SPLITSVILLE: A kingdom torn apart © 2013, Chris MacKinnon www.chrismackinnon.com Gateway Assembly 11 Argyle Street Campbellton, NB E3N 1G3 www.gatewaycampbellton.com
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked MLB are from The Modern Language Bible: The New Berkeley Version in Modern English. Copyright © 1945, 1959, 1969, 1970, 1987, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. Used by permission. Scripture quotations noted NLT are from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations designated NET are from the NET Bible® copyright © 1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. Scripture quoted by permission. http://netbible.com All rights reserved. Italics in Scripture quotations reflect the author’s added emphasis.
Table of Contents
1. One People, Two Nations
2. When God Tears Asunder
3. An Offer Accepted
4. Caught in the Pressure Cooker
5. Hatching an Old Scheme
6. The Long Way Down
One People, Two Nations
Israel. God’s chosen people. From all of the nations and people groups of the Earth, God chose one man to turn into a nation so that the world would be able to see what a relationship with the one, true, living God looks like. He called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, led him to a Promised Land and changed his name to Abraham, “father of a multitude.” At an impossible age to have children God blessed Abraham and his wife with a baby boy, Isaac. Isaac had two sons 1
that competed with each other until one received the inheritance of blessing and ran away. Jacob fled from his brother, fell in love and married, had twelve sons, and the family grew. On his way back home Jacob encountered God and sought His special blessing. God renamed him Israel, “God prevails.” This extended family was saved from famine when they stumbled upon a long-lost brother in the court of Pharaoh in Egypt. Joseph, son of Jacob, was sold into slavery by his brothers, accused of rape and thrown in prison. Then God led him to interpret a dream and give advice to Pharaoh. As a reward he was given the greatest position available in Egypt besides the throne itself. As time went on, Joseph and his contributions to the life and welfare of the Egyptian people were forgotten. The people of Israel became workers and then slaves. In their oppression and despair the people cried out to God. Through great judgment on Pharaoh and Egypt, God delivered them from slavery by the hand of Moses. Under Joshua they began to conquer the Promised Land. It was their inheritance for serving the one true God. It was to be theirs forever, for He promised it to Abraham: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are–northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the 2
earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.â€? (Genesis 13:14-17)
For years the Israelites struggled to keep the land and stand strong against those who would oppress them. Those difficult times were brought on them because of their sin. When they repented and returned to Him, God called and empowered Judges to deliver them. Eventually, though, the people asked to be like other nations. They wanted a king. So God chose Saul, a son of the smallest family from the smallest tribe. He brought the people together and conquered enemies. He built a royal court and an army with courageous commanders. But when Saul turned away from God, God turned from him. God gave the kingdom to a man after His own heart: David. David continued to conquer foes and increased the boundaries of the kingdom. He brought the Ark of the Covenant to his new capital, Jerusalem, and made the preparations for a permanent Temple to be built there. Though he, too, fell into sin, David repented. God made a special promise, a covenant with David, just as He did to Abraham. This time the promise was not about a land to live in but a throne to sit upon. 3
“‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “I took you from the sheepfold, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people, over Israel. And I have been with you wherever you have gone, and have cut off all your enemies from before you, and have made you a great name, like the name of the great men who are on the earth… “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom… And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”’” (2 Samuel 7:7:8-9, 12, 16)
This was God’s great gift to David. The throne of Israel was promised to him and his line of sons forever.
Collision Course When David was near death, he gave the throne to his son Solomon. As the new king Solomon had to learn that the promise of God had one very great condition. David was careful to leave his son with a vital challenge before his passing. Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying: “I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. And keep the charge of the LORD your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law 4
of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn; that the LORD may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul,’ He said, ‘you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” (1 Kings 2:1-4)
So the stage was set for Israel’s greatest days as a kingdom. Days of war turned to days of peace. Days of struggle turned to days of prosperity. King Solomon was known far and wide for the wisdom he received from God. But what seemed like Israel’s greatest days were not actually so wonderful. They were on a collision course with some of their worst days. There was hard labor involved in keeping the wealth flowing. To make alliances of peace Solomon married many foreign women who brought in their foreign gods. And again a stage was set. Not a stage of prosperity, but of division. God’s chosen people were about to pass through a doorway that they could not return from. This study is about how one nation, God’s chosen nation of Israel, was torn apart as a result of sin. It was not just because of sinful lifestyles or unrepentant sin that the nation was ripped in two, but because of specific sins that came together to form the perfect storm. These sins and their effects on the key players in this study were not new to them or to us. They were constructed from the 5
same building blocks as all sin. The Apostle John warned us of these building blocks when he challenged to love God and not the world. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. (1 John 2:15-16)
Other translations call these “lusts” by a word that is a little easier for us to understand, “cravings.” We all get cravings from time to time. Maybe you crave chocolate, a really good hamburger, Chinese food, or a tall, cold glass of milk. Sin is also a craving. It is a craving for something to see with our eyes, something to touch and feel, or something to boast in or about. We must face the truth that these same sins and their fates are possible in each of our lives today. Though we are not kings or a kingdom, we can find ourselves on that same collision course with the consequences of division, strife and continued sin. That is, unless we face the possibilities in our lives, drive out sin and defend ourselves against the arrows that Satan would use to pierce us and tear us down.
Torn in Pieces Just like his father, David, Solomon’s life was nearing its end. He had seen and accomplished much in life, though at times he thought it empty and vain. He oversaw the building of God’s holy Temple, wrote many proverbs and other works of literature, and even involved himself with architecture and construction. After Solomon’s death his son, Rehoboam, looked forward and traveled to the city of Shechem where the people had gathered to anoint him as king. But unknown to Rehoboam was a prophecy made to a man named Jeroboam. The prophet Ahijah came to Jeroboam and told him how God was going to split the nation into two kingdoms. Ten of the tribes of Israel would gather under one throne, and two under another. The kingdom of ten was to be given to Jeroboam and the other two would remain as the throne of David, according to God’s promise and covenant. (see 1 Kings 11:26-37) After they watched Rehoboam become king, Jeroboam and others sought to meet with him. They remembered the heavy work load that Solomon had put on the people. The silver in Jerusalem was as common as stones (1 Kings 10:27), not just because of gifts that were brought to him, but also on account of the work of the people. So they made a simple request of the new king. 7
“Your father made us work too hard. Now if you lighten the demands he made and don't make us work as hard, we will serve you.” (1 Kings 12:4 NET)
At first King Rehoboam acted wisely. He requested three days to consider what the people asked. He sought the wisdom of his father’s counselors and of his others closer to him in experience and knowledge. Rehoboam chose to follow bad advice. The request of the people was denied. But not only was he refusing to lighten the requirements of his father, he pledged to be far harder on them. Certainly the people were disheartened to hear their call for leniency denied. But to hear the hard-hearted arrogance of the new king enraged them. Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying: “What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!” So Israel departed to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over the children of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah. (1 Kings 12:16-17)
Two Kingdoms From this point forward in the Old Testament books of history, the kingdom of “Israel” no longer meant the united chosen nation of twelve tribes. Israel is now a northern kingdom of God’s chosen people, made up of ten tribes who rebelled against the throne of David. Those who remained loyal to David’s kingly line made up the southern nation of Judah. This is why the rest of the books of First Kings and Second Kings refer to the kings of Israel and Judah. They are all God’s chosen people, but two separate nations. Having defied the king in Jerusalem, the new nation of Israel must have its own king. Jeroboam had been known to the people for a long time. After the prophet told him of the breaking of the nation, he fled to Egypt. Solomon had heard of the prophecy and sought to capture and kill Jeroboam to keep the nation whole in the hands of his son. Now that Jeroboam was back the people rallied around him, knowing him to be a capable leader. Jeroboam was quickly made king over all Israel. As a new capital for the northern nation, he built up the city of Shechem. It was in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim, one of the two sons of Joseph. Often in the prophets God speaks to “Ephraim” as a name for the northern kingdom. It is not hard to see the roots of those building blocks of sin. Cravings for seeing, having, and boasting all play a role in the division of God’s holy kingdom. But there is enough blame to go 9
around in Splitsville. No one is free from the sin or the consequences. Maybe the most interesting part of the story is that God allowed it to happen. He was never caught unaware. Remember that He spoke to Jeroboam through the prophet years before the split came. Looking at the text of the story it seems that God led some events so that it would happen. At no time did any tribe or family cease to be members of the chosen people of God. God did not reject the northern tribes for rebelling against Davidâ€™s throne. Neither did He release Himself from His covenant to David because of the foolishness of his descendants. At all times His commands and statutes applied to all of the people of Israel. Still, Splitsville is a land of sin and consequences. By looking at their failures, may we take note of potential pitfalls in our own lives and avoid a one-way ticket to this terrible fate.
When God Tears Asunder
Who do you blame when something falls apart? Our world seems accustomed to hearing about recalls and manufacturing defects. Trusted companies remove meat products, produce and even baby formula from store shelves for the safety of consumers. Automobile makers send you a notice in the mail or the local dealer calls to inform you about a part that needs to be replaced, at no cost to you, as a safety precaution. 11
When safety issues and impure products get through the screening process, who do we blame? The manufacturer? The quality checker? The man or woman at the plant who oversaw the machine that packaged the product? There can be a lot of blame to go around. Sometimes it is difficult to narrow down the primary culprit. The division of the nation of Israel is a similar situation. When one king died and his son was anointed to take his place, when people asked for leniency and received harsh words, when several tribes decided to strike their own path instead of remain a united people, there is a lot at work than what we can sometimes see.
Who is to Blame? Most of the time we are told that the arrogance and lack of wisdom of a kingâ€™s son was the cause of the split between Godâ€™s people. Rehoboam wanted to be greater than his father. When he sought for advice about what to do, he followed the advice of his peers and not of his fatherâ€™s advisors. It is a lesson about pride and humility that some of us have heard many times. And then there was Jeroboam. Was it his idea to gather the people together and ask Rehoboam for a lighter load for the labor force? He had witnessed it firsthand as he was the foreman over the workers. How many times did he hear them curse Solomon for his heavy demands, for the work that they had to do, and that 12
if they could just get by with a little less everyone would be happy. Did he incite the people against the king? Was it his plan to stir up the dissatisfaction and bring the situation to a such a point that it had to be dealt with on the new kingâ€™s first day? Over those three days of waiting, was he the one to speak up and suggest the northern tribes walk away from the throne if they did not like his answer? Neither can we forget about those ten tribes who chose to form their own nation. Because of one bad decision on his first day the people decided they were no longer going to sit under the throne of David? Were they so quick to rebel and walk away from their own people? While all of these factors led to the breaking of the people, the root of the split goes back to someone who could have avoided it all. There was one whose poor choices and evil actions set in motion the tearing of the kingdom. That one man was Solomon.
Sin and Consequences Under the reign of Solomon son of David, Israel enjoyed its greatest years as a nation. David chose the son of Bathsheba to be king. He was not his eldest son and she was not his first wife. The story of Davidâ€™s sin was probably widely known in the kingdom. 13
Though his brothers grasped at the throne, it was finally Solomon’s. Solomon was also known far and wide, mostly because of one good decision and one enormous project. Not long into his reign God appeared to Solomon in a dream and offered him whatever he desired. When Solomon asked for understanding and discernment God was so pleased that He granted Solomon’s request and promised him all the things he did not ask for, “both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days” (1 Kings 3:4-15). The great project of Solomon’s reign was the glorious temple of the Lord. For years the physical presence God had dwelt in a tent made after the Exodus. David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, but God would not allow him to build a permanent house for His presence, even though David greatly desired to do so out of his love for God. Though David was allowed to plan and make preparations for the Temple, it was Solomon who oversaw its building. History records it by the name “Solomon’s Temple.” Early in Solomon’s life he loved the Lord. On the day that he was born we are told that God loved him and by the word of a prophet God gave him the name Jedidiah, “Beloved of the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:24-25). We are told also of Solomon’s love for God, and at the same time about the roots of sin that would bring disaster. 14
Now Solomon made a treaty with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and married Pharaoh's daughter; then he brought her to the City of David until he had finished building his own house, and the house of the LORD, and the wall all around Jerusalem. Meanwhile the people sacrificed at the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the LORD until those days. And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places. (1 Kings 3:1-3)
There was a great sickness in the people of Israel, one that could be traced back throughout their history: idolatry. It was the same sin that led them to make a golden calf at the foot of the mountain where God spoke to Moses. It was the same sin that jeopardized their conquest of the Promised Land. It was the same sin that brought invaders and oppressors into the land during the time of the Judges. The people of God continued to worship false gods, and to seek the Lord outside of His presence and without His chosen priesthood. This continued even after David continually pointed his heart and those of the people to the Lord. Here the Scriptures seem to imply that the sacrifices on the high places were overlooked because there was no temple built. Even Solomon sacrificed where he should not have, yet that is where God appeared to him. 15
As the reign of David’s son continued God took notice of the continued sin of the people, but also the sins of Solomon. First Kings 11 points to his love for foreign women. God told His chosen people not to intermarry with these other nations, warning them, “Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods” (v.2; Exodus 34:16). But we are told that Solomon “clung to these [women] in love” and that “his wives turned away his heart” (vv.2-4). The young king who loved God and followed the ways of his father turned his love to foreign wives and their gods. The child once considered precious and beloved of God was now His enemy. God was furious with Solomon. Jesus said that we are blessed who believe and do not see Him, yet God appeared to Solomon twice and he did not obey God’s ways. Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant.” (1 Kings 11:11)
Solomon the Wise was tempted by sin and failed, miserably. No amount of understanding or discernment was able to keep him from falling. Though all of the tools were his to employ he still gave in to emotion and personal satisfaction.
None of the good that we find in Solomon’s youth made up for the evil that filled his later life. The wise request he made early in his reign did not lessen God’s judgment. The wonder and splendor of the Temple in Jerusalem were not credited to him as righteousness in place of his other acts. Within God’s word of judgment there was one silver lining, but it was not because of Solomon. “Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of my servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.” (1 Kings 11:12-13)
“For the sake of David” who loved God and served Him, God would keep a portion of Israel for David. It was the fulfillment of the everlasting covenant that God made with David, to have a man on the throne of His people forever.
Evidence of Separation The throne of David was spared only because of the devotion of David. Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, was a symbol of the life that follows repentance of sin. David repented before God, and though he also had to live with the consequences of sin, he was spared greater judgment. Surely God gave Solomon a 17
chance to turn from sin just as He gives to all of us. Yet for all of the wisdom that he received from God, Solomon would not change. Rather than follow the repentant ways of his father, Solomonâ€™s life emulated the ways of another king of Israel. The first king of Israel was Saul, who had the opportunity to serve God and the chosen people, and have for himself a royal line of kings. Yet he chose to fulfill his own desires and pressures of the people, rather than stand in the anointing of God. When God rejected Saul, He looked and found a man after His own heart, David. God chose and anointed David as king while Saul still lived and reigned over the nation. The favor of God was upon David, and as he served the king and the people of God, he was blessed. After one victory, the women of Israel sang about the greatness of David, and named him greater than Saul. That day Saul recognized that David might be given the throne over his own sons, and he watched David from that day forward (1 Samuel 18:5-9). Saul envied and hated David. He set ambushes and traps for David that God spared him from. When David ran and hid, Saul took the whole army and hunted for him. Saul would do anything to keep the throne for his sons. Knowing the judgment of God was coming, Solomon must have watched for signs that the fulfillment was on its way. Somehow word came to him of the visit of a prophet to Jeroboam. Jeroboam was the man Solomon considered so highly 18
as mighty, valiant and capable, that he placed him in charge of the laborers from the tribes of Joseph. All respect Solomon had for Jeroboam was tossed aside when he heard that the prophet had promised to this man the throne of a split nation, a nation that his sons were supposed to rule and reign over. Just like Saul hunted his father, “Solomon sought to kill Jeroboam” (1 Kings 11:40). Could there be any more obvious separation between the son of David and the God whom David loved? Where was the wisdom, the discernment and knowledge? Where were the lessons of the past? Solomon fell from such a great height. He was the man of wisdom, known throughout the world for the gift and power of God in his life. And as he fell, his crash would tear the nation apart. God’s hopes and dreams for Solomon and the kingdom of Israel were plain. Solomon was the first to inherit the throne of David. It should have been easier for him to follow the ways of David than any other king after him. Yet Solomon was tempted by the cravings of the eye and of the flesh. You have probably heard the words of Jesus, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” or “put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). God chose Abraham and promised him a people and a land of their own. He delivered them from slavery and called them to serve Him alone. God brought them to the land and conquered their enemies. He found for Himself a king, a man 19
loyal to Him, a man after His own heart. But the sin of Solomon and the people shattered that plan of God. He could not let the sin continue unjudged. Though God would have seen His people live in peace and prosperity in the land of promise, it was He who tore them asunder.
An Offer Accepted
Because of the devotion, humility and surrender of one man God promised an everlasting throne. God’s heart was moved to bless David with an incredible promise. In less than one lifetime after David’s death, God was ready to tear that throne from his descendants. Solomon’s sins set the nation on a trajectory towards Splitsville. What was strong, united and prosperous was going to be wrapped in division, struggle and the judgment of God. For 21
David’s sake and because God cannot leave His promises unfulfilled, a throne remained for the house of David. Yet God chose to give the rest of the kingdom to another. This was the third time that God chose a man to serve and lead His people as their king. Saul was chosen first, but because of his sin and rebellion God removed Saul’s family from the throne and gave it to David. Before David’s own son finished his reign God was ready to take the throne and give it to another.
⅏ Each time God chose a new man to be king over His people He chose a common man. Though Saul was tall and handsome, he was fearful. David was a shepherd boy considered small and useless in the eyes of his brothers and even his father, for when Samuel came looking for the next David’s father left him out in the field. Jeroboam was another common man. He is not mentioned in Scripture until Solomon makes him the head of a labor force made up of men from the tribe of Joseph. We are told that Jeroboam was “a mighty man of valor” but there are no records of his battles and triumphs. This “young man” made a great impression on Solomon, winning for himself this foreman-like position over his countrymen. Different versions describe Jeroboam with words to 22
describe his value and ability. They tell us how he was “industrious” (NKJV), “talented” (NET), “energetic” (MLB), and “capable” (NLT). It was to this working man that God planned to make the offer of a lifetime. More than a simple promotion or the winning of a lottery, God was going to give Jeroboam a throne.
Ten Pieces One day Jeroboam was going about his regular business. He was leaving Jerusalem, probably at the end of a work day. The path that he took that day was not on a regular road but through a field. As he crossed the field a man wearing new clothes came up to him. This was not just an ordinary man on the street. He was Ahijah, the prophet of the Lord, and the new garment he was wearing was very important. Here they were, out in a field, all alone. And God delivered an important message to a common man in a place away from the crowds, following the same formula He used with Saul and David. We do not know have any record of a greeting or conversation before Ahijah delivered God’s offer to Jeroboam. As the two came together, he took off his new garment and tore it into twelve pieces. The garment represented the kingdom of God’s people, and each of the twelve pieces symbolized one of the twelve tribes. 23
“Take for yourself ten pieces,” he told Jeroboam. God described the division of the kingdom as tearing it out of the hands of Solomon. As we looked at before, it was Solomon’s sin that caused the split. It was because he led the people to forsake the one true God for the worship of false gods and refused to follow God’s ways (v.33). But not all of the kingdom would be torn from Solomon, for two tribes would remain loyal to him. Just as God told Solomon, His word through the prophet revealed the reason for the continuance of Solomon’s throne. It was not because of anything good or great that Solomon said or did, but “for the sake of My servant David, whom I chose because he kept My commandments and my statutes” (vv.34).
An Incredible Offer When David was anointed king of Israel he probably had little expectation of what that meant. Although Saul was King of Israel, he was their first king. There were few precedents set by Saul, as most of his reign involved leading the army of Israel against the invading Philistines time and again. The anointing of David as king in Saul’s place actually set a very strange precedent. No king or royal line is safe from being replaced by the will of God. If that king fell out of favor with God, even if God chose him to serve as king, God could at any time choose another in his place. 24
So when David became king there was no promise that the throne would be passed down from generation to generation within his own family. Jonathan never sat on Saul’s throne even though Jonathan feared God. Who was to say if David’s sons would meet the same fate. As king, David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and realized that while he enjoyed the comfort of his own home the presence of God resided in a worn out tent. He desired something great and permanent for God because of his love and fear of God. Recognizing David’s heart God made His everlasting covenant with David. “And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:16)
There was no promise of a kingly line when David was anointed. He stood underneath the flow of oil from Samuel’s horn without knowing what to expect. For Jeroboam it was very different. God placed all of the opportunity and all of the expectations before him through Ahijah’s prophecy. “So I will take you, and you shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel. Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with 25
you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you.” (1 Kings 11:37-38)
Jeroboam had a chance to be the next David. His descendants had the opportunity to have their own throne forever through the promise of God. All he had to do was walk in God’s ways, obey His commands and do what was right. Before Jeroboam could object that this was a difficult challenge God put a witness before him that proved it could be done: David. God was telling Jeroboam that if he lived as David did, God would give him the same reward He gave to David.
Is It Worth It? How does someone respond when God offers them more than they ever dreamed of? Sure, it involves God’s judgment upon someone else. But they deserve it; they earned that judgment because of their sin. Would you let the harm that another person would endure hold you back from the blessing that you would receive? That is exactly what God is offering Jeroboam here. He will bring division to the throne of David and setup a throne for Jeroboam. He will rip ten tribes away from serving Solomon and his sons and give them to Jeroboam as their new king. On one side there is harm and hurt, pain and division. On the other there is greatness, promotion and prosperity. Is Jeroboam’s advance26
ment worth the judgment of Solomon? Here is a decision that we must face. It is the question of whether we will give in to the craving of the pride of life. This was not the first time that God posed this question, offering to bring judgment on one group of people with a promise to start over with another.
â…? After God delivered the people of Israel out of slavery from Egypt, He led them to the mountain of the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai. For three months the people were free and served only the Lord who appeared in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They followed the Lord and saw miracles and victory. God had brought judgment on Egypt and their false gods through the ten plagues. He stopped the waters of the Red Sea, the people crossed over on dry ground, and the waters closed and consumed Pharaohâ€™s army. The bitter waters of a river were made sweet when Moses threw a tree into it. Manna appeared each morning as bread to eat. In a desolate place water sprang forth from a rock. When the Amalekites attacked God brought a military victory. How much had the people seen God work on their behalf? Yet so often they grumbled. They often wished to return to Egypt. God appeared to them at the mountain and they asked Moses to 27
speak to Him alone because they feared Him. So Moses went and spoke to God, receiving His commandments and laws. And the days passed. No word was received from Moses. The people became anxious and afraid. They wondered what happened to Moses but dared not climb the mountain in fear that God would strike them. Of all the options that they could have chosen, the people decided to give up on God. Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1)
Aaron, who should have known better and tried to convince the people to wait and trust in God, led them to gather some gold together. He then took it, made a golden calf and presented it to the people as their god. The next day they sacrificed to it, made offerings before, feasted in front of it, “and rose up to play.” God was furious. In the middle of His directions to Moses He promised to wipe out these people that He knew were stiffnecked. If Moses would leave His presence God would kill them all. And to Moses he made a special offer: “Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot
against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.” (Exodus 32:10)
Moses pleaded with God and His wrath was turned away from destroying His people. But not long after the people were staring at the Promised Land and God was ready to destroy them again. Moses had sent spies into the land to gather information about the strength of the people, what the cities were like and if the land was good and rich (Numbers 13). When they returned they spoke of the greatness of the land. As the spies offered their reports there was a clear division between those who wanted to proceed and those who were too afraid and did not want to risk their lives in obtaining what God promised them. The ten spies that did not want to enter the land sent word throughout the camp to scare the people. Only two spies spoke up and believed God’s promised to give them the land as they too possession of it. The campaigning of those who did not want to go in was so effective that when Joshua and Caleb talked of taking the land, “all the congregation said to stone them with stones” (Exodus 14:10). Again God appeared, full of wrath and the intention to destroy the chosen people of Israel. Then the LORD said to Moses: “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them? I will strike 29
them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:11-12)
One Man’s Choice Each time God promised to destroy the people and build a new nation through Moses, Moses would have struggled with the same question that Jeroboam should have faced. “Is the pain and trouble that they will face worth the promise and blessing that I will receive?” In both cases Moses moved God to remain faithful to the people He had delivered from slavery in Egypt. Moses recalled the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to multiply their descendants and give to them the Promised Land (Exodus 32:13). He appealed to God to continue to show Himself mighty and merciful in the eyes of the Egyptians who might otherwise consider God to be weak and unloving (Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:13-16). Moses was more concerned with the welfare of the people and the fame of the Name of the LORD than he was excited and hopeful about the nation that could be started anew through him. In Moses’ heart and mind, his fame and promotion was nothing compared to those of God. What about Jeroboam? He was made an incredible offer by God. There was already one everlasting throne in the nation of 30
Israel because of the obedience of David. If Jeroboam was willing to do the same God offered to do the same for him. We have no record of any response from Jeroboam. In his heart he must have accepted Godâ€™s offer for we know that it comes to pass just as God said it would. The nation was torn in two. Ten tribes made Jeroboam king, and two remained faithful to the line of David. But maybe it did not have to happen as it did. It could have been different if Jeroboam had responded more like Moses. Would God have really destroyed the people of Israel and made a new nation out of Moses? Or was it a test? If God was willing to tear a kingdom in two because one man chose to accept His offer, then we must understand that when God says He will do something He fully intends to do it. Which begs the question, if Moses was able to turn from the craving of pride and choose to seek the good of the people over himself, could Jeroboam have done the same? Jeroboam could have responded to God by saying that it was better for all to remain as one people under the throne of David that God already promised would last forever. Maybe God would have put off His judgment for another time or brought it in a different way as He did with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai and the edge of the Promised Land. Instead Jeroboam gave in to his sinful cravings for pride and power. He accepted Godâ€™s offer and sped along the tearing apart 31
of the chosen people. For him, someone elseâ€™s judgment was worth his personal gain. What will we choose to do when the question comes to us?
Caught in the Pressure Cooker
Part of the circle of life is change. A famous quote says, â€œThere is nothing permanent except change.â€? Even five hundred years before the before Christ, in a world that changed far less and much slower than our own, a Greek philosopher understood that change is always occurring. We have all experienced change. The supervisor over your team is promoted to the head of a department. A machine operator finishes his tenure of service to the company and rides 33
off into the sunset of retirement. In sports there are line changes in hockey and individual substitutions in everything from baseball to football, soccer to basketball. Filling another personâ€™s shoes is hard to do. Whether the substitution is temporary or permanent, there are expectations on the one who steps in place to fill the shoes of the one who is being replaced.
â…? Many of the changes that we are used to in life are voluntary changes, we choose when and why they occur. Should we keep our house or look for another one? Is this car good enough or do I need something newer? Do I need to renew my magazine subscription or my cell phone contract? Other times the change comes because it must. An elderly man is prone to heart attacks and strokes. He cannot walk around or take of himself. His lifestyle must change. A woman in a five bedroom home gets to be a stay-at-home mom to her children. One day she comes home to a note that her husband has left her for his secretary and the house is going to be repossessed. Her life has to change. There is one constant that continue changes the shape of our lives and our world. Death impacts us all. It leaves a hole, from the loss of a family member to the seat left vacant across a church aisle. In many ways that hole is never filled, neither should we 34
seek to fill it. Sometimes, unless that hole is filled and someone else steps into those shoes, greater damage will occur to the lives that are impacted by the loss.
To Fill A Throne So it is with a king. For a king to die and the throne remain empty is dangerous to all who depend on the guidance and leadership of the king. Rebellion and anarchy would bring division and strife. Outsiders would come in and ravage a defenseless people. So when the king passes on, the void that is left behind is quickly filled. When King Solomon son of David died, the nation of Israel prepared to make his son, Rehoboam, their king. They traveled to the city of Shechem. This was a strange move since a king is normally crowned in his own capital, just as Solomon was anointed king in Jerusalem (1 Kings 1:38-40). For some reason a change was made that invited the new king into the land of the tribe of Ephraim, one of the sons of Joseph. The people were gathered all together. A legitimate heir to the throne was going to be made king. With the exception of the change of venue, everything looked normal and good. Rehoboam was about to find out that there was more than meets the eye about this gathering. Rehoboam probably rode into Shechem with his head high and full of thoughts of the great years to come. Solomon was the first 35
son of a king to take the throne of Israel. Rehoboam was following those footsteps. In doing so he was strengthening the line of David and continuing the fulfillment of the promise God made to David of an everlasting throne. At the same time he must have felt the pressures of what was happening to him. Solomon was known far and wide for his wisdom and accomplishments. The kingdom was wealthy, strong and at peace. Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he became king (1 Kings 14:21), which means that he lived through all of Solomon’s forty year reign (1 Kings 11:42). As the heir to the throne the expectations on his shoulders were great. The least that was required of him was to be as great as Solomon, and there was the added pressure that he become even greater. Perhaps it was as a show of good faith that Rehoboam went to Shechem to be made king. The throne was secure. The promise of God was that David’s house would reign. What did he have to fear? Yet there was fear and insecurity in the mind and heart of this new king. During the final years of Solomon’s reign he likely brought Rehoboam in on the threat to the throne of David. A prophet had spoken to Jeroboam and promised him the larger part of the kingdom. As Solomon hunted for Jeroboam, considering his age and the strength of his claim to the throne, odds are high that Rehoboam was part of the hunt. So when he waited in Shechem to be made king and Jeroboam 36
walked through the door with the leaders of Israel beside him, how much terror flooded through Rehoboam’s veins? With this background in mind we begin to see the events in Shechem unfold in a new light.
A Not-So-Simple Request We already know about the request the people made of Rehoboam that day in Shechem. Then Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam, saying, “Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burden-some service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you.” (1 Kings 12:3-4)
This not a simple request that the people of Israel made. It came with Jeroboam as their mouthpiece, the man his father had hunted because God had promised him a throne in Israel. They were in the city of Shechem in the land of Ephraim, the tribe of Israel that Jeroboam came from. It was the beginning of his reign, making every decision a precedent for the rest of his days on the throne. And the pressure mounted and built. Was Rehoboam’s head spinning? Did he feel the early signs of a panic attack? With the first signs of wisdom, he decided not to answer when all of the scrutiny and pressures were piled upon him. Rehoboam asked for 37
three days to consider the people’s question. Amazingly, Rehoboam stayed put in the city of Shechem. He neither saw nor understood that a threat that was unfolding in front of him. The storm clouds were rolling in, yet he could not hear the rumblings of disaster. From two very different groups of advisors Rehoboam acquired two very different suggestions for a route to navigate these treacherous waters. The “elders” advised him to serve the people and answer them with “good words.” The “young men” he grew up with suggested that he threaten the people by promising to be stronger than his father, adding to their burden.
True Parental Guidance Having heard two opposite, polarizing responses from his advisors, the new king probably looked for the advice of one more voice. For years Rehoboam heard the words and saw the actions of one whose influence was very great and extremely applicable to this situation: Solomon. While we talk about asking ourselves, “What would Jesus do,” Rehoboam may wondered, “What would Solomon do?” Anyone that spends much time around children can easily see how children learn from those around them. A little girl repeats Mommy’s words to the family dog. A young boy pretends to hunt like Daddy in the woods. Our good and bad habits, phrases and 38
attitudes flow to our children. We would be so blessed if our sons and daughters only latched on to the good that they see in us. But the truth is that they usually pick up more of the bad. An abundance of good apples cannot change a bad apple; but one bad apple can ruin them all. Solomon’s later years were “bad apple” years. They were filled with doubt and wanderings. He strayed away from serving, obeying and worshiping the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When God warned him of the judgment to come he refused to repent, and instead sought to kill the man God had chosen. Though we do not know what his deathbed conversation was with Rehoboam, Solomon’s last words were probably a warning to be vigilant. “If that Jeroboam returns – that man that I promoted who wants to divide our nation and take the rest for himself – if he comes back from Egypt, when you see him, don’t give him an inch. Don’t listen to a word he says. Anything he says or does will be to take what he believes is his. But it is yours. You hold on to it. Squash any rebellion. Teach them submission. Show them who is boss. Never appear to be weak. You are the king!” How can we say that Rehoboam followed his father’s evil ways instead of God’s ways? Scripture makes it plain for us later in Rehoboam’s story. When Shishak, king of Egypt, attacked the southern nation, God spoke through a prophet to Rehoboam and the leaders of 39
Judah how God was punishing them because they had “forsaken” Him (2 Chronicles 12:1-5). When the Chronicler closed his report on the reign of Rehoboam, he wrote: Now Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he became king; and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which the LORD had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put His name there … And he did evil, because he did not prepare his heart to seek the LORD. (2 Chronicles 12:13-14)
Where did he learn the value of the guidance of God? Who taught him the source of power and strength? Solomon turned from God to follow the idols of other nations. He taught Rehoboam that the key to strength and security was to eliminate those who would stand against them. It is not a far stretch to say that Rehoboam rejected the people’s request, not because he did not want to listen to the advice of the elders, but because he listened to the bad advice of his own father. Solomon was strong and burdensome, and Israel saw peace and prosperity. Perhaps Rehoboam thought the key to continued peace and prosperity was to be just as hard. And so Solomon, though he was dead and buried, continued to drive the bus on its way to Splitsville.
Unfortunately for the kingdom, Rehoboam fell prey to the craving of the eyes. Normally we think of the lust of the eyes as pertaining to what we see. In this case it is turned around to be the lust of how Rehoboam wanted to be seen. Stresses and pressures weighed on him from the beginning. He was the successor of the greatest king Israel had ever known, at least in the physical sense. They were successful, prosperous and at peace. His father was recognized and respected throughout the world. Rehoboam desired to walk into that same respect and submission, but he had not taken the time to step into it properly. Sitting on a throne with oil dripping down your face does not make you kingly, it only makes you a king. It takes time to build relationships. It takes time to grow and move in the right direction. Some days of that journey are wonderful, full of victory and celebration. Others are painful failures. To be a good king had nothing to do with strength or power, riches or large labor forces. The only measure that mattered was whether the king followed the commands and statutes of God. Rehoboam wanted to be great and strong in the eyes of the people. Instead he should have prepared his heart and sought God, for it is Godâ€™s opinion that matters above all others.
Hatching an Old Scheme
Most of us have heard the line, â€œTime heals all wounds.â€? Though we give this counsel to friends who are in pain and have heard it ourselves over the years, few can say that it has proven true in their lives. Spiritual sickness operates much the same way that physical sickness. When it is left untreated, not only does it grow worse with time, but it even allows other sicknesses and diseases to enter the body. 42
When we read quickly through the happenings in Splitsville that tore the nation of Israel apart, it is easy for us to get caught up in the events of the day. So much took place in those few days at the beginning of Rehoboam’s reign that the key forces at work seem obvious. So often the blame is placed squarely on Rehoboam’s shoulders, yet we saw that there was more at work behind the scenes than we give much notice to. Early in our study we identified the root of the split to be Solomon’s sin, going back as long as decades before it came to pass. There is one element at work that goes back even further. There is another quote about the power of time that is wellknown among fans of Science Fiction. It comes from a warrior race that cherishes honor and loyalty, and seeks to maintain pride and superiority. For them, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” After it has had time to fester and grow, when the other party is undefended and vulnerable, strike and make the most of your opportunity.
Setting the Board Among the players here in Splitsville there is one who, by all appearances, appears to be innocent and caught in the middle. They were just trying to make life a little better for themselves. When they were rejected they felt like they could not take 43
another course of action. What looked innocent was actually the most recent incarnation of an old scheme. Every move of the people of Israel was planned in advance. It was the equivalent of pre-meditated murder, though the harm came to a nation and not an individual. The first three verses of 1 Kings 12 reveal the work they put into creating the perfect environment for everything to fall apart. And Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone to Shechem to make him king. So it happened, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard it (he was still in Egypt, for he had fled from the presence of King Solomon and had been dwelling in Egypt), that they sent and called him â€Ś (1 Kings 12:1-3a) The Place: Shechem
For Israelâ€™s kingmaking to take place in the city of Shechem was out of step with the pattern set by the first kings. Saul was chosen and anointed as king by the prophet Samuel. Though it happened at a gathering of all the people it occurred in the place where God spoke to the people through Samuel, at the town of Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:5, 16; 10:17-24). David was made king in his first capital, Hebron in Judah (2 Samuel 2:1-4a). Solomon was anointed and declared king at the Gihon spring outside of Jerusalem, the capital of the nation (1 Kings 1:38-40 So why go out to Shechem? 44
What drew the people of Israel out the distance to this city? Shechem was a city in the territory of the northern tribes of Israel. Actually, it was part of the tribe of Ephraim, the same tribe that Jeroboam was from. Bringing the soon-to-be king and the people of Israel all to Shechem in Ephraim was to put make the leaders of the nation the “away” team on someone else’s turf. The northern tribes had “home field advantage.” They knew how to speak to the hearts of the people, how to get supplies and information spread among them, and how to prepare a response for the man who wanted to be their king. The Man: Jeroboam
Another piece on the chess board was the man Jeroboam. Here was a man that was so respected by the previous king that Solomon made him the head of the labor force from the tribe of Israel. Having worked alongside him through many projects the people were confident in this man, knew and trusted him. He also knew all about their struggles and complaints, familiar with their hopes and dreams. When the prophet came and told Jeroboam that God was going to give him ten tribes of Israel to rule over, Solomon eventually found out about it. Who spilled the beans? It was probably Jeroboam. He likely went home and began telling his tribesmen about what was coming and how God was going to 45
promote not just him, but even the entire tribe of Ephraim. God was promoting them over their brothers, just as Jacob had prophesied to Ephraim’s father, Joseph (Genesis 48:17-20). Solomon sought to destroy Jeroboam so that the kingdom would remain intact in the hands of his son, so Jeroboam ran off to Egypt. The words of the prophet probably rang in his head every day as he waited to see it happen. Surely there was someone back in Ephraim that kept contact with their brother in exile. When Solomon neared his death Jeroboam was brought back to see if it was time to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. The Request: Leniency
In the confidence of being on their own playing field, and led by the man that God had spoken to, the people of Ephraim and the rest of the northern tribes put their request on Rehoboam’s desk. Then Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam, saying, “Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burden-some service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you.” (1 Kings 12:3b-4)
The people came as the innocent, tired workers of a man who treated them harshly and unfairly. They wanted to keep serving the throne of David, but Solomon was just so hard on them. 46
Couldnâ€™t Rehoboam lighten their load? Rehoboam is often dragged over the coals as an example of the young man who did not have the wisdom to listen to his elders. He could not humble himself and serve the people as they made a simple request of him. Yet it may also be true that the advice of the elders was as poor as that of their younger competitors. The northern people were clearly aligned in an offensive position. Based on their posturing and preparation how small was their intention of honoring their pledge to serve Rehoboam if he gave in to the demands? Sitting in their city, surrounded by their people, led by the prophesied ruler of their throne, the people made it clear that this was not a small renegotiation of a labor contract. This was full, outright intimidation of the man they were supposed to submit to as king. On the third day the people returned for Rehoboamâ€™s answer to their request. His words were harsh. He sounded like a tyrant. After hearing two very different words of counsel, he chose to bring down the gauntlet to remind the people of Israel that he was their rightful king, and he would rule them as he saw fit. Enraged, the people tossed aside all loyalty to the throne of David. Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying: 47
“What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!” So Israel departed to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over the children of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah. (1 Kings 12:16-17)
In one quick move the northern tribes were done with Rehoboam and David’s line of kings, Jerusalem, and their own countrymen. The chosen people of God were ripped in two. It was the culmination of a division that existed long before Solomon’s death and Rehoboam’s clueless journey to Shechem.
A History of Division The only throne that previously existed in Shechem was setup by the hands of Abimelech (Judges 9). He was the son of Gideon, who miraculously led an army of three hundred men to destroy the army of the Midianites. Abimelech saw an opportunity to make more of himself than he deserved when Gideon refused to be made king. His mother was a Canaanite slave taken from the area of Shechem. He schemed with the men of the city, offering to become their king so that they could be ruled by someone of their own family instead of the sons of Gideon. They agreed and 48
financed his private mercenaries who killed all but one of Gideon’s other seventy sons. He later destroyed the city of Shechem when they began to listen to the words of another schemer who wanted to remove Abimelech as king. In his wrath he pursued the would-be rebels to another town and forced them into the tower of refuge. As he prepared to set the tower on fire, a woman dropped a millstone on his head.
⅏ The northern tribes had also rejected David as their king before. In a battle with the Philistines, King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed. But this was not the end of the house of Saul. The commander of Saul’s army, Abner, took Saul’s son Ishbosheth and made him king over Israel. Eleven tribes followed Ishbosheth while Judah crowned David as king (2 Samuel 2:1-10). For two years the chosen people of God were in a state of civil war. As they fought, “David grew stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker” (2 Samuel 3:1). Eventually Abner and Ishbosheth fought over what may not have happened. Abner, the real power of Ishbosheth’s throne, planned to give all Israel into the hands of David, but was killed before he could complete his self-appointed mission (2 Samuel 3:12-27). When word spread of Abner’s death, two of the captains of the army murdered Ishbosheth in his bed (2 Samuel 4:5-7). 49
Then the northern tribes sent messengers to David. They made peace and then made him their king (2 Samuel 5:1-3). Yet even the covenant they made before the Lord in Hebron that day did not stop them from turning from David again. Late in his reign David’s son Absalom ousted David from the throne. Heartbroken and humble, David fled. He preferred to live in hiding than fight a bloody war against his son. After Absalom was killed David began his approach back to the throne. Along the way the men of Judah escorted their king, and the men of the northern tribes became angry with them because they didn’t invite them to join the escort. They questioned the men of Judah, who answered that they were close relatives of David. To the men of Judah is not an issue. But the northern men said, “We have ten shares in the king” because of their ten tribes, and they believed they had “more right to David” than the men of Judah (2 Samuel 19:40-43). Because they were furious at the men of Judah, the men of Israel chose to walk away from David and his throne. When the people of Israel cried out against the house of David at the time of the split they quoted the rallying cry of the men who led this rebellion. And there happened to be there a rebel, whose name was Sheba the son of Bichri, a Benjamite. And he blew a trumpet, and said: 50
“We have no share in David, Nor do we have inheritance in the son of Jesse; Every man to his tents, O Israel!” (2 Samuel 20:1)
A character from the play A Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O’Neill said, “There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.” Should the wise in Israel have heard that quote as they sped down the road to Splitsville, they may have cried out a hearty, “Amen.” Those who wear the coat of division rarely change their clothes for very long. Eventually their appetite will grow for the power, the rush, the feeling of being in control on their own terms. It should not have surprised the king or the people of Judah that the northern tribes would walk away from the throne that God established in Israel. Rebellion exploded throughout their history, often led by this same tribe of Ephraim. Time and again they sought to fulfill the craving of the flesh, to hold on to everything they believed rightfully belonged to them. One nation became two. From this day forward the chosen people of the one true God were divided. If only this was the end of the division caused on that day, reconciliation may have come. Instead the people and their leaders took step after step to draw and broaden the lines of division, widening the gap between them. 51
The Long Way Down
Have you ever seen a long fall in a television show or a movie and wondered what was going through the mind of the person on the way down? Between the top of the cliff and the ocean below. Passed all of the windows from the rooftop to the street. The horizon, the roads and houses, the fields and forests between the plane and the ground. They say the hardest step is the first one. How much more does that apply when you face a long drop? How do we convince 52
ourselves to step away from what we know to be safe? Is it easier to know there is an air-filled landing pad waiting for you and an abundance of safety equipment protecting you? When the nation of Israel tears through Splitsville all of the safety measures are gone. They bypassed all protection when they committed to the drop. Maybe they did not have a sense of how far the drop was. Sometimes we warn friends and neighbors, “Watch out for that first step.” What an appropriate warning for the chosen people of God when the nation became two. To say that these leaders were unaware of what they were doing would be to dismiss all of the evidence to the contrary. Each party had a choice to make that drove them closer and closer to the brink. Perhaps they all had different pictures of what awaited them over the edge of the cliff. But they all jumped in their own way.
The Clueless King No one knows the motivation behind Rehoboam’s choice to journey away from Jerusalem to Shechem to be made king. He was the grandson of David, the one who made Jerusalem the capital of the kingdom. Everything should have gone well for him in his own city. The journey north took the new king, his advisors and any soldiers he had with him into hostile territory, though he probably never knew it. The northern tribes set a stage for 53
intimidation and control, and when the situation finally fell over the edge into the chasm of division, Rehoboam was unprepared for it. It seems that Rehoboam had no understanding of what had happened in the hills outside of Shechem that day. Outraged at his heavy-handedness towards them the ten northern tribes rebelled in response to a rallying call used in a similar rebellion by these same tribes in the past. â€œWhat share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!â€? (1 Kings 12:16)
Unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation, Rehoboam returned to his tent. He did not pack up and leave. There was no immediate retreat to the safety of Jerusalem. No guard was set around his tent or camp. Instead, Rehoboam went back to business as usual. And then he made a terrible mistake. In his ignorance the clueless king sent a terrible signal by sending the worst man possible into the frying pan. The request of the northern tribes had appeared simple. All they asked for was a lighter load, for the burdens upon them to be lessened. It was one thing for Rehoboam to say he was going to be more demanding than his father. But when these disgruntled 54
workers and countrymen saw Adoram approaching, Rehoboam’s head of labor and taxes, they chose to make their message clear by stoning him to death (1 Kings 12:18). Rehoboam finally understood and lost any hope of regaining control as he camped near Shechem. Afraid, he jumped into his chariot and returned to Jerusalem. And the gulf between the tribes grew wider and the depth of Israel’s fall increased.
Averting Disaster Along his return to Jerusalem, bouncing along in a chariot, Rehoboam determined his next course of action. He knew within himself that the people of Israel were meant to be one nation under God. The reign of Solomon proved that it was possible and that a stable union affected the nation’s politics, safety and prosperity. They must remain one. Like many who faced similar situations throughout history, Rehoboam resolved to use whatever means necessary to return God’s nation to unity. He gathered together fighting men from Judah and Benjamin, the only two tribes loyal to the throne of David. These men were “chosen” from among the ranks as warriors, fierce and battle-hardened. When the time came to slay their countrymen they would not hesitate to follow orders. With a force of 180,000 chosen warriors Rehoboam set out from Jerusalem to make war on the northern tribes. The army 55
halted its journey when a prophet came to Rehoboam with a word from God. But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, “Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: “You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from Me.” ’ ” (1 Kings 12:22-24)
This was not the first time God spoke to one of the primary players in Splitsville. He appeared to Solomon and laid His case for Solomon’s sin and the judgment that would follow. It was Solomon’s chance to repent and seek God’s mercy, though he never did. Afterwards God spoke through the prophet to Jeroboam about the throne that would be his and the legacy he might have if he served God as David did. Each time God spoke it was an opportunity for man to choose a path. For Rehoboam the choice was clear. He could ignore the word of the man of God and continue on the road to war, or choose to hear and accept God’s word. For the first time in all of the events of Splitsville a player chose to take the high road. Did the words of the prophet stir up the truth that already rested within Rehoboam? His father, Solomon, would have shared with him about the prophecy to Jeroboam. He may have 56
even participated in the hunt for the man. Maybe Solomon gave him a word of warning on his deathbed. The seed of truth was already planted within his heart, this thing was from God. So when God reminded Rehoboam of this truth he could not help but hear and obey. Open war was taken off the table. Without the shedding of each other’s blood these tribes might still have a chance to reunite under one throne as God’s chosen people.
Jeroboam’s Paranoia All of that changed when paranoia took root in Jeroboam’s mind and heart. We do not know how long Jeroboam ran and hid from Solomon’s wrath after the king learned about Ahijah’s prophecy and torn garment. Though Jeroboam did not openly rebel against Solomon the king’s hate for his labor foreman was great. Jeroboam fled to Egypt, only to return after Solomon’s death. How many nights did he lie awake, holding a sword or dagger ready for any who might sneak up behind him? Did he have nightmares in Egypt, thinking about what could be if the prophet was right and how terribly it would be for him to fall into Solomon’s waiting hands? He was a fugitive and an exile. Surely his mind was prone to imagining threats that were not there and sought to bolster any defensive measure he had. 57
As King of Israel in his northern nation’s capital of Shechem, Jeroboam’s heart began to betray him. Something inside told him that the people might leave him and return to Rehoboam. He was scared they would kill him, maybe remembering the events that led to the death of the last king in Shechem. To save his neck and hold on to his throne Jeroboam devised a drastic change that drove an enormous wedge between the people. He planned to lead the people into a new religious system. Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (1 Kings 12:28)
Jeroboam led the northern kingdom into idolatry. He followed the same pattern of sin that the people fell into at the foot of Mount Sinai. There God considered destroying the faithless people of Israel and starting over with Moses. Now God had given a kingdom to Jeroboam, only to be flatly rejected by him. But Jeroboam did not stop there. His plan was much larger than setting up golden images and keeping people away from Jerusalem. Wherever there was a “high place” he setup a shrine of worship. He rejected the Levites as priests, allowing anyone who wanted to be priest. According to Scripture this decision led the 58
faithful priests and Levites to pack up everything and leave the northern kingdom (2 Chronicles 11:13-17). Jeroboam created a new feast for his new gods that just happened to fall on the same days as the feast of God in Jerusalem. He even presented burnt offerings and sacrifices.
The Beginning of the End If only Jeroboam had learned the lesson that God has spoken to Rehoboam. This thing was from the Lord. It was set and done. If only he trusted in God’s word to give him a throne and establish it forever. The evidence was clear with David’s throne. He only had to believe and obey. But Jeroboam’s fear got the best of him. His imaginations and his desire to hold on to what he had drove him to overcompensate. It was not enough to remain faithful to God and hope God would remain faithful to him. He wanted to be sure, to be able to sleep at night knowing that there was no possibility for his throne to be taken from him. What he did not realize was that Jeroboam led the people off of another cliff. This time it was far worse than walking away from a throne or a person. Its repercussions were more than just bad blood and division. It was the beginning of the end for a paranoid king. Jeroboam brought judgment on himself for his evil leadership. From that day forward evil kings were compared to Jeroboam, until the Bible describes Ahab’s sin as being far worse 59
(1 Kings 16:31). God’s promise was to destroy the house of Jeroboam for doing “more evil” than all before him (1 Kings 14:9). It was also the beginning of the end for the tribes who refused to submit to authority from generation to generation. A man of God came to Bethel, to one of the golden calf altars setup by Jeroboam. He declared God’s judgment upon that place of idol worship and upon those who served as priests (1 Kings 13:1-3). Because the people continued in their sin of idolatry from king to king, the nation would one day be conquered by the Assyrians, who treated them ruthlessly.
Ripples of Sin When something as devastating as Splitsville occurs it tears at the fabric of a people. Whether it is a kingdom, a family or a church, division takes a toll on everyone it touches. The consequences of sin and selfishness ripple for generations. Though open war was averted by the word of God at the time of the split, war continued between the nations. Both kings fortified cities to watch and defend the border. The Chronicler tells us “there were wars between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all their days” (2 Chronicles 12:15). The strife between the nations continued, even to the time of Jesus. The Jews were the descendants of the southern nation of Judah made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and those 60
priests and Levites that escaped south from Jeroboam. The Samaritans were the descendants of the northern nation. The Jews despised them, considering them a half-breed of people, racially mixed with the Assyrians and other nations who were brought to breed them out. There would not be a return to the glory days that Israel enjoyed under Solomon. No road would bring them back. Not until the day when God raises up His banner and makes His chosen people one again. And we the saints of Jesus Christ will join them.
⅏ But until that day we must guard ourselves against the sin that pulled a nation apart. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. (1 John 2:15-16)
Learn from the failure of Solomon. When we are faced with our sin through the word of God, either through a Scripture, a sermon or the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we must choose to humble ourselves in repentance.
Learn from the failure of Jeroboam, who had a better example to follow than the one he chose to leave. When there are times when we have the opportunity to pursue greatness and personal gain at the cost of another we should put others first. Learn from the failure of Rehoboam. There are many voices that call out to us, drawing us to their desires. They will stamp us with their approval if we will only listen to them. But the only opinion and approval of us that matters is God’s, so we must choose to follow His voice over all others. Learn from the failure of the northern tribes of Israel. Rebellion cycled its way from generation to generation. They desired to take advantage of every opportunity to take what they thought they deserved. God says that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and the only path to true greatness is through humility. Every one of us is in danger of falling over the edge. The precipice awaits its next victim. Will it swallow you and your family? What about your church? Avoid the path that leads you to taking the step over the line to your own disastrous end. Then one of the scribes came, and … asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the 62
second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
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