The Fall of The Davidic Empire
1 Kings 12:1-14:31
Today as our eyes are glued to the TV because of the jubilation going on in the streets of Baghdad, we are caught up in an illusion that everything in the Middle East is now going to be OK. That’s simply not true. One of my relatives who lives in Kuwait City told me that all this is for naught unless we do something about the Palestinian/Israeli problem. Whereas I do not agree with his solution to the problem there, he has correctly observed that this is THE problem in the Middle East.
Many of us wonder how we got to this point in the Middle East. Some trace the problem back to 1948 when the US against the advice of many recognized Israel as a state. Others point back to the Balfour Declaration at the end of WW1 as the root cause of the problem. The truth though is that this problem dates back over two thousand years with its roots going it to the passage before us today, the division of the Israelite empire. If Israel had remained true to God, she would have remained a unified entity powerful enough to withstand the attacks of any outside forces. We saw that Israel was so powerful that even Egypt acknowledged it by having Pharaoh’s daughter marry Solomon in order to form an alliance between the 2. With Israel now divided into 2 nations (the northern kingdom called Israel and the southern kingdom called Judah), she was now an easy prey for the great empires emerging to her east (Babylon and Assyria). That would not have been the case if Israel had been faithful to God and remained united. There would have been no successful Arabic invasion of Israel in the 7th century AD if Israel had remained true to God and thereby powerful. The root of the Jewish problem traces its roots back to this episode.
When we look at the history of Israel before this event, we see that all was not that unified. Although Saul had united all 12 tribes into one kingdom, David was able to find refuge in his own tribe of Judah when Saul pursued him. After Saul’s death it took 7 years for the 10 northern tribes to acknowledge David as king. (They under Abner’s guidance had supported Ishbosheth’s claim to the throne.) Even during David’s reign Sheba had led the 10 northern tribes in a rebellion against David. Although nothing is said about unrest in Solomon’s reign, you do see where some trouble could be brewing. For example, first, Solomon executed Shimei who had supported the Saulide claim to the throne. Second, when Solomon divided up his kingdom into 12 administrative districts for the purpose of taxation, the author of 1 Kings does not mention Judah being made such a district. The question remains if Judah was subjected to taxation like the other tribes. Although this cannot be proved, the implication is that Judah was not subjected to taxation like the other tribes. Finally, we see that Solomon had conscripted members of the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) in order to do forced labor led by Jeroboam himself. All the northern tribes needed was a catalyst to break away from Judah; they found such a catalyst in Rehoboam.
[Although Solomon and Rehoboam may have given them a pretext for rebelling, the truth is that God had promised Judah that the scepter would not be removed from her (Gen. 49:10). This rebellion ultimately was not against Judah but against God who had elevated Judah to that role in the nation. Yes, God disciplined the house of David for Solomon’s lapse into idolatry; however, the root cause of this was the rejection of the 10 northern tribes against God’s rule. This will be evidenced even more whenever they easily and willingly lapse into idolatry.]
THE RUPTURE AT SHECHEM (12:1-24)
Rehoboam, Solomon’s eldest son, ascends the throne at the age of 41. He descends from Jerusalem to Shechem in order to be anointed king over the 10 northern tribes. On the surface nothing seems amiss. A closer look though reveals that something is wrong here. Why did not the 10 northern tribes ascend to Jerusalem to anoint Rehoboam king over all Israel? They had anointed David king at Hebron whence David was reigning at the time, while Solomon’s anointing occurred in Jerusalem the capital of the empire. Jerusalem, not Shechem, was the capital of the nation. Although Shechem had historical ties with the patriarchs (especially Jacob who had lived at Shechem and had given a well there to his favorite son Joseph), it had no significant ties with the empire. By insisting that Rehoboam descend to Shechem which was located in the midst of the 10 northern tribes, the 10 tribes were communicating to Rehoboam that a rupture was imminent. Moreover, whenever this meeting occurred, Jeroboam did not come to Shechem on his own initiative. The author of 1 Kings informs us that he came at the invitation of the 10 northern tribes (12:3), a man who had publicly led a rebellion against Solomon. By inviting him, the northern tribes are showing their hand. They want to secede from the union. Rehoboam merely provides them with a pretext for seceding.
Before the 10 northern tribes agree to anoint Rehoboam as king over the 10 northern tribes, their elders approach Rehoboam and inform him that they will anoint him only on the condition of his lightening their load. (Much has been made about the heavy burden Solomon levied on the Israelites; that simply has not been validated. The idea of the so-called “heavy burden” really comes from this passage in which disgruntled Israelites are trying to break away from Rehoboam’s reign. It is quite likely that they made this up in order to break away from the Davidic dynasty.) Note also the problem with the request of the 10 northern tribes. David’s reign (and that of his house) over Israel was not conditional. David and his house were the anointed dynasty. By Rehoboam agreeing to negotiate with the 10 northern tribes, he was making his reign a conditional one. If he had accepted their terms, he would have found himself negotiating constantly with the 10 northern tribes up to the point at which they would have ruled him and not vice versa.
Rehoboam consults with both the elders who counseled his father and the younger men of his age regarding the conditions laid upon him by the 10 northern tribes. Rejecting the advice of the elders who advised him to lighten the load, Rehoboam accepts the advice of his peers who urge him to increase the burden upon the Israelites. After a 3-day lapse, the elders of the 10 northern tribes along with Jeroboam approach Rehoboam for his answer. He informs them that his little finger is stronger than the loins of his father, that whereas his father scourged them with ordinary whips, he would have them scourged with “scorpions,” that is, whips laced with sharp metal and stones. That was all the 10 northern tribes needed. Quoting Sheba (thereby showing that rebellion had been brewing all along), Jeroboam shouts: “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; To your tents, O Israel! Now look after your own house, David!"
Rehoboam, the optimist, has miscalculated the situation; therefore, he sends Adoram who had been in charge of the forced labor (the worst possible candidate for such a job) to negotiate a truce with the 10 northern tribes. Upon his arrival, the 10 tribes execute him. Rehoboam now correctly perceives the danger he is in and flees to Jerusalem for safety. Upon arriving, he assembles an armed force of 180k. soldiers to force the northern tribes back into submission. He is confronted, however, by a prophet named Shemaiah who informs him that this thing has come about from the Lord in order to discipline the house of David for its lapse into idolatry. Rehoboam relents and returns back to Jerusalem. From henceforth the 10 northern tribes are called Israel, while the southern tribes (Levi, Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon) are called Judah.
JEROBOAM’S REIGN (12:25-14:20)
Fortifying Israel (12:25-33)
In order to secure his kingdom, Jeroboam initiates both a military strategy and a religious strategy. First, he fortifies Shechem the new capital of Israel and Penuel which was located to the east of the Jordan River. Penuel would serve to protect the eastern boundary of his kingdom, while Shechem would protect the western boundary.
Second, he reasons that as long as the Israelites ascended to Jerusalem to worship God, there would always be the danger that their political allegiance would return to the house of David. So Jeroboam out of political expediency and out of what would seem to be the wisest course of action erects 2 sanctuaries where the Israelites can worship God. At these 2 sanctuaries he erected bulls either to represent Yahweh’s strength or else to represent transportation for Yahweh. In either case these bulls themselves became the object of worship. The first was at Bethel located on the road to Jerusalem at the southern tip of his kingdom, while the second was at Dan in the north of the kingdom. This provided convenient access to the Israelites. No longer would they have to make the long trek each year to Jerusalem for the festivals. This was religion made easy. In addition to this Jeroboam replaces the most popular feast of the Jews Tabernacles with his own version of the feast; it is just that he keeps this new festival on the 15th of the 8th month instead of on the 15th of the 7th month.
[Notice that Jeroboam absolutely has no excuse for his actions. Twice when Ahijah the prophet informed him that God was going to make him king over the 10 northern tribes, Ahijah told him that God had chosen Jerusalem to be the site of worship of God, not just once did he tell him but twice (1 Kings 11:32, 36). Jeroboam's actions are indefensible.]
Although on paper these courses of action looked wise and necessary, they proved to be the downfall of both Israel and the house of Jeroboam. God had insured Jeroboam that his dynasty would be permanent if he followed the Lord; however, instead of trusting God’s word, he trusted what in the eyes of most people seemed wise and necessary. By introducing idolatry to the northern tribes, he starts them down the spiral which leads to the destruction of Israel in 721 BC. They never recovered from this fall into idolatry.
God’s Judgment upon Jeroboam (13:1-34)
While Jeroboam was leading the 10 northern tribes in worship at Bethel, he was approached by an unnamed prophet from Judah. The prophet informs Jeroboam that because of his sin, first his dynasty would be destroyed and second the priesthood which he established would be destroyed. In fact approximately 300 years later the bones of his priests would be burned by Josiah upon the very altar he built thereby desecrating permanently the altar (2 Kings 23:15, 18). As a token of this eventual destruction, God was going to split the altar in two so that the ashes upon the altar would be spilt out upon the ground. Jeroboam stretches out his hand and orders the guards to arrest the prophet. God withers Jeroboam’s outstretched hand at that very moment. The altar likewise splits in 2 so that the ashes are poured out upon the ground. Jeroboam horrified asks the prophet to heal him which the prophet does. In spite of this Jeroboam refuses to repent of his sin.
(What follows next is a story about the prophet of Judah and his being deceived by the false prophet of Israel. This story serves to show the emergence of a false school of prophets in Israel who will continually assist Jeroboam and future kings in keeping Israel attached to idolatry. However, a side point is that whenever God speaks to you and to me, we should never veer to the left or right no matter what any other “godly” person may want us to do.)
The Death of Abijah as Token of the Destruction of the House of Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:1-20)
After these events Abijah the heir apparent to the throne of Israel becomes deathly ill. In order to determine the outcome of this illness Jeroboam sends his wife to the prophet Ahijah who had earlier correctly prophesied that God would elevate Jeroboam to king over the 10 northern tribes. Now that he has rejected God, Jeroboam does not want the prophet to know that he is the one wanting to know the outcome of this illness. He fears that if the prophet knew who was asking for this information, the prophet would automatically predict a fatal outcome to the illness; therefore, he sends his wife to ask for the information. Moreover, she is to go in disguise so that the prophet will not know who she is representing.
The prophet Ahijah who at this point is advanced in years is unable to see clearly. This does not prevent him though from recognizing the woman who has come to ask for divine foresight. The Lord has already forewarned him that the queen will be the one coming to ask for this information. When she approaches the prophet, he informs her that he knows of her identity. In response to her query he tells her that because of Jeroboam's sin, God is going to let the child die as a token of the future destruction God will bring upon the entire house of Jeroboam. Because God finds good in the child, God will allow this one descendant of Jeroboam to receive a funeral. Other members of Jeroboam's family will die and be eaten by dogs in the streets. (The child's name Abijah literally means "God is my Father." It is quite likely that Abijah had been born to Jeroboam while Jeroboam was faithful to the Lord.) In accordance with Ahijah's prophecy, the child Abijah dies from the illness. In spite of this Jeroboam refuses to repent of his sin.
REHOBOAM’S REIGN (1 Kings 14:21-31; 2 Chronicles 11:13-17; 12:1-16)
Unlike Jeroboam, Rehoboam actually began to reign out of a fear and reverence for God. Many of those living in Israel who still wanted to follow God actually left the 10 northern tribes and migrated to Judah to remain faithful to God. In fact after Jeroboam instituted a whole new order of priests, the Levites who had been appointed by God to serve as the priests flee their cities in the north and head for Jerusalem to support both the worship at the Temple and the Davidic dynasty (2 Chron. 11:13-17). For three years Rehoboam walked in the ways of David. After 3 years had passed though, Rehoboam like Jeroboam lapsed into idolatry. This lapse was most likely due to the influence of his mother, the queen mother, who was an Ammonite. (She most likely was the influence behind all of this because whenever Rehoboam’s reign is mentioned, her named is normally mentioned.)
This lapse into idolatry results in disaster for Judah and for Israel. During the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign, Shishak, Pharaoh of Egypt, descends upon both Judah and Israel with a force of 1,200 chariots, of 60k. in the cavalry, and of over one hundred thousand in the infantry. Although 1 Kings mentions only Shishak’s attack upon Judah, from Egyptian records we discover that he attacked both kingdoms, plundering both nations as he swept through them. (It is quite likely now we see the reason Shishak harbored Jeroboam when he fled to Egypt. This should be a vivid reminder for us not to place our ultimate trust in those who are not God's people. Shishak had harbored Jeroboam in order to weaken the Israelite empire so that he could strike and take control of the trade routes which passed through Israel.)
Shishak’s attack upon the 2 nations is devastating. He not only takes the golden shields housed in the House of Lebanon, he plunders Jerusalem, even taking the Temple treasures. (Many of you who have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark will now connect the dots; this is the Pharaoh in the movie who was supposed to have taken the ark to Egypt. This has not been confirmed.) Judah now becomes a mere shadow of what she once was—a great nation. In order to maintain the illusion of splendor and glory, Rehoboam replaces the 10 golden shields with bronze shields. Although they simulate the 10 golden shields, they really serve as constant reminders of the glory Judah once had but has now lost because of her apostasy.