Saturday, December 15, 2007

a short rumination about the division of the kingdom of Israel

There was a point in the history of Israel when the king had the opportunity to decide how he was to rule and he consulted with the old man of his father's household, those who advised Solomon, and asked them how he should rule. They advised to make the burden of the people lighter and to be merciful and generous. They said, "If you will be a servant to this people they will serve you for their whole lives."

But Rehoboam did not like this advise and went to the people who grew up with him in the king's court and asked them for advice instead. They advised him to make the task of being an Israelite harder not easier, even couching it in what may be termed a rather crude analogy along the lines of "My little finger is greater than my father's loins". At the word that he would whip them with scorpions and not whips the people rebelled and rejected his authority and left and the kingdom became divided.

When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:
"What share do we have in David,
what part in Jesse's son?
To your tents, O Israel!
Look after your own house, O David!"
So the Israelites went home.

They all went to follow Jeroboam instead. Now Jeroboam was a man who had rebelled against Solomon, the previous king. Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam but did not succeed and the Lord gave Jeroboam ten tribes as promised. The Lord said "I will humble David's descendants through this but not forever." God promised that David's house would have at least one tribe so that His word would be kept.

Jeroboam feared that Israel would revert to the house of David if they worshipped at the Temple and offered sacrifices to Yahweh so he made new gods to ensure that loyalty would not bring his kingdom's subjects back to Judah. And so to secure his own rule he turned to idols.

Rehoboam planned to reclaim the ten tribes by force and prepared for war but the Lord stopped him. The Lord told him "Don't go to war against them for this is my doing." Rehoboam set up idols and was worse in idolatry than Solomon. It is curious to consider that to consolidate power over God's people both men turned to idols. It is hardly surprising but it is sad and it may serve as, so to speak, a parable about the history of God's people since the time of Christ as before. The Lord predicted division and strife within His kingdom before the time of Christ and so it is now since His coming. This may be taken, as it were, as a parable about the history of the Lord's people and those who are able to understand it will understand it well.

What I am struggling to understand is why Jeroboam and Rehoboam did not repent of their own sins. Why did Jeroboam choose to embrace his own power and influence rather than understand the kingdom had not been given to him over Israel forever? Why the lack of humility? Why did Rehoboam refuse to live as a servant in being king over Israel? Why did he choose to listen to the young men with whom had had grown up in the house of Solomon? Why did he make such a point of saying he was more a man than the leaders among God's people who preceeded him? His desire to rule powerfully divided the Lord's people when he could have chosen to be a servant and have reigned for his whole life in an era blessed by the Lord.

For reasons I can't really explain this has been on my mind a lot lately. Both kings who presided over the division of the kingdom, on either side, were finally crushed by the Lord, which is tragic because it was the will of the Lord to divide the kingdom. That was unavoidable and could not be stopped because the Lord called it in advance through a prophet. But the judgment turned out to not merely be against Rehoboam but against all of Israel.

Who are Jeroboam and Rehoboam today? Who has divided the house of the Lord to preserve their own station and respect rather than be a servant to the Lord's people? Who has horded up influence and power for themselves to defy what they have seen as an abuse of the Lord's people by those God has appointed? Are any of them above reproach in this story? It doesn't seem that they are, but all have the opportunity to repent and turn to the Lord who came and was the servant of all. It's a sad thing to see the Lord's people divided when the men who have power and influence seek to fight.

1 comment:

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...


Now that it's been a few years this blog post was really about the 2007 firings at Mars Hill. I used the beginning of the divided kingdom as a way to think through what seemed to be going on at the church.