Jeroboam was the first King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Ask any student who’s ever had a speech class, and you’ll quickly see that no one wants to be first. Why? Because you become the benchmark, good or bad, for everyone who comes after you. Such was the fate of King Jeroboam of Israel.
Unfortunately, he became known as a benchmark of wickedness. Jeroboam appears to have started out well enough. Recognized by Solomon as an able leader, Jeroboam was appointed to oversee all of Solomon’s labor teams in Jerusalem. Things quickly got complicated, though, when a prophet stopped him and foretold that he would one day become king over the northern tribes of Israel. When Solomon got wind of the prophecy, he tried to kill Jeroboam, who fled to Egypt (1 Kings 11:26–40).
After Solomon died, Jeroboam returned to Israel and eventually did become king—and that’s when things really began to go downhill. Hoping to keep his people from transferring loyalty back to the king of Judah (who controlled Jerusalem and the temple there), Jeroboam set up two golden calf idols within his own borders and declared that these were Israel’s gods. He also set up his own religious festivals and built other pagan shrines (1 Kings 12). From then on, Jeroboam became a benchmark of wickedness for all the kings of Israel that came after him. If they were evil, they were said to be acting like Jeroboam.
Jeroboam’s sin was so great that the prophet Ahijah prophesied that one day all his male descendants would be killed and left shamefully unburied (I Kings 14:1–18). Ahijah’s prophecy came true when a man named Baasha usurped the throne and killed all of Jeroboam’s male descendants (I Kings 15:27–30).