I Kings 12:25-33 records the beginning of the Kingdom of Israel's apostasy. Fearing that he might eventually lose political control over the ten tribes because of their long-standing religious ties to Jerusalem, capital of the Kingdom of Judah (verse 27), Jeroboam I instituted a state religion designed to meet his peoples' needs for convenience - and his own need for power. He built two shrines, one in Bethel, at the southern extremity of his kingdom, the other in Dan, near its northern boundary (verse 29). If not de jure, at least de facto, he exiled the Levites, the priestly tribe established by God, and installed in their place a priesthood of his own devising (verse 31). Finally, he moved the fall holy day season from the seventh month to the eighth, thereby effectively setting aside the Sabbath commandment, since the holy days are God's Sabbaths (see Leviticus 23:1-3, 23-44). All this "became a sin" for Israel (I Kings 12:30).
Jeroboam's apostasy, his movement to false religious practices, took deep root. In fact, the house of Israel never departed from the practices he established. II Kings 17:21-23 records this fact:
Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD, and made them commit a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, until the LORD removed Israel out of His sight. . . .
Having abandoned the Sabbath, the God-given sign marking them as His people (Exodus 31:13-17), the folk of the northern tribes eventually lost their identification. That is why most Israelites do not know who they are to this day. The forefathers forsook the sign that denoted their connection to God.
Take this line of thought to its logical conclusion: The Sabbath is a memorial to creation and, by extension, to the Creator God (see Exodus 20:11). Modern-day Israelites do not know who they are today because their forefathers, generations ago, abandoned this memorial to the Creator God. Therefore, modern-day Israelites have come to abandon more than the sign: They have abandoned the God to whom the sign points. They no longer know God.
This is not an overstatement. Make no mistake: Failure to recognize who Israel is today is failure to recognize the God who made Israel! The distressing secularism running rampant in the modern nations of Israel today has its roots in Sabbath-breaking. The antidote for secularism in America is not an inane Constitutional amendment requiring the teaching of creationism in the state schools. The panacea some offer, prayer in the public schools, will not do the trick. Increased Sunday church attendance will not stanch the flood of secularism; after all, most Sunday worshippers accept the doctrines of biologic and economic determinism (i.e., evolution and socialism, respectively) just as avowed atheists do. Attempting to unite a people with its God through these measures is surely akin to building a wall with "untempered mortar" (see Ezekiel 13:9-23). In the coming storm, such a wall will fall.
However, one will never find a Sabbath-keeper who is a secularist, for the Sabbath-keeper has maintained his link with the Creator God. Sabbath-keeping and secularism mix about as well as oil and water.
Searching for Israel (Part Twelve): The Sign
Jeroboam, in an effort to bolster his power over the northern tribes, instituted religious changes which "became a sin" (I Kings 12:30) for Israel.
»Fearing that he could eventually lose control over the people as they journeyed to Jerusalem for religious festivals, he built two shrines, one in the southern region of his kingdom, Bethel, and the other in Dan, near its northern boundary. He put golden calves in both sites, asserting, "Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!" (I Kings 12:28).
»He changed the fall festival season from the seventh month, Tishri (see Leviticus 23:33-43), to the eighth (I Kings 12:33).
»He "made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi" (I Kings 12:31). Since the Levites had no land as a part of their inheritance (see Joshua 13:33), they migrated south to the kingdom of Judah, where they served in the Temple. The dearth of priests in the north was filled by people who were not Levites.
Jeroboam intended to build his own "designer religion" from the ground up, complete with its own traditions and shrines. He was astute enough to grasp the importance of establishing a priesthood loyal to the government.
"And this thing was the sin of the house of Jeroboam, so as to exterminate and destroy it from the face of the earth" (I Kings 13:34). Because of his refusal to obey God, Jeroboam never realized the conditional promise God made him in I Kings 11:38: "I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David." Jeroboam's son and heir, Nadab, died by assassination after only two years of rule, and Baasha from the tribe of Issachar took the throne of Israel and slaughtered all of Jeroboam's progeny (I Kings 15:25-30).
Searching for Israel (Part Six): Israel Is Fallen, Is Fallen
The religion of Israel began with a man, Jeroboam I, who changed the true worship of God.
• He established a feast in the eighth month to replace the true Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh.
• He may have replaced the Sabbath with Sunday worship.
• He replaced the Levitical priesthood with men of his own choosing.
• Lastly, he replaced God with golden calves in Bethel and Dan.
A religion with such a beginning was doomed to fail, bringing the nation down with it.
When religion is ungodly, its power is destructive, and every institution in the nation suffers. For instance, Amos 2:7 describes a deliberate act of ritual prostitution in a pagan temple: "A man and his father go in to the same girl, to defile My holy name." What was the rationale behind this perverse, immoral act?
Because Baal was neither alive nor a moral force, his worshippers felt they could communicate with him only by ritual actions that portrayed what they were asking him to do. Since Baal was, like almost all ancient deities, a fertility god, the human act of intercourse demonstrated that they wanted Baal to prosper them. But what was its real effect on the participants and the nation? Ritual prostitution only served to erode the family, eventually leading to the destruction of the nation.
Baal was different from his adherents merely in that he was above them. God's difference from us is that He is holy; He is moral and we are immoral. After we accept His calling, He commands us to become moral as He is.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 1 Kings 12:31:
1 Kings 11:42
1 Kings 12:25-33
1 Kings 12:28-33
2 Chronicles 11:13-17