JEROBOAM I (jĕr'ō-bō'ăm, Heb. yārov‘ām, the people contend, or the people become numerous). Son of Nebat, of the tribe of Ephraim, and of Zeruah, a widow (1Kgs.11.26-1Kgs.11.40). He founded the kingdom of Israel when the nation was split following the death of Solomon. His father was an official under Solomon and came from the village of Zeredah in the Jordan. As a young man Jeroboam showed such ability that Solomon put him in charge of the fortifications and public works at Jerusalem and made him overseer of the levy from the house of Joseph (1Kgs.11.28). However, he used his position to stir up dissatisfaction against the government. This was not difficult to do, as the people were already filled with bitterness because of the enforced labor and burdensome taxation imposed on them by Solomon. One day, as he was walking outside Jerusalem, Jeroboam was met by the prophet Ahijah of Shiloh. Ahijah tore a new mantle into twelve pieces and gave ten of them to Jeroboam, informing him that because of the idolatrous nature of Solomon’s reign the kingdom would be torn apart. Two of the tribes would remain with David’s house, while Jeroboam would become the head of the other ten. He also told him that if as king he walked in the fear of the Lord and kept his commandments, the kingdom would be his and that of his descendants for many years. When news of these happenings reached Solomon, he tried to kill Jeroboam; but the latter escaped to Egypt, where he was kindly received by Shishak, the pharaoh who had succeeded (and, it is thought, dethroned) the pharaoh whose daughter Solomon had married. As soon as Solomon died, Jeroboam returned from Egypt. When the people met at Shechem to proclaim Solomon’s son Rehoboam king, they invited Jeroboam to come and take the lead in presenting their grievances. As spokesman of the people, he urged that their burdens be alleviated, but the protest was contemptuously rejected; therefore the ten tribes revolted from the house of David and made Jeroboam their king (1Kgs.12.1-1Kgs.12.16). In this way Ahijah’s prophecy that the ten tribes would form a separate kingdom with Jeroboam as king was fulfilled (1Kgs.12.15).
Although Jeroboam made Israel sin by introducing idolatrous religious customs, God gave him a solemn warning to give heed to his evil ways through an unnamed prophet who came to Bethel from Judah (1Kgs.13.1-1Kgs.13.6). One day—apparently the very day the altar was consecrated—as Jeroboam stood ministering at the altar, the man of God suddenly appeared before the king and foretold that the time would come when a member of the Davidic dynasty would desecrate that altar by burning men’s bones on it, a prophecy that was fulfilled in the time of Josiah (2Kgs.23.15-2Kgs.23.16). When the king heard these words, he pointed to the prophet and cried out, “Seize him!” The hand that was extended instantly withered and became useless, and the altar was split in two so that the ashes spilled to the ground. The king then asked the prophet to pray that his hand might be restored. The prophet prayed, and the hand was restored. He refused the king’s invitation to go home with him to dine, saying that it was against the will of God, and then left for home. In spite of this terrible warning from God, Jeroboam continued in his evil way, so that God decided to cut off and destroy his house.
At a later date, exactly when is not clear, Jeroboam’s oldest son fell seriously ill. The distraught father thought of Ahijah, now old and blind, and sent his queen to him in disguise to find out whether the child would live. The prophet saw through her disguise and told her not only that the child would die, but that the house of Jeroboam would be utterly destroyed by someone whom the Lord would raise up to be king of Israel (1Kgs.14.1-1Kgs.14.18).
There was desultory warfare between Jeroboam and Rehoboam (1Kgs.15.6), and a great battle was fought between Jeroboam and Rehoboam’s successor, Abijah (kjv Abijam). The army of Israel was thoroughly routed and was defeated with great slaughter, and Bethel, only a few miles from Jerusalem, was captured by Abijah (2Chr.13.1-2Chr.13.22). Jeroboam reigned for twenty-two years and was succeeded to the throne by his son Nadab (2Kgs.14.20).
For the people of Israel, the reign of Jeroboam was a supreme political and religious calamity. The warfare between the two kingdoms inevitably brought weakness to both, leaving them open to outside attack. The introduction of the golden calves led to the “baalization” of the religion of the Lord. In about two hundred years the moral and religious corruption of the people had gone so far that there was no more hope for them, and God brought in a heathen power to lead them into captivity.
Bibliography: J. Ellul, The Politics of God and the Politics of Man, 1966, pp. 121-26; C. F. Pfeiffer, Old Testament History, 1973, pp. 307-11.——SB