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Jeroboam's Sin: Jealousy and Corrupting the Priesthood
Before continuing the discussion about Jeroboam, there’s something that must be stated: Joseph Smith’s revelations and translations contain ample political philosophy on par with, and perhaps even surpassing, that of the ancient world, such as those laid down by Plato and Aristotle. And yet church leadership, local and general, pass over these things or refrain from speaking about them, which may be the result of ignorance or sheer neglect. Given the polarizing effect of mentioning anything political, many, for the sake of their livelihood and reputations, dare not even to whisper these things, fearing the looming prospect of being marginalized. From personal experience, the local leadership excels at implanting opinions about their targets into the minds of their fellow ward members. This power no doubt emanates from the “follow the prophet” mantra parroted at nearly every General Conference of recent date, trickling down to the stakes and wards for the sole benefit of the leadership. Since the Stake President installed the bishop and his cadre, a Seventy called the Stake President, with the former receiving his call from Salt Lake City, then members surmise that swearing an oath of fealty is in order.
This whole atmosphere, in my mind, materialized from false traditions creeping into the Church via general and local leadership, with perhaps the most pernicious of these being that dead prophets pale in comparison with that of the living prophet. This outlook represents a clear and present danger, for only a few silent seekers will come to grasp the import of Brother Joseph’s revelations, and I hasten to add that this will be done without the assistance of any ecclesiastical leadership. When considering Christ, He never militated against the words of his past servants who often suffered and died for His cause. (By the way, how many general authorities have suffered on par with the prophets of old?) In fact, Christ evinces His adoration for the teachings and words of past prophets on various occasions in the scriptures, three of which appear in the Book of Mormon and are possibly the most devastating to the current paradigm espoused by most members.
Christ’s Concern for Sacred Records and Dead Prophets
First, the Lord assures his Nephite audience, as well as those reading His words in the future, that even though the Law of Moses was fulfilled in Him, His coming did not herald the destruction of prior prophets’ words.
Behold, I do not destroy the prophets, for as many as have not been fulfilled in me, verily I say unto you, shall all be fulfilled. And because I said unto you that old things have passed away, I do not destroy that which hath been spoken concerning things which are to come. For behold, the covenant which I have made with my people is not all fulfilled; but the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me. 1
The words of the Master Himself disabuses anyone imbibing the pervasive, fallacious thinking that appears to cultivate an attitude of disregard for the words of the scriptures and the prophets who wrote them. And note well that Christ here deflects from Himself on this matter so as to pay the proper homage His former messengers deserve for their sacrifice and service. Furthermore, there are important prophecies whose fulfillment have yet to occur on the world scene and thus demand our devoted attention, lest they overtake us unawares.
Second, any ardent student of the scriptures knows there’s one prophet Christ likes to quote incessantly before His audience: the prophet Isaiah. Reading the immediate chapters following 3 Nephi 15 reveals that the Master not only illustrates the point He made about past prophecies and their future fulfillment but also the fact that Isaiah is indicative of a prophet whose words have not come to pass. Repeatedly, Christ invokes Isaiah’s words for the benefit of hearers concerning the future and their posterity who will help usher in the political kingdom of God and the Second Coming of the Lord. Instead of telling His audience to pay less heed to this dead seer, He actually, to the chagrin of many today, issues a command to read, search, and study this man’s words.
And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles. And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake. 2
I can’t count how many times in Sunday school we as a people gloss over Isaiah and excuses ourselves from grappling with these great prophecies by relegating them to the dust bin of oblivion because they are just too hard to understand—we don’t even think to pray for Spirit to guide us in understanding the prophet par excellence. And, to make matters worse, this mentality effectively disregards Christ’s commandment concerning these things; rather, we think that since the living prophet has not expounded Isaiah’s words, then they must not be too important, and therefore, there’s no need for wasting any intellectual horsepower to piece together this prophet’s panoramic view of the last days.
Third, the Lord does something quite remarkable in the same chapter He issues His command concerning Isaiah: He conducts an inventory of the scriptures, which contain the words of dead prophets. “Bring forth the record which ye have kept.”3 For those who place a premium of the living prophet’s words such an assertion from the Son of God must seem a little perplexing. Why does Jesus Christ need to review the Nephite records? He, like Mormon, the compiler of the Book of Mormon as we have it, understands the importance of sacred records for the benefit of the people and the stability of society; something I discussed in another post. If things are missing, neglected, or completely omitted, these things must find their place in the scriptures for the reasons rehearsed and to “enlarge the memory of” the “people.”4 But some important details were left out of the record.
Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so? And his disciples answered him and said: Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled. And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them? 5
Pay particular attention to the concern Christ has for the words of Samuel, the Lamanite, and His displeasure over the Nephites’ negligence and failure to record His trusted servant’s account. And one wonders why this happened. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that Samuel, in the eyes of the Nephites, was a pesky, dirty Lamanite who had no business telling the people about the Lord and His ways. Emanating from their disdain came feelings of resentment to the degree they disregarded every single word the prophet came to utter, save the few faithful who soaked it all in. And yet his words were important enough that the Son of God took the time to interrogate His disciples over the matter and ensure their inclusion into the sacred record.
From these three examples it should be obvious the premium Christ places on the words of His dead prophets. Emulating the reverence He had and continues to have for their words should be a goal for which we all strive. Do we not consider the vast amount of blood it cost some of these men to bring forth the words we have at this time? With this question in mind, those who seek to detract from their importance and habituate the members of the Church towards paying greater heed to the living prophet at the expense of the dead are misguided and clearly have wrested the scriptures, or they do not understand them. To me, wresting the scriptures seems to be the modus operandi of the day, and therefore, it appears that “enlarging the memory of this people” is not the utmost priority—but shrinking it is!
What’s being done is nothing new, for “there is no new thing under the sun.”6
Jeroboam’s Plan to Reorient the People
Speaking of shrinking the memory of the people concerning the proper worship of God, Jeroboam, the Ephraimite king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, did just that. The first order of business for the new king entailed setting up a new capitol from which to carry out the quotidian tasks of governance, with Jeroboam electing Shechem as the location for his palace. Undoubtedly, he chose this city because it signified Ephraimite power and remained a sacred site for pilgrims to celebrate and worship the Lord. Alluring as Shechem was for the Israelite pilgrims, Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem eclipsed it in importance. And this created no small amount of anxiety in Jeroboam’s mind, for, with the “feast of Tabernacles” fast approaching, he realized he had no formidable cultic site to entice and maintain the attention of those under his rule.7 He viewed this as a dilemma. He surmised that should the Ten Tribesmen worship at Jerusalem, they would return to the house of David and render him without a people and, by extension, a kingdom.8 And being stripped of his kingdom left him vulnerable to violent reprisals from Rehoboam.
Overcoming the grandeur of Solomon’s Temple seemed an easy enough task for Jeroboam: all he had to do was shrink the memory of the people by introducing calculated changes. To accomplish this objective hinged on whether he could produced a bewitching decoy that would redirect and secure the gaze of the people to the point where their new fixation would cause the memory of Solomon’s Temple to fade into the background and vanish over time. He also needed to lower barriers to entry by making it more accessible for the masses. Given the greater territory Jeroboam ruled, he contrived to establish two sites that would diminish the travel time within the Northern Kingdom: he built one in the southern reaches at Bethel, and another far toward his northern boarder at Dan.9 Each housed a golden calf at which the people were urged to worship. These cultic sites indeed shorten the distance required for travel, but, more importantly, they represented proximate alternatives to Solomon’s temple.
Robert Alter’s commentary of this particular section notes that Jeroboam’s intention was not to spawn full-fledged idolatry but concocted a plan simply to maintain his kingdom.10 And this interpretation appears to emanate from Josephus’s writing from which the author reports the speech Jeroboam gave to address perhaps those concerned with his methods to retain them within his borders.
I suppose, my countrymen, that you know this, that every place hath God in it; nor is there any one determinate place in which he is, but he every where hears and sees those that worship him; on which account I do not think it right for you to go so long a journey to Jerusalem, which is an enemy's city, to worship him. It was a man that built the temple: I have also made two golden heifers, dedicated to the same God; and the one of them I have consecrated in the city Bethel, and the other in Dan, to the end that those of you that dwell nearest those cities may go to them, and worship God there. 11
Innocuous as Jeroboam’s methods appear, he nonetheless undermined the centrality of Solomon’s temple in the minds of his listeners. Furthermore, his words aimed to solidify the people’s animosity toward David’s heirs, and thus pressing the people further into his ideological camp. But a true king would not have sought to deflect the people’s attention away from God for the sake of maintaining one’s political status, which came at the expense of the people’s ultimate happiness. In fact, had Jeroboam remained faithful to Abijah’s prophecy concerning the assurance of his house and his future heirs through keeping the commandments, he would not have resorted to this political measure springing from fear and jealousy.
Being the founding king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel meant that whatever policies and religious practices Jeroboam espoused and then decreed set the trajectory of political society. He had the opportunity to establish a virtuous people by habituating them towards God’s laws, which included temple worship at Jerusalem. And that by doing so, he would have made his intentions clear for securing the ultimate happiness of his subjects and for himself. But he failed at the outset of his reign in setting down correct laws through his poor example from which the people took their cues. The people’s happiness cannot be said to have been his main priority; rather, protecting his political power and image became imperative to the degree that the king artfully maneuvered and made the people serve as political pawns in his bid for accruing worldly glory. To create unassuming pawns meant he had to dupe the majority by deflecting away from his true motives and their role in sustaining them. All Jeroboam had to do was use platitudes that focused on ease and comfort to woo the people into accepting his manner of thinking. This is not all, however.
Looking at the narrative concerning the Ephraimite king reveals an added sweetener that further lured the people into his corner: since Jeroboam was called by a prophet of God, whatever he sanctioned in terms of alterations to temple worship was perceived by the people as kosher. Anytime a person is called of God, the people who believe such give up thinking altogether and delegate their agency to said called person. And what follows is that the majority of the people ascribe infallibility to the person whom they venerate in an effort to excuse themselves from the weighty task of discernment and, at the same time, signal to others the infallibility of their choice. Most people rarely, if ever, admit they’re wrong, even when they’re about to go off a cliff.
Altering the Conferral of the Priesthood
These changes to temple worship may have induced the majority of the Northern Tribesmen to continue their political consent for Jeroboam. And yet this was not true for the discerning minority among them. Perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back came when the king decided to alter the conferral of the priesthood, meaning that others besides the descendants of Aaron would be able to officiate the sacrifices on behalf of the people.
I will ordain for you certain priests and Levites from among yourselves, that you may have no want of the tribe of Levi, or of the sons of Aaron; but let him that is desirous among you of being a priest, bring to God a bullock and a ram, which they say Aaron the first priest brought also. 12
Jeroboam’s reformation of priesthood conferral is problematic for several reasons; however, the most disconcerting can be gleaned from the loose regulations he had put in place. He simply allowed those “desirous” and with what appears to be perhaps the meanest and the lowest men from all tribes to apply for priesthood offices. In other words, priesthood offices became open to the most unworthy men who would no doubt use their privileges to rise in power over others. Soothing as Jeroboam’s words appear on the surface, his regulations seem to militate against the interests of the Levites, a people who depended upon their people for their livelihood. With the increase of priests in the Northern Kingdom, the amount the Levites would receive for their services indubitably diminished.
Attenuating Levite power may have been the aim of Jeroboam’s policy all along in light of this tribe’s prerogative of officiating in sacrifices at Solomon’s temple and other locations. To further shrink the memory of the temple demanded that the king undermine descendants of Aaron and their birthright of holding the Levitical priesthood by giving it to wicked wretches whom Jeroboam could control and count on by offering political patronage. The Levites saw the writing on the wall and understood the king not only sought to dissolve the memory of Solomon’s temple in the minds of his listeners but also moved to dissolve their tribe’s position among the Ten Tribesmen.
…the Levites left their suburbs and their possessions, and came to Judah and Jerusalem; for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest’s office unto the Lord: And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made. 13
The irony of Jeroboam’s efforts to efface the temple from the minds and hearts of his listeners precipitated the very thing he set out to guard against: the people returning to the house of David at Jerusalem. And the Levites were not the only ones to leave him.
And after [the Levites], out of all the tribes of Israel, such as set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel came to Jerusalem, to sacrifice unto the Lord God of their fathers. So they strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and made Rehoboam the son of Solomon strong, three years; for three years they walked in the way of David and Solomon. 14
Josephus notes that these alterations in the ordinances of temple worship and priesthood conferral disoriented the minds of the remaining Northern Tribesmen, which permitted their enemies to take advantage of their blindness. I mean, if a king insists on changing the way things had been done in the past, such acclimatizing to change results in the people’s laxity towards obeying the laws, whether political or ecclesiastical, when they believe that things will continue to change. Without some semblance of order, the Northern Kingdom of Israel became a soft target for enemy armies, especially the Assyrians who deported the Ten Tribesmen into the northern climes of their empire.
Fast-forward to today, similar changes have taken place inside the Church since Utah became a state within the Union. Any discerning member can recognize the specific changes that have occurred and realize that something insidious is afoot. Many will say that these alterations represent the beauty of continuing revelation, whereas I beg to differ. From my studies of the scriptures, Ephraim, for the most part, appears to follow in the footsteps of their ancient forebears, concocting political and ecclesiastical machinations so that they can accrue power and the praise of the world. And the best method they’ve employed to achieve this is by aggrandizing the living prophets at the expense of the dead prophets in the scriptures. In fact, most mainline members’ arguments smack of historicist arguments, which purport that the moderns know best and that the ancients have nothing to offer, except perhaps pithy quotes for making punch lines. With this sort of logic running amuck in our wards, many seem to have taken the “follow the prophet” mantra as a liscense to relegate their scriptures to the trash can. This needs to stop. However, should members persist in this mindset, they will indeed become what Isaiah proclaimed them to be: a bunch of blind “drunkards” who will “be trodden underfoot.”15
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3 Nephi 15:6-8.
3 Nephi 23:1-3
3 Nephi 23:7
3 Nephi 23:9-11
Ecclesiastes 1:9 JST
Flavius Josephus, “The Antiquity of the Jews,” in Josephus: The Complete Works, trans. William Winston (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 8.8.4.
1 Kings 12:26-27 JST.
Josephus, “The Antiquity of the Jews,” 8.8.4 cf. 1 Kings 12:28-29 JST. The 1 King’s account differs from Josephus’ account posits and appears to be an interpolation introduced by the Deuteronomist faction. Josephus’s account seems more plausible and signals that he may have had access to unadulterated manuscripts.
Robert Alter, trans. The Hebrew Bible, vol. 2 (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 2018): See Alter’s commentary on 1 Kings 12:28.
Josephus, “The Antiquity of the Jews,” 8.8.4.
2 Chronicles 11:14-15 JST
2 Chronicles 11:16-17 JST
Isaiah 28:3 (Gileadi Translation)