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THE DISRUPTION OF THE KINGDOM
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 12:1. Rehoboam went to Shechem—Instead of remaining in Jerusalem, whither Israel should have come to him, as they did to David (2 Samuel 5:1), and sworn allegiance to their king. To make him king—They had no right to “make.” a king, since Jehovah was the Maker of their kings, and had assigned perpetual sovereignty to David’s posterity. By summoning Rehoboam to Shechem, Israel showed the intention to depart from loyalty to authorized usages; and in the avowal that they determined to “make” a king, instead of submitting homage to the rightful heir, the spirit of rebellion is plainly indicated.
1 Kings 12:2. When Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard—Heard, not “of it,”—i.e., the convocation at Shechem—but of Solomon’s death. The Vulgate inserts “heard that Solomon was dead.” This act of Israel in recalling a rebel against Solomon, and placing him at their head, shows their determination to revolt, it must be evident that they sent for Jeroboam before they assembled at Shechem, since it would have required considerable time for them to send, and for him to return. It was all prearranged. Accordingly, the Sept. and Vulg. add to 1 Kings 12:2 these words:—“He returned from Egypt and came on to his city, unto the land of Zerira, which is in the hill country of Ephraim. And they sent and called him.”
1 Kings 12:4. Thy father made our yoke grievous—In order to make his cities majestic, and to maintain the splendours of his court. But his peaceful and prosperous reign gave wealth and civic benefits to his people, which more than repaid the heavy taxation. The offence was this: Solomon laid on them a “yoke.” עֹל is a yoke laid on beasts of burden, and suggests their indignation at having been compelled to do what they regarded as servile work (comp. Notes on 1 Kings 11:27).
1 Kings 12:7. If thou wilt be a servant … they will be thy servants for ever—Conciliate and concede to them for “this day,” thus turning aside their discontent, and they will be won to loyalty. Had he for the time become עֶבֶד of the people, he would have removed from the malcontents every pretext for revolt But he heeded the “young men”—יְלָדִים—who knew his haughty and ambitious nature, and flattered him by recommending an attitude of despotic tyranny.
1 Kings 12:15. The cause was from the LORD—lit., a turn from; it was brought about by the Lord.
1 Kings 12:16. Sept. renders the verse thus:—“And the whole people as one man said each one to his neighbour, and all cried out, We have no part in David, nor any inheritance in the son of Jesse! Every man to thy tents, O Israel! For this man is not (fit) to be a ruler nor to be a prince.” Now see to thine own house, David—Keil remarks that in this cry “the rooted dislike to David’s royal house is strongly expressed, and we can perceive a more potent cause for the partition than the alleged oppression of Solomon.”
1 Kings 12:18. Adoram, who was over the tribute—A flagrant blunder to send this chief of the socagers (chap. 1 Kings 4:6) to negotiate with them. It incensed them the more, and his fate opened the king’s eyes to the furious antagonism of the tribes of Israel.
1 Kings 12:20. Made him (Jeroboam) king over all Israel—This exasperated Rehoboam to prepare war, from which God restrained him.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 12:1-24
REVOLT: ITS CAUSE AND CONSEQUENCE
THERE is an intimate and necessary connection between sin and its punishment; and we may trace the political and moral causes of the disruption of the kingdom in the excessive luxury of Solomon and the sins of his latter days. The rebellion of the ten tribes was an event of supreme importance in its bearing on the future history of Israel. It was not a temporary division like those which occasionally took place under the Judges, but was sullenly permanent, and defied the power of all subsequent monarchs to reconcile. The breach was healed, like many other long-standing enmities, only by the fall and extinction of the contending factions. The whole history is another illustration of the cause and consequence of revolt so frequently repeated in the development of all national life.
I. That the cause of revolt is manifold, and lies far back in the history of a nation.
1. In the existence of tribal jealousy and ambition. The supercilious and reckless conduct of Rehoboam was not the immediate cause of rebellion. The loyalty of a people is not destroyed by a single act of imperiousness, or even wrong, on the part of the sovereign: it is a patient, long-suffering, forgiving principle; and only after long continued and exaggerated wrong does it assume an attitude of determined opposition (vide the Netherlands under Philip II., France and Spain under the Bourbons, England under Charles I). The answer of Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:13-14) was as a lighted match falling on a powder magazine whose stores had been accumulating for years. The supremacy of the tribes of Judah over the powerful tribe of Ephraim was a cause of perpetual jealousy and heartburning. “There was a difference in the character and pursuits of the tribes; whilst Judah was the leader and head of the theocracy and the covenant, therefore of higher religious life (Genesis 49:10; Psalms 60:9; Psalms 78:67; Psalms 114:1-2), Ephraim represented the nature-side of the people’s life; and the consciousness of natural material strength and earthly abundance appears with it (Genesis 49:22; Deuteronomy 33:13; Psalms 78:9).” So, in the moral world, there are two antagonistic forces continually warring with each other—the carnal and the spiritual, the sensuous and the supersensuous, the world-principle and the lofty moral aims of church life. But the time is coming when the strife shall end, when “Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim” (Isaiah 11:13).
2. In oppressive exactions. The monarchy, as it grew in power and magnificence, imposed still heavier taxations upon the people, both in labour and in money. The king became a despot; and the people, who had no means of obtaining redress, groaned under ever accumulating burdens. But, all the time, the national feeling was ripening for revolt. The prophets and the chief leaders of the people saw, now that Solomon was dead, that a change must take place in the government; and they were ready to take part in the movement. The revolution might have been effected peacefully and without division; but the youthful monarch was blinded by self-confidence and flattery, and was swept away before the storm of national indignation he was too powerless to arrest. Tyranny is short-lived, and will, sooner or latter, meet with its deserved punishment. The whips and scorpions it has twisted for the chastisement of others will be used to flagellate itself.
3. In the idolatry of king and people. This was the head and front of offence. When Jehovah is insulted and forsaken, the way is open for every folly and enormity, and retribution will inevitably ensue. Idolatry is the germ of many other sins. The king erred as much in the licence and sanction he gave to heathenish religions as in the severity of his imperial exactions. Sin is a great disintegrating force—it loosens the loyalty of a people, it shakes the foundations of a throne, it breaks up the cohesion of a nation.
II. That revolt is baneful in its results.
1. It produces disunion. The work of Saul, David, and Solomon in consolidating the kingdom—a work of time and infinite pains—was undone in a single day. Rebellion stirs up the worst passions, animosities are created which are not forgotten in a lifetime, the nearest relationships are despised, and the tenderest ties unbound. It is a political earthquake producing social disorder and confusion. The revolt of man from the authority of heaven has filled the earth with the elements of moral discord and disunion.
2. It is attended with violence and suffering (1 Kings 12:18). On this occasion an officer of the crown was stoned to death, and the king himself obliged to fly. It is rare for a national revolution to be bloodless: thousands have fallen victims to its lawless fury. A people in rebellion is like a fierce dog unchained. “Nothing is more untractable and violent than an enraged multitude. It was time for Rehoboam to betake himself to his chariot: he saw those stones were thrown at him in his Adoram. As the messenger suffers for his master, so the master suffers in his messenger. Had Rehoboam been in Adoram’s clothes, this death had been his; only flight can deliver him from those that might have been subjects.” The evil consequences of rebellion are often felt for a century. The blood of rebellion makes a dark stain which it is difficult to wash out.
III. That revolt may be Divinely overruled for good (1 Kings 12:24). This thing was from the Lord. Without violating the exercise of moral freedom, Jehovah used the disasters of the kingdom in carrying out His great purpose of Mercy towards the race. A word from the prophet dismissed the armies which had met to plunge into a fratricidal war; and both sides obeyed the authoritative word of the Lord. To fight against God may aggravate, but can never redress human miseries. “While the disruption of the Hebrew people into two nations was, in one point of view a chastisement upon sin, we can see from another point of view that God made this very calamity instrumental to the maintenance of Jewish isolation, and the preservation of His revealed truth. The national life was concentrated into an intenser form among the two chosen tribes than when diffused among the ten. Their circumstances, as brought into closer local proximity with the Temple of Jerusalem, and with all its services and associations, were favourable in the highest degree to the maintenance of true religion among them, and the deepening of all the ties of Jewish life. Within the narrower area the circle of idolatrous temptation was correspondingly narrowed. The very rivalry between the two kindred nations, and their common possession of the same Scriptures, drove the Jew back more intensely on his peculiar privileges, and guarded him thus from the contamination of the idolatrous apostasy established by Jeroboam. As regards the sacred writings themselves, it quickened the jealousy with which they were preserved, and has provided two independent lines of evidence instead of one; and lastly, in conjunction with these varied results, it narrowed the line of Messiah’s descent, and drew into definite shape the proofs of His personal identity. The separation retarded, but did not avert, the final catastrophe.”—Garbett. The history affords another example of how God can make the sins and follies of men subservient to His higher purposes.
1. Jehovah is the Righteous Governor of the nations.
2. A nation is strong only while it is faithful to Him.
3. It is He who redresses national wrongs while He promotes the welfare of the while race.
THE RENDING OF THE KINGDOM
1 Kings 12:21-25
THE thing which the prophet declared to be from the Lord was the separation of the tribes of Israel—the revolt of Jeroboam from the house of David—the establishment of a new kingdom. Yet these events, to all appearance, contradicted the very purpose for which the chosen people existed, and confused their history. And this conclusion appears to be strengthened by all subsequent experience of the effects of this revolt. Jeroboam, the author of it, is represented throughout Scripture as the man who made Israel to sin. The history of the ten tribes is a record of continually deepening degeneracy. From this time, too, all the brilliancy passes away from the house of David. His grand anticipations of what should come to pass in after times, if they had a partial accomplishment in the days of his son, seemed to be belied by the history of his son’s sons. Prophets mourn over a land devoured by strangers, “whose princes were rebellious and companions of thieves, loving gifts and following after rewards; who judged not the fatherless, neither did the cause of the widow come before them.” The noblest specimens of the royal race were men, the main business of whose reigns was to remove the corruptions of their predecessors. The last and most zealous of all was unable, by his reforms, to avert the downfall and captivity of his people. All these evils are evidently connected in the minds of the prophets with the schism of the tribes. They look upon their division as containing the principle, and illustrating the effects, of all divisions which should happen in all nations in times to come. Their belief that some day unity would be restored to their land is identified with the hope of peace and righteousness for the whole earth.
I. We must not suppose that the sentence which affirms that this great calamity was from the Lord is an isolated one, or that it can be explained into some general notion that all mens’ doings good or evil, may be attributed to an omnipotent ruler. We shall find presently how little that general notion accords with the language or teaching of Scripture (read chap. 1 Kings 11:26-39). In this passage we are distinctly told that a prophet stirred up those thoughts in the mind of Jeroboam which led him to rise against Solomon. This prophet is not represented as a deceiver, who spoke words out of his own heart; he is a true witness for the Lord God of Israel. He announces an eternal, unchangeable law. It had been declared that idolatry must produce degradation and division in the land. The very ground of the unity of the nation had been taken away—its acknowledgment of a one Lord. What would follow if the semblance remained when the reality was gone? This would follow: a perpetual growth of internal corruption—of internal division; falsehood spreading in the vitals of the people, with nothing to remind them that it was falsehood, with nothing to prove that their kingdom had another foundation than that which they were trying to rest it upon. Such a state of things is inconceivable if we suppose that human beings are as much under a Divine order as natural things are. That order must vindicate itself—must show what it is: the punishment of the transgression must be the way of proclaiming the principle which has been transgressed.
II. But moral laws, though they are as powerful defenders of themselves as natural laws, do not defend themselves in the same way. Human beings, voluntary creatures, are the instruments of carrying out the one, as the hidden powers in sea, or earth, or fire, are of fulfilling the other. A personal God dealing with men will employ men as the agents and executors of His purpose. Jeroboam has risen by his industry in the service of Solomon. He appoints the charges or burdens for the house of Joseph. He is thus acquainted with the discontents of the people; apparently he sympathises with them. The tyranny grew out of the idolatry. Though Jeroboam might not perceive the root, he could perceive the evil fruit, which deserved to be hated for its own sake; he was, therefore, qualified to execute Ahijah’s prophecy, not merely as a dull instrument, but as one who had, to a certain extent, a righteous purpose. A promise is given him, not of immediate, but of ultimate, success. At the same time, it is clearly declared to him that the Divine purpose has not been altered by the sin of the Jewish king. The tribe of Judah, the house of David, the city of Jerusalem, had a sacredness attached to them which would not be lost. The tribe had been chosen, the kingdom had been established, the Temple had been built in the capital, as assurances for the past, the present, and the future, which nothing could set aside. That which seemed to destroy the harmony, even the existence, of the nation, would, in fact, bring out the secret of its harmony, the ground of its existence, more fully than they had ever been brought out yet.
III. This part of the narrative will seem mysterious and supernatural. Such assuredly it is; and it explains to us how supernatural and mysterious every event or series of events must be which concerns the life of nations and the sins of rulers and subjects. But we soon find ourselves in the region of ordinary human life. (Read chap. 1 Kings 12:3-11). How rapidly the interval of three thousand years and all the difference between a small Syrian province of the old world, and a nation of Europe in the nineteenth century, seems to disappear as we read this story! Have we not, in one sphere or other, among the patriarchs of a village, or the statesmen of a kingdom, met and conversed with some of these grave old men, who did not, perhaps, set before themselves the highest standard of moral excellence, who did not at once pronounce upon the right or wrong of an action, but whom long experience had taught the might which lies in gentle words, and the real desire there is in human beings to obey, if there be but sense and somewhat of sympathy in those who rule? Have we not also—and, alas! far more frequently—encountered those young men flushed with insolence and wine, who talked loudly of putting down the pretensions of inferiors, and of maintaining their own position and dignity, who had never yet learnt in what superiority or dignity consists, who had never begun to reverence their fellow-men because they did not reverence themselves; who thought they could meet the demands of suffering and wronged men by boasting words and a frantic determination to maintain privileges which they ought never to have possessed, because they were not privileges based upon any real relations, upon any law, human or Divine, but merely upon accident or assumption, which must perish as rapidly as they have grown up. And yet these, as the story teaches, and as all subsequent history has proved, are the favourite and triumphant advisers of those whom their own vanity and folly have doomed, and who want parasites to put into words the doctrines which they have already received into their cold, empty hearts. “My father chastised you with rods; I will chastise you with scorpions.” This in all ages has been the childish bluster of men who have made themselves blind to the future by refusing to use their eyes in judging of that which is before them, who fancy that the power will be their own for ever, at the very moment when the handwriting on the wall is declaring that it has been taken from them and given to another.
IV. “Wherefore,” the historian goes on, “the king hearkened not unto the people. For the cause was from the Lord, &c. (1 Kings 12:15-20). Here again we are on the mysterious and Divine ground; yet there is no sudden or violent transition from that common homely earth upon which we were standing a moment ago. The prophecy of Ahijah, the Shilonite, is not brought to pass by any strange combination of events. The folly of Rehoboam and his gay counsellors, their utter incapacity for estimating their own weakness or the force of indignation and conviction in the minds of other men—these are the ways by which the Divine counsels are brought forth into act; these are the messengers of God’s wrath, as much as the volcano. Deep and unfathomable mystery, worthy to be meditated on by those who are fighting with evil upon earth, and by those who have won the victory; the key to all the puzzles of history, the comfort and consolation amid the overwhelming evils which we see around us and feel within us; the deliverance at once from the debasing Pantheism which teaches that sin is only another form of righteousness—wrong only an aspect of right—and from the Manichæism which would lead us to think that evil may at last triumph, or hold a divided empire with God. The wrath of man has praised Him, and will always praise Him. Sin, and death, and hell, must do Him continual homage now, and will be led as His victims and grace His triumph when His glory is fully revealed. But neither now or then will they ever blend with His works, or be shown to have their origin in Him, or be known as anything but the contradictions of His nature.
V. Jeroboam then was established on the throne of Israel. The heir of the house of David tried to crush the revolt, and to recover the tribes; but tried in vain. The thing was from the Lord. Rehoboam could no more put down the rebellious servant of Solomon, than Saul could put down David. The decree which had said that the ten tribes should remain distinct was as Divine a decree as that which established an everlasting covenant with the man after God’s own heart. And yet this is the sequel of the story (read 1 Kings 12:26-32). As this passage receives great light from those which precede it, so also it throws back a light upon them. We see now more clearly than ever why the separation of the kingdoms was a thing from the Lord. It asserted the real dignity of Jerusalem as the place in which it has pleased God so put his Name, not merely or chiefly as the place in which David or Solomon chanced to reign. It asserted the real unity of a nation to be not in a king, but in the King. It showed that the only basis of any political fellowship among the tribes lay in that name which was revealed to the first father of them. The revolt of Jeroboam would have done this, if he had continued faithful; his unfaithful ness discovered the same principle through another and a sterner discipline. The miseries to which it led, justified all the groans of the prophets; the light which broke through those miseries, showing the cause of them and the deliverance from them, justified all their hopes.
VI. All Christians have felt that the principle of separations and schisms in different lands and ages must be contained in this schism of the tribes. The great schism of the Latin and Greek Churches strikes the student of ecclesiastical records as a most startling contradiction in the history of a body which was to include all nations and races. Yet surely it was from the Lord. Idolatrous habits and feelings had been spreading in both divisions of the church. The sense of union in an invisible Head, though not lost, was foarfully weakened. A seeming union must have been preserved by the loss of all witness for real union; the division remains a standing witness against the possibility of a visible Head ever holding the Catholic body together. The schism of rival popes in the Western Church during the fifteenth century was as great a scandal to Christendom as can be conceived. Yet it was surely from the Lord. It led men to perceive that there was corruption in the head, and in the members of the ecclesiastical polity; it led to those disputes respecting the relative power of popes and councils which showed that neither could heal the wounds of the Church, or preserve its unity. It led to that movement in the sixteenth century which we all believe to have been from the Lord, and which was really a declaration of faith in a living God, against a system of idolatry that was rapidly passing into a system of organized unbelief. In each of these cases there were chances of reconciliation, such as were offered to Rehoboam when the people besought him to lessen their burdens. In each case there were grave counsellors advising reconciliation, and noisy fanatics preaching uncompromising resistance. In each case the infatuation of princes and rulers, ecclesiastical and civil, was carrying out a Divine and eternal principle, even when they were defying it. They could not restore unity by declamations, by concessions, or by persecution. Facts spoke louder than the Prophet spoke to Rehoboam: “It cannot be. The thing is from the Lord.”
Reflections:—Oh, brethren! how intolerable would be these facts and recollections which show every party in Church and State to have been the cause of shameful scandals, which forbid us to cast stones at others because we are in the same sin, if we might not recur again and again to the words which I have quoted so often. But if “the thing is of the Lord,” there must be an end of all those strifes by which He has ordained that our idolatries against Him and cruelties to our brethren should punish themselves. There must be a day when all things in heaven and earth, which consist only by Christ, shall be gathered manifestly together in Him, when it shall be known and confessed that there is one king, one priest, one sacrifice; that we have been at war with each other because we have not done homage to that one king, drawn nigh to God through that one priest, omitted to present that one perfect sacrifice. And those who are willing before God’s altar to own that their self-seeking and self-will have been rending asunder their families the nation, the Church, the world, may hope that God’s Spirit will work in them henceforth to do all such acts as shall not retard, but hasten forward, the blessed consummation for which they look. They may ask to be taught the mystery of daily self-sacrifice—how to give up their own tastes, opinions, wishes. They may ask that they may never be tempted to give up one atom of God’s truth, or to dally for one moment with the falsehoods of themselves or of their brethren; because truth is the one ground of universal peace and fellowship, because falsehood and division are ever increasing and reproducing each other.—(Condensed from F. D. Maurice).
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 12:1-24. The rebellion and its lessons.
1. Many a base design lurks under the most specious appearances.
2. The best government will not be without factious spirits, ready to blow the coals of sedition among the populace.
3. The avarice of a kept mistress is insatiable.
4. Most men are more concerned how to save their money than their souls.
5. That government which subsists only by severity is in a tottering condition: no throne is sure where a king reigns not in the heart of his subjects.
6. They are our best friends who dissuade us from rash designs; and they are our greatest enemies who soothe our folly and flatter our pride.
7. At court, too commonly, not the profit of the kingdom, but the pleasing of the king, is the object most in view.
8. They who know the great sin of rebellion will suffer much rather than rise to vindicate themselves by so dangerous a measure.
9. When God’s will contradicts our designs, we must patiently submit.
10. Love to our brethren should make us put up with many injuries, rather than seek a redress which may be ruinous to both.
11. If we fight against God there can be no hope of success: it is wise, therefore, betimes to leave off meddling.
1 Kings 12:1-20. The departure of Israel from the House of David. I. The grievances. II. The decision. III. The rebellion.
—The division of the kingdom. I. A consequence of manifold sins—of Solomon, Jeroboam, Rehoboam. II. A Divine dispensation—for their humiliation and chastisement, and for a direction towards the heavenly eternal Kingdom.
—The sources and causes of the rebellion. I. In general estrangement from God, indifferentism, and unbelief. II. In particular—these sins on the part of the people (Proverbs 14:34), and on the part of the princes (Proverbs 20:28). Where prince and people fear God there will be no rebellion; but where no covenant with God exists, all human considerations fall in pieces.—Lange.
1 Kings 12:1. It should seem to be in the course of nature that sons brought up under the nurture of wise fathers should be themselves wise. But it is not always seen, perhaps not often seen, that wise fathers have wise sons. How is this? It may be that the wisdom of the son, the formation of his character, depends more on the mother than the father, and that a wise mother is even more essential than a wise father to the formation of a wise son. We may hear of foolish sons having wise fathers, and of foolish fathers having wise sons, but rarely of a wise son having had a foolish mother. Several young men, who were associated in preparing for the Christian ministry, felt interested in ascertaining what proportion of their Lumber had pious mothers. They were greatly surprised and delighted in finding that, out of 120 students, more than 100 had been blessed by a mother’s prayers, and directed by a mother’s counsels to the Saviour.—Kitto.
—Many a poor man hath a houseful of children by one wife, while this great king has but one son by many housefuls of wives. How often doth God deny this heritage of heirs where He gives the largest heritage of lands, and gives most of these living possessions where He gives least of the dead, that His blessings may be acknowledged free unto both, entailed upon neither. All Israel found that Solomon’s wit was not propagated. Many a fool hath had a wiser son than this wisest father. Amongst many sons it is no news to find some one defective. Solomon hath but one son, and he no miracle of wisdom. God gives purposely so eminent an instance to teach men to look up to heaven both for heirs and graces.—Bp. Hall.
—The first step taken by the new king was a most judicious one; and we may probably trace in it the advice of those wise heads whose counsels he soon after rejected. If anything could have removed the disaffection of the Ephraimites and caused them to submit a little longer to the ascendency of Judah, it would have been the honour done to their capital by its selection to be the scene of the new monarch’s coronation. Shechem (now Nablûs) lay on the flank of Mount Gerizim, directly opposite to Mount Ebal, in a position second to none in all Palestine. It possessed the bones of Joseph (Joshua 24:32), and had been the place of general meeting in the days of Joshua (Joshua 8:30-35; Joshua 24:1-28). Abimelech had also reigned there (Judges 9:1-23); and though he had destroyed the place, it had probably soon risen again, and was once more a chief city, or perhaps the chief city of Ephraim. There was Joseph sold by his brethren—as if the very soil had been stained with perfidiousness.
1 Kings 12:2-3. Experience teaches that those who have once set up an opposition to legitimate authority will ever persist in their resolve, even if their design fail or is pardoned; they only await another opportunity to carry out their plans, therefore they should never be trusted.
1 Kings 12:2. Had not Israel been somewhat predisposed to a mutiny, they had never sent into Egypt for such a spokesman as Jeroboam, a fugitive, a traitor to Solomon; long had that crafty conspirator lurked in a foreign court. The alliances of princes are not ever necessary bonds of friendship; the brother-in-law of Solomon harbours this snake in his bosom, and gives that heat, which is repaid with a sting to the posterity of so near an ally. That Israel would entertain a rebel was an ill sign; worse yet, that would countenance him; worst of all, that they would employ him. Nothing doth more bewray evil intentions than the choice of vicious agents. Those that mean well will not hazard either the success or credit of their actions upon offensive instruments; none but the sluttish will wipe their faces with foul cloths. Jeroboam’s head had been a fit present to have been tendered unto their new king; and now, instead thereof, they tender themselves to Jeroboam as the head of their faction.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 12:3-4. Rebellious people easily seek and find in public circumstances means which they amplify and exaggerate in order to give an appearance of justice to their wickedness, and to have some pretext for their criminal designs. It is a universal fact that men exclaimed more concerning oppression than concerning godlessness and other sins; are more careful for the body than for the soul; and, so that they are free in action, give little heed to the soul’s nurture (Exodus 16:3). A people which prescribes to its lawful sovereign the conditions of its obedience to him, and directs him how to govern, assumes to itself royal authority, and overturns the appointed order of God, thus rushing surely on to its own destruction.—Lange.
1 Kings 12:4. The cry of the oppressed.
1. Will one day make itself heard.
2. Will not fail to rehearse all the injuries of the past.
3. Is an appeal for justice and mercy.
4. Is not uttered in vain in the ears of the prudent ruler.
5. Cannot be disregarded with impunity.
—The complaint was probably twofold. The Israelites no doubt complained in part of the heavy weight of taxation laid upon them for the maintenance of the monarch and his court. But their chief grievance was the forced labour to which they had been subjected. Forced labour has been among the causes leading to insurrection in many ages and countries. It alienated the people of Rome from the last Tarquin; it helped to bring about the French revolution; and it was for many years one of the principal grievances of the Russian serfs. It is a reasonable conjecture that Jeroboam’s position as superintendent of the forced labours of the tribe of Ephraim revealed to him the large amount of dissatisfaction which Solomon’s system had produced, and that his contemplated rebellion in Solomon’s reign was to have been connected with this standing grievance.—Speaker’s Comm.
—Doubtless the crafty head of Jeroboam was in this suit which his mouth uttered in the name of Israel. Nothing could have been more subtle: it seemed a promise, but it was a threat; that which seemed a supplication was a complaint: humility was but a vail for discontentment—one hand held a paper, the other a sword. If Rehoboam yield, he blemishes his father; if he deny, he endangers his kingdom. His wilfulness shall seem worthily to abandon his sceptre, if he stick at so unreasonable a suit. Surely Israel came with a purpose to cavil; Jeroboam had secretly troubled these waters, that he might fish more gainfully.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 12:5. A prince who, upon his accession to the throne, requires time to decide if his rule shall be mild and merciful, or harsh and despotic, cannot have assumed his high responsible post in the fear and love of God; therefore he must expect no Divine blessing. It is well and good, indeed, in all weighty matters, to take time for reflection, but in time of sudden danger, rapid, firm decision is equally necessary. One accustomed to walk in God’s ways will at such times take no step which will afterwards cause him bitter repentance.—Lange.
—The supreme value of a pause in the midst of a national crisis. How pregnant with importance were those three days!
1. Affording opportunity for the rectifying of wrongs.
2. Deepening the gravity of the situation to the opposing factions.
3. Suspending the destiny of the nation on the next step taken.
4. Requiring the most consummate wisdom in counsel and action.
—To hesitate in such a crisis is ruin. Even a prompt refusal had been less dangerous than delay. But Rehoboam could not trust his own understanding. He asked three days for deliberation. Even consent after such delay would lose the generous aspect of spontaneous grace, and would have the appearance to the people of having been extorted from his fears. And it rendered refusal doubly ruinous. The indication of reluctance gave warning of the result that might be expected, and afforded time for the disaffected to mature their plans and preparations for revolt. We cannot doubt that these three days were among the busiest of Jeroboam’s life.—Kitto.
1 Kings 12:6-11. Rehoboam holds a council. I. With whom? With his own servants, old and young, but not with the Lord his God and His servants. In difficult and grave matters we should not neglect to take counsel with men, but chiefly should we go to Him for counsel of whom it may be said: “He has the way of all ways, and never fails in counsel (James 1:5; Isaiah 30:1). If He sit not in the council, in vain do young and old advise. Had Rehoboam sought light from above in those three days, and prayed as once his father did (1 Kings 3:9), or as Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:19), or entreated like Jehoshaphat (2 Kings 3:11), then he would hot have been like a reed shaken by the wind, but his heart would have been strong. II. The advice given him. Neither counsel was Divine, but both merely human (Matthew 16:23). The old men, out of their fear and apprehension, advised: renounce for the present thy royal prerogative, and bow before the will of the people; later thou canst act differently. This advice ran counter to his pride and despotism, so he refused the counsel of the old men. Through flattery and insolence combined, the young men counselled a course actually inhuman—to abuse his royal prerogative—to care nothing for his people and their wishes, but simply to treat them with violence. This advice suited him well, because it corresponded with his rough, harsh, selfish, and violent character. But this produced the exact reverse of what he wished and hoped. When you receive conflicting counsels from men, apply to both the test of God’s Word (Psalms 19:8; Psalms 119:104).—Lange.
1 Kings 12:6-7. The sedate caution of age.
1. The result of manifold experience.
2. Is valuable in counsel.
3. Sees the best time to make concessions.
4. Merits respectful consideration.
1 Kings 12:6. It is the first privilege and duty of a king to seek to surround himself with men who, fearing no man, either high or low, and regardless of their own profit or advantage, shall advise him as befits men responsible before a just and holy God. One such man alone outweighs whole hosts of soldiers (Proverbs 20:28).
1 Kings 12:7. The ruler that would hold the affections of his people must first learn to be their servant. He must consult their wishes and interests so as not to seem unmindful of his most humble subject. But it is easy to see, as Bähr remarks, that such a proposition might not be very agreeable to a rash and imperious young king in whose veins Ammonite blood flowed.
—A king who refuses to be a “servant of God” readily finds himself in a situation where he is compelled to be a servant of the people. The splendour of majesty is enhanced by benevolence, goodness, and mercy, but never by timid yielding and submission to the popular will.
1 Kings 12:8-11. The reckless frivolity of youth.
1. Is blind to surrounding dangers.
2. Is defiant of consequences.
3. Is not to be trusted in grave emergencies.
4. May goad a nation into rebellion.
—The young heads are consulted. This very change argues weakness. Some reason might be pleaded for passing from the younger council to the aged; none for the contrary. Age brings experience; and it is a shame if with the ancient be not wisdom. Youth is commonly rash, heady, insolent, ungoverned, wedded to will, led by humour, a rebel to reason, a subject to passion, fitter to execute than advise. Green wood is ever shrinking and warping, whereas the well-seasoned holds aconstant firmness. Many a life, many a soul, many a flourishing state, hath been ruined by undisciplined monitors. Such were those of Rehoboam, whose great stomach tells us that this conditionating of subjects was no other than an affront to their new master, and suggests to them how unfit it is for majesty to brook so saucy a treaty; how requisite and princely to crush this presumption in the egg. There can be no good use of an indefinite profession of rigour and severity. Fear is an unsafe guardian of any state, much less of an unsettled: which was yet worse—not the sins of Israel were threatened, nor their purses—but their persons; neither had they desired a remission of justice, but of exactions; and now they hear of nothing but burdens and scourges and scorpions.—Bp. Hall.
—Where the counsels of the aged are rejected, be it in a kingdom or in a house, and those only of the youthful followed, there men pursue an unhallowed path. For to a true wisdom of life experience is necessary, and this youth cannot have. Those who grow up with us have, unconsciously and involuntarily, a vast influence over our modes of thought and views of life, therefore parents must have a watchful eye over the intimacies of their children.
1 Kings 12:10-11. A vaunting speech is by no means a proof of courage. The more boastful a man’s speech the less resolute he will be in peril and temptation; a truly strong, firm, and calm man is silent. Time serving and flattery are most dangerous for a prince; they wear the garb of fidelity and devotion, and in reality are the greatest treachery. Chiefly distrust those who counsel thee to do what gratifies thy vanity, thy selfishness, and thine own desires, and costs thee no sacrifice.—Lange.
1 Kings 12:11. Gesenius understands by scorpions, whips having leaden balls at the ends of their lashes with hooks projecting from them. And the latter Romans seem certainly to have called by this name a certain kind of whip or rod. Others have supposed the thorny stem of the egg plant, called from the irritating wounds which it inflicted “the scorpion plant,” to be intended. But it seems best to regard the expression as a mere figure of speech.—Speaker’s Comm.
1 Kings 12:12-15. The answer of the king to the people. I. It is hard—not merely a refusal, but imperious, tyrannical, unbecoming in any sovereign, but especially one who ought to be servant of the compassionate and merciful God, with whom is great truth and loving kindness (Exodus 34:6). Authority is the handmaid of God to thee for good (Romans 13:4), and not a terror. Government is not built upon whips and scourges, but upon justice, love, and confidence. That rule alone is thoroughly right where “mercy and truth are met together” (Psalms 85:11). How entirely different is David’s example of sovereignty (Psalms 101:0).
II. A rash and inconsiderate counsel, that of the young men throwing oil on the flames instead of quenching them, and exciting uproar and revolt instead of disposing to submission and obedience. Passion always blinds. When the heart is perverted the head is likewise dulled, and those who are generally shrewd become unwise and unreasonable; for it is not the head which rules the heart, but, on the contrary, the inclinations and desires of the heart are stronger than the thoughts of the head. (Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 30:33; James 1:19-20; Ephesians 5:15-17).—Lange.
—The almost insane fatuity of the man who could expect any good effect from an answer like this to an aggrieved and exasperated people, whom the mere fact of Jeroboam’s presence must, to an ordinary understanding, have shown to be ripe for any ulterior consequences, can scarcely be explained, but on the interpretation that the king was subjected to judicial blindness, that wisdom and common sense had been withheld from him in order that the doom which had already gone forth against the house of David might be accomplished.—Kitto.
1 Kings 12:14. The voice of the King of kings comes to us utterly unlike that of Rehoboam; therefore should we listen the more submissively and obediently to it. The Most High is ever at hand to change the darkest prospects of the children of men to a happy termination, and the accomplishment of His all-holy will, even as Joseph said to his brethren (Genesis 50:20). God disposes not the thoughts of man to folly and sin, but brings them to judgment by their very perverseness, and thus makes it serve to carry out His own designs.
1 Kings 12:15. “The cause was from the Lord.” Better, for it was a change from Jehovah. The meaning is, this great change or revolution in the Hebrew state was brought about in the providence of God as a judgment on the nation for the sins of Solomon. He decreed it and foretold it by the prophet Ahijah (chap. 1 Kings 11:30-33). But neither Solomon’s sins nor Rehoboam’s blind folly and rash imprudence were from the Lord. For them their human authors were solely responsible. But He whose Omniscience takes in all future events as foreseen certainties (not as decreed necessities) may well, in respect to events affected by human agency, determine and decree His own future judgments or mercies according to what he foresees men will freely do. So, too, in infinite holiness His determinate counsel and foreknowledge even delivers up Jesus of Nazareth to death, but this decree influences not causatively the action of those wicked hands that crucify and slay Him (Acts 2:23).—Whedon.
—The Divine purpose.
1. Does not interfere with individual freedom of action.
2. Is accomplished by human instrumentality.
3. Is often openly and distinctly declared.
4. Is steadily prosecuted amid confusion and disaster.
5. Is ever in harmony with the best interests of mankind.
1 Kings 12:16. As is the question, so is the answer. He who makes an unprincipled speech must not wonder if he receive a like reply. The same people who once came to David and said: “See, we are thy bone and thy flesh, thou hast led us, thou shalt be our king” (2 Samuel 5:1-2), now said: “We have no part in David; what is the shepherd’s son to us?” This is the way of the multitude. To-day they cry, “Hosanna, blessed be who cometh in the name of the Lord!” Tomorrow it is, “Crucify him! we will not that he reign over us!” To-day, if fortune smile, they are fawning and bland: to-morrow, if misfortune threaten, they cry, “Look to thyself.” Their cry is: “We will be free, and servants of no man”—not seeing that they are the blind tools of one or more leaders, who seek to reign over them. With the house of David, Israel flung aside the great promise (2 Samuel 7:10-16; 2 Samuel 23:5) which depended on that house. For us has come that Son of David whose kingdom shall have no end (Luke 1:32). Let us hold stedfastly by Him, and not be led astray by the uproar of the world—“We will have no part in Him.” He will finally destroy all enemies under His feet. Thus went Israel to his tent, but not as formerly, blest by the king, and blessing him, rejoicing over the goodness of the Lord to David and to His people Israel (chap. 1 Kings 8:66). He who has not a good conscience cannot return in peace.
1 Kings 12:18. The people desired freedom; but a tree of liberty watered with innocent blood can only bear poison fruit. He who asks nothing of God can only lead others to folly: he who cannot stand in the gap can never protect others. It is a judgment of God when a monarch, instead of being able to repose in the bosom of any one of his subjects, must needs fly before him to save his life. To yield to superior force is no disgrace, but shameful is the flight which is the result of arrogance and overbearing pride.
1 Kings 12:19-20. The great majority fell away, and the small minority remained faithful: the first was ruined and had no future; from the latter came forth the One before whom every knee bowed, and whom every tongue acknowledged to be the Lord (Matthew 2:6; Philippians 2:11). In the Kingdom of God there is no question of majorities and minorities, but it is simply, are we steadfast and faithful unto death. The pretended deliverers of the masses well know how to manage so that they will become rulers of the people: they allow themselves to be summoned, and apparently persuaded, to the very object which was the sole aim of their efforts.—Lange.
1 Kings 12:19. Sin a revolt.
1. Against God.
2. Has introduced anarchy and disorder in the moral world.
3. Will be subdued by the triumph of moral goodness.
1 Kings 12:20. Blessed be God for lawful government; even a mutinous body cannot want a head. If the rebellions Israelities have cast off their true sovereign, they must choose a false. Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, must be the man. He had need be skilful and sit sure that shall back the horse which hath cast his rider. Israel could not have anywhere met with more craft and courage than they found in this leader. Rehoboam returns to Jerusalem lighter by a crown than he went forth: Judah and Benjamin still stick fast to their loyalty. God will ever reserve a remnant free from the common contagion.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 12:21-24. The authority of the Divine Word.
1. Is superior to the power of the sword and of the throne.
2. Is sufficient to prevent the most terrible wars.
3. Should be acknowledged by all nations.
4. Will disconcert the cleverest plottings of the wicked.
1 Kings 12:21. What Rehoboam had lost through insolence and weakness, through wickedness and folly, he now sought to regain by violence and battle: instead of humbling himself before the All-powerful hand of God, he is haughty, and depends upon his own arm of flesh. The natural heart of man is a froward and timorous thing (Jeremiah 17:9), without safe resting place or firm support, now buoyed up, now cast down, the football of every storm of fortune. But blessed is the man whose trust and confidence are in the Lord. In the renewed heart is no pride and no fear.
1 Kings 12:22-24. The Word of the Lord to the king and to the host. I. The command—Ye shall not go up, nor fight II. The cause of the commandment—For this thing is from me. III. The obedience to the command—They hearkened. Civil wars are the most unnatural and likewise the fiercest and bitterest. He who stirs up strife between brethren commits a crime which never goes unpunished.
—Shemaiah, a type of the Lord’s servants.
1. He is a man of God, and as such he brings good tidings of peace (Isaiah 52:7).
2. He has no other arms than the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
3. With His word he comes, strong and fearless, before the king and his whole host (Acts 4:20; Acts 9:15).
—With this man of God we have met for the first time, and though our knowledge of him is limited to a few scattered notices, we see in them how vast a moral power the prophets of this age wielded over the king and the nation. They, and the converts of their ministry, were the salt that preserved the nation through many a long year of idolatrous rebellion. Shemaiah seems to have been, during Rehoboam’s reign, pre-eminently the prophet of Judah. His word on this occasion, though doubtless much against the royal will, awed the king into submission. Again, in the time of Shishak’s invasion, he appeared, and his ministry was instrumental in averting the possible consequences of that invasion—the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 12:5-7).—Whedon.
—We see here with what great might the God of truth maintains His word. By the prophet Ahijah He announced to Jeroboam that he should rule over ten tribes of Israel: that is accomplished here. He had promised to leave one tribe to the house of David: that is accomplished here. He promised to Ephraim, or to his father Joseph, that kings should proceed from them (Genesis 49:0; Deuteronomy 33:0), and that is fulfilled here, since Jeroboam becomes king through Ephraim. Thus nothing remains unfulfilled of all that God has spoken, promised, or threatened. Solomon and Rehoboam strove to prevent the fulfilment of God’s word in Jeroboam, for which purpose Solomon planned to kill Jeroboam, and Rehoboam assembled a great army against him; but all in vain. Therefore let all men believe and seek after the Word of God, and not strive to resist it (Luke 21:33).—Wurt. Summ.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 12:26. Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David—Recognizing the immediate peril of Israel’s visits to the temple, he sought to alienate their hearts from Jehovah’s worship.
1 Kings 12:28. It is too much for you—A specious plea that it would save them the costs and toils of a long journey. Two calves of gold—Egyptian figures, Apis and Mnevis. These winged bulls, by their slight resemblance to the cherubim, might captivate their imagination and soothe their scruples.
1 Kings 12:30. The people went to Dan—“Bethel was at the southern extremity of the kingdom, and within sight of Jerusalem; but the people preferred to turn from all associations with the city of Judah, and went to “Dan,” on the far northern fronter.
1 Kings 12:30. Priests of the lowest of the people—Rather, of all classes. For the Levitea would not assist in his idolatry, and, moreover, Jeroboam wished to destroy all the sacred associations of Israel’s former life.
1 Kings 12:32. Ordained a feast in the eighth month—Most probably to divert the memories of the tribes from the Feast of Tabernacles, which fell on the 15th day of the seventh month, in order further to eradicate sacred memories. He had a plausible pretext for this change, in that the harvest ripened later in the northern districts.
1 Kings 12:33. He offered upon the altars—Thus assuming to himself the functions of the high priest. Two reasons may have led to this act of usurpation: he had observed that the Egyptian king united in his person both the royal and sacerdotal offices; and he may have distrusted the prudence of vesting in a subject, at so critical an hour in Israel’s career, the power which a high priest possessed over a people so controllable by religious impulses.—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 12:25-33
A MAN-MADE RELIGION
THE genius of Jeroboam was equal to every emergency. He was in his element when fomenting rebellion. He was equally at home as ruler of the newly-formed state, and adopted prompt and vigorous measures for the establishment of his kingdom. He soon saw that his authority would be weakened if provision was not made for the religious instincts of his people. And here we get a glimpse at the bold, reckless daring of the man’s nature. He quails not before the demand made upon him, but at once constructs a religion which was intended to serve his own crafty purposes, rather than to promote the piety of the people and the glory of God. In the system of worship thus established we have the leading characteristics of a man-made religion.
I. It is regarded as a necessary element in state-craft (1 Kings 12:25; 1 Kings 12:27). It may be that Jeroboam neither wished nor designed to introduce heathenish idolatry into his kingdom; the revolt by which he had reached the throne was brought about as the result of, and as a protest against, the abominations of such idolatry. He was apprehensive that if all his people went up to Jerusalem to worship, their hearts would be weaned from him and won over to the government of Rehoboam. He therefore instituted a new system of worship, not, perhaps, with the intention of countenancing idolatry, although in reality caring little about the result, but as a modification of the true worship of God demanded by the changed circumstances of the kingdom. His religious reform was dictated by a shrewd state-policy, not by the Word of God. There is a class of politicians who regard religion as an erratic and troublesome superstition, but a necessary part of state organization; and who maintain that the religion of a people is determined by the condition of their national life. Now this is inverting the order of things, as if a pyramid was intended to rest upon its apex rather than its base, or a tree to produce fruit by stretching its branches underground and its roots in the upper air. The fact is, religion is the mightiest force in a nation, and that which determines the conditions and development of national life. The government that trifles with the religion of a people cannot be permanent.
II. It is the suggestion of an unbelieving and wicked heart. The king took counsel (1 Kings 12:28), not with God, but with his own wicked heart (1 Kings 12:33), and with those whom he knew would support and carry out his views. Had Jeroboam believed in God, and been obedient to His commandments, his kingdom would have been established as David’s (chap. 1 Kings 11:38). But when God is ignored, the unbeliever is left to his own devices; and there is no possible folly and wickedness to which he may not have recourse. The infamy that Jeroboam heaped upon his name is a terrible example to all who would set up a religion irrespective of the Divine word and sanction. What is religion without faith, and what scope is there for faith in a religion in which the originator himself has no faith? Vain, empty, sinful man is in too sore need of supernatural help and grace to find either comfort or elevation in a religion that springs only from himself!
III. It is essentially idolatrous (1 Kings 12:28-30).
1. It is thus a violation of a specific Divine commandment (Exodus 20:4). The breaking of one commandment leads the way to the breaking of others. It is like the letting out of waters: the wider the breach, the more impetuous and overwhelming the deluge. A single fault in the foundation imperils the whole structure. Whatever is based on wrong-doing is unstable and perishable.
2. Its tendency is thus to insult and supplant the One True God (1 Kings 12:28). These calves were not set up to be worshipped as idols, any more than were the ark and cherubim, and other sacred shrines at Jerusalem, but were designed to be symbols of Jehovah. And yet the inevitable tendency was to lose sight of the invisible in the visible, as the subsequent history of Israel so painfully proved. What an enormity is it to liken the glory of the invisible God to an ox that eateth grass! Man creates his own idols, and falls down and worships them. Any creature, real or imaginary, which we invest with Divine properties is an idol; or, it may be the true God falsely conceived. Idolatry is a sin against which the most faithful warnings have been uttered in all ages, and on account of which the severest judgments have been inflicted; yet it is that to which humanity is most prone.
3. It is thus the occasion of great moral corruption. “And this thing became a sin” (1 Kings 12:30). It was not without reason that the Israelitish king was branded in sacred history as “Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” That sin consisted in a one-sided construction and use of the facts of sacred history, and an arrogant assumption to improve the religious worship of the nation by most dangerous methods that had no proper sanction from Jehovah or His prophets. He may be regarded as a type of the Roman hierarchy, which, in its efforts to bind the people to St. Peter’s chair, has verily set up graven images in connection with its worship, and, assuming to represent the sanctities of a holy antiquity, has, in fact, reproduced the forms of heathen idolatry. Idolatry is the fruitful source of many other sins.
IV. It is not scrupulous as to the agents it employs (1 Kings 12:31). Not that the king selected priests from persons of low birth or infamous character. This would have brought his system of worship into contempt. The priesthood had hitherto been hereditary and confined to the tribe of Levi. But it is probable that the Levites opposed the unauthorised innovations, and refused to give their sanction to the new religion; indeed, they left their possessions and came to Jerusalem, where they found a more congenial sphere for their sacred functions (2 Chronicles 11:13-17). But, not to be foiled in his purpose, Jeroboam created a new priestly order, taken indiscriminately from the entire population, irrespective of rank or tribes. The wily schemer never lacks instruments to work out his designs.
V. It has all the outward seeming of a genuine institution (1 Kings 12:32-33). There was the Temple, the feast of dedication, the altar, the sacrifice, the priests. Nothing is more delusive than religious form and ceremony. There may be the most elaborate ritual, while the spirit of religion is extinct. The most gorgeous tapestry may hide a wall honey-combed with decay.
1. A Man-Made Religion is deficient in fundamental truth.
2. In spiritual life.
3. In authority.
4. In practical morality.
5. In saving efficacy.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 12:25-33. The demoralizing influence of idolatry on national life.
1. It leads to a national enfeeblement, against which the strongest fortresses afford no protection (1 Kings 12:25).
2. It distorts the idea of God (1 Kings 12:28).
3. It loosens the bonds of morality (1 Kings 12:30).
4. It leaves the people an easy prey in the hands of a selfish and unscrupulous ruler.
5. It caricatures the solemnities of worship (1 Kings 12:31-33).
6. It issues in national extinction.
1 Kings 12:25. Shechem had been ruined and sowed with salt (Judges 9:45), it had been rebuilt (1 Kings 12:1), but now made a royal city, as being in meditullio regni, in the middle of the kingdom: as Constantinople, for its situation, is said to be a city fatally founded, to command a great part of the world.—Trapp.
—As soon as Jeroboam obtained the wish of his heart, namely, the rulership, he asked no longer about the condition under which it was promised to him, and with which it was bound up (chap. 1 Kings 11:38). How often we forget, when God has granted to us the desire of our hearts, to walk in His ways. He who obtains rulership by the path of rebellion, must always be in fear and anxiety lest he lose it again in the same way, for the populace which to-day cries, Hosanna! will on the morrow shout, Crucify! crucify! An evil conscience makes the most stout hearted and the strongest timid and anxious, so that he sees dangers where there are none, and then, to insure his own safety, devises wrong and evil instruments. One false step always requires another.—Lange.
—Humanly speaking, Jeroboam’s fear was, it must be confessed, well-founded. We cannot, therefore, be surprised that he gave way to the temptation of helping forward the plans of Providence by the crooked devices of a merely human policy. His measures for counteracting the tendency to reunion with Judah were cleverly devised, and proved him “wise in his generation.” The later history shows that they were effectual. Like all measures which involve a dereliction of principle, they brought certain evils in their train; and they drew down a Divine judgment on himself which he had not faith enough to anticipate. But they fully secured the object at which he aimed. They prevented all healing of the breach between the two kingdoms. They made the separation final. They produced the result that not only no reunion took place, but no symptoms of an inclination to re-unite ever manifested themselves during the whole period of the double kingdom.—Speaker’s Comm.
1 Kings 12:28-33. The sin of Jeroboam wherewith he caused Israel to sin. I. He erected images of God against the supreme commandment of God (Exodus 20:4). II. He set aside the prescribed order of the servants of God, and made his own priests. III. He altered the feast, which was a reminder of the great deeds of God, and made it a mere nature-and-harvest feast. That is the greatest tyranny when the ruler of a land makes himself the master also of the faith and conscience of his subjects.
—In the estimation of the people of the world this policy of Jeroboam is held to be proper, because they consider that religion is to be established, held, and altered as may be useful and good for the land and the people and the common interest, and that the regimen is not for the sake of the religion, but the religion for the regimen. Consequently Jeroboam acted well and wisely in the matter. But God says, on the other hand, all that I command you, that shall ye observe, ye shall not add thereto (Deuteronomy 12:32). For godliness is not to be regulated by the common weal, but the common weal is to be regulated by godliness. Every government which employs religious instrumentalities, and interferes with the faith of the people, not for the sake of God and the salvation of souls, but for the attainment of political ends, shares the guilt of the sin of Jeroboam, and involves itself in heavy responsibilities.—Cramer.
1 Kings 12:28. “Whereupon the king took counsel.” Compared with 1 Kings 12:26—“And Jeroboam said in his heart.” The mental toils of the cunning.
1. A wicked, crooked policy involves far more anxiety and labour than a straightforward policy.
2. The sinful plotter is in a perpetual fever of fear—he is in antagonism with both God and man.
3. Many of the schemes of the cunning are too diabolical to be divulged; they must be hidden within one solitary breast. What a horrible picture is presented by such a mind to the eye of the Omniscient!
4. A temporary success intensifies the mental pressure.
5. The most complicated contrivances of the cunning end in humiliating defeat.
—He invented a political religion, instituted feasts in his own times different from those appointed by the Lord, gave the people certain objects of devotion, and pretended to think it would be more inconvenient and oppressive to them to have to go up to Jerusalem to worship. This was not the last time that religion was made a state engine to serve political purposes. It is strange that in pointing out his calves to the people he should use the same words that Aaron used when he made the golden calf in the wilderness, when they must have heard what terrible judgments fell upon their fore fathers for this idolatry.
—Oh, the mischief that comes of wicked infidelity! It was God’s prophet that had rent Jeroboam’s garment into twelve pieces, and had given ten of them to him, in token of his sharing the ten tribes; who, in the same breath, also told him that the cause of this distraction was their idolatry. Yet now will he institute an idolatrous service for the holding together of them whom their idolatry had rent from their true sovereign to him. He says not, God hath promised me this kingdom; God hath conferred it; God shall find means to maintain his own act; I will obey Him, let Him dispose of me. The God of Israel is wise and powerful enough to fetch about his own designs; but, as if the devices of men were stronger than God’s providence and ordination, he will be working out his own ends by profane policies. Jeroboam, being born an Israelite, and bred in the court of a Solomon, could not but know the express charge of God against the making of images, against the erection of any rival altars to that of Jerusalem; yet now that he sees both these may avail much to the advancing of his ambitious project, he sets up those images, those altars. Wicked men care not to make bold with God in cases of their own commodity. If the laws of their Maker lie in the way of their profit or promotion, they either spurn them out or tread upon them at pleasure. Aspiring minds will know no God but honour. Israel sojourned in Egypt, and brought home a golden calf; Jeroboam sojourns there, and brought home two. It is hard to dwell in Egypt untainted. Not to savour of the sins of the place we live in is no less strange than for wholesome liquor tunned up in a musty vessel not to smell of the cask. The best body may be infected in a contagious air. Let him beware of Egypt that would be free from idolatry.—Bp. Hall.
—To the perverted man, what he shall do for his God is forthwith too much. In matters of faith and of the homage due to God, we should not consider what is convenient and agreeable to the great mass, but should enquireire only for what God prescribes in His Word. He who conciliates the sensuonsness and the untutored ways of the masses, and flatters their unbelief or their superstition, belongs to the false prophets who make broad the way of life. Doctrines and institutions which depart from the revealed Word of God are often praised as progress and seasonable reforms, while in truth they are steps backward and corrupting innovations. In Christendom we pray no longer to wood and stone, and to golden calves, and think ourselves thereby raised far above a darkened heathenism, but, nevertheless, we often place the creature above the Creator, and abandon ourselves to it with all our love, and consideration, and service. Behold the things and persons thou lovest with thy whole heart and strength, these are thy gods. What use of typical representations in the worship of God is permitted, and what is forbidden?—Calwer.
1 Kings 12:30. Idolatry a sin.
1. It is a violation of the Divine commandment (Exodus 20:4).
2. It ignores the claims of the Most High.
3. It is degrading to the votary.
4. It is pernicious in its example to others.
5. They who think to secure their safety by sin only hasten the ruin they would avoid.
—As a great tree in a forest, when it falls drags down many others with it, so also are many others carried along by the bad example of those who rule when they fall away from their religion, or sin otherwise grossly against God.—Starke.
—Every accessory to sin is filthy, but the first authors of sin are abominable. How is Jeroboam branded in every of these sacred leaves. How do all ages ring of his fact with the accent of dishonour and indignation. “Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, that made Israel to sin.” It was a shame for Israel that it could be made to sin by a Jeroboam; but O, cursed name of Jeroboam, that would draw Israel to sin! The followers and abettors of evil are worthy of torment, but no hell is too deep for the leaders of public wickedness.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 12:31. We have in the new covenant no Levitical priesthood, indeed, but a pastoral and preaching office which the Lord has instituted, so that thereby the body of Christ may be edified (Ephesians 4:11). He who despises this office, and thinks that any one without distinction and without a lawful calling may exercise it, is a partaker in the sin of Jeroboam. “No one,” says the Augsburg Confession, “shall teach or preach publicly in the church, or administer the sacrament, without due calling.”
—It is not the metal that makes their gods, but the worship—the sacrifices. What sacrifices could there be without priests? No religion could ever want sucred masters of Divine ceremonies. God’s clergy was select and honourable, branches of the holy stem of Aaron. Jeroboam rakes up his priests out of the channel of the multitude: all tribes, all persons, were good enough to his spurious devotion. Leaden priests are well fitted for golden deities. Religion receives either much honour or blemish by the quality of those who serve at her altars. We are not worthy to profess ourselves servants of the true God if we do not hold his service worthy of the best.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 12:32-33. The empty pretences of Ritualism.
1. Ritualism is not absolutely essential to spiritual religion.
2. Its highest function is only as a means, and that chiefly to the most rude and ignorant.
3. It may be altered according to the whim or wish of an irreligious sovereign.
4. It is most claborate and showy where the worship is most idolatrous.
5. It is disappointing to the sincere and spiritual worshipper.
6. All pretences to religious zeal, contrary to God’s revealed will, are but the devices of Satan, more fatally to delude men’s souls.
—We must not conceal from ourselves that there are many persons who, at the bottom of their hearts, will think that Jeroboam acted wisely in the course he took, and cannot see how he could have got over the difficulty in his path but by some such course as that which he adopted. How could he otherwise have managed? The answer is, he need not have managed at all. He had been appointed king under the Divine sanction. He held his crown under the condition of obedience, and on that condition the continuance of the crown to his house was pledged to him. Nothing was wanted on his part but unreserved faith in that promise. If Jeroboam had possessed that faith he would have been free from any anxiety on the subject, he would have felt that it was safer to incur an apparent danger in pursuing the career of duty and right doing, than to seek exemption from it by unlawful doing and tortuous policy. The Lord had given him every reason to trust in the sufficiency of His protection when He had compelled king Rehoboam to dismiss the forces with which he was prepared to fall upon him in his comparatively helpless condition. If it be asked how he was to be secured from the danger which stood so distinctly before him, we can only answer, “We do not know.” Nor had Jeroboam any need to know. God knew; and it was his clear course to do right, trusting all the rest to God.—Kitto.
1 Kings 12:32. The Feast of Tabernacles, to be observed in the seventh month (Leviticus 23:34), Jeroboam transferred to the eighth month. A plausible occasion for this arbitrary deviation from the law which repeatedly names the seventh month as the time appointed of the Lord (Leviticus 23:34; Leviticus 23:39; Leviticus 23:41), might be found in the circumstance that in the northern districts of his kingdom the grain ripened at least a month later than in the southern Judah, as this festival was to be kept at the ingathering of the fruit of the land (the grain); the proper ground, however, lay in the design to make the separation also in a religious aspect as complete as possible, although he adhered to the day of the month on account of the weak, who might take offence at the innovations. For that there were many besides the priests and Levites who were highly dissatisfied with these illegal proceedings appears from the notice (2 Chronicles 13:16) that Israelites out of all the tribes devoted in heart to the Lord went to Jerusalem to sacrifice there to the God of their fathers. Still, not content with all this, with erecting sanctuaries and places of worship, instituting priests and changing feasts, Jeroboam himself offered sacrifice at the altar at Bethel, in order to prove himself to be the spiritual head of his kingdom.—Keil.
—The festivals which an entire people celebrate in remembrance of the great deeds of God for them are the support of their faith and of their life of fellowship. It is to destroy this life when, from prejudice and for the sake of outward worldly considerations, arbitrarily they are altered or abandoned.
1 Kings 12:33. As it is good and praiseworthy when kings and princes engage in the service of God along with their subjects, and set them a good example, so also is it blameworthy when they do it only to win the people over to themselves, and to secure their authority over them.—Lange.
—“Which he had devised of his own heart.” The entire system of Jeroboam receives its condemnation in these words. His main fault was, that he left a ritual and a worship where all was divinely authorized, for ceremonies and services which were wholly of his own devising. Not being a prophet, he had no authority to introduce religious innovations. Not having received any commission to establish new forms, he had no right to expect that any religious benefit would accrue from them. He was placed in difficult circumstances, but he met them with the arts of a politician, not with the single-mindedness of a saint. His arrangements had a certain cleverness, but they were not really wise measures; instead of securing and strengthening, they tended to corrupt, and so to weaken the nation.—Speaker’s Comm.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany