To purchase, click on the cover image.
Table of Contents
1 Humbled Pride
2 Ten Pieces of Cloak
3 A Fully Committed Heart
4 Culture War
5 Troubler of Israel
6 Are You Listening?
7 Should You Help the Wicked?
8 Chariots of Fire
9 Faith in Action
10 Floodgates of Heaven
11 Bad Blood
12 Driving Like a Madman
13 No Accounting
14 I Will Pour Out My Spirit
15 Why Ask for Trouble?
16 Running from God
17 Making Good
18 Angry Enough to Die
19 For Three Sins, Even for Four
20 Seek Me and Live
21 Fall and Restoration
22 A Marriage Made in Heaven
23 Unfaithfulness Defined
24 Holy God, Corrupt Nation
25 Return from Unfaithfulness
26 Why All This?
27 That We May Walk in His Paths
28 God’s Case
29 Peril from the North
30 Don’t Call it Conspiracy
Appendix – Ten Lost Tribes?
About the Author
List of Illustrations
Extent of the United Kingdom
The Divided Kingdom
But Jonah Ran Away
For Three Sins, Even for Four
The Rise of the Prophets
Immediately following Israel’s “Golden Age” the nation split into two competing kingdoms. Though the northern kingdom of Israel lasted approximately 200 years, the seeds of its destruction were present right from the start. Almost as soon as King Jeroboam broke away from the House of David, he violated God’s Covenant with the Israelites by introducing idolatry and setting up alternative places of worship. This set a pattern for the kings who followed him. Their violations of the Covenant became progressively worse.
Unfortunately, disregard for the Covenant was not limited to the kings. Their subjects followed where they led. By repudiating the Covenant – in practice, though sometimes still paying it lip-service and going through the motions of the rituals – Israel triggered the penalties of the Covenant. When the penalties failed to bring the people to repentance and renewed commitment, God allowed them to experience the full consequence of their apostasy: He withdrew His protection and allowed a foreign nation to conquer and exile them.
During this period there was a dramatic rise in both the number of prophets and in their activity. The prophets were God’s spokesmen. There is some overlap in the role of priest and prophet. However, the main role of the priest was to perform the rituals commanded in the Covenant, to interpret the Law and intercede for the people. Prophets delivered special messages from God. At times they told the kings or people what God expected of them in specific situations. They also acted as the nation’s conscience, encouraging people to do right or rebuking them for doing wrong.
The earlier prophets served as divinely appointed historians. It is they who recorded events – particularly those which were important in terms of the Covenant. Their words preserved in the Bible are not so much history, as the world defines history, but Covenant history.
As time went on the prophets not only recorded events, they acted as God’s prosecuting attorneys. They presented God’s case against the people who violated their covenant relationship. The later prophets often use legal language to indict the nation of specific crimes against God. For example, Micah writes, “Listen to what the LORD says: “Stand up, plead your case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. Hear, O mountains, the LORD’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the LORD has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.”” (Micah 6:1-2 NIV)
The prophets did not speak only to Israel. When the southern kingdom of Judah began to copy her northern neighbor in turning away from the Covenant, God raised up prophets to indict her as well. Nor was the message restricted to the Covenant people. The prophets spoke to many of the surrounding nations – nations which had an impact on the Covenant people. Through the prophets, God gave these nations the opportunity to renounce their sin and be blessed.
God also revealed future events through the prophets. The predictions are of two types. One is of the inevitable disaster which would befall those who continued to rebel against the Covenant. The other type of prediction is of renewal, restoration and blessing for the remnant who would return to the Covenant. Indictment was almost always balanced with promise. Failure was balanced with hope.
The national restoration and personal renewal predicted by the prophets revolved around the coming of the Messiah – God’s Anointed One. In contrast to the kings, the Messiah would rule righteously. In contrast to Israel who turned away from the Covenant, the Messiah would teach many peoples to walk in God’s paths. In contrast to the priests who failed to teach the Law, the Law would go out from Zion. In contrast to the judges who perverted justice, the Messiah would settle disputes for many nations. In the days of the Messiah, God’s purpose for the nation of Israel would finally be fulfilled. It is these promises which make the message of the prophets especially relevant to us today.
The studies in this volume cover the time-period from the breakup of Solomon’s empire to the destruction and exile of the northern kingdom. They come from the books of 1st Kings, 2nd Kings, 2nd Chronicles, Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah and Micah.
[Splitting the Kingdom]
(1 Kings 12:1-24, 14:21-31, 2 Chronicles 10:1-12:16)
Introduction: We have a saying, “From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” We use it to express the truth that many family fortunes are very short lived. By means of incredible toil, hardship, risk-taking, innovation and self-sacrifice a man builds a successful company and/or amasses tremendous wealth. He passes the business and his fortune on to his children but rarely is able to also pass on the vision and ambition which drove him and enabled his success. His children may work hard, but not with the same intensity. They turn from wealth creation to using it to indulge their passions. They squander vast sums on fine mansions and luxuries. If outgo exceeds income it does not trouble them – after all, there is still plenty of capital. They pass what is left of the family fortune on to their children, but without the work ethic. The grandchildren of the founder grow up with a sense of entitlement. They have the idea that they deserve the wealth their parents transferred to them. They continue their parent’s spending habits with no idea of how to replace the sums they squander. It is not long before they have dissipated the fortune their grandfather accumulated. They are left with little more than he had at the beginning. The difference is that they lack the attitudes and skills to duplicate his success.
Something similar to this progression happened to the kings of Israel. With God’s help, David established his kingdom in spite of severe opposition and secured the land God promised the Israelites. Solomon built on the foundation David laid. The nation became wealthy and prosperous under his leadership. Without question the reigns of David and Solomon are the “Golden Age” of Israel. However, though Solomon increased Israel’s splendor, he also sowed the seeds of the kingdom’s downfall. His son and his companions grew up with an attitude of entitlement rather than one of service. They demanded the privileges of ruling without acknowledging the responsibilities that come with it.
I. Talking Big (1 Kings 12:1-17, 2 Chronicles 10:1-17)
The splendor of Solomon’s kingdom came at a price. He built many of his public-works projects with conscript labor. To put it another way, Solomon drafted laborers to work on his projects at low, or no wages. In addition, taxes were high and Solomon devalued the currency. 1st Kings 10:21 and 2nd Chronicles 9:20 state that silver had little value. No doubt this caused much hardship. It is no wonder that after Solomon’s death, the people asked his son Rehoboam for relief.
To his credit, Rehoboam asked for advice before answering the people. What did his father’s councilors advise Rehoboam to do?
They told him to listen to the people and reduce their burden. Doing so would win the people’s loyalty.
Unfortunately, this counsel did not sit well with Rehoboam and he also consulted the young men who had grown up with him about what he should do. What advice did they give him?
They told him to reject the people’s request. Instead of lightening their burden, Rehoboam should make it even heavier.
When the people returned for their answer Rehoboam boasted that he was much greater than his father. Not only would he continue his father’s policies, he would go far beyond what Solomon had done.
Lesson: Those who really are powerful and mighty don’t need to tell others they are – it is self-evident. Those who are truly wise don’t need to claim that they are – people already know. Claiming to be wise and mighty doesn’t make it so. Instead of bragging about what a big-shot he was, Rehoboam should have taken the words of his father to heart, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2 NIV)
How did the people respond to Rehoboam’s posturing and threats?
They rejected his right to rule over them.
Lesson: If we want to retain the loyalty of those in our care, we must be loyal to them. We must recognize that we have a responsibility to them. We must be sympathetic to their problems and concerns. Jesus taught that those who are greatest are the ones who serve the most (Mark 9:33-35, 10:42-45).
In addition to Rehoboam’s arrogance there was another reason for the people’s rebellion. It was a fulfillment of prophecy. Solomon disregarded God’s instructions about accumulating too much wealth, too many chariots and too many wives. Also, during the last part of his life Solomon got involved in idolatry. As a consequence, God told him that most of the kingdom would be taken away from his descendants.
II. Rebellion Affirmed (1 Kings 12:18-24, 2 Chronicles 10:18-11:4)
The Israelites’ rejection of Rehoboam’s rule went far beyond words. They also assassinated the administrator in charge of forced labor. When Rehoboam realized the extent of the rebellion he mustered troops from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to subdue the rebels. What persuaded him to back down and let the other tribes go?
God sent Rehoboam a message by means of a prophet. God told him not to fight against his relatives. The rebellion had God’s backing. To fight to regain the lost people and territory would be to disobey God’s command. Rehoboam listened and the troops went back home.
III. Picking Up The Pieces (2 Chronicles 11:5-23)
Losing the northern tribes had major consequences for the kingdom.
1) Instead of one nation, God’s people were now divided into two separate kingdoms. The northern kingdom retained the name Israel. Though the tribe of Benjamin as well as the tribe of Judah remained loyal to David’s house, the southern kingdom became known as Judah.
2) Though the prophet’s message averted open warfare, Rehoboam had to face the reality that he now had a hostile neighbor on his northern border. To counteract this threat he fortified the border cities, armed them, provisioned them with food (presumably against siege as well as to feed the troops stationed there) and appointed military commanders for their defense.
3) There was a huge shift in population. Because of Israel’s religious policies many, if not most, of the priests and Levites migrated to Judah. In addition to the religious leaders, many ordinary people, from every tribe, who had a heart for God also migrated to Judah. This had the effect of strengthening Judah while spiritually weakening Israel.
Rehoboam also took steps to secure the royal succession.
1) He married several women from within his own extended family. This ensured that he would retain the support and loyalty of King David’s clan.
2) He designated his heir. This minimized the possibility of fights over who would become king. Rehoboam may have learned from the example of how David’s sons fought for the kingship before David made it clear that Solomon was his heir.
3) Rehoboam put his sons in positions where they could get hands-on administrative experience. It’s quite possible that Rehoboam did not have any actual experience before he became king. If so it was, no doubt, one of the factors which led to his disastrous handling of the people’s request for tax relief. He had no understanding of, or sympathy for, the burdens of the common man. His own sons would not have the same kind of “ivory tower” isolation from reality. Also, by dispersing his sons throughout the land he made it far more difficult for anyone to wipe out all of the royal family.
IV. Copycat Rebellion (1 Kings 14:21-24, 2 Chronicles 12:1-6)
Of the two kingdoms Israel was by far the larger. From a human point of view, it was also stronger, wealthier and more influential than Judah. Right from the beginning, as a matter of royal policy, Israel turned away from the Law of Moses and embraced idolatry. In spite of unfaithfulness to God, Israel seemed to prosper. Though the text does not say so, envy of their northern neighbor may have been one factor in what Rehoboam and Judah did after stabilizing the kingdom. They might have also felt some resentment against God. After all, God prophesied the division of the nation and prevented them from trying to re-unite it.
In any case, Rehoboam and his subjects imitated the northern tribes by abandoning God’s Law. What was God’s response to their unfaithfulness?
God sent an army in overwhelming strength against them. It is significant that God promised the people that if they would keep away from idolatry and be faithful to the Covenant God made with them, they would have peace. They would be able to easily rout and defeat any enemies which did attack them (see Leviticus 26:1-9). When the people turned their backs on the Law and practiced idolatry, God withdrew His protection.
In addition to the army, God sent Rehoboam and the elders a message by the same prophet who warned him against trying to re-conquer the rebellious tribes. Shemaiah explained the principle of cause and effect to them: Since you have abandoned God, He will abandon you! What was the leaders’ reaction when they heard the message?
The leaders humbled themselves and acknowledged that God is just. They recognized that they were guilty and they were the ones who were responsible for the invasion of their land.
Application: There is a saying that ignorance causes us to sin and pride keeps us there. However, sin is nothing to be proud about. We need to have the humility to admit when we are wrong. It is only when we acknowledge that God is just and we deserve whatever discipline or punishment we receive because of our sin, that we will receive forgiveness and mercy. Perhaps Rehoboam and the elders remembered what God told Solomon after the dedication of the Temple, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14 NIV)
V. Humble Pie (1 Kings 14:25-31, 2 Chronicles 12:7-16)
Because Rehoboam and the other leaders humbled themselves, God relented from destroying them. However, He did allow the king of Egypt to take treasure from the royal palace and the Temple. Why did God allow this to happen even though Rehoboam repented?
God wanted to drive the lesson home that there is a huge difference between serving earthly kings and serving God. When we remove ourselves from God’s authority we will end up serving someone else. They exploit. In contrast, God looks out for the good of His people.
Lesson: Repentance and forgiveness do not erase consequences. Even though we humble ourselves, acknowledge our wrongdoing and turn from it, we still have to pay for the wrong we have done. The events we set in motion cannot easily be stopped or diverted. Therefore, we need to be careful to do what is good and right so that the results of what we do will also be good.