The Kingdom of Israel, in the Old Testament, went through several stages.
It began with the Age of the Judges, when Israel was a loose conglomerate of tribes, led by local judges. This led into the 120-year period of the united kingdom, when the 12 tribes were united together under a secession of monarchs (Saul, David, and Solomon). And then the country was split into two separate kingdoms, the southern nation of Judah, led by the Davidic kings, and the northern nation of Israel.
The king responsible for tearing the northern tribes away from the southern tribes was Jeroboam. He, with God’s blessing, successfully led a rebellion against Solomon’s son Rehoboam. However, despite God’s grace in his life, Jeroboam was not a faithful follower of God. Indeed, the Old Testament scriptures make it clear that following his coronation, Jeroboam quickly led the northern tribes into great sin and apostasy.
Jeroboam’s sins are spoken about in no uncertain terms. During Jeroboam’s life, it was prophesied that God would abandon Israel, “because of the sins of Jeroboam, who sinned and who made Israel sin.” (1 Kings 14:16) Later, when other kings of Israel sinned, it would be said about them that they did “evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin by which he had made Israel sin.” (1 Kings 15:34, 16:19, 16:26, etc.)
So what was the sin of Jeroboam? What was this great evil that he committed that doomed the northern nation of Israel to destruction, having made it forever unclean in the sight of God? Essentially, Jeroboam changed the worship God had commanded under the Law of Moses.
God had established a certain priesthood of the line of Aaron the Levite (cf. Exodus 28:1). He had established a pattern of worship in a single location, that location being originally the Tabernacle, and then later the Temple at Jerusalem. God had ordained that at the single altar consecrated under the Law, the Israelites should worship and make sacrifices to Him. He had further commanded that the Israelites, in their religion, never try to make a statue, or graven image, of Him; nor that they should ever worship or bow down to the same. (cf. Exodus 20:4-5) It is important to note that this command is distinct from the command not to worship other gods. (cf. Exodus 20:3)
Jeroboam, however, understanding that the Temple of God was in the southern nation of Judah, the nation he had split off of; and being of such little faith as to trust God to work things out for him; he decided that the wise course of action would be to build a new temple. Two actually, one in Bethel, on the border with Judah, and another in the northern city of Dan. (cf. 1 Kings 12:25-28). He went a step further and consecrated new priests, who were not Levites (1 Kings 12:31). He then made up new religious holidays (cf. 1 Kings 12:32-33).
We should note that in all of this, Jeroboam kept a semblance of remaining true to the religious heritage of his people. He continued to call on the name of God. He continued to believe in the exodus out of Egypt, and the nations salvation from slavery (cf. 1 Kings 12:28). There is even evidence that the northern nation continued to observe the sabbath day, and other such ceremonial customs from the Law. (cf. Amos 8:5). But still, in changing a part of God’s law, Jeroboam was held, by God, to be guilty of a great sin. God did not want His people to add to His word, or take away from His word, and He certainly did not want them deliberately breaking His commands to suit themselves (cf. Deuteronomy 5:32).
Christians today are not under the Law of Moses; we are under the Law of Christ (cf. Romans 8:2; Galatians 6:2) but the principle remains — God does not want us changing what He has given us (cf. Revelation 22:18-19; Galatians 1:8-9) We cannot simply add new offices to the church, create councils, holidays, manners of worship and the like. When we take what God has given us in Christ, and change it to suit ourselves, we are, like the kings of old, walking in the sins of Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin. Rather we must be true to the Gospel of Christ, without adding to it, or taking away from it. We must learn to speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where the Bible is silent, lest, like Jeroboam we bring condemnation on ourselves.
The church of Christ seeks to fulfill this goal, allowing the Bible, and the Bible alone, to guide us in our service to Christ. We invite you to worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.