THIS WEEK’S STUDY: 1 Kings 12:1-16:7; 2 Chronicles 10-16
MEMORY TEXT: “Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).
WOUNDING IN ORDER TO SAVE. Power and wealth had led Solomon astray. If the Lord now stepped in with the surgeon’s knife and cut away some of the glories of the kingdom, could His people return to wholehearted worship of the one true God? When necessary, the Lord will wound in order to save.
OVERVIEW: THE LORD’S REBELLION
I. THE KINGDOM DIVIDES: 1 Kings 12; 2 Chr. 10-11
II. THE PRECARIOUS LIFE OF A PROPHET: 1 Kings 13-14; 2 Chr. 12
III. BROTHERS AT WAR: 1 Kings 15:1-16:7; 2 Chr. 13-16
GOD’S HAND ON THE REBEL’S SHOULDER: The Lord desires prosperity and health for his children. He longs to see them choose the right, not from fear of punishment, but because it is right.
This week’s lesson highlights the dilemma which God faces when His children show signs of rebellion. Should love grant the freedom of self-destruction? Or should it set limits to rebellion, holding the rebels somewhere near home in hopes that they will awake and return before they destroy themselves?
And what happens when some of God’s people are rebellious but others are not? Should He expel the rebels immediately to keep infection from spreading? And if He does send them away, how far can He go to win them back and make it safe for them to return home with the rest of the family?
When Paul announced that he intended to be all things to all people or order to save some (1 Cor. 9:22), he was not just describing his own approach to the world, but God’s. In the tragic story of the rebellion which divided God’s people into two separate kingdoms, we see God’s willingness to use a wide variety of methods in His attempts to save. Then as now, He sometimes puts His hand on the rebel’s shoulder, telling him he cannot leave. At other times, the opposite is true. With His hand on the shoulder of the rebel, He tells him to leave home.
In matching means to ends, God is always consistent with His law of love. “I am the LORD, I change not” (Mal. 3:6). But being all things to all people while being faithful to His law is a daunting challenge in a world of sin. This week’s lesson illustrates how far God is willing to go to save sinners. He is our guide as we seek to do the same.
I. THE KINGDOM DIVIDES: 1 Kings 12; 2 Chr. 10-11
Around 1050 B.C. Saul became Israel’s first king. A unified kingdom proved elusive, however, only becoming a reality many years later during the reign of David his successor.
But unity was short-lived, for in the year 931 B.C. (the date is debated among scholars) the kingdom divided. In the north, the larger part of ten tribes became known as the kingdom of Israel. The southern kingdom of Judah included the territory of Judah and Benjamin, but also became home for an increasing number of Levites who fled from the apostasy in the north.
After 931 B.C., Scripture sometimes uses the name “Israel” to refer to all the tribes. More typically, however, “Israel” refers to the northern kingdom, “Judah” to the southern.
- First from Kings and then from Chronicles, note the key word in the advice of the “old men,” which represents the attitude that Rehoboam should have adopted towards Israel if he had wanted to keep the kingdom together.
1 Kings 12:7___________________________________________2 Chr. 10:7____________________________________________
Had the king seen the importance of blending “service” (Kings) and “kindness” (Chronicles), he would have bound the hearts of the people to him. Instead, Rehoboam resorted to raw authority. The people hardly could be blamed for rebelling. “Arbitrary words and actions stir up the worst passions of the human heart” (Testimonies 6:134).
“To your tents O Israel” is the anguished response of the oppressed people of the world to those who use their power to abuse others. “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way . . .” (1 Cor. 13:4-5, RSV).
- When Ahijah tore his garment and gave ten pieces to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:26-40), did his act signify the end of all hope for a united kingdom, or could repentance have postponed judgment as it did when Ninevah responded to Jonah? Compare 1 Kings 12:15.
The human mind cannot resolve all the tensions that exist between prophecy, divine foreknowledge, and human freedom. It would appear from 1 Kings 12:15 that the fate of the kingdom was sealed. Yet Scripture does record prophecies of doom which were averted by urgent pleading or sincere repentance. In addition to the example of Ninevah (Jonah 3:10), Moses gained respite for Israel (Exodus 32:11-14), and Hezekiah, through urgent pleading, extended his life by fifteen years (Is. 38:1-6). Apparently even the most straightforward prophecies of doom can be postponed, if not entirely averted.
In relating divine foreknowledge and human freedom, even inspired writers differ in emphasis. Among the Gospels, for example, Matthew and John cite prophetic proof texts more readily than do Mark and Luke. Similarly, in the church today, some emphasize divine foreknowledge while others take up the case for human freedom. Sinful human beings are not capable of resolving the paradox into clear-cut logic.
God sees the end from the beginning. That is one truth. He grants created beings freedom to alter history. That is another truth. We dare not use one truth to deny the other.
Ask yourself: Have there been instances in my family and in my church where a slight relaxing of oppressive “rules” would have preserved unity and good will, but instead, an appeal to raw authority caused dissension and bitterness? How can human beings overcome the love of power and authority, replacing it with the spirit of service and kindness?
“Had Rehoboam and his inexperienced counselors understood the divine will concerning Israel, they would have listened to the request of the people for decided reforms in the administration of the government. But in the hour of opportunity that came to them during the meeting in Shechem, they failed to reason from cause to effect, and thus forever weakened their influence over a large number of the people. Their expressed determination to perpetuate and add to the oppression introduced during Solomon’s reign, was in direct conflict with God’s plan for Israel, and gave the people ample occasion to doubt the sincerity of their motives. In this unwise and unfeeling attempt to exercise power, the king and his chosen counselors revealed the pride of position and authority” (Prophets and Kings, p. 90).
- How did Jeroboam begin almost immediately to turn away from the path of true obedience? 1 Kings 12:25-33
- How was Jeroboam’s rebellion similar to the one at Sinai? Compare Exodus 32:1-6 and 1 Kings 12:25-33.
The author of Kings clearly wants his readers to make the connection between Sinai and Jeroboam’s golden calves. For several reasons, however, the compromise was both more subtle and more dangerous than it may appear on the surface:
The worship at the shrines of the golden calves could still be labeled as the worship of Yahweh, the true God. While Aaron had said “these be your gods,” he also dedicated the festival to Yahweh (Ex. 32:5). Jeroboam probably intended something similar.
The golden calves may have been designed as mere pedestals for the “invisible” Yahweh. Pagan religions of the Ancient Near East often depicted gods in more-or-less human form on top of sacred animals. Though Jeroboam was not bold enough to depict Yahweh Himself, he still transgressed the divine command.
The bull was the sacred animal which accompanied Baal, the fertility god of the Canaanites. As much as Jeroboam may have hoped to compromise “safely,” he was playing with fire. The sensuous and perverted religion of Baal contrasted sharply with the pure worship of Yahweh. To introduce a symbol so well-known in the worship of Baal was the height of folly. The prophets sharply condemned Jeroboam, seeing his golden calves as symbols of the northern kingdom’s rebellion against the true God.
- In 1 Kings 11, the stated reason for taking part of the kingdom away from the house of David was punishment for Solomon’s sins. In the light of Israel’s almost immediate apostasy (1 Kings 12), could there have been another more subtle reason for breaking up the kingdom?
The loss of both territory and population must have been a sobering event for Judah. Though described primarily as judgment on Judah’s sins, the division of the kingdom also had a saving purpose. In the years that followed, Judah was more faithful in the worship of the true God than her sister kingdom Israel. The rapid deterioration of religious life in the northern kingdom suggests that the Lord had yet another purpose for separating the kingdoms, namely, to limit the spread of the “infection” rampant among the ten tribes. God still sent prophets to both kingdoms, but Scripture never describes a king of the north as “good.”
Ask yourself: When Aaron (and later Jeroboam) set up a golden calf but called it the worship of Yahweh, he cloaked a dangerous compromise with a fine-sounding rationalization. In what ways can that happen in my life today and in the life of the church? Does a “Christian” or “Adventist” label on a dangerous compromise actually make the compromise more deadly?
II. THE PRECARIOUS LIFE OF A PROPHET: 1 Kings 13-14; 2 Chr. 12
When Samuel confronted Saul over the issue of the Amalekites (1 Sam. 14) and Nathan challenged David (2 Sam. 12), they set the pattern for the prophets of the monarchy. In contrast with pagan cultures where magicians and soothsayers were hired by the king to speak good words, the prophets in Israel were commissioned by God to confront royalty with their sins.
Not only did prophets confront sin, they involved themselves in politics, too. In 1 Kings 11, for example, Ahijah commanded Jeroboam to set up a new and separate kingdom. Was it treason? The prophets constantly had to live with that accusation.
- What is the most troublesome aspect about the story of the disobedient prophet told in 1 Kings 13?
The “man of God” who pronounced judgment on the altar at Bethel remained faithful to his calling when Jeroboam tempted him to deviate (1 Kings 13:7-10), but failed when an old “prophet” met him (1 Kings 13:11-19). The old “prophet” lied (1 Kings 13:18); the “man of God” believed him and paid with his life. Yet even after the lie, God still spoke through the old prophet.
Our problem is two-fold: a) Does the Lord speak through a false prophet? b) Does a true prophet tell lies?
On rare occasions, the Lord does “inspire” an unworthy prophet. In the case of Balaam (Num. 23-24) and Caiaphas (John 11:51) the messages were true even though the messenger was unworthy. Yet that problem is less troubling because the prophetic words did not call for action. The problem is also less acute with King Saul when he was overwhelmed by a kind of charismatic prophetic experience (1 Sam. 19), for no clear message resulted from that experience. Perhaps the most remarkable example is the “lying” spirit which the Lord placed in the mouth of Ahab’s four hundred prophets (1 Kings 22:23; 2 Chr. 18:22; compare the “evil spirit from the Lord” in 1 Sam. 16:14).
A caution: The fact that God has occasionally “dictated” a message to or through a reluctant or even disobedient prophet does not mean that all Scripture come through dictation.
In 1883, when the General Conference voted to edit and re-issue the Testimonies, the action voted by the conference stated: “We believe the light given by God to His servants is by the enlightenment of the mind, thus imparting the thoughts, and not (except in rare cases) the very words in which the ideas should be expressed” (cited from Selected Messages 3:96). The troubling instance in 1 Kings 13 may be one of those “rare cases.”
A true prophet can make a mistake, even break a commandment, and still retain a prophetic calling. Ellen White obviously was reflecting on Scripture and her own experience when she said: “God and heaven alone are infallible” (Selected Messages 1:37). Illustrations from Scripture confirm the point. Nathan, for example, advised David incorrectly about building the temple, but returned with a corrected message after a revelation from God (1 Sam. 7; 2 Chr. 17). At a more serious level, David committed a deliberate act of adultery, breaking the seventh commandment, yet the New Testament still calls him a prophet (Acts 2:30).
As for the command, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” the most serious infraction, at least from an Old Testament perspective, is the falsehood which damages an innocent person. But the Old Testament reveals that God’s people were also fearful of telling the truth in such a way as to damage innocent people. Thus violent people were not always told the full truth. Samuel, for example, told a partial truth rather than arouse Saul’s anger (1 Sam. 16:1-3); David “as by a divine enlightenment” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 735) sent Hushai to bring about the downfall of rebel Absalom (2 Sam. 15:32-37; 17:14-20); Elisha, somewhat playfully it seems, misled the Syrian king — not to his death, but to a banquet (2 Kings 6:19).
A caution: A flaw in a prophet’s life is not sufficient reason for rejecting the prophet’s calling or message, nor should the “flaw” be taken as license to sin.
Summarizing the key point of the story in 1 Kings 13, we could say that the “man of God” chose to accept another’s revelation instead of trusting to his own conscience and the proven revelation of the Lord which he had already received. “Because the true prophet allowed himself to take a course contrary to the line of duty, God permitted him to suffer the penalty of transgression” (Prophets and Kings, p. 106).
Ask yourself: To what extent should I rely on the Spirit to guide my own judgment in interpreting Scripture and determining duty? When is it safe to listen to a “revelation” from another individual? Can the decision of a church or body of believers help determine whether such a “revelation” should be trusted?
- What other prophets dared to speak messages of rebuke to the kings of Israel and Judah?
1 Kings 14:1-20________________________________________2 Chr. 12:1-8__________________________________________2 Chr. 16:7-10_________________________________________1 Kings 16:2-4_________________________________________
The life of a prophet was often a somber one. As Jeremiah would say many years later, “I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because thy hand was upon me, for thou hadst filled me with indignation” (Jer. 15:17).
III. BROTHERS AT WAR: 1 Kings 15:1-16:7; 2 Chr. 13-16
- What tragic comparison can be made between the early Davidic kingdom and the early days of the divided kingdom? Compare 2 Samuel 3:1 and 1 Kings 15:6-7, 32.God’s people were not ready yet to turn the other cheek and go the second mile. Violent people reap a harvest of violence.
- Based on your own study of Kings and Chronicles thus far, to what extent could you agree with the following aspects of Abijah’s “sermon” to the people up north when he went to battle against Jeroboam:The nature of the Davidic covenant (2 Chr. 13:5)__________The cause of Israel’s rebellion (2 Chr. 13:6-7)___________
The memory of God’s promises linger long. Even though the Hebrew phrase translated “forever” in 2 Chronicles 13:5 does not mean “through all eternity” as the English translation suggests, clearly, Abijah still cherished the memory of a united kingdom.
Because of his strong loyalty to the house of David and to the worship of the true God, Abijah was also inclined to view Israel’s rebellion in a superficial light, recognizing neither the validity of the divine judgment on the house of David nor the role of Rehoboam’s stubbornness in triggering the revolt.
- What two reasons are given for the judgment against Baasha, and why is the second one particularly striking? Compare 1 Kings 16:7 with 1 Kings 15:27-30.
The judgment against Baasha is an Old Testament illustration of a truth spoken by Jesus: “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes” (Matt. 18:7, RSV)! Although Baasha was God’s instrument to fulfill the prophecy against the house of Jeroboam, he himself was judged for his violence.
Ask yourself: Is it possible to be the legitimate bearer of a rebuke or judgment to a fellow believer, but to handle the rebuke so harshly so as to incur divine displeasure?
“Those who present the eternal principles of truth need the holy oil emptied from the two olive branches into the heart. This will flow forth in words that will reform, but not exasperate. The truth is to be spoken in love. Then the Lord Jesus by His spirit will supply the force and the power. That is His work” (Testimonies 6:123).
FOR FURTHER STUDY: Comments on this week’s lesson are found in Prophets and Kings, pp. 87-113.
A question worth pondering: To what extent is the confrontational style of the Old Testament prophets a model for church leaders, pastors, and church members? Ellen White addresses that issue relative to her own ministry in Testimonies 5:654-91.
“God has not given my brethren the work that He has given me. It has been urged that my manner of giving reproof in public has led others to be sharp and critical and severe. If so, they must settle that matter with the Lord. If others take a responsibility which God has not laid upon them; if they disregard the instructions He has given them again and again through the humble instrument of His choice, to be kind, patient, and forbearing, they alone must answer for the results” (Testimonies 5:20 [= 5:677-78]).
SUMMARY: God used a wide variety of methods to keep his people faithful. He sent warnings through prophets and allowed defeats in battle. Even when His people turned to idolatry, He still sent prophetic messengers to them. A God of great patience, He will be all things to all people in hopes of saving some.