There are few men who typify failure in our world. Who are the ideal failures in yours? They may be failed coaches. They could be moral failures, both in politics and even the church. Who comes to mind when you think “utter failure”? Scripture contains the limited biographies of countless men and women. Each individual bears responsibility for their actions. Each individual’s choices echo beyond their lives unto eternity. One such individual is codified in the Old Testament as the ideal wicked king. His name, Jeroboam son of Nebat.
Solomon, David’s son, was called to lead God’s people in faithfulness. He was only faithful in serving himself. With this spiritual adultery in view, God promised to hand over Solomon’s kingdom to one of his servants. Scripture names Jeroboam the son of Nebat as this servant (1 Kings 11:11, 26).
God tore the kingdom from Solomon and gave it to Jeroboam, with the exception of the tribe of Judah. Jeroboam thus ruled what came to be known as the Northern Kingdom comprising the 10 other tribes, or simply called Israel. But Jeroboam soon revealed that he was not like David at all. He was an evil king, who led God’s people into spiritual disaster.
What did Jeroboam do that was so vile, so wicked? He was not content with what God had given to him, or the conditional promise that God had made to him should Jeroboam remain faithful. Jeroboam went beyond Scripture. He ignored the word of God and as always happens when men presume themselves wiser than God, it led to his ruin.
Jeroboam made two golden calves. If you remember the story of Moses and the Exodus than you remember how the nation of Israel was almost destroyed immediately following their departure from Egypt because they worshiped God through golden calves. Jeroboam was not content to simply make one, he created two! He encouraged the people to worship them. He directed Israel away from Jerusalem. He built temples unsanctioned by God. He appointed a priesthood unsanctioned by God. He invented feast days unsanctioned. by God. So, God cursed him.
We so often think that worship is about us: our preferences, our traditions, our expectations, our satisfaction. We are reminded in this cautionary tragedy that God is not seeking creative worship. Jeroboam was thoroughly creative. He adapted himself to be welcomed by the surrounding culture. But what he was not faithful. Worship is chiefly focused on God. It is to be as God desires, and in the method God has decreed. When we depart from these things, we are no better than Jeroboam.
Why mention this? Today we have all sorts of worship available limited only by a church’s budget, and the insatiable itch of the malcontents filling pulpits the Spirit left long ago. God is supremely concerned with how He is worshipped. When we wander from His direction, it only leads to our ruin. Jeroboam presumed that he was wiser than God and equally as authoritative. But the second he wandered from God’s Word, his fate in disaster was sealed.
As you may enter a church this Sunday you need to ask yourself, “What are we doing here? Why are we worshipping the way that we are? Does this really please God? Am I merely regurgitating a tradition I’ve received without thought or do I really think that what we are doing pleases God?”
As a Presbyterian committed to the Bible (which is not universal these days) I can’t help but consider the counsel contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith in its chapter on worship. There we read, “the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.” (WCF 21.1) May the Lord draw you to consider whether or not your worship this Lord’s Day is God-honoring or not. May the story of Jeroboam be a sober reminder that we are called to “worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 96:9)