Jeroboam did more evil than all who lived before him.[1] He became known as “Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin.”[2] Yet Jeroboam started well enough that God chose him to be king of the ten tribes God tore away from Solomon. Where did Jeroboam start to go wrong? What were his hidden flaws?

His father’s name, Nebat,[3] gives us a clue as to his upbringing and how he may have learned to think. But there is another equally subtle glimpse into his thinking—the name Jeroboam gave to his eldest son.

Jeroboam named his son Nadab.

The first Nadab and his brother Abihu did something that made the Lord so angry that He killed them in front of all Israel. And Jeroboam had the gall to name his son Nadab. Nadab was his hero! This would be parallel to someone today naming his son Judas! Nobody else in the Bible named his son after either Nadab or Abihu.

Let’s look at the first Nadab.

Nadab and Abihu were the eldest sons of Moses’ brother Aaron. They were born into great privilege. They were first and second in line to succeed their father Aaron as the next high priest. They were privileged to join Moses and Aaron and seventy elders of Israel on Mount Sinai when the Lord made a covenant with Israel. They “saw the God of Israel” and ate and drank in His presence![4]

From Mount Sinai God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and detailed instructions for the Tabernacle and the entire worship system. A year after the Exodus from Egypt, the Tabernacle was set up, the altar was dedicated, the priests were consecrated, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Exodus chapter 40 makes it look as if this happened in a day, but the first day of the first month was when the process of dedication began.

On the first day the Tabernacle was set up and consecrated. Then the pillar of cloud containing the Lord’s presence moved from the temporary “tent of meeting” [5] which Moses had pitched outside the camp to the newly consecrated Tabernacle, covering it and blocking the entrance.[6]

Then Moses gathered the entire assembly of Israel to witness the ordination of the priests—Aaron and his sons. The consecration of the priests was highly scripted, accompanied by a sin offering, a burnt offering and a special ordination offering. After that very detailed process they were to stay at the entrance of the Tabernacle day and night for seven days. (They still couldn’t go inside because of the cloud.) They were warned, “Do what the LORD requires, so you will not die.”[7]

God wanted Moses and Aaron and his sons to take the time to let the significance of their ordination sink deep into their souls.

On the eighth day the elders of Israel were gathered to witness another full day of offerings and sacrifices, to make atonement for the people and “so that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.”

For a whole week, ever since the Tabernacle had been set up and consecrated, the pillar of cloud which contained God’s presence had covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle so that Moses could not enter it. On the eighth day sacrifices were prepared on the altar, but fire was not lit under them. With everything prepared, Moses and Aaron were finally able to enter the Tabernacle, presumably for a final inspection.[8]

Let’s look at what happened next without the chapter break to distract us. (Remember that chapter breaks are manmade.)

“When they came out, they blessed the people. Then the Lord’s glory appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the Lord’s presence (the pillar of cloud) and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar. When all the people saw this, they shouted and bowed with their faces touching the ground. Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took an incense burner and put burning coals and incense in it. Then in the Lord’s presence they offered this unauthorized fire. A fire flashed from the Lord and burned them, and they died in the presence of the Lord.”[9]

The day’s event should have ended when the glory of the Lord appeared and fire from God consumed the sacrifices. The atonement for the people and the newly ordained priests had been carried out by Aaron exactly as Moses commanded. But Nadab and his brothers had been mere bit players all day, handing things to Aaron, who was following Moses’ instructions.

Nadab and Abihu should have spent the seven days meditating on the significance of each detail in the priestly rituals. If they had, they would have treated their priestly positions with due reverence and seriousness. They did not see that the animals they were sacrificing were dying in their place. They were merely going through the motions, not experiencing God’s forgiveness for their sins.

Nadab and Abihu wanted to play a bigger role. They wanted more limelight. They wanted to see a repeat of the spectacular finale with fire coming out from the pillar of cloud. They did not respect the Lord’s explicit instructions. They did not recognize that the fire from God was His holiness in action.

So they brought coals of fire from an earthly source to the fire that had been kindled by God Himself. And they got what they asked for—a repeat of the spectacular!

Fire from the Lord’s presence, the pillar of cloud, flashed again. But it did not bring applause to Nadab and his brother. It brought instant judgment. As the Lord had said, “Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.”[10]

The message to all Israel was clear: “I am holy. Treat Me with respect. My holiness requires that you approach Me in the prescribed way. Follow My commands to the letter. Do not add anything. Do not subtract anything.”

So what does this have to do with Jeroboam centuries later?

Jeroboam named his son Nadab. That indicates that Jeroboam either thought what Nadab did was cool or he dismissed Nadab’s brazen actions as no big deal. Maybe he thought God had been unfair to Nadab. Either way it started Jeroboam on a very dangerous path.

  1. Impressed by the spectacular.

Jeroboam recognized rightly that people are inherently religious. And they also like to be dazzled by religion. Nadab was dazzled by the fire coming out of the pillar of cloud and consuming the sacrifice. Jeroboam and other Israelites were dazzled by the beautiful temple Solomon had built. Neither Nadab nor Jeroboam saw beyond the outward appearance to realize that both the fire and the temple were manifestations of the holiness of God. Holiness does not appeal to man’s fleshly desires.

So Jeroboam developed a religion that would appeal to people’s spirituality without being encumbered by the need for holiness. Adding a touch of the spectacular was a bonus. He replaced the invisible God with something more tangible—golden calves.

  1. Retained enough of the familiar to distract from the changes.

Worship of the golden calves was patterned after worship of the true God. The sacrifices and the rituals accompanying them were very much the same.

Nadab used censers from the Tabernacle which had been dedicated to God. He imitated priestly motions. The observers might not have known that Nadab was adding to God’s script until God struck him dead.

Jeroboam invented a new spiritual festival patterned after the Feast of Tabernacles, which was held in Judah and started on the 15th of the month.

Both Jeroboam and Nadab replaced or added to God’s plan for worship.

  1. Oblivious to God’s holiness.

Nadab did not realize that the fire from the Lord’s presence was a sign of God’s approval. Everything had been done exactly as God through Moses commanded. God’s holy demands had been satisfied. So God consumed the sacrifices and revealed His glory to the people. Nadab’s comprehension stopped at “Wow!”

Jeroboam introduced fake holiness. Before his reign was over, he added Asherah poles[11] to his religion. The goddess Asherah was represented as a nude woman and was referred to as “the Holiness” or “the Holy One.” Worship of Asherah included sex and prostitution.[12]

  1. Gave God’s glory to another.

Nadab tried to claim some of God’s glory for himself by showing up on centre stage after God had revealed His glory.

Jeroboam gave God’s glory to the golden calves. He announced, “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”[13]

  1. Avoided godly people.

When Jeroboam sought advice, he obviously did not seek it from the one person who would steer him in the right direction. He did not consult the prophet Ahijah who had told him he would become king.

Moreover, Jeroboam did not recruit Levites to lead the people spiritually. Levites knew the truth and would have steered the people back to God. Instead Jeroboam “appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.”[14]

Solomon’s idolatry started when he married foreign wives and let them turn his heart after other gods. His son Rehoboam followed in his footsteps. He married an Ammonite (whose god Molech demanded child sacrifices) and soon the people of Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord by engaging in idolatry.

Jeroboam’s sin had far-reaching consequences. He engaged the whole northern kingdom in idolatry. All his successors walked in his ways or did worse. Meanwhile idolatry spread throughout the southern kingdom of Judah. Even good southern kings did not succeed in driving idolatry out of the hearts of the people.

The only solution was judgment. God had to drive His people from the Promised Land in order to drive idolatry out of their hearts. Jews to this day do not worship idols.

It is all too easy to walk in the steps of Jeroboam. We must be careful whom we choose as our heroes. We must approach God on His terms, not ours. We must not treat God’s business as show business. From time to time God may do spectacular things, but we must not take a share of the glory. We must always strive to become more holy.

Beware when sexual immorality becomes part of religion. Note how indignant people become when you speak against homosexuality and its variables. The worship of Molech and Chemosh, gods who demand the sacrifice of children, is as widespread today as it was in the Old Testament. Children are sacrificed every day in our abortion clinics.

How many of our “kings”—prime ministers, supreme court justices, respected people of influence—are going down in God’s history books as “So-And-So who caused Canada to sin”?

The first few steps toward total degradation are summed up by the apostle Paul—suppressing the truth, knowing God but not glorifying Him as God, and not giving Him thanks.[15] We start down that slippery slope at our peril.

[1] 1 Kings 14:9

[2] 1 Kings 22:52. See also 1 Kings 16:26, 31; 21:22; 2 Kings 3:3; 10:29; 13:2, 11; 14:24; 25:9, 18, 24, 28; 17:21; 23:15.

[3] See “Jeroboam Son of Nebat, Part 2.”

[4] Exodus 24:9-11

[5] Exodus 33:7-10

[6] Exodus 40:34-35

[7] Leviticus chapter 8. Note v.33, 35

[8] Lev. 9:23

[9] Lev. 9:23 – 10:2, GW. Words in italics were added for clarification.

[10] Lev. 10:3

[11] 1 Kings 14:15

[12] “Gods, False: Asherah,” Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Moody Press, ©1966, p. 412.

[13] 1 Kings 12:28

[14] 1 Kings 12:31

[15] Romans 1:18-23

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