After his successful revolt against Rehabeam, who had succeeded his father King Solomon, Jeroboam put all his efforts into consolidating the newly formed independent state of the Tribes of Israel (sometimes called "Ephraim," after his tribe). He fortified Shechem, and made it his capital, in competition with Jerusalem, where King Rehabeam reigned over his remaining subjects of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Yet Jeroboam knew that the devotion of the Jews to Jerusalem was rooted not in political bonds, but in the holiness of the place as the location of the Holy Temple. He, therefore, decided to devise some scheme which would distract the attention of his people from the religious center of Jerusalem and prevent them from making the customary pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year, as prescribed by the holy scripts. Thus political reasons forced Jeroboam into a complete betrayal of the very essence of the Jewish religion, the belief in one G‑d.
Jeroboam's first step was to institute the animal cult of Egypt, with which he had become acquainted during his temporary refuge in that country at the time of his flight from King Solomon. He erected temples in Bethel (in the South) and Dan (in the North), in which he put up the images of golden calves, and ordered the people of the South and North to make their pilgrimages to these new temples to serve the idols. Thus Jeroboam succeeded in diverting the long and arduous pilgrimages formerly made to Jerusalem by substituting shorter ones to the two new centers of worship he had set up. He, furthermore, lured the common people into disloyalty to G‑d by appointing priests not only from the family of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi, as ordained by G‑d, but also from all other tribes. Jeroboam himself served as High Priest, whenever he left his capital to visit Bethel or Dan. He even instituted a festival similar to Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles), which was to be celebrated on the fifteenth day of Cheshvan instead of its ordained time one month earlier. The genuine priests and Levites, loyal to their high station and responsibilities, withdrew from Jeroboam's domain to live in Jerusalem and other parts of Judah. With them went many men whose hearts clung to the G‑d of their forefathers. They added much to the strength of Rehabeam's reign.
Jeroboam and the True Prophet
Once Jeroboam, in the capacity of High Priest, was offering sacrifices to his idols in Bethel, when a prophet of G‑d from the land of Judah appeared before the altar and exclaimed: "Altar, Altar, thus says G‑d; 'Behold, a child will be born to the house of David, Joshiahu by name, and he shall sacrifice upon you the false priests'." As a sign that he had been sent by G‑d, the prophet said: "Behold, this altar shall burst and the ashes which are upon it shall be strewn about."
When Jeroboam heard these words he became angry. He stretched his hand out against the man of G‑d ordering his servants to seize him, but as he did so, his hand withered and he was unable to withdraw it. Presently, the altar burst and the ashes were strewn about, as the prophet had foretold. Now Jeroboam repented and asked the prophet to pray to G‑d for his hand to be restored. The man of G‑d did so, and Jeroboam's hand became as healthy as it had been before. The grateful king now invited the prophet to come with him to the palace for refreshments, but the prophet declined, saying that he had been commanded by G‑d to eat no bread and drink no water while on his sacred mission.
The strange episode at the festival celebration in Bethel was soon followed by another. There dwelt in Bethel an aged prophet whose sons, having been at the morning's festival celebration, had related to him the strange scenes they had witnessed. Desirous to see and test the prophet of G‑d, the old man rode off on his ass and soon overtook the wayfarer. Though the man of Judah at first declined the old man's invitation to return and eat bread with him, he permitted himself to be persuaded when the old man told him he had received a Divine message to offer hospitality to the wandering prophet. After the meal, the old man gave the prophet an ass and the latter set out on his way back to Judah. His punishment for disobeying G‑d's command followed swiftly. A lion met him on the road and killed him. But the lion neither touched the corpse nor harried the ass. Soon travelers brought the report of a strange sight on the road; a lion and an ass standing quietly beside a dead body! The old prophet at once guessed what had happened and brought the body from Judah to Bethel where he laid it to rest.
These strange occurrences left a profound impression upon all the other people of Israel, but not on Jeroboam. He soon forgot these events and the warning the prophet had uttered. He continued to spread the worship of idols in his kingdom, as he had done before. He had now set up his royal residence in the city of Tirzah.
The Queen Visits Prophet Ahijah
Some time later Jeroboam's oldest son fell dangerously ill. Jeroboam told his wife to disguise herself and go to Shiloh to the old prophet Ahijah, who had prophesied of his ascendancy to the throne of Israel. Jeroboam's wife was to bring presents to Ahijah and ask him about the fate of her child.
Ahijah was old and blind. Yet, as soon as Jeroboam's wife had entered the room, he said: "Come in, wife of Jeroboam! Why do you disguise yourself? I have a harsh message for you. Go back and tell Jeroboam: Thus speaks G‑d of Israel: 'I have exalted you from the midst of the people and made you prince over Israel; I have taken the kingdom from the house of David and given it to you. Yet, you have not been like My servant David, who observed My commands, and followed Me wholeheartedly and did what is right in Mine eyes. You have made for yourself other gods and molten images to provoke Mine anger. ...Therefore I shall bring evil upon your house...' " Having predicted the utter ruin and extermination of the house of Jeroboam, and the accession of another royal family in Israel, the aged prophet sent the queen home. The prophet's last words were, "Arise woman, and return to your house; as soon as you enter the city, the child shall die."
The woman hurried back to her sick child at the palace in Tirzah, and as soon as she entered the gate, the boy died.
But even all this did not affect Jeroboam's ways. He maintained his idolatry until his death in the twenty-second year of his rule over Israel.
Nadab's Short Reign
Jeroboam was succeeded by his son Nadab, the second king of Israel. Nadab followed in his father's footsteps and led a life contrary to the will of G‑d. The punishment which G‑d had announced through His Prophet Ahijah overtook him swiftly. While he was engaged in a war against the Philistines, his general Baasha, of the tribe of Issachar, treacherously attacked and killed him and proclaimed himself King of Israel. He was accepted by the people.