Meditations on “The Big Picture” 12. A Divided Kingdom
1 Kings 11:10,11 Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command. So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.”
Our verses above indicate the next serious turning point in the life of the nation of Israel. It will govern what will go on for over 300 years ahead. The starting point, and we need to examine the whole passage to see what was happening and why, comes in verse 9: “The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.” Now the apostle Paul was to say centuries later, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Cor 4:2) i.e. the more the Lord gives you, the greater the responsibility on you. Now the Lord had personally appeared to Solomon twice. The first time had been in a dream (3:4-5) where the Lord had promised to give Solomon wisdom to rule well, and the second time had been when Solomon had finished building the Temple (9:1-9) where the Lord promised blessing for obedience but judgment on them for disobedience, especially if they served ‘other gods’. That was the starting point: responsibility through blessing.
And then the Lord spells it out: “Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command.” (v.10) At the beginning of chapter 11 we find these terrible words: “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women… As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods.” (11:1,4) This wasn’t just a one-off sin but a long-term turning to the gods of his wives. The wisest man in all the earth – so blessed by God that he also became the richest and most powerful man in all the earth – gives it all away and becomes an idolater.
Because the Lord cannot just sit back and turn a blind eye to this (for it would undermine His authority for ever more), He declares He will take the kingdom from Solomon (v.11) but after he had died (v.12) and then not entirely (v.13). He will do this for David’s sake and for the sake of the name of Jerusalem. Nevertheless the Lord disciplined Solomon in his lifetime by raising up two adversaries, “Hadad the Edomite, from the royal line of Edom,” (11:14-) and “Rezon son of Eliada,” (11:23) and we read, “Rezon was Israel’s adversary as long as Solomon lived, adding to the trouble caused by Hadad.” (11:25) and then, “Jeroboam son of Nebat rebelled against the king. He was one of Solomon’s officials.” (11:26)
Now we also read of how the Lord also spoke to Jeroboam through Ahijah the prophet (1 Kings 11:29) and promised him rule over ten of the twelve tribes (v.31,35) but will leave one tribe with the southern kingdom, “for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem” (v.31,32). He explained in detail that God would do this because of all the idols they were worshipping (v.33). He explained He would leave the one tribe with Judah in the south, “so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name.” (v.36) If Jeroboam would rule as David had done, the Lord would build him a dynasty that would last (v.38).
Solomon eventually died and Rehoboam his son succeeded him (v.43). However Jeroboam returns and with the people confront Rehoboam and demand a lighter reign than they had had under Solomon (1 Kings 12:1-5). Ignoring the wisdom of the elders who agreed to this, Rehoboam listened to the folly of youth in his young friends and replied harshly (12:6-14): “So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.” (v.15) Thus the split came about with two tribes in the south focused on Jerusalem and ten tribes in the north with Samaria as their capital.
The explanations we are given for this division are, a) Solomon’s disobedience and b) the memory of David. What is amazing about the Biblical account is the effect David’s (largely) righteous life had on the Lord’s feelings. Again and again David is referred to and specifically as a factor in God’s responses to various later kings. It really is pure speculation because we are told no more, but one wonders if the Lord allowed or brought about two kingdom to give two different groups the opportunity of getting it right with Him.
It is clear from the outset that the northern kingdom got it wrong with Jeroboam reasoning, “If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” (1 Kings 12:27) and so, “After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there.” (1 Kings 12:28-30) Moreover, “Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.” (12:31) and so “Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places. This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth.” (1 Kings 13:33,34) Not a single northern king changed this and so ultimately is appears to be one of the reasons for the demise of the northern kingdom in 722BC.
I am aware these recent meditations tended to be factual and have lacked personal application. If you are looking for personal lessons in these chapters you don’t have to look far seeing the life of the once wise Solomon now being driven by sex and the inability to control his emotions or will to resist the alien religions of his eventual wives. Also the example of Rehoboam failing to listen to the wisdom of his elders and going along with the youthful folly of his peers. When we come to observe all the kings of the southern kingdom (because the northern kings are best forgotten!!!) we realise that we all have feet of clay, some part of our lives that make us vulnerable, and it is a wise person who knows themselves and knows the areas to be guarded against or worked against. David sinned on one occasion (apart from the time when the enemy provoked him into unwise action) but was generally known as a man who stuck close to the Lord. You and I may stumble on occasion but may we also be those who are known, despite that occasional stumble, to be those all out for God.