The first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Reprinted with permission from Who's Who in the Hebrew Bible (The Jewish Publication Society).
Jeroboam I, born in the town of Zereda of the tribe of Ephraim, was the first king of Israel, the northern kingdom, after the division of the kingdom. When Jeroboam was young, his father, Nebat, died, and he was raised by his widowed mother, Zeruah. His bravery and industriousness caught the eye of King Solomon who put him in charge of the labor forces of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, which had been conscripted to help fortify Jerusalem.
His work gave him the opportunity to realize that the tribes in the north, jealous of Judah's dominant position, were restless and unhappy with the Jerusalem royal court because of Solomon's heavy taxes and the compulsory labor burdens, which were imposed to carry out the king's ambitious building projects.
In one of his journeys outside Jerusalem, Jeroboam met the prophet Ahijah--a priest serving in the sanctuary of Shiloh in the territory of Ephraim--on an isolated road. The prophet rented his coat in 12 pieces, giving ten to Jeroboam. The prophet said that God was giving Jeroboam ten tribes and leaving only two to the descendants of King David.
Jeroboam, aided by Ahijah, plotted against the king. Solomon discovered the conspiracy and condemned Jeroboam to death. Before the sentence could be carried out, Jeroboam fled to Egypt, where the Pharaoh Shishak gave him political asylum.
After Solomon died, Rehoboam, his son and successor, went to Shechem to be confirmed as king by the ten northern tribes. Jeroboam, who had returned to Israel as soon as he heard that Solomon had died, complained to Rehoboam, in front of the assembled people, about the forced labor and high taxes imposed by his late father, and asked him to lighten the burden of the people.
Rehoboam promised to give his answer in three days, after consultations with his advisers. The elders recommended that he reach a compromise with his northern subjects concerning their justified complaints. The king rejected their wise advice and consulted with his young advisers, who told him to be firm in his demands.
Rehoboam went back to the people and told them that not only would he not lighten
their burden but he would increase it! The reaction of the people should not have come as a surprise to Rehoboam. The northerners, discontented and rebellious, declared that they were seceding and stoned to death Adoram, the official in charge of the forced labor. Rehoboam, fearing that he would also be killed, mounted his chariot and fled to Jerusalem.
The Kingdom of Israel
The northern tribes established an independent kingdom called Israel, and Jeroboam was their sovereign. The new king resided at first in Shechem; then for a period in Penuel, across the Jordan River; and finally in Tirzah, a town about 12 kilometers northeast of Shechem, which became his capital.