We’re at the very beginning of Period 5 and already there’s major trouble as the third king of Israel turns his back on God. Leading the whole nation into idolatry by peppering the landscape with worship sites to demonic gods, King Solomon has become the worst king Israel’s ever seen. In response to this outrageous betrayal, Yahweh has declared that He is going to smash the nation of Israel into two pieces. Not two equal pieces, but a large piece and a small piece. The royal line started by David which rules from the palace in Jerusalem will see their massive empire reduced to only a fraction of what it once was. Disgusted with Solomon, Yahweh has chosen another man to rise up and lead a massive revolt as soon as Solomon dies and his son Rehoboam [RAY-uh-BO-um] tries to succeed him. Rehoboam will get to keep the throne in Jerusalem, but most of Israel will turn away from him and follow the new rebel leader.
Now then, it’s time to prepare Yahweh’s new selection. His name is Jeroboam [JAIR-ro-BO-um], and it’s very confusing that his name rhymes with the crown prince’s. To keep these two men straight in your mind, think “R is for royal, and Rehoboam is the royal successor. But Jeroboam is just a nobody.” Jeroboam is not a blood relative of Solomon, but his good managerial skills and strong work ethic have attracted the king’s favor. He’s been promoted as the head of a work force, and is now enjoying his social status and salary as he works on projects for the palace.
One day Jeroboam is walking alone when he is intercepted by a prophet of Yahweh who tells him the shocking news that the nation of Israel is about to be torn apart. Tearing a cloak into twelve pieces which symbolize the twelve tribal states, the prophet hands Jeroboam ten of them.
“Take ten pieces of this coat for yourself. Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will tear the kingdom away from Solomon and give you ten tribes.” (1 Ki. 11:31)
Well, this is certainly a shock. What do you do when God has just announced that you’re going to be king? You run for your life, because when the current king finds out about it, he orders you to be killed. Jeroboam flees to Egypt, where he waits for Solomon to die. Then he comes back in time to take advantage of the new king’s fumbling beginning.
Solomon’s son Rehoboam is a 41-year-old brat and the people are cautious about accepting him as king. Apparently Solomon had been a harsh ruler when he wasn’t romping around with his 1,000 lovers. The people are tired of being abused, and before they start cheering for Rehoboam, they want some reassurance that he’s going to lighten up.
Totally new at the king thing, Rehoboam doesn’t have the confidence to make up his own mind so he decides to consult with some advisers. But who? Well, first he talks to the elders who supported his father. They tell him to be kind to the people and improve on his father’s bad choices. Then Rehoboam talks to the foolish peers that he grew up with. They tell him to go for the blood and crack the whip down even harder. Rehoboam foolishly decides to listen to his peers, and when the people return to hear his decision, all they hear are a bunch of nasty threats.
Well, now that Rehoboam has lost the respect of the people and come across like a total jerk, this is the perfect moment for Jeroboam to make his move. There are rumors floating around about how Jeroboam was chosen by Yahweh to be a new king in Israel, and those rumors work in Jeroboam’s favor. An ugly battle breaks out and King Rehoboam is shocked when ten tribes ditch him to side with Jeroboam. Only the people of Judah and the scrawny tribe of Benjamin stay loyal to the Davidic line. Everyone else goes trooping off to crown Jeroboam king in a city north of Jerusalem. And since Jeroboam has won the majority of the nation over, he calls his new kingdom Israel. The southern pair of tribal states name themselves the kingdom of Judah, and thus two warring nations are born.
FORTIFYING THE NORTH
It’s a very tense time in Israel, and even though Yahweh has promised to bless and support Jeroboam, our new king is very nervous. Unlike Rehoboam, he doesn’t have a capital city with strong fortress walls or a palace or a centralized government all set up for him. If he’s going to keep the loyalty of his people, he has to act fast and look like he knows what he’s doing. He quickly fortifies a couple of cities that he can hide out in and meanwhile Yahweh uses a prophet to tell the furious Rehoboam to call off his army and stop trying to win the people back. Accepting defeat, Rehoboam slinks off to the palace to recover from his humiliation, but Jeroboam’s fears continue to grow. Because even if Jeroboam throws together the perfect government, the southern kingdom will still have one enormous advantage: Yahweh’s Temple.
THE TEMPLE ADVANTAGE
It’s only a matter of time until the people in the north will want to make sacrifices to Yahweh, and all sacrifices have to be processed at the Temple. Then there are annual festivities and sacred days which will also cause huge migrations to Jerusalem. When the people return to Jerusalem and see the glorious Temple, what if they decide that they’ve made a mistake siding with a man who doesn’t have royal blood in his veins? Instead of taking his fears to Yahweh, Jeroboam comes up with his own solution to his dilemma. Jerusalem is essentially a capital for worship. Well, he can make his own capital for worship in the north. In fact, he’ll make two. Solomon’s gilded Temple is dedicated to Yahweh. Well, if Jeroboam’s citizens were to lose interest in Yahweh altogether, then what motivation would they have to travel south? Back in Moses’ day, the Jews swiftly threw Yahweh over for a calf god–perhaps they’ll do it again. Jeroboam orders two brand new calf gods to be created, then he sets each one up in a temple: one in the city of Bethel and the other in the city of Dan. He then announces to the curious people:
“It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!” (1 Ki. 12:28)
Once we’re not serving Yahweh anymore, who cares about His laws? Who cares if priests are Levites or not? In the north, anything goes, and soon a bunch of random men have been given priestly garb and Jeroboam is announcing that an annual feast will be held in honor of the two new calf gods—a feast which will conveniently distract the people from the feast being held each year in Judah. There. Perfect. As he watches his citizens stream to the temples to bring their sacrifices to these new golden gods, Jeroboam feels very proud of himself for being such a clever fellow.
So what’s this garbage about two lifeless lumps of metal being glorified for rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt? Is this the thanks Yahweh gets for making Jeroboam king over most of Israel? This calls for some serious discipline. And since Jeroboam is pretending not to hear any of God’s convictions, Yahweh finds some prophets to get in the king’s face.
Now when it comes to convicting people, prophets are always God’s Plan B. He brings them onto the scene when people are failing to respond to direct conviction. Of course just because a fellow goes around flaunting the prophet title doesn’t mean he is really speaking for God. There are plenty of fakers, and only God can tell you who is legit. But when a real prophet comes along, you’d better listen, because scorning a real prophet’s message is the same as scorning God, and you’ll bring discipline down on your head. Because God usually activates prophets when people are being rebel punks, real prophets don’t have many nice things to say. Their messages are often blunt, their tone is harsh, and they care immensely about God being honored. So you can forget about wanting real prophets to “speak the truth in love.” Real prophets speak the truth, alright, but as we will learn in this period, they’re more likely to whack you upside the face with it, not present it like a gentle kiss. Remember, if God has to go through the trouble of getting a prophet to call you out on your sins, it’s because you’re being a defiant brat. You deserve to get spanked and no one’s going to cry if your little ego doesn’t like it.
Because Jeroboam has turned out to be such an idolatrous yuck, Yahweh sends multiple prophets to tell him what Divine curses have been unleashed on his future. The first one comes along when Jeroboam is standing at an altar sacrificing to one of his dumb calf gods. The prophet announces that one day the altar will have the bones of idolatrous priests burned on it. Dead bodies were unclean things under Yahweh’s Law, and spreading death onto something was a way of making it super disgusting to everyone else. Today if someone spread foul smelling sewage all over a chair, you certainly wouldn’t want to sit on it or go anywhere near it. In Bible times, putting human bones on things had the same loathsome effect. It was also considered a great humiliation to have your bones pulled out of your grave and strewn all over the open ground. Throughout this period, we’ll see this intentional spreading of bones happen many times.
Now through the mouth of this first prophet Yahweh says that a future king will rise up and desecrate (or make unclean) the altar that Jeroboam has made. In other words, someone is going to come and put a stop to all this cow worship. God even gives the name of this man (who isn’t even born yet). His name will be Josiah, he’ll be a descendant of David, and he will reign over the southern kingdom. He’ll care so much about honoring Yahweh that he will travel far and wide to destroy all the idolatrous equipment in the land, including these two new golden calves.
This first prophecy comes with a miraculous sign: God temporarily withers one of Jeroboam’s hands. This is another trend we will find throughout this period: prophecies paired with miracles. Remember that by the time prophets are speaking, hearts are hardened, so Yahweh often uses miracles to get people’s attention and convince them that He means what He says.
This first prophecy isn’t much of a discipline on Jeroboam—he’s just being told that one day his calf gods will be destroyed. Is this really all Yahweh is going to do? Not quite. He then strikes Jeroboam’s son seriously ill. This deeply disturbs the king, for apparently he is very attached to his son. To find out if the boy will live or die, he sends his wife in disguise to inquire of the same prophet who first told Jeroboam that he would become king over Israel. A lot of time has passed since that first prophecy, and that prophet (whose name is Ahijah [uh-HE-jah]) is very old. Now of course Yahweh isn’t fooled by disguises, and as soon as Jeroboam’s wife comes to the prophet, Ahijah delivers this message from Yahweh:
“Give your husband, Jeroboam, this message from Yahweh, the God of Israel: ‘I promoted you from the ranks of the common people and made you ruler over My people Israel. I ripped the kingdom away from the family of David and gave it to you. But you have not been like My servant David, who obeyed My commands and followed Me, doing only what is right in My eyes.. You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made other gods for yourself and have made Me furious with your gold calves. And since you have turned your back on Me, I will bring disaster on your dynasty and will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. I will sweep away the house of Jeroboam as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone! The members of Jeroboam’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures. I, Yahweh, have spoken.’”
Then Ahijah said to Jeroboam’s wife, “Go on home, and when you enter the city, the child will die. All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only member of your family who will have a proper burial, for this child is the only good thing that Yahweh, the God of Israel, sees in the entire family of Jeroboam.
In addition, Yahweh will raise up a king over Israel who will destroy the family of Jeroboam. This will happen today, even now! Then Yahweh will shake Israel like a reed whipped about in a stream. He will uproot the people of Israel from this good land that e gave their ancestors and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, for they have angered Yahweh with the Asherah poles they have set up for worship. He will abandon Israel because Jeroboam sinned and made Israel sin along with him.” (1 Ki. 14:7-16)
In this long speech, Yahweh delivers His full revenge against Jeroboam for the king’s terrible betrayal. First, Yahweh is going to kill the son that Jeroboam loves. Second, He is going to stomp out Jeroboam’s family line, causing them all to die shameful and likely violent deaths. It isn’t natural to have your body lying in the street long enough for the wild dogs to eat it. These references to bodies being eaten by animals hint that there will be a lot of brutal murdering of Jeroboam’s descendants. And don’t miss how Yahweh likens the members of Jeroboam’s family to pieces of poop that He will sweep away. When God is angry, His language often becomes graphic and crude. Third—and this is the big one—Yahweh says He is going to trash the entire northern kingdom because the people have turned so completely away from Him. The reference to being “scattered beyond the Euphrates River” is a reference to the people being dragged off as prisoners by foreign invaders. In this speech, Yahweh is prophesying that one day the entire northern kingdom will be conquered by another power and utterly destroyed. He doesn’t say when, which leaves everyone in fearful suspense. Because we can look back over the complete story today, we know that the fall of the north won’t happen for another 210 years. Yahweh likes to give prophecies far in advance—it just makes Him look that much more impressive when the prophecies finally come true. Through the prophets of this period, Yahweh will often boast about His perfect knowledge of and absolute control over the future. He will reference His ability to accurately predict future events as something which proves that He is superior to all other gods.
Well, we’re only five kings into Israel’s history and already Yahweh has split the nation apart and promised to destroy the largest piece of it. All of this is in response to idolatry. God hates idolatry. Nothing brings His wrath on faster than His people worshiping someone or something other than Him. This is a lesson we will come across over and over throughout this period and one that we need to be sure not to miss. There is no room for idolatry in the Christian’s life, and idolatry comes in many forms (see Understanding Idolatry: The Problem & the Cure). If God ever starts complaining that something in your life is making Him feel jealous or crowded, you need to act on it immediately. Most of the horrible carnage we find in the Bible is associated with the sin of idolatry. God’s wrath is real, and it is just as active today as it was in Bible times. As we will learn in this period, Yahweh waits a long time before He finally reaches His limit with willful rebellion. But when He does get to that point, the results are terrifying.
While Jeroboam is inventing new gods for Israel to worship in the north, Rehoboam is proving to be even more idolatrous than his father in the south.
During Rehoboam’s reign, the people of Judah did what was evil in Yahweh’s sight, provoking His anger with their sin, for it was even worse than that of their ancestors. For they also built for themselves pagan shrines and set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every green tree. There were even male and female shrine prostitutes throughout the land. The people imitated the detestable practices of the pagan nations Yahweh had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. (1 Ki. 14:22-24)
We’re told that Rehoboam is the son of an Ammonite woman. The Ammonites were one of the idolatrous people groups that God specifically told Israel not to associate with. But Solomon didn’t listen to God, and no doubt Rehoboam grew up worshiping his mother’s idols. Now he’s adding to the idolatrous worship centers that his father built and the whole land is getting drunk on evil. Prostitution was a popular way to “worship” idols, and the reference to shrine prostitutes of both genders means that both heterosexual and homosexual relations were being publicly celebrated. We learned in Period 2 that the original natives of Canaan were having perverse sex with anyone they could get their hands on: close relatives, siblings, parents, children, and even animals. Women were sleeping with women and men were sleeping with men. To steer the Jews away from this perversity, Yahweh defined who shouldn’t sleep with who in Leviticus 18, and He also commanded the Israelites to execute all of the inhabitants of the Promised Land. But of course the Israelites didn’t listen, and now they’re wallowing in all the same perversion.
It’s during the reign of Rehoboam that Yahweh’s Temple in Jerusalem is assaulted by foreigners for the first time. Pharaoh Shishak [SHY-shack] of Egypt attacks Judah and steals all of the treasures out of the Temple. Rehoboam responds by replacing the gold shields with cheaper bronze ones and continues on with his business. What a lemon.
So far things are off to a bad start. David is our one shining star amid a bunch of zeros. Will things improve as we go along? We’ll find out in our next lesson…
Further Reading: Treachery & Wrath: Lessons Learned from King Jeroboam
Click here to see all the lessons in this series.