False worship of the true God – 1 Kings 12

False worship is one of those things that some people can’t quite believe exists. After all, isn’t any kind of worship from a sincere heart acceptable to God? In 1 Kings 12 we see how the false worship of God is part of a matrix of sinful behaviour that repeats and folds with disastrous consequences.

But that idea that things happening in one place affect things elsewhere is obviously true. Stuff happens in 1 Kings 12 that would reverberate for centuries.

Sin divides

When David was king, he brought together all the 12 tribes of Israel under one kingdom rule. When his son Solomon was king, this one king enjoyed peace and prosperity, and foreign nations would come to see and learn from Solomon’s godly wisdom. But we saw last time that Solomon actually fell away, especially in his old age. He was told by God that the kingdom would divide after his death (1 Kings 11:11-13).

Chapter 11 then gave examples of three men opposed to Solomon who caused him trouble. One of them was Jeroboam son of Nebat. He had a visit from a prophet who told him he would rule 10 tribes of Israel – but Jeroboam then had to flee to Egypt for safety. So, at the end of Chapter 11, Solomon died and his son Rehoboam became king.

So now in 1 Kings 12, we find out how Rehoboam got on. Would he be better than Solomon? No. Solomon’s reign marked the absolute peak of OT Israel. There will be other high-spots, but not many and none so high.

V1-5 have the people of Israel coming to the king – they request easier days and lower taxes. Interestingly, their spokesman is Jeroboam son of Nebat. In v6-11, Rehoboam asks the wise old men for their advice (which is good), then asks his young mates for theirs (which is bad). Then in v12-17 he goes with the bad advice and is harsh to the people when they come back for their answer.

God’s plan in progress

Did he think that authority is all about position, not character? Did he think that nothing could go wrong? It went horribly wrong: The northern tribes revolted. But in all this, v15 is key. Read v15.

This was just the fulfilment of two prophetic words: First, to Solomon to say the kingdom would be torn; second, to Jeroboam son of Nebat to say he’d rule 10 tribes of Israel. At which point, you think that Rehoboam wasn’t actually responsible for his actions then? He was just a marionette? No, not at all. Rehoboam was using his own human, independent will. God didn’t “make him do it”. Rehoboam was responsible for his own actions. And when you make choices, you’re responsible too.

God will fulfil his plans even through and despite the actions of the most wicked of us.

God will fulfil his plans even through and despite the actions of the most wicked of us. You can try kicking against him, but he’ll win. And you’ll still be accountable. (Like an adult with a toddler having a tantrum, God wins.)

The opposite of blessing

So what’s going on in all this? The opposite of blessing. Remember how things were in Solomon’s heyday?

  • Everyone under one king, one nation, peace & happiness.
  • Gentile leaders and nations gathering to Jerusalem to taste and see for themselves.
  • Under God’s blessing, people are drawn together. We’re made for community
    • You see it at the bowling green, the pub, the Kop.
    • Actually, we’re made to worship God as one people
    • It’s one of the reasons Lockdown has been so painful – we’re designed for community.
  • To be gathered together (into the body of Christ in particular) is God’s blessing.

To be separated, divided, broken up – that’s a curse. At Babel, God imposed it. In our culture, we actually choose it: The postmodern mindset says that we’re all islands, independent of each other. “What’s right for you is right for you, unless it’s wrong for me in which case you’re wrong and I’m offended.” These days, everyone does what’s right in their own eyes and they demand the right to do so.

The contradiction of needing community and demanding autonomy drives a lot of the confusion in our culture. And the heart of the matter is sin against God – rebellion against his rule.

Sin destroys

What happens next is exactly what was foretold. Read 1 Kings 12:20, 25.

So, Jeroboam son of Nebat became king over northern Israel. But he had a problem. Read v26-30.

And so here you see religion as it’s so often used: Power-play. It’s driven, shaped and used by the need to exercise control and retain power over people. Which means that that kind of religion is actually driven by the needs and values of society. Culture drives the religion, when the right order is for God’s voice to speak into culture and society. I don’t suppose it’s easy to start a new religion, but Jeroboam’s smart. He introduces new ways to worship their historic God:

  • He legitimises false worship of the true God.
  • “No more trips to distant Jerusalem; worship here.”
    • Using Bethel and Dan was helpful geographically, but they were also ancient historic sites for Israel 
    • E.g. Bethel – Jacob’s ladder.
  • “Golden calves like Aaron made after God – these gods – had brought us up out of Egypt.”
    • All a bit vague, but very new, very convenient, very “not Jerusalem”.

So in v31-33 he designs a new system of priests and festivals too. All this despite the amazing 1 Kings 8 appearance of the glory of God in Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. But read v30 again.

A benchmark for false worship

In fact, Jeroboam son of Nebat would become a benchmark of wickedness for all the kings of Israel who follow him. “So-and-so committed all the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat” and so on. For hundreds of years. Those calves stayed. False worship became a fixture. Ultimately, the whole nation would drift so far from God that the preaching of Amos and others couldn’t call them back. The Assyrian empire would exile them in 722 BC and the whole nation would never recover. A nation lost under God’s judgment.

Israel might have been 10 tribes with more land and more resources, but you and God are a majority. God was with Judah. The tail doesn’t wag the dog; the world doesn’t tell God what to do. He will prosper those faithful to him.

The great sin here is, of course, false worship. No matter that they claimed to worship the true God. To do so in a manner he has not prescribed dishonours him. Because you can’t just walk up to him in your sin. You must approach God only as he permits. There must be blood and sacrifice. To approach him some other way is to come with some other gospel – a man-made scheme of your own.

But Israel were given one temple, one sacrificial system, and God’s presence resided in one place only. Later that would be fulfilled and replaced by Christ – he is the person, the sacrifice, the priest, the way to God – the only way. If someone tries to tell you that basically all religions lead to God they’re wrong. It’s wishful thinking, wishing not to come to Jesus.

Only one true way to God

There is only one truth.

  • There is one God and one mediator between you and God and his name is Jesus. Don’t dither a minute longer: You must come to Jesus for forgiveness – that is the only way you may approach God.
  • His is the only sacrifice that can atone for your sin; and because he’s risen he is now the one who will stand for you in heaven and claim you.

If you have come to Jesus but you’re a bit tempted by some other religion or philosophy, think again.

There is only one way to God: “No-one comes to the father but through me” said Jesus. “He who has the son has life; he who does not have the son does not have life” – 1 John.

Anything that is man-made cannot (by definition) get you into the presence of the infinite God. But when he speaks into the world and you come to him through Jesus, then you come to an intimate Father. Keep coming to God in Christ, every day. Because sin leads to false worship; false worship leads to death.

So this chapter has two catastrophes for Old Testament Israel:

  1. Rehoboam’s pride causing the nation to split into two.
  2. Jeroboam son of Nebat with his man-made false worship leading an entire nation away from God.

But neither of these happened overnight. So:

Sin spreads

If you walk on a rocky hillside and your foot slips, you push some stones which knock other stones, and a little landslide happens. You might only knock a few small stones, but lower down bigger rocks tumble. That, sadly, is how sin often tumbles down.

Solomon bought some horses from Egypt. As king, he shouldn’t have done it. But… no harm done? He compromised further and further. He married forbidden foreign wives, and ended up worshipping their gods. Little stones have become bigger ones.

The consequence of that was foretold: The nation would split. Rehoboam came along and caused the disastrous division. Jeroboam then introduced false worship into northern Israel. 200 years later Israel’s sin will have escalated so much they get exiled, never to return. Stones become rocks, rocks become boulders.

And within Jeroboam’s false worship, he made vague appeals to the golden calf in Exodus – who knew their sin would later be used to justify further national sin against God? Sin spreads. All of these sins fold into each other.

Your sin spreads

Your sin spreads. Especially if you’re an older Christian. Remember, Solomon fell in his old age. Don’t presume Christian maturity – however old you are. As you sin, you legitimise the sins of others who look to you for an example: Your children, grandchildren, young believers. “If they do it, it must be ok.” Small wonder Solomon was told to live in integrity and godliness – and that to be all his days, in the day-to-day.

So let’s be a people who turn all this around. Be sure to walk in the light. Be sure to confess your sins to the one who is faithful and just to forgive, your advocate in heaven who sacrificed himself for you.

  • Walk every day in integrity and godliness, in Christ.
  • Work at being part of his church – gathered, not divided.
  • (Lockdown has revealed that a number of people prefer to gather to a building than to Christ.)
  • We’re called to be his one people, one body, under one Lord. Work at gathering together in him.

So, yes, sin spreads. But so does salt.

So, yes, sin spreads. But so does salt.

Instead of a little sin in your life leading to sins – bigger ones – in other people, turn that round. Not simply in not doing anything! But spread goodness and mercy, truth and love. Be salt and light in the world. Lead others to truth. Do good; do righteousness by doing right and putting right.

Christ promised streams of living water bubbling up and pouring through you – don’t be a reservoir, be a conduit.