The House Always Loses
Listen to “The House Always Loses” by Fred Smith
The final commentary on the lives of many of the kings of Israel is, “He did evil and walked in the ways of Jeroboam.” But even when they did good things, the Old Testament always offers an addendum – a last line in their obituary and funeral eulogy, “Yet he walked in the ways of Jeroboam.” This was often the final word on the kings of Israel for hundreds of years.
What is this defining sin, the standard by which all the kings came to be judged? What is the sin of the house of Jeroboam and does it have any relevance for us today?
Jeroboam understood the nature of people and their attraction to an easy religion and devised a brilliant strategy to give them that and at the same time protect his interests. He did not outlaw religion or use force to control people or make them martyrs but only made them consumers of convenience and choice by using religion with only a few changes that were reasonable for everyone. He made worship more convenient and relevant for them while at the same time keeping them from Jerusalem and the house of David.
“It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.”
“Why make the long, expensive and dangerous journey to Jerusalem when you can worship closer to where you live with people you trust?”
“Why support an institution that tells you what to do when you can have a religion that is more compatible with what you want – and deserve?”
And here is the twisted genius of it: They believed him. They trusted him. After all, he was a man of the people with their best interests in mind. He did not turn them into unbelieving atheists but only more down-to-earth people with a relevant religion. He relieved them of the burden of orthodoxy and obedience. They did not kill prophets nor did they need to as they could co-opt or simply ignore them. He even appointed his own priests. It was a good time for a man of the people and the people themselves. He gave them a way to find happiness, convenience, comfort and common-sense religion.
“We can disobey God and at the same time live blessed lives.”
“We can have a practical religion with none of the unrealistic expectations and still remain true to the Lord.”
“We can serve idols with none of the unpleasant aftertaste.”
People are not comfortable with holding two contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time. We want to resolve conflict in a way that eliminates our discomfort, often without having to choose one or the other. Jeroboam understood this in the nature of people and was able to sell them on the possibility of choosing both – to combine them – with no thought for any consequences.
We need religion – but a practical religion that makes sense in the real world where we live. We need it to be convenient and pleasant – especially pleasant without all that chatter about repentance and sin. Jeroboam, in a way, only encouraged what they already believed. In a deeply divided nation he accelerated their impulses and gave them permission. St. Augustine would say that he led them down the path of disordered loves. There was no force or compulsion – only giving their inclinations the encouragement they desired.
Everything was fine at first, but over time their disordered loves became a sin so corrosive that it led eventually to the destruction of his whole family and the nation itself. What was at first merely a political accommodation to people became a horror they could not have predicted or imagined.
“They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger.”
They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. Even the best kings could not undo the long-term effects of what Jeroboam introduced. It became a permanent characteristic and practice of the people. It had become so woven into their character that no change in leadership could pull it out without unraveling the whole.
Jeroboam’s one astute insight and practical trade-off resulted years later in the slaughter of his whole house and the fall of Israel. That is what the Bible means when it says there was a sin of the house of a person. It was not just that person alone but that sin became a character trait of generations of his descendants. It became the sin that defined them and, in time, was the seed of their destruction. It is true that, in time, your sin will find you out. But not only you alone and that is the tragedy.
Art by Mary McCleary
Let me encourage you to follow the path to my book “Where The Light Divides” here