The Sin of King Jeroboam
King Jereboam was a wicked king. So wicked was he in God's eyes, in fact, that his sin is repeatedly referenced throughout the entire book of Kings, and he is viewed as setting the example for all of the sinful kings who followed him. When Baasha became king in Israel, for example, the narrator informs us that “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel to sin" (1 Kg 15:34). Decades later, when Israel was destroyed by the nation Assyria, the narrator again mentions the sin of Jeroboam: "And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did" (2 Kings 17:16)
This severely negative assessment leads us to ask the question: "What did King Jeroboam do that was so wicked?" Did he kill lot's of innocent people? No. Did he worship false Gods? No. So what did he do? The answer might surprise you. Jeroboam's sin was worshipping God in a way that God had not authorized. We see this clearly at the end of 1 Kings 12, as the narrator lists three specific actions that constituted Jeroboam's sin. First, he built two "calves of gold" and placed them in the towns of Dan and Bethel (1 Kg 12:28-29). Second, he appointed priests who were not Levites (v. 31). Third, he appointed a new feast for the Lord (v. 32). It is important to note that none of these changes had to do with worshipping another God. Even the golden calves which he set up were intended merely to represent the one true God of Israel (v.28). The problem was not with false worship, in other words, but with unauthorized worship. Jeroboam led Israel to worship God in a way that differred from God's clear instructions on where and how he should be woshipped. The narrator makes it abundantly clear that this is indeed the problem when he remarks that the new feast which Jeroboam authorized was "devised from his own heart" (v 33).
Jeroboam added his own personal innovations to the worship of God. God had commanded that his altar be set up in Jerusalem, and that Israelites must go to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices there. Jerobam, however, afraid that the people would give allegiance back to David, unilaterally decided to establish two additional altars at Dan and Bethel. God had commanded that he not be worshipped through images (2nd Commandment), but Jeroboam decided it was acceptable to make two golden calves to represent God. God had commanded that priests from the tribe of Levi be ordained to his service, but Jeroboam decided that anyone from any tribe could be ordained as a priest to God. God had set apart the 15th day of the 9th month to have a feast, but Jeroboam decided to make another one in the 8th month. Jeroboam, we can surmise, seemed to assume that he could worship God any way he wanted, and that God would be pleased. He was wrong.
Jeroboam's story is a clear reminder that God not only cares that we worship him, he also cares how we worship him. Yes, we are obligated to worship God, but our worship of him must be in accordance with his revealed Word. We must never take it upon ourselves to "devise from our heart" new ways to worship God. We must never presume to change the worship of God which he has revealed in his word. Most strikingly, Jeroboam's story reminds us that we should not assume our worship of God is pleasing to him, no matter how sincere, if it is not done in accordance with his revealed word. We can be sincere in our desire to worship God, but if we worship him through images, for example, we know that God will not be pleased.
Incidently, this principle has very important consequences for how a church conducts its Sunday morning worship service. It means that church leaders must be very careful not to introduce things into the worship of God that have no grounding in his Word. If someone asks me after the servce, “Pastor, why did we do ___ in the service today?” If I cannot provide a Biblical justification, then we have no warrant for doing it. Period. What if, for example, I decided that I wanted to “freshen up” our service one Sunday by removing the sermon and instead having a twenty minute period for everyone to paint a picture of a Biblical character? Even if my motvation for doing so was not sinful (although you would have to question my judgment), I would be guilty of devising worship from my heart, and changing without warrant the way that God has commanded us to worship him. The example of Jeroboam reminds us of the danger inherent in doing such a thing.