies. We must understand how God calls us to worship him under the new covenant and look to only worship him in such ways.
This certainly has application today to images or any visual representations of deity. It’s why the reformed have historically not made use of pictures or representations of deity, including ones of Jesus. While people often try to make a case that pictures could be used for educational purposes instead of worship purposes, let us not be wiser than God. In fact, time and again when such has been tried, the images end up becoming idolatrous in one way or another. But the application is not just to representations of deity. Any man-made inventions of worship are prohibited. Many examples from the Protestant Reformation could be given here. Worship through relics, through deceased saints, through angels, through candles, are all examples of things to be condemned. But certainly today, second commandment violations have started to creep back into Protestant churches. Let us continue to go back to God’s Word and make sure the elements of our worship are only what God commands. Let us not fall into the trap of devising from our own hearts new elements of worship.
So then, in our last point for today, I’d like to direct us back to Jeroboam and ask a question. What would have been the right solution for Jeroboam here, given his concern? The right solution would have been for him to trust the word of God. That was Jeroboam’s core failure here. Yes, he broke the second commandment repeatedly here. But what was underlying his disobedience was a serious lack of faith. He didn’t believe the Word of the Lord that God had given him through the prophet Ahijah back in 11:38. There God promised Jeroboam that if he would walk in in God’s commandments and keep his statutes, then God would make Jeroboam’s dynasty to be a sure house like the house of David. God had already addressed his perceived problem here! Yet, he listened to the word of others over God’s Word. He first listened to his own word in verse 26 when he “spoke in his heart” this faithless concern. Second, we see in verse 28 that he “took counsel” in order to come up with his plan for all these religious changes. And so, he gets a word from himself and others about what to do. But all he needed to do was remember the Word from God he already received and believe it! And so, Jeroboam’s fundament problem was a failure to believe the LORD. In fact, he acted in the complete opposite of what God’s Word told him. How foolish of Jeroboam.
Ironically, at this point, the only hope for the northern kingdom of Israel would yet come through the Word of the LORD. Consider this. The first time this sort of thing happened with Aaron and the golden calf it almost turned out disastrous for Israel. At the time, God told Moses that he was prepared to completely wipe out Israel and start over with just Moses (Ex 32:10). Moses, the man of God, interceded and God relented from that destruction and the people are brought to repentance. Here, it happens again, and interestingly we see another “man of God” come and intercede for Jeroboam (13:6). But no real repentance or reform. The golden calves are kept. Amazingly, God is then so patient with them. He doesn’t at that time just wipe them out. God instead sends them prophet after prophet to warn them. But still they won’t listen. Finally, in 2 Kings 17, God would send Assyria to wipe out and exile this northern kingdom of Israel. There, approximately two hundred years later, the Bible cites Jeroboam and his golden calves as chief among the reasons why God destroyed that northern kingdom of Israel. Interestingly, today those tribes are referred to as the ten lost tribes of Israel as they seem to have disappeared from human history. It’s as if they have been totally wiped out from existence, like what God threatened to do during Moses’ day when they sinned with the golden calf. It’s like these ten tribes were lost off the face of the earth.
And yet they have not been lost to God. In God’s great mercy, the Word of the LORD continues to be their hope. As an example, I point you again to the prophecy we referenced last week in Ezekiel 37. There, years after Israel had been demolished by Assyria, God prophesied that one day he would gather back up all the scattered peoples of Israel along with all the scattered of Judah, and bring them back together. He promised that he would reunite them as one restored people with one king – the Davidic messiah. The prophetic word of the Lord yet offered hope to wayward Israel. And ironically the hope it offered was the through the very thing Jeroboam feared – that the kingdom would turn back to the house of David.
We rejoice then today knowing that the kingdom has begun to be turned back to the house of David with the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus came as that promised Davidic messiah. King Jesus has begun to gather up his scattered chosen people from all over the earth. We learn elsewhere in Scripture that this even includes many that he has chosen from the Gentiles.
In closing then saint of God in Jesus Christ, we have the same fundamental test Jeroboam faced. Faced today with threats to our churches, will we stand upon the Word of God? Or will we devise in our own hearts and according to worldly wisdom a “plan” to save a supposedly declining church. As the church, we can certainly ask that question in terms of fearing that we may lose people to the world. But this passage more specifically would ask this in terms of fearing that we lose people to other Christian denominations. I think today people look at certain denominations and see the changes they are making; changes that have a sense of worldly wisdom to them. Changes that can appeal to our pragmatism and fear. We’re told we need to make this or that change in the church so we can stay relevant. We’re told to talk about sin and hell less, or we’ll lose people. We’re told we have to add more entertainment into our worship, or we’ll lose people. We can be tempted to implement such changes for the sake of church retention. But if doing so is in violation to the second commandment or any other law of God, we are falling into the sin of Jeroboam. Let not pragmatism dictate how we fundamentally worship. Let the Word of God dictate that.
Let us then employ some of that semper reformanda spirit. This Josiah prophesied here was a great example of that in many ways. Jesus is so all the more. Let us then stand by grace and with trust upon the foundation Jesus has laid. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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