After an interruption of a month we return to 1 Kings, so let’s remind ourselves where we are in the history recorded for us in this great and important book of the Bible. King David was followed on the throne by his son Solomon whose reign began in wisdom, godliness, and splendor, but finished with a moan. Distracted from full devotion to the Lord by the spiritual interests of his many foreign wives and succumbing to the temptation to conform to the moral and political standards of ANE royalty, Solomon condemned his nation in following years to suffer the consequences of his disloyalty to Yahweh. The Lord took the largest part of his kingdom from his son, Rehoboam, and gave it to one of Solomon’s officials, an able but unbelieving man by the name of Jeroboam. Jeroboam might have made something better of the situation, but in everything that mattered, he was worse than Solomon, transforming Israel – that is, the northern ten tribes – into a nation and a church that in most respects were increasingly indistinguishable from their ANE neighbors. Israel’s calling was to be unique among the nations of the world, unique in every way the knowledge of Yahweh and his love should make a people unique; but under Jeroboam Israel lost its uniqueness. Jeroboam departed from the Law of Moses and the worship of Yahweh appointed in that Law almost completely and replaced it with a system that he thought would be more congenial to his own welfare and the welfare of his royal house. If, in the 17th century, James I of England explained his choice of a liturgical-theological position by saying “No bishop, no king” – that is if there isn’t aristocracy in the church there is not likely to be aristocracy in the nation either – in the 10th century B.C., Jeroboam for similar reasons said, “No separate sanctuaries in the north and no separate priesthood in the north; no enduring house of Jeroboam!” Instead of doing the right thing and trusting the Lord for his house and kingdom, Jeroboam made his calculations and changed Israel’s religious life root and branch.
We read at the end of chapter 13, what the Lord thought of Jeroboam’s innovations. He had done evil and it would lead by God’s judgment to the destruction of his kingdom as well as his own house. As we now learn, his house was fated for destruction sooner than anyone would have thought. God’s judgment is often very slow in coming – such is his patience and mercy – but at other times, when the spiritual die has been cast, it is swift. And so it is here.
In a terrible irony, Abijah means “Yahweh is my father.”
Why the disguise? Was it to hide the fact that Jeroboam was consulting the Lord’s prophet or that the king was so desperate? [House, 191] Or was it part, together with the gifts, of an attempt to manipulate a favorable prophecy from Ahijah? He knows enough to realize that the prophet Ahijah was not likely to be well disposed toward him. But, typical of Jeroboam, he seems to think that only the human actors count. He has no thought for Yahweh. But, like so many men, his grasp of reality is woefully weak. He gives his wife instructions to disguise herself apparently unaware that the prophet she is going to see is nearly blind and couldn’t identify her anyway. [Provan, 117] Jeroboam expects Ahijah to know the future, but he doesn’t seem to realize that he could do so only if the Lord revealed the unknown to him. But if the Lord knows the future, he can certainly see through a disguise! Jeroboam knew that Ahijah was the Lord’s prophet because it was Ahijah who had prophesied his gaining the throne over Israel, though Ahijah had also warned Jeroboam to keep the commandments of the Lord.
Ahijah’s eyesight may have been failing, but the Lord knew precisely what was up and was not going to be put off by a disguise or by cakes and honey.
The ESV and NIV’s “male” in v. 10 is literally, as famously in the KJV, “everyone who pisseth against the wall.” The desire for decorum in the modern translations, what some call the Victorianization of the translation of the Bible, hides the arresting image which the narrator certainly intended: there is something filthy, a foul odor emanating from Jeroboam’s house. [Provan, 119] Later Jezebel’s corpse will be said to be like dung upon the ground (2 Kgs 9:37). These are strong images of the foulness of Israel’s life and the stink of her spiritual death.
“Slave or free” is a problem. Who among Jeroboam’s sons would be a slave? The phrase occurs four other times in the OT and in similar contexts. It may simply be a figure of speech to convey the idea of the king’s house in its entirety; no one will be left.
Jeroboam’s wife had gone to find out whether her son would live or die. She got a great deal more than she bargained for: the announcement of the end of her entire family and a violent end at that. It was a sign of being cursed to die unburied, as later would be the case with King Baasha (1 Kgs 16:4) and Queen Jezebel (1 Kgs 21:24).
Why this blessing for Abijah? The term translated “child” in v. 12 can refer to a young man of various ages; not just a baby or an infant or an adolescent, but a young adult man as well. The Talmud says that the crown prince himself worshipped in Jerusalem and had removed the guards that were stationed to prevent Israelites going south to worship in Jerusalem. In other words, he was a young man of some spiritual promise; had he lived he might have undone the work of his father. Whether that is fact or fiction is impossible to say, but that is what the Talmud says.
As we will read in chapter 15, a second son of Jeroboam assumed the throne upon his father’s death and reigned two years, but was then assassinated by Baasha who then murdered the remaining members of Jeroboam’s family. Jeroboam had been promised a dynasty like David’s (1 Kgs 11:38), but the fulfillment of that promise depended upon Jeroboam’s faithfulness to the Lord and his Word. There would be no dynasty of Jeroboam.
As before and as will be the case again, we are being invited to ponder a crucial difference. David also suffered the loss of a son because of his sin, but he did not forfeit the promise of a dynasty that the Lord had made to him. What was the difference between David and Jeroboam? The difference, of course, was David’s living faith in the Lord. Jeroboam was a man who thought he could put one over on the Lord with a disguise. David knew better than that. Jeroboam was a man who made his calculations according to sight, not according to faith; David knew better and, for all his failures, reckoned with the Lord in his life. The difference is made startling clear in this episode. Ahijah delivers this devastating prophecy to Jeroboam’s wife and what does she do? She remains silent. I suspect she knew that what Ahijah had said would come to pass. After all, she was queen because of what Ahijah had predicted would happen! But unlike David who pled with the Lord for the life of his son, who fasted and prayed for the life of his boy even though Yahweh had said he would die, unlike David who thought that so long as the boy were alive and so long as David could repent there was hope the Lord being who he is, Jeroboam’s wife listened to the bad news, turned and went home. From Jeroboam’s wife and Abijah’s mother, only silence; the silence of unbelief! [Leithart, 107] She had nothing to say to the Lord. She had no relationship to plead. There is here still – even in the face of divine wrath – no dealing with God, no facing him, no repentance before him, no prayer. In other words, there is still no faith!
Asherah was the Canaanite mother-goddess of fertility, the consort of Baal. Her wooden “poles,” objects of her worship, were set up at shrines, not unlike the Native American totem poles.
So there is a short term promise – the violent end of Jeroboam’s dynasty – and a long term one – the exile and destruction of the northern kingdom some 200 years later. Both result from Jeroboam’s sins though the latter will result as well from the sins of many others along the way. There is always in OT prophesies of doom a conditional character; there remains, almost to the very end, the possibility of averting the judgment. The prophecy of coming judgment, as so often in the wilderness with Moses, was an invitation to plead with God and to repent and be saved. The threatened outcome could be averted if only the king and people would repent and trust the Lord. But Jeroboam didn’t plead and didn’t repent and his proud refusal was a virus that, as it happened, eventually so thoroughly infected Israel that she would not repent even when circumstances became far more threatening still, even when it was perfectly obvious that her life depended upon it.
The brief summation seems to say that Jeroboam’s accomplishments as Israel’s king were not worthy to be noted compared to the catastrophe of his spiritual leadership.
Jeroboam is a very significant figure in the history of Kings. We will read his name many more times before we are done usually with reference to some later evil king of Israel who is described as walking in the way of Jeroboam. Jeroboam set the standard for bad behavior by a king and many others, unfortunately every other king in the northern kingdom, followed in his steps. One commentator suggests that he is more important to the history of Kings than Solomon, Hezekiah, or Josiah, because it was through this able but unfaithful man that Solomon was punished for the sins of his old age, through this man that the ten tribes were torn from the house of David, through this man that Israel’s fate was sealed. And, it was against the backdrop of what Jeroboam made of Israel that the prophets of the Lord take on such great significance as the one remaining source of the true Word of God and knowledge of God’s will. [House, 193] Without Jeroboam, in other words, there would be no Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Amos, and Hosea!
There have often been such men in the history of the world and the church: men whose genius, exerted on behalf of a sinful program, has been the means of terrible spiritual harm. Darwin was such a man, so was Marx, so was Freud, none, of course a Christian; but so was Rene Descartes, so was Immanuel Kant, so was Friedrich Schleiermacher who popularized what we know as liberal theology, so was Julius Wellhausen, who injected grave doubt into the church’s mind regarding the historical reliability of the Bible, and those men were all, supposedly, Christians, though their work served to destroy the Christian faith in millions of hearts. They did what Jeroboam did when he made new sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel, when he fostered pagan idolatry in Israel; they undermined the faith of the people of God and their loyalty to Yahweh. The legacy of such men was, as it always is, to turn Israel into something that was not Israel any longer, just as Jeroboam had done. The effect of their work was not to preserve Israel’s place in the Promised Land but to drive her from it. And once that course had been set, as would happen after Jeroboam, lesser men would follow on, contributing to the same baleful work until the point of no return had been reached and the people of God were so spiritually faithless and lifeless that there was no possibility of their turning back to God.
Now there are many lessons here worth our pondering. We could talk of the Lord visiting judgment upon the children for the sins of the fathers, a warning that Christian parents should often take to heart. Jeroboam sins were the cause of the catastrophe that was to overtake his family; the eventual murder of his sons. We could talk of the danger of establishing habits of thought and life that are contrary to the will of God, habits that prove very difficult to break even when one comes face to face with the worst consequences of that behavior. Jeroboam’s wife was so clueless, so spiritually dull and dead that she listened to this prophecy of judgment upon her family, her own children, and could think of nothing to say!
But I want us tonight to notice and to ponder this message of divine judgment that is pronounced upon the house and kingdom of Jeroboam. There will be much more of this in Kings, of course, as we make our way to the consummation of this judgment in Israel in 701 B.C. and Judah in 586. But it is well for us to notice some characteristics of the revelation of God’s judgment as we have it here early in the book.
- First, notice the perfection of divine knowledge of man’s sin and disobedience of his entire life. God knows everything.
One of the key images of this text surely is Jeroboam’s wife in disguise and the futility of that disguise. She hopes to hide herself and finds herself instead before the God who knows everything: everything about her husband, everything about her, about her children, about what has happened and what will happen. Everyone tries to hide so much. We are constantly learning about bad things that politicians or businessmen or reporters or military commanders did but attempted to keep secret from everyone else. They cheated on their wives or they stole from their company or doctored records or made up stories or killed civilians and on and on. If it were not for the discovery of what people try to hide, newspapers would go out of business tomorrow! And, of course, what is true of public figures is true of everyone else as well and of you and me, alas.
Our second Lord’s Day in Colorado our dear friend who is the pastor of Cripple Creek Baptist Church admitted in his sermon that he likes to drive fast, a significant admission as the chief of the Cripple Creek police department is one of his parishioners. The pastor, to make a living, drives from Cripple Creek to Colorado Springs and back for the school district, twice every day, Monday through Friday. And the speed limit is quite low and the temptation to go faster quite strong. But, he said, as he was making his way up the curving mountain highway one day recently he was followed by a blue suburban with a big dog sticking his head out of the window. His boss drives a blue suburban and has a big dog and he wondered if that might be her behind him. And so he drove strictly according to the speed limit until the blue suburban turned off the highway not far from Cripple Creek and he was able to see that it bore a license plate from Washington. It happened to be, not his boss, but my two sons arriving from St. Louis. His point was: had he known that it was Rob and Jamie and their dogs in that car behind him, he wouldn’t have been so meticulous about the speed limit. But he thought it was his boss!
And, as he went on to say, an obvious point that any honest man or woman should be quick to admit, we all do this all the time! We adjust our behavior in order to make an impression on others. We do things in private that we would never do in public. We hide ourselves behind a façade of correct behavior. It was Pascal who said, “If only everyone knew what we said about them behind their back we wouldn’t have four friends left in the world.” But we forget that every moment of every day the Lord sees all, sees all and hears all: every thought, every word, every deed; everything done and everything that should have been done and was not.
I want you to realize this about the Bible and all the more as we read through a long historical narrative like what we have before us in this book of Kings. It has a particular story to tell, a particular history to narrate. It is a true account of what happened. Let there be no mistake about that. But the Bible is also at the same time along the way a revelation of human life, of the way we are. It is an account of human nature; it is a window on human experience. We are not all kings, but then kings are just human beings who happen to have an exalted job. Take the crown and the pants off a king and he is just like every other man, and particularly just like everyone else in the ways that really matter. This is what C.S. Lewis meant when, in his A Preface to Paradise Lost, he wrote:
“The things which separate one age from another are superficial. Just as, if we stripped the armour off a medieval knight or the lace off a Caroline courtier, we should find beneath them an anatomy identical with our own, so, it is held, if we strip off from Virgil his Roman imperialism…from Lucretius his Epicurean philosophy, and from all who have it their religion, we shall find the unchanging human heart, and on this we are to concentrate.” [62-64]
He’s saying when you read about Jeroboam in a very real way you are reading about yourself. When the Bible gives you this insight into Jeroboam’s wife it’s giving us insight into ourselves and every other human being that we know. This is what he meant when Lewis also wrote that he wouldn’t cross the room to meet Hamlet; he wouldn’t need to. Hamlet is everywhere, all around you all the time: haunted man, stumbling through life because he can’t quite grasp what life is, where it comes from, where it is going, or what it means; man aware of God but without faith in God. [Selected Literary Essays, 102-103] That was Hamlet, that was Jeroboam and his wife, and that is one hundred people you know just as well. Kings is showing us human life in its universal character, as surely as it is narrating a particular period of human history. The whole Bible does this and it is one of the great benefits of the Bible, what it shows us about human beings and about the life and about the experience of life that we share with everyone else.
You see, everyone is like Jeroboam’s wife, disguising herself as if she could hide herself from the Lord and his prophet. Everyone is on a mission to deceive and everyone ends up deceiving only himself or herself! I read not long ago that as Admiral Horatio Nelson lay dying on the deck of his ship Victory he said to those attending him, “I have not been a great sinner.” [Paul Johnson, Heroes, 121] Not been a great sinner. He was admitting that he was a little sinner, an ordinary sinner, but wanted not to be thought of as a rogue, as an unworthy man, a man who was weak in the face of his temptations, cowardly before the call of duty and honor, an unkind, thoughtless, selfish man. He wasn’t like that. It was important for him to say this as life ebbed out of his body, “I have not been a great sinner.” But, of course, that is precisely what he was! For all his undoubted strength as an admiral, as a commander of navies, he was all of those disreputable things. As you may remember, Nelson carried on a long, passionate and hardly secret affair with Lady Hamilton, the wife of an English diplomat. She is likely to be played in the movie by a Hollywood beauty but she was far from it; a very large and unattractive woman, though he was a small man even by the standards of his time. Nor was she particularly noteworthy in any other way. She was neither skillful nor particularly bright. You might not think – his contemporaries were nonplussed – that he would have found her attractive. But she stroked his ego like no one else. One consequence of his affair with Lady Hamilton was that Nelson treated his wife abominably. The one person in his life that he was most responsible to love and care for he abused in a cruel, thoughtless, and soul-destroying way. He made his infatuation with Lady Hamilton obvious to his wife, came eventually not to want to be in the same room with her, and finally lived apart from her for the rest of his life. The great admiral didn’t care that he publicly humiliated his wife and turned her life into misery. “I was not a great sinner”? Here is Lord Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar, in a disguise, hoping not to be recognized.
Oh no! No matter the disguises we put on, we are seen right through by the Lord. He knows what we are thinking at every moment; he knows what we have said to everyone. Winston Churchill once said in a speech, “Words are the only things that last forever.” There is a thought to curdle your heart. Churchill was wiser than he knew. Your words are permanent because God knows them. He knows and he remembers the unkind word, the deceitful word, the stupidly self-centered word, the impure word you have spoken and he knows very well all the words – kind, generous, caring, sympathetic, interested, noble, grateful, reverent – that you should have said and never thought to say.
What is very clear in this text and will be very clear to the end of Kings is that Jeroboam and Israel got what they deserved, nothing more, nothing less. Jeroboam’s judgment was the just deserts of a man who had willfully and knowingly violated the most sacred laws of God’s covenant with Israel and when urged again and again by God’s prophet – who had already proved that he had a direct line to heaven with the prophecy that established Jeroboam as the king of Israel – to reverse course he ignored the warning and redoubled his efforts to remake Israel into a kingdom he could rule without interference from Yahweh. It was a fool’s errand and he suffered a fool’s end. The fact is God was punishing Jeroboam for what he had done and God knew exactly what he had done, knew it better than Jeroboam himself. There is a perfection to God’s judgment because there is a perfection to God’s knowledge.
Remember the line in the old gospel song: “Dark is the stain that we cannot hide…” The first part of wisdom is to know that, to confess it true. There is that about us that deserves God’s judgment, well deserves it, and God knows it all! I have spoken of Nelson and Churchill, because it takes just a few anecdotes to make the point. You know what I am talking about. If you will only be honest with yourself you know all too well how you disguise your life before God and man, which you would never do unless there were a great deal to hide. And you know very well that you cannot really hide it. You may succeed in hiding it from others, but never from God.
- Second, take note of the interplay between anticipation and consummation in the judgment of God.
Jeroboam lost his son and then his dynasty in just a few years. The family as a royal house ceased to exist two years after Jeroboam’s death when his son was assassinated and all the rest of his sons then were murdered. But Ahijah’s prophecy extended to events that would not occur for another two-hundred years. It was all the same judgment and for the same sins but one came suddenly and the other – involving so many more people piling up so many more sins – came slowly. The judgment of his people, casting them away from himself is what Isaiah calls God’s “strange and alien work” (Isa. 28:21). We know of the Lord’s patience and of his mercy; we read in Holy Scripture that he does not wish for anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance and, further, that he delights to show mercy, but it never says he delights to pass judgment. Indeed, it is very possible to see the destruction of Jeroboam’s house as part of the Lord’s mercy. He was warning his people what happens to those who betray the covenant of God and disobey God’s commandments with wantonness and willfulness as Jeroboam did. It was a demonstration to all of the perils of disobedience to God and of a failure to trust in the Lord. Everyone should have drawn the obvious conclusion: we must not do what Jeroboam did; we must not be faithless as he was. It was unmistakably a warning; but it went unheeded.
And such warnings are before us and around us every day if only we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. There is no need to fear the great day if only we take careful heed to the anticipations of it that God gives us to see day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year through our life in this world. Just as dying should be no great difficulty for the Christian who dies daily, which is one way the Bible describes the Christian life, a daily death, so the judgment should hold no surprises for the one who has looked at that judgment and considered it and observed it as it has been executed all around him or her as he or she has lived in this world.
We have seen children die for spiritual neglect as in Jeroboam’s case; we have seen marriages destroyed; we have seen lives overturned and futures blighted all because of sin and because a man or a woman chose to find his or her hope and purpose and confidence in life in something or someone else than the living God. Surely it should not be difficult for us to learn that we must not do as they did, but rather entrust all our ways to the Lord, counting on him for all we need, and acting on our confidence that in keeping the commandments of the Lord there is a great reward.
Let us learn the folly of disguise. Let us act on the assumption that the Lord knows all and will judge all. But let us also act on the assumption that he stands ready to forgive and ready to bless those who trust in him. We know that because God waits so long before executing his judgment and because he warns us of it so many times and in so many ways; even sometimes holding our noses in it so there can be no mistake as to what it is like. God has told us here and in a thousand other places in his Word, and then he has shown us in the experience of life, that there is forgiveness with him, that there is great blessing in trusting our lives to him, and that those who do so are never disappointed. God shows us his judgment, many anticipations of it, precisely so we will take care and repent and so escape his judgment.
Jeroboam’s double problem was that he was guilty of many sins, terrible, destructive sins, sins that killed the souls of multitudes of the people he was responsible to God for and he was also hardened in his rebellion against God, incapable of turning from it to God and to a new life, to an obedient life of faithful service in the covenant of God.
Let there be no mistake in our thinking here. These are the two problems, really the only problems of human life; and they are problems only Christ can solve. We have a bad record for which we must answer and we have a bad life that somehow must be changed but which we cannot change! Only Christ can remove the guilt, that is, provide forgiveness for the sins we have committed against him and our neighbors – complete forgiveness for all our sins; so great is the sacrifice of the cross – and, at the same time, only Christ can renew our lives by his Spirit so that we do not live as Jeroboam did but live in faithfulness to the Lord. From the Lord Jesus our Savior we get not only a new record but a new life, a new behavior, a new self indeed. We become different persons.
Many of you, I suspect, have an easier time believing the first thing than the second. You believe in forgiveness because there is something still theoretical about that; you can’t see God’s forgiveness and that, strangely, makes it easier to believe. But you can see your life and you see how much there is in it like Jeroboam’s, far too much like his. But, of course, there was a great deal of bad behavior in David’s life – in some ways he was worse than Jeroboam; at least, so far as we know, Jeroboam was never sexually unfaithful to his wife! – but David was no Jeroboam and you are not either, at least the vast majority of you are not, I’m sure. You have a conscience that Christ has given you and you are ready to confess your sins as Jeroboam was not. What an enormous difference that is! You are determined to love and obey the Lord and you try to do that, however imperfectly. Jeroboam didn’t. He knew exactly what he was doing and what he was not doing. He didn’t care about the law of God. He had prophets telling him to obey the Lord and he ignored them. Even when it became perfectly clear that the Lord had deserted him because of his rebellion, still Jeroboam was unmoved and unwilling. That does not describe you as I know you to be.
There are great differences between Jeroboam and you; the same kind of difference that distinguished Jeroboam from David and would distinguish him from Hezekiah or Josiah or, for that matter, even Asa and Uzziah, whose reigns were marred by serious crimes against God and man but who were, at last, believing men, the Lord’s men. Such is the ambiguity of life; but such also is its clear, absolutely fundamental distinction; two groups of people in completely different worlds. Christians may still be sinners, but theirs is not the sin of an unbeliever; their sin is not the characteristic mark, the identifying feature of their lives.
The difference in the Bible is never that one man sins and the other does not. Sin is what we have in common with unbelievers. The difference is our posture toward God himself, our acknowledgement of our sin, our desire to be forgiven, and our desire to obey the Lord in love and serve him in the world. That was not Jeroboam! It didn’t describe Jeroboam in any way. And for the fact that it is you, you have the Lord Christ and only the Lord Christ to thank.
What we are discovering as we read through Kings is the immense difference that faith makes in life. It is not always a difference that people notice and regard, though it often is. But it is a great difference nonetheless. The reason Jeroboam lost his son and then his family and finally his throne was because he had no faith in God, not the kind of faith that makes a man or woman love the Lord and love his ways and love to serve him, as David did, as Solomon did, at least in part.
The world counts the difference a small thing because it can’t see the effects of that difference as strikingly as it expects it would. It comes to think of it as inconsequential, the difference between a believer and unbeliever. But it is the difference between life and death, between heaven and hell, because faith is what connects us to Christ and Christ makes that great difference. Why? Because he is God and the Savior of the world! There is a judgment coming, based upon a full and complete knowledge of every human life. But it is possible for sinners to stand acquitted in that judgment. That is the good news, the impossibly good news in a nutshell! There is going to be a judgment and you can stand acquitted in that judgment. The Lord Jesus Christ be praised!