Jeroboam I was the first king (reigned ca. 931-ca. 910 B.C.) of the independent northern kingdom of Israel. As a result of his successful rebellion against Rehoboam, the Hebrew nation was divided into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
An Ephraimite and the son of Nebat, Jeroboam was of humble origin. He served as the prefect of a forced-labor contingent engaged in constructing fortifications around Jerusalem, Solomon's capital city, as well as numerous buildings on Mt. Zion, the most important and magnificent of which was the Holy Temple. The northern tribes chafed under the yoke of oppressive taxes and compulsory labor imposed by King Solomon. Led by Jeroboam, they plotted a revolt against the King. When it failed, Jeroboam fled to Egypt, where he was given asylum by Shishak, the reigning pharaoh, who saw in the revolt an opportunity to weaken a strong neighbor.
On the death of Solomon and the accession of his son Rehoboam, Jeroboam returned from exile and headed a delegation of the northern tribes that petitioned the new king to redress their grievances. Rehoboam responded by threatening to inflict upon the people even heavier burdens than his father had. The 10 tribes then seceded from the formerly united kingdom and established their own under Jeroboam, whom they elected their king. The northern kingdom of Israel, or as it was sometimes called, Ephraim, after Jeroboam's tribe, never reunited with the southern kingdom, known as Judah, which consisted only of that tribe and the tribe of Benjamin.
Frequent clashes occurred between Judah and Israel during the reign of Rehoboam, who could not accept the loss of the larger part of his father's kingdom; though the prophet Ahijah had announced that the division was divinely decreed. Jeroboam on his part fortified his capital, Schechem, against the king of Judah. At one time the pharaoh Shishak aided the kingdom of Israel to prevent its conquest by Rehoboam and a consequent reunion of the two kingdoms. Shishak, of course, was concerned not with defending Israel but with keeping it apart from Judah.
To divert his subjects from the Temple of Jerusalem, Jeroboam established two central shrines in the northern kingdom, Bethel, near the boundary between the two kingdoms, and Dan in the north. At each site Jeroboam set up a heathen cult centered on a gilded calf, reminiscent of the golden calf the Israelites had worshiped on their way from Egypt. In appointing the priests for these shrines, he disregarded the time-honored rights of the tribe of Levi to the priesthood. These and other acts alienated the prophets of Yahweh from Jeroboam, and they denounced him. The Bible, in fact, describes Jeroboam not only as a sinner but also as one who caused others to sin.
Further Reading on Jeroboam I
The biblical account of Jeroboam is in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Harry M. Orlinsky, Ancient Israel (1954; 3d ed. 1965), and John Bright, A History of Israel (1959), discuss Jeroboam.