Two kings of Israel had the name Jeroboam. Both of them ruled over the northern part of the divided kingdom, but they were separated in time by more than a hundred years and they belonged to different dynasties.

Jeroboam the son of Nebat

The books of Kings consistently condemn Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the man who led the northern tribes to break away from the Davidic rule. But the chief reason they condemn him is religious rather than political; for Jeroboam established his own religion in the north in opposition to the Levitical system that was based on the Jerusalem temple (1 Kings 15:34; 16:19; 22:52; 2 Kings 10:31; 14:24; 23:15). This false religion, set up by Jeroboam and followed by other kings, was the reason God destroyed the northern kingdom and sent the people into captivity (2 Kings 17:21-23). From his youth Jeroboam was capable and hard-working. Solomon was so impressed with the young man that he put him in charge of the Ephraim-Manasseh workforce (1 Kings 11:28).

The ambitious Jeroboam cleverly used his position to gain a following among his fellow northerners, in opposition to the southerner Solomon, whose policies he found oppressive. From the prophet Ahijah, Jeroboam learnt that God would punish Solomon by splitting his kingdom and giving ten tribes to Jeroboam. When Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, Jeroboam escaped to Egypt, where he remained till the end of Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 11:29-40).

As soon as Solomon was dead, Jeroboam returned from Egypt and led a rebellion (930 BC). The northern tribes readily crowned Jeroboam their king, in opposition to Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. Rehoboam still reigned in Jerusalem, but only over Judah and its neighbouring tribe, Benjamin (1 Kings 12:1-20). Jeroboam made his capital in Shechem, but later shifted it a few kilometres north to Tirzah (1 Kings 12:25; 14:17; cf. 15:21,33). He was wary of the attraction that Jerusalem still held, fearing that if his people went there for religious ceremonies they might transfer their allegiance to Rehoboam. He therefore decided to set up his own independent religion. He built shrines at the towns of Bethel (near his southern border) and Dan (near his northern border), complete with his own order of priests, sacrifices and feasts. His religion attempted to combine the worship of Yahweh with Canaanite religion (1 Kings 12:26-33). A bold announcement of judgment by a prophet from Judah showed plainly that God would not accept this new religion (1 Kings 13:1-10). Ahijah repeated the announcement of judgment (1 Kings 14:1-18). During his twenty-two years reign Jeroboam fought against the Judean kings, Rehoboam and Abijam (1 Kings 15:6-7). His costly loss to Abijam was a final demonstration to him that God would not help one who had broken away from the Davidic dynasty and the Levitical priesthood (2 Chron 13:2-20).

Jeroboam the son of Joash

This Jeroboam is usually referred to as Jeroboam II, to distinguish him from the person who established the breakaway northern kingdom. Jeroboam II was one of Israel’s most powerful and prosperous kings, but religiously he was no better than the first Jeroboam. He ruled from 793 to 752 BC (2 Kings 13:13; 14:23-24). At that time Syria had declined in power and Assyria was concerned with struggles far removed from Palestine. Jeroboam II was therefore able to strengthen his kingdom without interference from hostile neighbours. He brought territorial expansion and economic growth on a scale not seen in Israel since the days of David and Solomon (2 Kings 14:25-28). The prosperity, however, brought with it greed, injustice and exploitation that the prophets Amos and Hosea condemned fearlessly (Amos 1:1; 2:6-8; 3:15; 4:1; 5:10-12; 6:4-6; Hosea 1:1; 4:1-2,17-18; 6:8-9; 12:7-8; see AMOS; HOSEA). Just as one prophet earlier had forecast the expansion of Israel’s territory, so another now forecast God’s judgment throughout that territory (2 Kings 14:25; Amos 6:14). Jeroboam would be killed and eventually Israel would go into captivity (Amos 7:9-11).

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