Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Kingdom Splits

1 Kings 12-16

After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became the new king, but didn't handle things very well. When the people came to him complaining how hard his father had made them work, he sought advice. The elders who had advised his father said, "lighten up." But his own younger buddies said, "Tell them your little finger is thicker than your father's loins" (seriously! Look it up yourself! 12:10) and encouraged him to be even harder on them: "Tell them that, though your father used whips, you will use scorpions to make them work even harder!" (12:11). (The notes to the version of the Bible I am reading say that "scorpions" might have been an especially horrific kind of whip. Either way, it sounds pretty bad.)

He sided with his buddies.

Revolt ensued, and the kingdom was split. Rehoboam was king over Judah (and maybe the tribe of Benjamin, or part of it), and Jeroboam came back and became king over the other tribes of Israel. They did not do a great job of keeping to the ways of the Lord.

Rehoboam was about to fight to reclaim the other tribes, but was stopped by the Lord: "You shall not go up to fight against your kindred the people of Israel. Let everyone go home, for this thing is from me" (12:24). Nevertheless, Jeroboam was afraid that if his people kept going to the temple in Jerusalem to make their sacrifices, they might re-unite with Judah. So he made two calves of gold for people to go to for worship instead (12:28), and did other things that changed the usual religious practices. A man of God came to warn him that these changes were not right and good (chapter 13). (The full story here is very strange. Why did the older prophet trick that man of God?) One of Jeroboam's sons fell ill and died (14:1-18) -- that was another warning that Jeroboam did not heed. He still continued in his problematic ways.

Meanwhile, things were not going much better in Judah, although there, the people in general (rather than Rehoboam himself) are blamed (14:21-24). Even worse, King Shishak of Egypt attacked and took away the treasures of the temple and the king's house (14:25-26). After Rehoboam died, his son Abijam reigned for three years, not doing so well, really (15:1-8). (It seems that war broke out now between Judah and Israel). His son Asa succeeded him.

Asa did better (15:9-24), although wars continued. His son Jehoshaphat succeeded him, but we have not heard his story yet. So, the rulers of Judah so far are all descendants of David.

Things were much more troubled in Israel. While Jeroboam's son Nadab did succeed him (15:25), he only reigned two years before being killed by Baasha, who then became the new king (and killed all the house of Jeroboam). Each later king becomes worse and worse. Israel even divides further, but only for a short period of time (16:21-22).

Many of these kings are mentioned briefly. Apparently, details about them used to exist in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel, and the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah, but those books no longer exist.

So we have a history described, trying to make sense of why the kingdom split, and why the treasures of the temple were lost. We see things tending to get worse. We see prophets trying to warn the kings to follow the Lord's ways. We see David's line preserved, but the succession of kings in Israel more troubled. We realize more clearly that the wealth Solomon had built came from forced labor, and so one possible explanation of the cause of the split is that Solomon's son Rehoboam did not listen to wise elders and lighten up, but followed on in this practice even more strictly than his father did -- yet then lost much of the kingdom and much of the treasure.

Yet there is also a theological interpretation: that God somehow wanted the kingdom split. Was Jeroboams's sin actually that he did not accept this? Rehoboam did not himself attack, trying to reunite. Instead, Jeroboam started setting up new religious practices in order to keep his own kingdom separate from Judah. How would things have been different if he himself had accepted that the Lord was really okay with him ruling Israel separately from Rehoboam's ruling of Judah, as long as he had kept to the usual practices and traditions? Would the two have eventually come back together in a peaceable way?

As it was, they eventually did start fighting. And Israel almost fragmented further.

I will be interested to see what happens next.

No comments:

Post a Comment