PART TWO ‘A’ – The Northern Kingdom
Struggles of Israel Meditations: 12. Offers & Rebuke
1 Kings 12:20 When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.
God’s Intent Declared: So, having sought to gain some historical and geographical perspective in the previous study, we now need to step back into the flow of history as it affected Israel. Following God’s word to Solomon about dividing the kingdom, we next need to see the word from God that should have established Jeroboam in creating the northern kingdom: “the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes. But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe.” (1 Kings 11:31,32) As a declaration, for the moment all it tells us is that the kingdom of Israel is going to be split in two with ten tribes following Jeroboam, forming the northern kingdom, and just two tribes left with Rehoboam as the southern kingdom.
The Terrible Fall: But then comes the explanation for this: “I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molek the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in obedience to me, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my decrees and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.” (1 Kings 11:33)
The “they” in that verse must refer to the nation with and after Solomon, now under Rehoboam. That is the state the land had fallen into after Solomon had turned from the Lord and followed the gods of his many foreign wives (see 1 Kings 11:1-6). From being a great nation under David and an even greater one under Solomon in his early days – so great the Queen of Sheba had declared the greatness she found there (see 1 Kings 10:6-9) – the nation had followed Solomon’s example and followed all his false gods, instead of remaining the holy nation they were called to be. What an incredible and terrible fall!
Jeroboam’s folly: But this word that Jeroboam had received becomes more personal and goes on, “I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. (The general offer – but see the condition) If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, (the detailed offer) I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever.’” (1 Kings 11:37-39) See the five times he refers to ‘you’.
So he knew why the Lord was acting against the nation as a whole and he knew how he should behave as the leader of the new northern kingdom – faithfully to God. So what does he do? Does he rejoice over this wonderful opportunity that is being handed to him, does he take careful note, not only of the offer being made but the conditions attached to it? No, he doesn’t, he does none of these things! He sets up two idols, one on the boundary at the south and one on the boundary in the north – golden calves no less!!! (see 1 Kings 12:26-33) Moreover he instituted a priesthood of his own and established copy-cat festivals in order to stop the people drifting south to Jerusalem to follow the Lord there.
To see the terrible significance of this, if you read the history-of-Israel part of the Old Testament, watch out for a description that occurs again and again of subsequent kings of the north: “He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit,” (for example see in respect of each of the final kings in 2 Kings 15:9,18,24,28). The idols he set up were never removed and their presence seemed to give legitimacy to everyone in the north in the years to come to have their own idols. Even when the king appeared to be on the right track, the people generally weren’t!
Watch what follows. THIS is at the heart, the cause if you like, of all the struggles and eventually destruction that the northern kingdom face. That’s why we are considering this. “Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. 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 12:33,34) If you want to see the awfulness of all this, do a study in Deuteronomy sometime and see the number of times Moses warned and exhorted Israel against idolatry that would separate them off from God (start with 4:15,16,23,25).
And So? What is surprising, and you see it more and more as you follow the history of Israel, the Lord allows these various sinful kings to continue. Why does He do that? Why does He not destroy this people who keep idols at the heart of their national and individual lives? I have pondered this in the past and the following are the reasons I conclude must be there:
- He allows us to do what we will, to reveal our sinful natures and reveal our need of His salvation.
- He allows sin to build up to show our potential for evil without His intervention.
- He allows us free rein because He wants to give us space to repent.
- He allows our sin to build up as nations to act as self-destructive discipline.
And Us? Now isn’t that just how it is for us? Some of us grew up with Christian parents and a strong moral and spiritual background, others came from non-Christian backgrounds but were called by the Lord out of that. But whatever our background we are still individually responsible before the Lord for how we live out our lives – today. From time to time (often or occasionally) we may fall short and (often or occasionally) we may experience the discipline of the Lord to bring us to repentance. What is tragic is that most of us do not realize what is going on in our lives in this respect.
What we should be quite clear about is that a) the Lord has blessed us greatly, b) He wants us to live lives that are characterized by thankfulness, goodness and love, c) we are always prone to failure and therefore need to be on our guard against this and be ready to repent quickly when we do fail, and d) the Lord is always therefore working for our good, working to redeem us, working to change us and working to bless us and take us on to maturity and to receive our inheritance in heaven. Part of His working, we should also realize, involves discipline and discipline is always designed to break us free from our reliance on the idols of modern life and get us back on track. Hold on to that in all these studies.