Jeroboam was from the tribe of Ephraim, a servant of King Solomon’s, and the son of a widow. He later became the first king of the divided northern kingdom of Israel. He is first mentioned in 1 Kings 11:26: “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow, also lifted up his hand against the king.”
Jeroboam was a skilled worker, and, “when Solomon saw how well the young man did his work,” he placed Jeroboam over the labor force of the tribes of Joseph (1 Kings 11:28). One day, the prophet Ahijah approached Jeroboam with a prophecy. The prophet tore a new cloak into 12 pieces and said, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes’” (1 Kings 11:31). The idol worship of the Israelites caused God to divide the kingdom (verse 33). The house of David would retain a remnant of the kingdom, including Jerusalem, because of God’s covenant with David (verse 32).
After this, “Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt . . . and stayed there until Solomon’s death” (1 Kings 11:40). Following Solomon’s death, Solomon’s son Rehoboam became king and foolishly threatened to make life more difficult for the people of the land (1 Kings 12:14). This led to a rebellion against Rehoboam, and the ten northern tribes crowned Jeroboam as their king (1 Kings 12:20). The division predicted by Ahijah came to pass (1 Kings 12:15).
Jeroboam had been promised great blessings and a continuing dynasty if he would follow the Lord (1 Kings 11:38). However, Jeroboam did not obey the Lord. Instead, he had two golden calves made for the people to worship in the northern kingdom and made priests and celebrations for them. This idolatry is often referred to as “the sins of Jeroboam” in later chapters of 1 and 2 Kings.
King Jeroboam was confronted by an unnamed prophet from Judah (1 Kings 13:1–10). Later, the prophet Ahijah pronounced a severe judgment on Jeroboam and his family because of Jeroboam’s blatant rejection of the Lord: “I am going to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam. I will cut off from Jeroboam every last male in Israel—slave or free. I will burn up the house of Jeroboam as one burns dung, until it is all gone. Dogs will eat those belonging to Jeroboam who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country. The Lord has spoken!” (1 Kings 14:10–11).
In total, Jeroboam reigned over the northern kingdom of Israel for 22 years, and then “he slept with his fathers, and Nadab his son reigned in his place.” Nadab reigned over Israel for Israel two years, continuing his father’s idolatry. Then Baasha plotted against Nadab, assassinated him in Philistine territory, and usurped the throne (1 Kings 15:27–28). “As soon as [Baasha] began to reign, he killed Jeroboam’s whole family. He did not leave Jeroboam anyone that breathed, but destroyed them all, according to the word of the Lord given through his servant Ahijah the Shilonite.” The dire prophecy against the house of Jeroboam came true.
Though Jeroboam began well, he did not end well. God raised him up as a king, yet as king he plunged the entire nation into sin. His life offers an example of the powerful influence a person can have over others in a negative way. His judgment shows the truth of Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
A little over a century after Jeroboam’s death, another king named Jeroboam ruled over Israel. King Jeroboam II came to power in 793 BC. He also did evil in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 14:24). However, the Lord granted Jeroboam II military victories against the Syrians and used Jeroboam II to preserve His people (2 Kings 14:27–28).