by Glenn Conjurske
“And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David. If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.”
—-I Kings 12:26-30.
The first thing to be observed here is the force of example. What the leadership does, the people do. “Like priest, like people,” says an old proverb. The sheep follow the shepherd. Jeroboam’s name appears often throughout the books of First and Second Kings, and almost always in this connection: he is the man “who made Israel to sin.” These words became almost as a surname to him, and we rarely see his name without them. Sixteen times he is referred to as the man “who made Israel to sin.”
But observe, he did not force Israel to sin. He only led them to sin. He set the example, and they followed it. He advised them to sin, and they followed his advice. Here we observe the awful effect of unsound leadership, and the awful responsibility which rests upon the leaders of God’s people. What the leaders do is sanctified in the eyes of the people. It is unlikely that a single Israelite would ever have set up and worshipped a golden calf of his own accord. This was a bold innovation. Who would have done so? But when it is done by the leader, all the rest are emboldened to do so also.
Jeroboam died, of course, but his evil example did not die with him. Throughout the book of Second Kings we read over and over, of almost every several king of Israel, that “he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin.” In this we see the force of tradition. Tradition is in fact one of the greatest forces on the earth, whether in the church or in the world. Once let a custom be established, and the people will blindly follow it for a thousand years. It matters not whether the thing be right or wrong, wise or foolish, reasonable or unreasonable, meaningful or meaningless, sensible or senseless. “Once a use, always a custom,” as an old English proverb has it. Let a custom once become entrenched, and it becomes almost an impossibility to root it out. Whether it be setting up Christmas trees, giving Christmas presents, making birthday cakes, giving birthday presents, giving wedding rings, sending flowers to a funeral, throwing rice at a wedding, wearing a square hat with a tassel at a graduation, or what have you, not one man can be found in a thousand who has the common sense to ask why the thing is done, or the moral fortitude to “depart from” it. They all follow in the beaten track, one generation after another, as did the kings of Israel in the sins of Jeroboam.
Now the sin of Jeroboam was no light thing. It was a matter so flagrantly wrong that its sinfulness should have been obvious to all Israel. Why was there never a king of Israel to depart from these golden calves? The language of Scripture is very instructive on this point. Of all of these generations of kings we are told, they “departed not” from the sins of Jeroboam. To depart from this tradition would have required some thought and inquiry, and a backbone made of something other than cotton candy. It would have required some mental activity and some moral action. But to “depart not” required nothing but apathy and moral lassitude. These are the reasons for the blinding and binding force of tradition, and so long as this apathy and moral lethargy exist, just so long will men continue to subject themselves to its reign. But when they begin to think and to care, then will arise a hardy race of non-conformists, who no more bend their necks to the yoke of tradition. But how likely is this to happen? Where is the solitary king, in the whole history of the northern kingdom of Israel, from its first king to its last, who departed from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat?