1 Kings Chapter Twelve
1 Kings 12
Rehoboam's accession, The people's petition, His rough answer. (1-15) Ten tribes revolt. (16-24) Jeroboam's idolatry. (25-33)
Commentary on 1 Kings 12:1-15
(Read 1 Kings 12:1-15)
The tribes complained not to Rehoboam of his father's idolatry, and revolt from God. That which was the greatest grievance, was none to them; so careless were they in matters of religion, if they might live at case, and pay no taxes. Factious spirits will never want something to complain of. And when we see the Scripture account of Solomon's reign; the peace, wealth, and prosperity Israel then enjoyed; we cannot doubt but that their charges were false, or far beyond the truth. Rehoboam answered the people according to the counsel of the young men. Never was man more blinded by pride, and desire of arbitrary power, than which nothing is more fatal. God's counsels were hereby fulfilled. He left Rehoboam to his own folly, and hid from his eyes the things which belonged to his peace, that the kingdom might be rent from him. God serves his own wise and righteous purposes by the imprudences and sins of men. Those that lose the kingdom of heaven, throw it away, as Rehoboam, by wilfulness and folly.
Commentary on 1 Kings 12:16-24
(Read 1 Kings 12:16-24)
The people speak unbecomingly of David. How soon are good men, and their good services to the public, forgotten ! These considerations should reconcile us to our losses and troubles, that God is the Author of them, and our brethren the instruments: let us not meditate revenge. Rehoboam and his people hearkened to the word of the Lord. When we know God's mind, we must submit, how much soever it crosses our own mind. If we secure the favour of God, not all the universe can hurt us.
Commentary on 1 Kings 12:25-33
(Read 1 Kings 12:25-33)
Jeroboam distrusted the providence of God; he would contrive ways and means, and sinful ones too, for his own safety. A practical disbelief of God's all-sufficiency is at the bottom of all our departures from him. Though it is probable he meant his worship for Jehovah the God of Israel, it was contrary to the Divine law, and dishonourable to the Divine majesty to be thus represented. The people might be less shocked at worshipping the God of Israel under an image, than if they had at once been asked to worship Baal; but it made way for that idolatry. Blessed Lord, give us grace to reverence thy temple, thine ordinances, thine house of prayer, thy sabbaths, and never more, like Jeroboam, to set up in our hearts any idol of abomination. Be thou to us every thing precious; do thou reign and rule in our hearts, the hope of glory.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 1 Kings》
1 Kings 12
 And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king.
Were come — Rehoboam did not call them thither, but went thither, because the Israelites prevented him, and had pitched upon that place, rather than upon Jerusalem, because it was most convenient for all, being in the center of the kingdom; and because that being in the potent tribe of Ephraim, they supposed there they might use that freedom of speech, which they resolved to use, to get there grievances redressed. So out of a thousand wives and concubines, he had but one son to bear his name, and he a fool! Is not sin an ill way of building up a family?
 That they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying,
They sent — When the people sent him word of Solomon's death, they also sent a summons for him to come to Shechem. That the presence and countenance of a man of so great interest and reputation, might lay the greater obligation upon Rehoboam to grant them ease and relief.
 Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.
Grievous — By heavy taxes and impositions, not only for the temple and his magnificent buildings, but for the expenses of his numerous court, and of so many wives and concubines. And Solomon having so grossly forsaken God, it is no wonder if he oppressed the people.
 And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever.
This day — By complying with their desires, and condescending to them for a season, till thou art better established in thy throne. They use this expression, fore-seeing that some would dissuade him from this course, as below the majesty of a prince.
And answer — Thy service is not hard, it is only a few good words, which it is as easy to give as bad ones.
 But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him:
Young men — So called, comparatively to the old men: otherwise they were near forty years old.
 And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins.
Shall be thicker — Or rather, is thicker, and therefore stronger, and more able to crush you, if you proceed in these mutinous demands, than his loins, in which is the principal seat of strength.
 Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the LORD, that he might perform his saying, which the LORD spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
From the Lord — Who gave up Rehoboam to so foolish and fatal a mistake, and alienated the peoples affections from him; and ordered all circumstances by his wise providence to that end.
 So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents.
In David — In David's family and son; we can expect no benefit or relief from him, and therefore we renounce all commerce with him, and subjection to him. They named David, rather than Rehoboam; to signify, that they renounced not Rehoboam only, but all David's family.
Son of Jesse — So they call David in contempt; as if they had said, Rehoboam hath no reason to carry himself with such pride and contempt toward his people; for if we trace his original, it was as mean and obscure as any of ours.
To your tents — Let us forsake him, and go to our own homes, there to consider, how to provide for ourselves.
 But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them.
Judah — The tribe of Judah; with those parts of the tribes of Levi, and Simeon, and Benjamin, whose dwellings were within the confines of Judah.
 Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the tribute; and all Israel stoned him with stones, that he died. Therefore king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem.
Sent Adoram — Probably to pursue the counsel which he had resolved upon, to execute his office, and exact their tribute with rigour and violence, if need were.
 So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day.
Rebelled — Their revolt was sinful, as they did not this in compliance with God's counsel, but to gratify their own passions.
 And it came to pass, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again, that they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel: there was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.
Was come — From Egypt; which was known to them before who met at Shechem, and now by all the people.
Was none — That is, no entire tribe.
 Thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They hearkened therefore to the word of the LORD, and returned to depart, according to the word of the LORD.
From me — This event is from my counsel and providence, to punish Solomon's apostasy.
 Then Jeroboam built Shechem in mount Ephraim, and dwelt therein; and went out from thence, and built Penuel.
Shechem — He repaired, and enlarged, and fortified it; for it had been ruined long since, Judges 9:45. He might chuse it as a place both auspicious, because here the foundation of his monarchy was laid; and commodious, as being near the frontiers of his kingdom.
Penuel — A place beyond Jordan; to secure that part of his dominions.
 And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David:
Said, … — Reasoned within himself. The phrase discovers the fountain of his error, that he did not consult with God, who had given him the kingdom; as in all reason, and justice, and gratitude he should have done: nor believed God's promise, chap. 11:38, but his own carnal policy.
 If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.
Will turn — Which in itself might seem a prudent conjecture; for this would give Rehoboam, and the priests, and Levites, the sure and faithful friends of David's house, many opportunities of alienating their minds from him, and reducing them to their former allegiance. But considering God's providence, by which the hearts of all men, and the affairs of all kingdoms are governed, and of which he had lately seen so eminent an instance; it was a foolish, as well as wicked course.
 Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
Calves — In imitation of Aaron's golden calf, and of the Egyptians, from whom he was lately come. And this he the rather presumed to do, because he knew the people of Israel were generally prone to idolatry: and that Solomon's example had exceedingly strengthened those inclinations; and therefore they were prepared for such an attempt; especially, when his proposition tended to their own ease, and safety, and profit, which he knew was much dearer to them, as well as to himself, than their religion.
Too much — Too great a trouble and charge, and neither necessary, nor safe for them, as things now stood.
Behold thy gods — Not as if he thought to persuade the people, that these calves were that very God of Israel, who brought them out of Egypt: which was so monstrously absurd and ridiculous, that no Israelite in his right wits could believe it, and had been so far from satisfying his people, that this would have made him both hateful, and contemptible to them; but his meaning was, that these Images were visible representations, by which he designed to worship the true God of Israel, as appears, partly from that parallel place, Exodus 32:4, partly, because the priests and worshippers of the calves, are said to worship Jehovah; and upon that account, are distinguished from those belonging to Baal, 1 Kings 18:21; 22:6,7, and partly, from Jeroboam's design in this work, which was to quiet the peoples minds, and remove their scruples about going to Jerusalem to worship their God in that place, as they were commanded: which he doth, by signifying to them, that he did not intend any alteration in the substance of their religion; nor to draw them from the worship of the true God, to the worship of any of those Baals, which were set up by Solomon; but to worship that self-same God whom they worshipped in Jerusalem, even the true God, who brought them out of Egypt; only to vary a circumstance: and that as they worshipped God at Jerusalem, before one visible sign, even the ark, and the sacred cherubim there; so his subjects should worship God by another visible sign, even that of the calves, in other places; and as for the change of the place, he might suggest to them, that God was present in all places, where men with honest minds called upon him; that before the temple was built, the best of kings, and prophets, and people, did pray, and sacrifice to God in divers high places, without any scruple. And that God would dispense with them also in that matter; because going to Jerusalem was dangerous to them at this time; and God would have mercy, rather than sacrifice.
 And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.
Beth-el, … — Which two places he chose for his peoples conveniency; Beth-el being in the southern, and Dan in the northern parts of his kingdom.
 And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.
A sin — That is, an occasion of great wickedness, not only of idolatry, which is called sin by way of eminency; nor only of the worship of the calves, wherein they pretended to worship the true God; but also of the worship of Baal, and of the utter desertion of the true God; and of all sorts of impiety.
To Dan — Which is not here mentioned exclusively, for they went also to Beth-el, verse 32,33, but for other reasons, either because that of Dan was first made, the people in those parts having been long leavened with idolatry, Judges 18:30, or to shew the peoples readiness and zeal for idols; that those who lived in, or near Beth-el, had not patience to stay 'till that calf was finished, but all of them were forward to go as far as Dan, which was in the utmost borders of the land, to worship an idol there; when it was thought too much for them to go to Jerusalem to worship God.
 And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.
An house — Houses, or chapels, besides the temples, which are built at Dan and Beth-el; he built also for his peoples better accommodation, lesser temples upon divers high places.
Of the lowest — Which he might do, either, 1. because the better sort refused it, or, 2. because such would be satisfied with mean allowances; and so he could put into his own purse a great part of the revenues of the Levites, which doubtless he seized upon when they forsook him, and went to Jerusalem, 2 Chronicles 11:13,14, or, 3. because mean persons would depend upon his favour, and therefore be pliable to his humour, and firm to his interest, but the words in the Hebrew properly signify, from the ends of the people; which may be translated thus, out of all the people; promiscuously out of every tribe. Which exposition seems to be confirmed by the following words, added to explain these, which were not of the sons of Levi; though they were not of the tribe of Levi. And that indeed was Jeroboam's sin; not that he chose mean persons, for some of the Levites were such; and his sin had not been less, if he had chosen the noblest and greatest persons; as we see in the example of Uzziah. But that he chose men of other tribes, contrary to God's appointment, which restrained that office to that tribe.
Levi — To whom that office was confined by God's express command.
 And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.
A feast — The feast of tabernacles. So he would keep God's feast, not in God's time, which was the fifteenth day of the seventh month, and so onward, Leviticus 23:34, but on the fifteenth day of the eighth month. And this alteration he made, either, 1. to keep up the difference between his subjects, and those of Judah as by the differing manners, so by the distinct times of their worship. Or, 2. lest he should seem directly to oppose the God of Israel, (who had in a special manner obliged all the people to go up to Jerusalem at that time,) by requiring their attendance to celebrate the feast elsewhere, at the same time. Or, 3. to engage as many persons as possibly he could, to come to his feast; which they would more willingly do when the feast at Jerusalem was past and all the fruits of the earth were perfectly gathered in.
Fifteenth day — And so onward till the seven days ended.
Like that in Judah — He took his pattern thence, to shew, that he worshipped the same God, and professed the same religion for substance, which they did: howsoever he differed in circumstances.
He offered — Either, 1. by his priests. Or, rather, 2. by his own hands; as appears from chap. 13:1,4, which he did, to give the more countenance to his new-devised solemnity. Nor is this strange; for he might plausibly think, that he who by his own authority had made others priests might much more exercise a part of that office; at least, upon an extraordinary occasion; in which case, he knew David himself had done some things, which otherwise he might not do.
So he did — He himself did offer there in like manner, as he now had done at Dan.
 So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense.
Devised — Which he appointed without any warrant from God.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 1 Kings》
Some Counterfeits (v.26~33)
1. Counterfeit God (v.28)
2. Counterfeit Priesthood (v.31)
3. Counterfeit Sacrifice (v.32)
4. Counterfeit Worship (v.32)
5. Counterfeit Feast (v.33)
-- F. MCI.
12 Chapter 12
When Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who was in Egypt heard of it . . . they sent and called him.
The kingdom divided
1. This chapter reveals one of the turning-points in Israel’s history, for it is as true in the history of Israel as in that of any other people that there are periods comparatively insignificant, and hours as well, that are full of great events.
2. It had seemed to be one of the chief purposes of God to make Israel a great nation. That is the promise made to Abram. The nation seems to have been essential to the carrying out of God’s purpose in giving a revelation and establishing His kingdom in the world. Truth does not gather momentum while it is propagated by an occasional teacher or prophet. Great institutions, educational, civil, and religious, such as can be developed only in a great nation, are necessary to make truth mighty, to give it power among the masses, and that volume which sets it moving over wide areas. The revelation, which had been sporadic in Israel throughout patriarchal times, now by means of the great civil and religious institutions of Israel as a nation--prophecy and the school of the prophets, the priesthood and the great religious festivals--gathers momentum and moves grandly on toward the fulfilment of the promise made to Abram.
3. But by this Scripture we are introduced to a condition of things that is startling. The very chosen instrument essential to the carrying out of God’s purpose to bless and save the world--the Israelitish nation--is threatened with destruction. There is something violent in the very tones of the cry, “To your tents, O Israel.” Where now is the nation through which God is to bless the world? Can His purpose be accomplished by these fragments?
4. A study of the actual course of history among these tribes would show that there were many natural causes leading to this division of the kingdom. Rehoboam was weak and wicked. He who will rule others must first learn to rule himself. The young men, probably sons of Solomon’s chief officers, who had been trained at the royal court and were designed to be the officers of the succeeding king, had inherited the bitter hostility that had long existed, especially between the tribes of Judah and Ephraim; thinking themselves strong under the new king, they were ready to advise and help to carry out rash measures. There was no lack of occasion for dissension on the side of Rehoboam. On the other hand there can be little doubt that the taxes exacted of Israel were oppressive. Ephraim had always been jealous of and restive under Judah’s rule. “To the house of Joseph--that is to Ephraim, with its adjacent tribes of Benjamin and Manasseh--had belonged all the chief rulers of Israel, down to the time of David: Joshua, the conqueror; Deborah, the prophetess; Gideon, the one regal spirit of the judges; Abimelech and Saul, the first kings; Samuel, the restorer of the people after the fall of Shiloh. It was natural with such an inheritance of glory that Ephraim always chafed under any rival supremacy.” And when “the Lord refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah,” the old jealousy was intensified and ready to burst forth on any pretext. Jeroboam had once lifted up his hand against King Solomon, and Solomon had attempted to kill him, and had driven him into Egypt. Weakness, wilfulness, and impetuosity on the part of the king and his advisers, all of which served to intensify an inherited jealousy of prerogative, were the influences at work on the one side. On the other a powerful people fired with a sense of injustice, with a powerful, ambitious, and unscrupulous leader--these certainly afforded causes for a disruption deep and irremediable.
5. But the prophet expressly tells us that this division is of God.
6. What was the real cause? The record makes it plain, and reveals at the same time God, the long suffering and the holy One. It was not that the king had fleeced them, as Samuel a century earlier had told them he would (1 Samuel 8:11-17). It was that they had rejected God, as God told Samuel they had, when they asked a king (1 Samuel 8:6-8).
What are the lessons to be learned?
1. God gives opportunities to individuals and to nations even though He knows that they will not improve them. Jeroboam was justified in taking possession of the Ten Tribes. It was part of the Divine plan. He had been so instructed. But Jeroboam departed from God, and he has gone down in the sacred history as the man that made Israel to sin. Rehoboam had his opportunity also both before and after the division of the kingdom. He wasted it wickedly. Whether we use or abuse our opportunities they come to us, and God with and in them all, to work out His righteous will through us if we will, and, if not, to abandon us and to find a way for His will and purposes through others.
2. We may learn also that, however essential an institution may seem to be for carrying forward the purposes of God, if it fail it is doomed. The Israelitish nation, in order to express the Divine will and be a revelation of Jehovah, must be conscious of its dependence on Him. But this Israel had lost. There is no trace of the confidence or of the sense of dependence that appears in the song of.Moses at the Red Sea. The spiritual hold on Jehovah has relaxed.
3. God works in the actual condition of things. It is a mistake to suppose that God must wait for either the ideal man or the ideal nation. The ambitious Jeroboam and the weak Rehoboam are alike His agents. The revelation which shapes the conditions under which the kingdom of God cannot flourish may be as important as that which shows the conditions of its prosperity. “To your tents, O Israel: see to thine own house, David,” is violent language. Jehovah will find other means for propagating and perpetuating His truth. “The Arabian traditions relate that in the staff on which Solomon leaned, and which supported him long after his death, there was a worm which was secretly gnawing it asunder.” The worm--idolatry--has done its work. (B. P. Raymond.)
The kingdom divided
God was in Israel’s history, but he is equally in all history. He guided Israel with a very special purpose, yet no more truly or constantly than He guides us. If from the study of this ancient record we learn to interpret our own lives and the lives of all men and all nations in the spirit in which the sacred historian wrote of Israel and Judah, we shall have learned its main lesson: God rules in this world of ours. He exalts one, casts down another, and makes the very wrath of man to praise Him.
1. Israel’s secession “was from the Lord.” From terrible, relentless, persistent tyranny, after due but vain remonstrance, subjects have a Divine right to free themselves by revolution. “The powers that be are ordained of God,” but no particular form of polity is so. Rulers exist for subjects, not subjects for rulers. The government of a nation at any time presumably deserves respect and support; but it may forfeit all claim to both by ceasing to fulfil its function as a blessing to the people.
2. Observe the pusillanimity of pride. Pride seems a source of strength: it is rather a source of weakness; it prevents one from acting according to his best light. Rehoboam must in his first calm moment have felt convinced of the superior wisdom of the course urged by the older counsellors. But the words of the younger men appealed to his pride and momentarily blinded him to their folly.
3. Consider how expensive such senseless pride may become. It cost Rehoboam far the best part of his dominions. Israel rather than Judah fills the chief place in the history of the next few centuries. Henceforth until the fall of Samaria Israel is ever upon the historian’s page. Judah occupying a subordinate place. The history of Israel is that of a nation--Judah consisted of but a single great and splendid city. Rehoboam’s pride was an expensive luxury--it cost him the richest jewels in his crown.
4. Mark the peril of disregarding the wisdom of age. Had Rehoboam consulted only his seniors, he would have taken the right course. This his pride forbade. Was he not king? Old men, fogies, the Bismarcks and the Gladstones, had carried on the State long enough. Like William of Germany, he would show what wonders fresh blood and brain could do. Besides, was he not getting all the light he could inquiring of all rather than of few? Many a youth has thus cheated himself into the belief that he was proceeding with great prudence, when in fact he merely wished an excuse for some darling folly.
5. Notice, that serving is the only way to win true fortunes. How numerous are the applications of this principle in the household in the workshop, in society, in government! If employers only treated their employees in this spirit, how it would assuage the friction between the two, to the advantage of both! If labourers always acted in this temper of love, what added strength it would assure to labouring men’s organisations! How perfectly did the course of our Divine Lord and Saviour illustrate this! He came to win the world. How was it to be done? Had He been a mere man, He would never have sought to attain His end in the way He did. Instead of appearing as a grand monarch, ministered unto, courted, and flattered, He came as a servant, ministering ever unto others. Instead of being rich, He had not where to lay His head. Instead of courting the great and wise, He sought the poor and lowly. And He has in this world a Name which is above every name, at whose mention millions of hearts rise and millions of heads bow in loving adoration. (J. B. G. Pidge, D. D.)
Revolt of the Ten Tribes
The son of Solomon began his reign with a blunder, assuming that the throne was his by Divine right of succession and ignoring the ratification of the people. In this particular he is a good type of many young men at the present day, who think they see in the wealth and social position of their parents the claim to society’s unquestioning homage to themselves. Real kinghood is personal. The true king, as Carlyle put it, is the canning--the man who can. The endorsement of a wealthy parent may carry a son’s cheque; it will not carry him. Society recognises drafts on personal deposits only. Rehoboam fancied that the son of Solomon could pass to the throne unchallenged. Not so thought the proud and jealous Ephraimites; not so thought nine other tribes: and the young aspirant’s self-complacency was, rudely checked by the refusal of these tribes to come to Jerusalem and pay him homage, by their summoning him to Shechem, the tribe-centre of Ephraim, and by their meeting him there, not with submission, but with a bill of rights. This very check was an opportunity for Rehoboam to show whether he was made of true kingly stuff. The crisis which exposes a man’s mistake often develops his wisdom, if he has any. The crisis proved him to be lacking in one of the prime qualifications of a king. “He lived,” as one has remarked, “in a fool’s paradise, blind and deaf to what would have arrested the attention of a sensible ruler. At any rate, the emergency was one which he could not meet alone, and therefore he sought counsel. There are, however, different motives for asking advice. That a man consults with others does not disprove his self-conceit. Men often seek advice only to have their own opinion or their own course confirmed, and consequently choose their advisers from among their sympathisers; and a sympathiser is not, usually, the best adviser. Decency required that Rehoboam should advise with the old counsellors of his father, but he evidently did so merely for propriety’s sake. In the first place, the old counsellors clearly discerned the issue in Rehoboam’s mind. It was between two ideals of sovereignty, the despotic and the paternal. Should sovereignty mean being served or serving? Evidently, as the result showed, Rehoboam’s ideal was the former. Christ rules more than Caesar because He put Himself at the world’s service. The world’s real rulers are invariably those who have served it. The world’s thought is that power absolves from obligation; Christ’s thought is that power emphasises obligation. One of the most impressive pictures of history is that of the young Edward the Black Prince of England, after the victory of Poitiers, serving the captive king of France at table and soothing the mortification of defeat with praises of his bravery and with kindly assurances; and the spirit of that scene is condensed into his favourite motto interwoven with the faded ostrich-plumes about his tomb at Canterbury, “Hen mout; Ich dien:” “High spirit; I serve.” Well says Dean Stanley, “To unite in our lives the two qualities expressed in this motto--high spirit and reverent service--is to be indeed not only a true gentleman and a true soldier, but a true Christian also.” Liberty is essentially a social principle, and every social principle imposes limitations on the individual. Love brings the two ideas of liberty and service into their true relation. Love uses its free choice to choose service, and so makes service the very highest expression of liberty. The young king could not appreciate this lofty ideal of sovereignty. He could not read in service any higher meaning than servility. This advice appealed to a packed jury. He wanted encouragement rather than counsel, and therefore, having satisfied the proprieties of the occasion, he turned to another and more congenial class of advisers, the young men that were grown up with him--young men as proud, as shallow and as hot-headed as himself. There is nothing uncommon in chat. It is a fact of our time no less than of Rehoboam’s--a fact that carries with it a strange inconsistency, for one does not always nor often reject what is ripe. Crudeness, in most eases, is a reproach. One wants ripe fruit on his table and seasoned timber for his house or his carriage. One does not trust a law student with the management of a fortune, nor put his child’s life into the hands of yesterday’s graduate in medicine. Youth seems to prefer the route through the shoals and rocks to that through the open sea to which ripened wisdom stands ready to direct it. Those shoals are strewn with wrecks. How few escape! The Bible, it is to be noticed, will not let the old past entirely lose its hold upon us. Enoch and Abraham and Moses appear as counsellors of the nineteenth century, which in so many respects is far in advance of them; and for the reason that they represent principles of life and character which are eternal. The consequences of Rehoboam’s decision are familiar. We are indeed told that the cause was from the Lord, and that the catastrophe came about in fulfilment of his promise to rend the kingdom from Solomon’s house; but it was in Rehoboam’s power to have escaped all responsibility for that terrible result. God’s decrees never relieve us of the duty of obedience. And this is a fair ground of appeal. The popular proverb is profoundly true: “A man is known by the company he keeps.” Only let us be sure and emphasise the last word, “the company he keeps.” We keep only what we like. The man is not truthfully indexed by the company in which he happens to be found at any particular time, not by the accidental contact of society, not by the circle into which he may have dropped in order to satisfy some conventional demand or to win some social prestige. That kind of company he does not keep; he only touches it. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
Revolt of the Ten Tribes
The fault of the prince lay not in consulting younger men--for they are often most favourable to progress--the error was in allowing his action, as a ruler, to be governed by private considerations. The young man’s failing was a kingly one, but also a very common one. The great landowner cannot see the advantage of yielding his game-preserve to the uses of hard-worked tenants. The manufacturer does not frequently pay the sowing-women he employs more than the market price for their labour. Power and wealth men are as slow to give up as Pharaoh was the Israelite slaves.
I. An early illustration of an attempt to adjust difficulties by conference. Though the people might not have remained for a long period loyal to the house of David, they made an attempt to adjust the difficulties between them and their hereditary prince. They did not go into open rebellion. They asked that their rights and their complaints might be considered Kings who exercise despotic power, and their defenders, are wont to base their claims on the authority of the Bible. As Englishmen, we point with pride to the Barons at Runnymede as they demand the Great Charter from King John. This right of petition, exercised by Israelites and Englishmen, is not one that has always been conceded. Charles II. endeavoured to secure the passage of a bill limiting this right of his subjects so late as 1680. In early Bible times we find free speech, free petition, and methods of arbitration. This right of petition must be conceded before any adjustments can he made between sovereigns and their subjects, or between men and their fellows. We must be willing to hear men’s causes and defence, before any result can be obtained that will be satisfactory. Before conference can begin, there must be this openness of discussion. There is one phase of this matter that is very practical. Do we not often condemn persons before giving them any opportunity to explain their action? We nurse fancied wrongs and bear ill-will toward those who ought to be dear to us. Have we ever told them of our grievances? Are we sure they are aware of fault or sin? We say too often, “Let them find out for themselves.” Thus friends are alienated and homes made unhappy. Christ emphasised the adjustments of wrongs between men as individuals. In the Old Testament, we have the same duty enforced by example and precept. We have, also, an illustration of a proper method of righting public wrongs. This lesson is for labourers and capitalists, for servants and masters, as well as for kinsfolk and friends.
II. The inevitable transfer of power from him who serveth not, to him who will, serve the interests of others. The power of the house of the beloved David must be diminished when his descendants no longer served the people. Jeroboam, the rival claimant for the throne, was a man of few good qualities, but he professed to be willing to serve the people. He certainly attempted to please them, though he finally degraded them, as is seen in the subsequent chapter. Even into the hands of demagogues, power will often pass, with God’s permission, from selfish and despotic princes. God calls the world to witness the humiliation of greatness that is supported by injustice. There is continually a redistribution of power and wealth that goes on in the world with the Divine sanction. Where men may gamble and become suddenly rich, they may as suddenly lose their wealth. A house or family founded on unrighteousness has in it the elements of its own destruction. Drink may ruin the son of the millionaire. His wealth goes to strangers. Often the transfer of power is sudden, and proud men in their own lifetime behold their sceptre “wrenched by an unlineal hand, no son of theirs succeeding.” Power that has not lifted the world’s burdens will pass.
III. Great revolutions may take place under God’s guidance without violence. We are told that this revolt was of the Lord. The people failed in their conference, but they succeeded in accomplishing a great change quietly. They had begun right to end well. Thenceforth the cause was in God’s hands. Prayer is one of the means by which great changes are accomplished silently. God is always on the side of the earnest prayer, and any good that results is from Him. The history of the revolutions wrought by prayer must remain unwritten till the great day of revelation. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Tribal causes of schism
The first cause of the schism to be noted, from the human point of view, was the deep cleft between the northern and southern tribes. It arose from geographical and economical differences, accentuated probably by longstanding tribal jealousies. From the days of Deborah, at latest, the cleft had been visible, and the unity which had been achieved, largely under the pressure of the Philistine wars, that crushed the loose organisation into a more compact whole for self-preservation, and held the kingdom together under Saul and David, would have been hard to keep up, even with skilful and beneficent kingship. Both America and England know how deep the gulf between “North” and “South” may be, and how hard it is to cast the encircling bond of a common nationality round them. England and Scotland are not perfectly fused together even now, and there are other broad lines of separation than “the colour line” on the other side of the Atlantic. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day . . . then they will be thy servants for ever.
A royal servant
These words are of deep-reaching import, and contain a principle of universal application. They especially apply to starts in life. When the son leaves the parental home for his new calling, for foreign land, to make his way in the world, our text contains a sentence which the father may, at the last moment of departure, whisper in his ear as an expression of the deepest thoughts in his heart for the guidance of the young beginner. To fulfil these words beautifies life, to have fulfilled them softens death. They contain a prescription which one can never repent of following.
I. The folly of Rehoboam. In the ancient, town of Shechem, a town that recalls to the Israelite memories of patriarchal limes, a king is about to be crowned. Solomon the Great has gone the way of all his fathers, and by right of succession the crown falls to Rehoboam his son. All Israel assembled at Shechem to make him king. For ages that old city had retained traces of its ancient dignity, just as Rheims, the old capital of France, continued to be the scene of coronations long after it had ceased to be the national capital. There was a time when Amsterdam was threatened to be deprived of its right of Royal Coronation, but since the severance of Belgium and Holland, the New Church here holds that honour undisputed. Shechem was full of representatives from all parts of the country. The king came down in royal state from Jerusalem. No opposition was offered to Rehoboam’s succession. He was the only son of Solomon, and the people were prepared to receive him as such. They had, however, many grievances which they wished to have redressed. Solomon had not been everything that a king should be.
II. The prerogative of service. A wise king would have at once acceded to such a request. But Rehoboam, although the son of a wise father, had not the common sense to do so. Wisdom is not inherited. “Who knoweth whether his son will be a wise man or a fool?” He was the king. The people had no rights but what he chose to give them. They were his servants, not he their servant. His will was their law. He knew nothing and would hear nothing of the rights of the individual. According to the mind of Jesus, he is the greatest who renders the greatest service to others. “They assert that the strength of a monarch’s throne is service for and sympathy with his people.” A throne built on such a foundation will last unshaken for ever. Oh, happy king to have such counsellors! Oh, foolish man to turn aside from them! The consequence of this incredibly foolish reply was such as might have been expected. “The work of two generations was undone in a moment.” Under the leadership of Jeroboam, who promised them the reforms they wanted, the Ten Tribes revolted.
III. Selfish autocracy. It is the old story of the consequence of selfish and inconsiderate autocracy. It is a lesson which makes but slow progress in the minds of men. The old heathen idea of forcible dominion is still largely the governing one of politics--that to be great is to receive much service, not to render it. Politics has too often been a game of ambition rather than a sphere of service. (W. Thomson, M. A. , B. D.)
The king as a servant
The honour of service is emphasised by Solomon in the title he gives to his father. He speaks of him by a more honourable name than that of king--“Thy servant David.” Solomon recognised that he owed his exalted.position entirely to God. The most universal function in nature is that of service. Nothing in creation is serving itself, but every element is intended to serve some other. The flowers bloom in beauty, but soon serve us by transformation into seed. The winds purify the earth. The clouds carry moisture across all regions. The sun is regal in majestic splendour, but this monarch of the planets is, in reality, far more their servant, as their light and heat bearer. Above all, the idea of service is ennobled by Jesus, who as minister to His disciples was “servant of all.” So are we to seek to serve God and man. (Christian Commonwealth.)
My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins.
Rehoboam’s foolish answer
These were the words of an infatuated fool--a fool led on to his own destruction by the “irony of destiny.”
I. Wisdom is not hereditary. The question is often asked, as this kind of phenomenon comes under notice, how does it happen that great men seldom have great children? Does genius wear itself out? We incline to think that the gross neglect which geniuses manifest towards their children has much to do with it. Still, it cannot be denied that the descendants of many of our greatest men have been little better than “drivelling idiots.”
II. Curse of evil company. We could not find a more painful instance than the one under consideration, either in profane or sacred history. It was fraught with terrible consequences.
1. It is a curse to the man himself. Do evil, unholy, foolish companions make a person happy? Does it not rather bring trouble, sorrow, regrets, and present inconvenience? It is expensive, humiliating, degrading.
2. It is a curse to the man’s influence. Character is assimilated with those with whom we associate. And even if the evil influence does not produce evil results, the name of the evil clings to him who mixes with it.
3. It is a curse to his future. It will ultimately bring him ruin. No person was ever yet strong enough in his integrity to resist the united influence of boon cornpardons. Their influence sows a seed which will ultimately produce an abundant harvest.
III. Stupidity of despotism. A despot uses his power for the mere sake of using it, and not to effect any good purpose, or to bring about any desirable end. There are many minor despots in the world--persons put into little offices, who love to manifest and to parade their brief authority.
IV. The overruling power of God. He maketh even the wrath and the folly of man to praise Him. Had Rehoboam acted wisely, we do not know whether the Judgment might not have been still further postponed; but as it was, this act precipitated God’s wrath and effected His purposes. (Homilist.)
The character of Rehoboam
I. The circumstances in which Rehoboam commenced his reign were unusually hazardous.
II. The manner in which this demand on the part of the people was met by the king.
III. The final reply of Rehoboam to the demand of his people. It was nothing else, we cannot but say, than downright infatuation.
IV. The cause was from the Lord. And this is one among many proofs of God’s absolute predestination, and of the perfect freedom of human actions. The division of the kingdom from Rehoboam was absolutely certain; it was determined by God; it was positively predicted by a prophet of God.
V. Those points in the character and history of rehoboam, which may be calculated to convey suitable instruction. And let me remark:
1. Talent and piety are not inherited by birth. No part of Solomons far-famed wisdom descended to his son. He was even more than usually deficient in common prudence, and in the capacity for government. A father may convey to his heirs the riches he has accumulated; but there is a nobler wealth, which cannot be bequeathed, and which cannot be transferred. Knowledge, mental opulence, talent--these are the result of individual application, of laborious industry, and of perseverance. Without these, no fancied gifts of nature can avail; and with these there is scarcely any extent of acquisition, which it is not possible to secure. But it is yet far more important to notice, that true piety does not descend by birth: Religion is a personal and individual thing; it is not transferred like property, it does not descend like any civil privilege. Religion is an individual matter; it is a change wrought upon the individual’s mind; it is a living principle and energy within the individual heart and the individual nature. Talent and piety are not inherited by birth.
2. The king’s rejection of wise counsel. The aged are not always wise, and they are often too cold and too calculating to be safe guides; and sometimes also their manner is unfortunate and repulsing; they are unamiable, they are irmpatient of the habits and feelings of youth, and they pronounce too magisterially to be very easily borne. But these are exceptions, and beyond all doubt, a multitude of years should teach wisdom. It was one of the laws of ancient Sparta (a heathen State), that whenever an old man appeared, the young in the assembly should rise up in token of their reverence. Reverence for age lies at the foundation of a sound moral character; it is not only becoming, it is not only beautiful, but it is essential; and where it is wanting in measure, it shows there is something utterly wrong, utterly unsound, in the moral constitution.
3. His arbitrary disposition. Instead of soothing, and gradually quenching the spirit of revolt, Rehoboam sought to cut down the clamours of his subjects, by arbitrary measures. The saying of the wise man cannot be too often repeated, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”
4. Rehoboam’s imprudent choice of his associates. We cannot question that the ruin of this prince is to be ascribed to those whom he selected as his companions. Had it not been for the young men who grew up along with him, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah bad been undivided, and he had retained the crown. And, in connection with this, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” There is nothing, so far as personal piety is concerned, so far as the salvation of the soul is concerned, of so much importance as the choice of your associates. (J. Young, M. A.)
Dangerous counsellors of James II.
But there was at the court a small knot of Roman Catholics whose hearts had been ulcerated by old injuries, whose heads had been turned by recent elevation, who were impatient to climb to the highest honours of the State, and who, having little to lose, were not troubled by thoughts of the day of reckoning. These men called with one voice for war on the constitution of the Church and the State. They told their master that he owed it to his religion and to the dignity of his crown to stand firm against the outcry of heretical demagogues, and to let the Parliament see from the first that he would be master in spite of opposition, and that the only effect of opposition would be to make him a hard master. (Macaulay’s England.)
This thing is from me.
This thing is from me
I. Some events are specially from God. God is in events which are produced by the sin and the stupidity of men. This breaking up of the kingdom of Solomon into two parts was the result of Solomon’s sin and Rehoboam’s folly; yet God was in it. God had nothing to do with the sin or the folly, but in some way, which we can never explain, God was in it alL The most notable instance of this truth is the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; that was the greatest of human crimes, yet it was foreordained and predetermined of the Most High, to whom there can be no such thing as crime, nor any sort of compact with sire How, then, was “this thing” from God?
1. First, it was so as a matter of prophecy.
2. And, secondly, “this thing” was from God as a matter of punishment. God setteth evil against evil that He may destroy evil, and He uses that which cometh of human folly that He may manifest His own wisdom.
II. When events are seen to be from the Lord, they are not to be fought against. Rehoboam had summoned his soldiers to go to war against the house of Israel; but, inasmuch as it was from God that the ten tribes had revolted from him, he must not march into the territories of Israel, nor even shoot an arrow against them.
1. The thing that is happening to you is of the Lord, therefore resist it not, for it would be wicked to do so. If it be the Lord’s will, so may it be.
2. But, next, it is also vain, for what can we do against the will of God?
3. Next, it would be mischievous, and would be sure to bring a greater evil upon us if we did resist.
III. This general principle has many special applications. I believe it often happens that events are most distinctly from the Lord, and when it is so, our right and proper way is to yield to them.
1. A case in which this principle applies is when severe afflictions arise.
2. Sometimes, also, we are troubled by certain disquieting plans proposed by our friends or our children.
3. A very pleasant phase of this same truth is when some singular mercy comes. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Tracing events back to the final cause
The scribe is more properly said to write than the pen, and he that maketh and keepeth the clock is more properly said to make it go and strike than the wheels and poises that hang upon it, and every workman to effect his works rather than the tools which he useth as his instruments. So the Lord, who is the chief agent and mover in all actions, may more fitly be said to bring to pass all things which are done in the earth than any subordinate causes, as meat to nourish, clothes to keep us warm, the sun to lighten us, friends to provide for us, etc., seeing that they are but His instruments. (T. Downame.)
God’s overrule of national events
Those who care to watch the hand of God in history may soon discern this truth in this incident. The attempts of France to acquire the sovereignty of the British Isles, and the corresponding efforts of the earlier English kings to become what their coins so long styled them, “King of France,” have all been marvellously foiled by the Almighty Ruler of nations to the true welfare of both. Sir A. Alison has described the scene on the French coast in 1804, when the first Napoleon surveyed the flotilla which was to carry an invading army across the Channel, and saw them broken and dispersed by Him who rules the waves. God will not suffer the might or the cunning of man to wrest the sceptre from His hands.
God in history
The Old Testament “philosophy of history” regards all events as at once the results of human forces and of God’s purposes, and finds no contradiction in the double aspect. Rehoboam was no less a criminal fool, Jeroboam no less a crafty traitor, because they were both working out God’s purpose. The possible co-existence of freedom of action, necessarily involving responsibility, and God’s sovereignty, is inexplicable, and as certain as it is inexplicable. Metaphysicians and metaphysical theologians may fumble at, or cut, the knot till doomsday, but it will not be untied or denied. Rehoboam ran the ship on the rocks, but God willed that it should be wrecked. But another mystery emerges, for the Divine resolve to shatter the kingdom was due to the thwarting of the Divine purpose in establishing it. Sovereign as that Divine will is, man has power to oppose it and to block its course, and lead to changes of its direction, as we sometimes hear of an army of caterpillars stopping a train. God’s methods vary, but His purposes remain the same. The ship tacks as the wind shifts, but it’s always steering for the one port. The unifying of the tribes into a kingdom, and the disruption of the kingdom, were equally in the Divine plan, and were both, in a real sense, also the direct results of men’s sin and opposition to God. Hence it follows that “the history of the world is the judgment of the world.” The “natural” consequences of national acts are the punishments or rewards of these acts. Solomon’s tyranny, Rehoboam’s folly, the rebels’ indifference to the unity of the nation worked out the catastrophe, which was both a political effect, produced by political causes, and a Divine judgment, and was the latter just because it was the former. For nations, and for individuals, God “makes whips to scourge” them of their “vices,” and in the mighty maze of human acts, has so ordered the issues of things that “every transgression and disobedience receives its just recompense of reward.” So the “undevout” historian “is mad.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
And Jeroboam said in his heart.
Idolatry in Israel
“History is God teaching by example.” All history is that. But the annals of the Hebrew race possess a peculiar interest, because in them the divine tuition is divinely interpreted. In the historical books of the Old Testament we have the record of a revelation rather than the revelation itself. The real revelation lies in the national life, of which the books are partly an account, partly an interpretation. Jeroboam became king. Born in humble circumstances, he had risen by dint of his energy and genius to a place so prominent in public affairs that he was suspected of aspiring to royalty. In every age, in spite of custom, caste, or condition, the men who are determined to rise will rise.
I. Opportunity. Seated at last firmly on his throne, Jeroboam was face to face with the opportunity of his life. It was a decisive hour in the young ruler’s career. His future and the fate of a kingdom hung in the balance. Should he determine to serve God, work righteousness, lighten oppression, promote religion--should he prove strong to do all that Jehovah his God commanded--he might easily make himself the mightiest monarch, and his people the foremost nation of the age. God would then be with him. But if he disregarded these high ends, his kingdom would come to nought, and his name be a hissing and a by-word. God would be against him. Strange that Jeroboam did not comprehend this. No lesson was more clearly taught in the history of his country. Jeroboam is not alone in this fault. For nations and rulers to meet and lose such crucial chances is not at all uncommon. Not “once,” as Lowell hath it, but often-
To every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side.
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever, ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
One immortal precept Jeroboam’s case vividly illustrates--the only safe path is the right path. Our salvation from failure and shame lies in being absolutely true to our deepest convictions of right, unswervingly loyal to what we know of God’s will.
II. Expediency versus righteousness. Before his great opportunity Jeroboam failed. The causes of his downfall were all the more seductive because they seemed to be justified by the soundest maxims of governmental policy. It would never do, he reasoned, to have the centre of the national religion in a foreign city, and especially in the chief city of the country from which his subjects had just seceded. They might as safely have the seat of government in the capital of a rival nation as to have the seat of religion there. If the people continued to go up to the prominent feasts at Jerusalem, there was danger of a revolution backward. The old ties might prove too strong. Religious scruples knight overcome political considerations. It was necessary to isolate the nation religiously as well as governmentally. The secession must be complete. To this end Jeroboam now devoted his energies. Having fortified some of the chief cities of his realm, he set to work to create a public sentiment favourable to his scheme. “It is too much,” he said to the people, “for you to go up to Jerusalem.” There was plausibility in this plea. Devices to lighten the stress of duty, or give a liberal interpretation to moral obligations, are apt to be popular. The new arrangement seems to have sprung into general favour at once. Following up the advantage thus gained, the king established two centres of worship--one at Bethel, a place already sanctified by many sacred events; the other at Dan, on the northern frontier. So, for mere political ends, the national connection with the religion which God had ordained was broken off. Jeroboam had made a fatal mistake. He had set politics before religion, chosen convenience instead of duty, made expediency take the place of righteousness. Disastrous consequences always follow a choice like that. Keen-sighted men are often short-sighted. They see vividly, but only at close range, like those party leaders whose foresight does not extend beyond the next election. But the immutable laws move relentlessly on to exact in due season their last ounce of penalty. “They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin,” saith the Delphic Oracle. Thousands of Esaus are all the time peddling their birthrights for messes of pottage. For the sake of temporary gain, or the gratification of a present desire, or to tide over an immediate crisis, they put in pawn their manhood, purity, and honour, and mortgage their future to the Devil. This evil tendency is greatly increased by current sentiments about success. Success is a cardinal virtue with most of us. We worship the goddess of victory. Having exalted to a superlative rank the matter of gaining our end, the severity with which we criticise the means is inversely as the degree of success hoped for. The great thing nowadays is to get ahead--by honourable courses if one can; but to get ahead. Herein he is a warning to us. Whoever puts policy before religion, chooses convenience before duty, or makes expediency a greater thing than righteousness, has foredoomed his career to ultimate failure, and his name to certain shame.
III. Idolatry. One false step necessitates a second. Having adopted his policy, the new king must needs devise suitable means for carrying it out. An evil aim and end calls for evil devices. The results of Aaron’s experiment, however, would seem sufficient to have deterred any one from imitating it. Common sense should have perceived the advisability of making as few changes as need be, and of introducing gradually such as were imperative. The religious sense of the worthiest classes was sure to be shocked at any radical alterations in the established order. But the king, having entered upon a wrong road, went rashly on. It is argued by some commentators that this was not idolatry in the strict sense, but only the worship of Jehovah under the form of a calf. And indeed the phrase may read, “This is thy God, O Israel, that brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” Be that as it may, Jehovah had expressly forbidden men to worship him in that fashion, for the wise reason that worship by the aid of sensuous forms invariably degenerates among the masses into actual idolatry. The making of images results in the worship of false gods. Fifty years later, in the days of Elijah the reformer, we find the nation wholly given over to idols. The worship of Jehovah had almost entirely ceased. Baal, Astarte, and Moloch were the reigning deities. ‘Tis ever thus. Idolatry involves also the sin of disobedience. God had said, “Thou shalt not.” This Jeroboam well knew. He ought to have remembered the hot displeasure with which in the history of his nation infractions of God’s will had been punished. What a strange infatuation possesses men who suppose that they can please God while doing the very things which He has sternly forbidden! Yet men are guilty of this folly all the time. But the crowning iniquity of Jeroboam, for which more than for all else he was condemned, was that he used the public power, the Divinely bestowed authority of the state, for the furtherance of ungodliness. There is a warning here for legislators who legalise a nefarious traffic, give respectability to lotteries and gambling-dens, or load unjust taxes upon the poor and weak, and for rulers who wink at bribery, theft, and other wickedness in high places.
IV. Doom. In his procedure Jeroboam overlooked a universal law. Consequences are inevitable. Effects follow their causes. Every road has its proper terminus, every seed its peculiar harvest. Choose your course, and you will come to the end of it. Sow your seed; you must reap the sort of grain which you have sown. Flesh and corruption, wind and whirlwind, spirit and life, obedience and blessing, transgression and ruin: these things go in these pairs. The two names in each pair are but two names for the selfsame thing. In natural matters, in physical science, this principle is everywhere respected; in spiritual it is almost universally ignored. Since the foundation of the world men have been doing evil that good might come, seeking blessedness by the way of the transgressor, sowing tares and watching for wheat. (F. W. Ryder.)
Idolatry in Israel
I. The man--Jeroboam. The man inaugurates the policy. The idolater precedes the idolatry. The sin does not force itself into Israel, but is introduced by the king. Jeroboam was the son of Nebat. Dean Stanley says his mother had been a woman of loose character. The son had courage, ability, and industry. He held an important office, under Solomon, and “was known as the man who had inclosed the city of David.”
II. The people--Israel. The people followed their king. (There is a tradition that one family held out against calf-worship.) The national conscience was not sensitive, the national faith not vigorous, the sense of loyalty not strong, the spirit of obedience not quick. The people, though knowing better, were easily led into disobedience. They knew the law, and the history of Aaron’s golden calves. Their eyes were open, but they lacked the moral fibre and high spirit that will refuse to follow a false leader in his wrong plans. Many of them must have surrendered conscience in following this apostate king. Let us not be too severe in our judgment of them. Hosts of informed people are being led in evil ways by modern Jeroboams. Men like him still frequently decide public policy, even in matters of morals and religion, and the multitudes follow even into the ditch. Conscience goes to the wall. The king, the government, or the party chooses the policy, offering plausible excuse for violating God’s law, and the people follow. The result is certain. A nation surrendering conscience loses conscience. A people disobedient to God suffers His wrath. Israel did.
III. The sin--Idolatry. This evil surrounded the Jews. They knew the nature and results. God was training them for pure worship. The spiritual God was trying to get a spiritual people. He had always to resist a tendency to idolatry. His word is full of warnings against it and woes upon it. He knew its nature and deadly result. Evermore He tries to prevent it, not in petty jealousy, but for the love of His children. Worship is love. God does not so jealously guard mere forms and ceremonies. He does guard the love of His people. Worshipping Him is loving Him. And that is the deepest relation between God and man. His supreme expression toward man is the utterance of His love. Man’s supreme response is love. Love brooks no divided heart. Love needs no images. “God is a spirit.” Love is spiritual. Worship, in its essence, is love. He “seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth.” “For two hundred and fifty-seven years this terrible indictment, ‘he made Israel to sin,’ follows Jeroboam and his kingdom through all the pages of this sacred record, until the kingdom was utterly destroyed and the Ten Tribes blotted from the map of human history, even as Moses and the prophets had predicted.” Why does this result follow idolatry? Because right relation to God is the root of character. If that relation be wrong life itself is wrong. This is fundamental. Error or fault here is fatal. There are not two centres to this circle. Men cannot keep the first commandment and break the second. In idolatry men satisfy their religious feeling by a false worship which pretends to be true. The essence of it is disobedience; self-choice instead of self-surrender. It denies God by choosing other ways than His. It looks religious; it is the essence of sin. It begins with materialism and ends in polytheism or atheism. A close student has said: “Idolatry does not begin as idolatry. There is evolution down as well as up. The argument for image-worship is specious, and it is always in essential spirit the same. Every tendency toward materialisation is a backward tendency in religion. The golden calves which Jeroboam sets up as a representation of God lead naturally and speedily to the horrible pagan rites which come in with Ahab and Jezebel.” “Idolatry in the ancient Church,” says the Britannica, “was naturally reckoned among those magna crimina or great crimes against the first and second commandments which involved the highest ecclesiastical censures.” The danger of idolatry has not ceased. St. John’s message is still to men: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” The golden calf still exists in “covetousnesst the which is idolatry.” It exists to destroy. (W. F. McDowell.)
It is no less man’s highest duty than his supreme blessedness to know and love and serve the true and living God: to know Him is life eternal; to be ignorant of Him is death for evermore. The character of the God who is worshipped reproduces itself in the characters of the worshippers; if He is vile, His worshippers will be vile; if He is pure, they will be pure. The essential nature of idolatry renders it, of necessity, one of the vilest and most debasing of sins. The worship of false gods has been almost universally associated with the use of idols, images, and pictures. Where you find the false god you find his image, and where you find the image there also is the false god; hence Jehovah forbids the use of material objects that have always been used in connection with the worship of false gods. He is a spirit, and His worship must be pure and spiritual. But the connection between worshipping the true God by images and the worship of other gods than the Lord is most intimate; and two generations later, and after Jeroboam had corrupted the worship of Jehovah, Ahab, instigated by his wicked heathen wife Jezebel, formally established the idolatrous worship of other gods, Baal, Ashtoreth, and Moloch, in the capital of his nation. The enormity of Jeroboam’s sin is seen in the light of Jehovah’s peculiar relations to him and to his people. God entered into the most solemn covenant relations with them. He was to them not only Creator and Lord and Judge, as He was to all other nations, but He was their Friend, their Guide, their Protector. Had Jeroboam been pious as he was brave, had he received the kingdom as a sacred trust from the Lord, had he ruled as theocratic king, had he relied upon the promises and protection of Jehovah, then indeed would the Lord have built him a sure house, and his kingdom would soon have absorbed the two other tribes and have endured for generations; but, alas! he took counsel of his own wisdom, not of the wisdom of God; he trusted to human power rather than to the protection of Jehovah, and proceeded promptly to organise and consolidate his kingdom. Four important measures received his immediate attention: a capital, a worship, a festival and a priesthood. He selected Shechem in the great tribe of Ephraim, and built there a city as the capital of his kingdom. But the worship of the people was the matter of greatest importance in the establishment of his kingdom. The children of Israel brought with them from Egypt many of the customs and idolatrous manners of their masters. During the period of their sojourn and bondage they had become contaminated by their daily contact with Egyptian idolatry, and the animal-worship of this ancient and august civilisation had made on their minds a most profound and lasting impression. So deeply rooted was this foul idolatry in the hearts of Israel that in sight of Mount Sinai, and while Moses was receiving the law from God and delayed to come down, the people gathered themselves unto Aaron and said, “Up! make us gods which shall go before us,” etc. Jeroboam doubtless remembered this incident in the history of his people; he had this venerable precedent for his guide--a precedent established by the first high priest of Israel; whereupon he took counsel and made two calves of gold, and said, It is too much for the people to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the golden calves, and it gave colour and direction to the whole subsequent history of the northern kingdom of the ten tribes. And thus idolatry was established by the king himself as the national religion of the ten tribes, constituting the northern kingdom of Israel.
1. The wise Solomon saw the many abilities of Jeroboam, and made him, when a young man, ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph; he was a man of decision, discretion, industry and valour. But he was destitute of faith and devoid of that fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom.
2. Jeroboam in thus establishing idolatry in order to strengthen the throne and consolidate his kingdom ignored the living God as a potent factor in the problem. The Divine element, which was the all-controlling one, found no place in his plans, his calculations or his conduct.
3. In the establishment of idolatry he did not openly reject the Jehovah of Israel, but corrupted His worship--with what far-reaching evil let Israel’s shameful history and ignominious end proclaim.
4. The corruption of the people proceeded, pars passu, with the corruption of the worship of God. The life of the nation began with flagrant violations of the Divine law and with an idolatrous worship, and the effects of these sins are seen in all the subsequent history of Israel. The national life was polluted at its very fountain, for the religion and worship of any people are the very innermost springs of being, development and civilisation; and so Israel passed from bad to worse with frightful rapidity and momentum, and her history is red with blood and dark with defilement.
5. Israel’s idolatry led not only to her decay, but to her death. The wages of sin is death, no less for the nation than for the individual. The soul that sinneth and the nation that sinneth shall die. (A. W. Pitzer, D. D.)
Ecclesiastical policy of Jeroboam, read in the light of our own day
I. Jeroboam’s difficulty. The difficulty was a religious one. In the northern kingdom which he had founded there was no temple--no place consecrated for offerings and sacrifices. The temple was the crowning glory of Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom, “Whither the tribes went up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel.” The only place of sacrifice, the only place in which the highest religious duties could be discharged, was in the rival kingdom over which Rehoboam reigned. The hour had not yet come when “neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem should men worship the Father.” It was the hour in which every devout Jew felt compelled to offer the appointed sacrifices in the appointed place. No provision could be found in Jeroboam’s kingdom for the religious wants of the people. He had to rule a nation (which was nothing if it was not religious--a nation which, in former times, had been ruled by Jehovah without the aid of kings) without any of the signs of His presenced no ark, no shekinah glory, no tables of stone, no altar, no priest, no temple. Jeroboam knew full well that these were essential to the nation--that unless these religious needs were met within his own borders the people would go up to Jerusalem, they would be found within the temple of Solomon. He feared that they would be fascinated by the glory both of the city and temple; that their hearts would be drawn thither; that the rival kingdom of Judah would acquire new glory in their eyes; and that, sooner or later, they would forsake their allegiance to him and his throne, and return to the dynasty which they had so recently forsaken.
II. Jeroboam’s remedy. The difficulty was very evident. The remedy was not easily to be found. It probably gave the king much anxious thought, and, when it was found, was of the kind to be expected both from his character and antecedents. Altars were reared, objects of worship were devised after the model afforded by the sacred calf of Heliopolis. The cry heard long before beneath the granite crags of Sinai was repeated: “These are thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” The feast times were altered to suit the later harvest of the more northern climate. To borrow the felicitous historical illustrations of Dean Stanley, just as Abder-rahman, Caliph of Spain, arrested the movements of his subjects to Mecca by the erection of the holy place of the Zeca at Cordova, or as Abdelmalik, because of his quarrel with the authorities at Mecca, built the dome of the rock at Jerusalem, so Jeroboam sought to rear rival seats of sacrifice in his kingdom to keep the heart, of the people from Jerusalem, and bind them more closely to his person and his throne.
III. Lessons suggested by this policy of Jeroboam.
1. The inconvenience of the State busying itself with religious matters. The true policy of Jeroboam would have been to have left religion alone. He had been called to the throne for political purposes. After all, the root of the whole mischief is to be found in want of faith. Assuredly it was thus with Jeroboam. On two distinct occasions, by symbolic but most expressive methods, he had received the assurance that over the ten tribes he would be called to be king. He knew that “the thing was from the Lord.” This religious difficulty met him, it is true, at the very opening of his reign. Why could he not leave it in Jehovah’s hands? Why could he not fill the throne assured that God would provide for the Church? Why could he not believe that called to the throne he would be preserved therein, although the people did go year by year to sacrifice in the rival kingdom? It is thus in our day. Men are filled with all manner of fear if this union be not preserved. Why cannot we believe that God will provide for His Church, and that the more she trusts in Him and the less in men, the stronger she will be for her work?
2. The evil of preferring policy to principle. Policy lay at the root of Jeroboam’s mischief Although he hid lived in Egypt, he belonged to the chosen race, and was ignorant neither of its history nor laws. Policy is a word too often on men’s lips. The very commonness of its use is significant of the prevalence of the thought. To many minds it is quite sufficient to dissuade from a course of action to say it is not good policy. If right go with policy, all is well; if right part company with policy, right pleads in vain. The men who range themselves fearlessly under the banner of truth, who adopt the motto of our great English orator and statesman, “Be just, and fear not,” are regarded as dangerous men. The cry needs to be heard, “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait on Thee.” The conviction needs to take strong hold of our spirit, “Thou desirest truth in the inward parts.” We need to.listen to the words of our great Poet, words which sound like an echo of the voice of prophet and apostle, words filled with the spirit of Him who came to bear witness to the Truth--
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
(W. G. Horder.)
I. The king made use of the church to serve his political ambitions. Historical illustrations of success in a similar line to that entered upon by Jeroboam are abundant. The Roman Church has this sad record to face, of its having been a support or cover to all the personal ambitions that throb in a human breast. The important thing, however, is that, under all forms of church establishment or order, these influences are liable to manifest themselves. The dangers to the church arise not merely from the desires of prominent individuals to exercise undue control in ecclesiastical affairs; the false sentiments of men within and without the church are the sources of peril. Pressure is brought to bear upon the Christian community to declare itself positively on difficult or doubtful questions. Political motives often mingle with those that are personal in leading men thus to antagonise the church into a position favourable to their views.
II. The people sacrificed their religious principles to their love of ease. If a young man who has been taught secret prayer neglects that duty and privilege till bedtime, and delays still further till he retires, that prayer will not be a vital, faithful prayer. Frederick W. Robertson used to say, “Begin the day with a sacrifice.” He rose quickly. He engaged his mind, instead of allowing it to wander in the precious morning hours. It was his habit to learn a verse of Scripture while dressing. Some vigorous mental and moral effort is necessary to bring one into a proper state for worship.
III. The introduction of old errors made idolatry more acceptable. Jeroboam took advantage of an incident in the early history of the people of Israel in setting up the golden calves. The old sin of the tribes, in worshipping the calf made by Aaron in the absence of Moses, was yet to bear fruit. The new ritual is made more acceptable by being linked with an old sin. The people fell again into the pit from which they were digged. The results, however, were those that universally followed disobedience to God’s commands. Moab and Damascus were soon as near as Bethel and Dan, and their worship as acceptable to deceived Israel.
IV. A servile priesthood aided in accomplishing the enslavement of the people. We need not understand, by the lowest orders of the people, the worst of the population of the ten tribes. The king chose his priests where it pleased him, outside of the tribe of Levi. This would undoubtedly be a popular measure. Probably tile king did not choose all bad men. It does not appear a matter of great importance to many in this day that a man be called of God to the ministry; it is, however, a most vital matter. If he does not recognise God’s call upon him, he will not feel responsibility to God. He is only, or chiefly, responsible to men. We obey the master that elevates us. The priests, out of the lowest, orders of tim people, served the king. Men will treat lightly the word of God unless an inward voice has declared to them its sacredness and their commission in regard to it. The servility begotten of a feeling of responsibility to men expresses itself in formalism. It recognises custom and tradition as tile law by which men are to guide their lives. A ministry that the world calls will obey its master. Let us have a consecrated and called ministry. (Monday Club Sermons.)
A Man-made religion
Jeroboam sought to satisfy the people’s longings.
I. Much of our religion to-day is man-made. This is seen,
1. In work done in the churches from wrong motives.
2. In accepting doctrines which are merely pleasing to us.
3. In modifying God’s Word to suit the times.
4. In making our standard the standard for testing salvation.
II. But true religion has God for its Author. Only the God-made religion
──《The Biblical Illustrator》