Saturday, March 20, 2010

1 Kings 12-16: DIvision of the Kingdom

When Solomon dies, his son Rehoboam becomes king.  The people of Israel tell him that they were pretty heavily taxed during the days of Solomon (probably to pay for the temple and the palace), and if the new king will just lighten the load a little, they'll faithfully serve him forever.  Rehoboam initially responds well to this request; he calls the elders who had been  on Solomon's advisory panel and ask them what they think.  But when they tell him to listen to the people, he doesn't seem too impressed.  So then he calls in his friends, the young spoiled rich kids who grew up with young spoiled Rehoboam.  They tell him, no way man!  You should tax them even harder, and make a wisecrack about your dad to boot!  Oh yeah, that comment about "my little finger is thicker than my father's loins"?  That was probably a lewd comment intended to mock his father's masculinity, if you don't know what I mean (if you don't, know that the word translated "loins" could have been translated to mean what's between the legs).

So Rehoboam turns out to be a jerk, because this is his response to the people.  A word of advice: when you're in a leadership position, try not to do something that will make the people under you quit, because they can.  And they do.  Ten out of Israel's twelve tribes secede and form their own country, and do you know who they make king?  That's right, Jeroboam from last time.  Now remember, God had told Jeroboam that he would become king of Israel, and promised him that if he followed God, he would have basically the same deal that was promised to David: a descendant on the throne forever.

Anyway, so as soon as Israel secedes, the people of Judah and Benjamin prepare to go to war - you know, your typical civil war situation.  But God tells a random prophet (ever hear of Shemaiah?) that the Jews can't fight against their own people.  They've never made a habit of listening to God before, but this time they do.

Let's go see how Jeroboam is doing as king.  Oh look, he's commissioned two golden calves and altars on the high places, and appointed non-Levite priests, and set up holidays to honor his calves.  What happened was, he was afraid that if the people continued to follow the LORD, they would be continually going to Jerusalem to sacrifice, and that would eventually reunite the kingdom - in spite of what the LORD himself promised Jeroboam.  So he created an alternative religion for his people so that they would stay out of Judah, thereby securing his reign - or so he thought.  See, there's a problem whenever we think that we can secure our own future.  God had already offered Jeroboam as good of a deal as anybody can have, and instead of trusting God to keep his word, he sets up his own security system. But God wants to give him a second chance, so an anonymous man of God visits him and warns him that there is impending doom because of his idolatry.  Jeroboam stretches out his hand to order that the man of God be seized, but God strikes his hand so that some weird affliction happens to it (my text says it "dried up" but I don't know what that would have looked like).  So of course, then Jeroboam begs the prophet to pray to God so his hand would be healed.  Now, if I were the man of God, I would say, no way!  You just tried to kill me, and you aren't going to listen to God.  Why should I help you, since I'm about to die anyway?  But this guy is a better guy than me, apparently, so he prays to God and Jeroboam's hand is healed.  Oh joy.  So then Jeroboam invites the prophet to come back to his house and get a "reward."  Now the prophet wises up and says no way man, there is nothing on earth that could make me go with you or eat your food.  Well, it's actually because God had told him not to eat any food or drink any water until he gets home.  So he goes home.

But on the way home something really weird happens.  There's this old prophet in Bethel, and his sons tell him the story above about Jeroboam and the man of God, so the old prophet goes out and meets the first prophet and invites him home to dinner.  The prophet at first says no way, but then the old prophet lies and tells him that God had spoken to him and told him to invite the first prophet to dinner.  So he does, but because he's disobeyed God, God tells him that he won't be buried in his father's grave.  And sure enough, on his way home, he's attacked by wild animals, dies, and gets picked up and buried in Bethel instead of his hometown.  Remember how serious the Jews were about death?  Being buried not in your family's grave, apparently, is kind of a disgraceful thing.

So basically, I think this story has a valuable lesson to teach us: that is, you can't always trust when somebody else tells you God has spoken to them.  Especially if it contradicts what you know God has told you.  Keep in mind, the guy who lied was also a prophet - he was a guy who spoke the words of the LORD that he heard directly from the Big Guy.  But prophets are not infallible, nor are they above doing something presumptuous and stupid like this guy.  You can't just rely on a person's reputation as a follower of God, a prophet, or a pastor, or on their word that God spoke to them, especially if you don't know the person very well.  You have to listen to God yourself.

Now we go back to Jeroboam.  Jeroboam's son has gotten sick, so he sends his wife in disguise to another prophet, named Ahijah.  Is it just me, or are there an awful lot of prophets in this country?  Anyway, this prophet is blind, so he wouldn't have been able to recognize Jeroboam's wife anyway, but God tells hm that she's coming so it doesn't matter.  Anyway, so Ahijah tells the wife that because Jeroboam rejected God's word and caused Israel to sin by building idols and high places, God is going to cut off all the males in Jeroboam's whole family and put somebody else on the throne in his place.  And moreover, as soon as the wife re-enters the city, her son will die.  Now, if I were a mother, and God told me that, I would stay out of the city for the rest of my life.  But this woman is none too bright; she goes straight home, and of course her son dies right away.

So later Jeroboam himself dies, and his son reigns in his place.  But we don't find out about him yet because now the text switches over to Rehoboam.

Now, as much bad as Jeroboam did to keep Israel away from God, Rehoboam and Judah do just as much and even worse.  They build up the high places and put Asherim on every big hill and under every big tree.  Asherim are a kind of idol, by the way.Moreover, they have male cult prostitutes in the land.  So then the king of Egypt comes against Jerusalem and makes off with all the treasures that were in the temple - remember all the riches of Solomon?  They're all gone now.  Rehoboam replaces Solomon's gold shields with bronze shields.  And finally, we find out that there is war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually, in spite of what God had said.  And that's all the significant stuff that happened in Rehoboam's reign.  In other words, he was a flop.

So then his son Abijam becomes king, for only three years, and he's pretty much the same as his dad - idolatry, war with Israel, etc.  But then when he dies, his son Asa becomes king, and Asa is as good as Rehoboam and Abijam were bad.  He got rid of the cult prostitutes and removed all the idols, and he de-throned his mother because she had made an Asherah (female deity) image, and he also destroyed that.  He didn't take down the high places, which I don't understand, but it says that his heart "was wholly devoted to the LORD all his days." He also put silver and gold back into the temple.  Unforutnately, there was war between him and the king of Israel (who by this time is a guy named Baasha - we'll hear about him soon).  Asa forms a treaty with Aram to prevent Israel from attacking him anymore, and it works.

So Jeroboam's son only lasts two years, and he does evil, and then he gets assassinated by Baasha, the guy we just heard of, who then becomes king.  And Baasha not only kills Nadab, but he also kills every male related to Jeroboam, just like God has said.  And Baasha is just as bad as Nadab and Jeroboam, so God sends the same prophecy (by another new prophet named Jehu) to Baasha that he gave to Jeroboam's wife:
every male in Baasha's family is going to be cut off.  And that's what happens. Baasha gets murdered by one of his army commanders named Zimri, who kills everybody in Baasha's family. But he only lasts for seven days - then a guy named Omri is set up as king, and he beseiges Tirzah, which is where Zimri was living, so Zimri actually sets his own house on fire so that he won't be killed by somebody else.  Omri reigns for twelve years, and dies, and his son Ahab becomes king.  Does that name ring a bell? It should.  We're going to hear a lot about him next time.  For now, just know that he is just as bad and even worse than all the kings who have been before him, and it says that "he did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him."  This guy sets the new record for bad.  So it's time for God to send in the big guns - no more little prophets who speak up once and then disappear forever (well, that's probably not true; it just seems that way).  God's about to raise up the biggest prophet since Moses.  Tune in next time to see how that plays out.

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