TODAY’S READING: 1 Kings 12–14
The blessings of God’s people lead to blessings for the whole world. Likewise, the brokenness of God’s people leads to the brokenness of the world. The tragedy when missionary brothers fight one another is that the unreached around them are no longer the focus of energy and prayer, for emotional attention is spent on civil war. The same is true for churches or Christian organizations; internal squabbling simply means our efforts are not fully united in saving souls. God blessed David and exalted Solomon so that Israel would be a light to the nations, but the united monarchy didn’t even last 100 years. Jeroboam splits ten tribes away from Rehoboam and only five years into Rehoboam’s reign the Egyptian king invades Judah and plunders all the gold shields—more than 5,000 pounds of treasure (14:25–26). In short order, Solomon worshipped false gods, Jeroboam stole unity, and Rehoboam became a vassal to Egypt. And it’s downhill from there. The kingdom God wanted as a shining example to the nations is still an example—it’s just a negative one now.
Critical to the central missionary message of the Bible is the notion that God’s passionate desire to be glorified by every tribe, tongue, people, and nation is not up for debate. The question is never if God will be worshiped by every people group, but the question is simply how—whether or not His people will joyfully and wholeheartedly participate in that effort. If we join in, God blesses us and the nations are wooed; if we disobey or work against God’s missionary plans, we are judged and the nations are warned.
Our warning is that insecurity can often turn our good missionary intentions into disastrous self-preservation—disastrous because self-preservation is so anti the giving heart of God that it cannot but lead us to rebellion. God anointed Jeroboam to do what he did. Ironically, the story of Jeroboam and Rehoboam echo the Moses and Pharaoh story. A new oppressive king meant opportunity, and the people cry out for relief (the same word is used in both texts: se’aqa is the technical term for the cry of protest or pain out of a situation of injustice, cruelty, or violence). Rehoboam had a Moses-like opportunity to do good, reform idolatry, receive the blessings of God, and be a light to the nations, while Jeroboam worried about losing his position.
Clearly he did not want to be seen to be suggesting the worship of any other god but YHWH, and indeed the text hints that Jeroboam may have been claiming the mantle of Moses in having delivered the tribes from the oppression of Solomon and son. Nevertheless, he reconstructed the whole religious apparatus of his state so that the cult of YHWH was clearly under his patronage. So the narrative subtly implies that while the name at the top of every page still said “YHWH”, the table of contents was very much of Jeroboam’s own making. YHWH had been fashioned like a god made by human hands. The living God was being commandeered and crafted through state propaganda to serve the needs of national security—a form of idolatry that did not perish with Jeroboam.
What began as a renewed opportunity for the people of God in Israel to glorify Him among all peoples ended in an idolatry even more heinous than that of Judah.
The lesson of these three chapters is that no chosen vessel of Jehovah is allowed to deviate from God’s mission without public rebuke (for God must ever be glorified globally) and that our insecurity can drive us to disaster. Rehoboam refused servant leadership (12:7), scorning the advice of the elders, and lost the kingdom, gold, independence, and chance to sparkle among the nations. Jeroboam refused to let his people worship God in the way God proscribed all nations to observe and lost his life, his dynasty, and any hope of blessing all peoples. The man of God demonstrated that if we do not strictly follow God’s specific instructions (no matter who tries to convince us otherwise), we lose our prophetic future and our very lives (13:24). Every Christian must reconcile themselves to the reality that Jehovah will use us as an example globally. How much better to be an obedient and blessed participant, and not an insecure, rebellious, idolatrous, self-preserving one.