Question: "What was the sin of Jeroboam?"
Answer: Second Kings 3:3 includes a reference to King Joram (or Jehoram) of Israel and the “sin of Jeroboam.” Joram was a son of Ahab, and the only thing positive mentioned about him is that “he got rid of the sacred stone of Baal that his father had made” (2 Kings 3:2); thus, he was not as wicked as his parents, but that’s not saying much. Joram’s problem was that “he clung to the sins of Jeroboam” (verse 3).
Jeroboam was the first king of divided Israel. In 1 Kings 14:9, the prophet Ahijah clearly states the sins of Jeroboam: “You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made for yourself other gods, idols made of metal; you have aroused [God’s] anger and turned your back on [God].” Jeroboam’s sin was idolatry. He created and worshiped gods other than the Lord.
This practice of worshiping other gods began early in Jeroboam’s reign. When the kingdom was divided and he controlled the northern part, he stopped all pilgrimages to Jerusalem: “‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ One [golden calf] he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other” (1 Kings 12:28–30).
In addition to sacrificing to these two golden calves, Jeroboam “built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites” (1 Kings 12:31). God’s entire system of holy days, sacrifices, and worship was changed into a man-made system focused on worshiping golden calves. In addition to the idolatry, the cities of Bethel and Dan became the places of worship rather than God’s chosen city of Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chronicles 6:6).
The sin of Jeroboam was doubly tragic in that he had been promised blessing from God if he had just followed the path of David. “If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you” (1 Kings 11:38). In turning to calf-worship, Jeroboam spurned God’s goodness and brought about his own demise: “The sin of the house of Jeroboam . . . led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth” (1 Kings 13:34).
There are other places throughout 1 and 2 Kings that refer to the sins or ways of Jeroboam. For example, 1 Kings 15:34 states that King Baasha “did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit.” For following Jeroboam’s sin, Baasha suffered Jeroboam’s fate (1 Kings 16:1–4).
The sins of Jeroboam haunted the later kings of Israel, all of whom practiced idolatry. King Zimri (1 Kings 16:19), King Omri (1 Kings 16:26), King Amaziah (2 Kings 14:24), and King Pekahiah (2 Kings 15:24)—these and others all followed the wicked example of Jeroboam.
Jeroboam’s reign included many sins, yet the “sin of Jeroboam” is a specific reference to idol worship that marked his reign and the reigns of the kings of Israel who followed him. This sin was one that angered the Lord and ultimately led to judgment upon Israel.