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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
The Kingdom In Crisis And The Collapse Of An Empire (12.1-14.31).
The death of Solomon, as always with the death of a king who had ruled powerfully for a long time and had been somewhat autocratic, resulted in hopes being raised among the people that things might now be made better for them. Indeed they appear to have been quite satisfied with the thought of Rehoboam being their king, as long as he would meet them halfway, and they actually gathered at Shechem to negotiate with him for that purpose. It was a real opportunity. Had Rehoboam made concessions, and retained the loyalty of Israel, the combined kingdom would have remained a power, and the tributaries watching in expectation might have hesitated about making trouble. But let Israel and Judah once become divided into two nations, and the driving force and the power base would be lost, and men like Hadad in Edom and Rezon in Damascus (11.14-25) would soon ensure the collapse of the empire. And ever waiting in the wings for the collapse of the empire was the powerful Shishak of Egypt in a revived Egypt, just waiting for his opportunity to break up the trade monopoly which Solomon had built up.
On the death of Solomon Israel were ready to accept Rehoboam as their king, and they assembled at Shechem, which they clearly saw as the local Sanctuary of the northern tribes when it came to such matters. The very choice of Shechem indicated that they were calling on the king to recognise his obligations under the Law of Moses. Shechem was the place to which Israel had first gathered under Joshua for the reading of the Law and the renewal of the covenant (Joshua 8.30-35), in obedience to the command of YHWH through Moses (Deuteronomy 11.29-32; 27.1-26), and was the place where Joshua himself had renewed the covenant after the initial stages of the invasion were over and Israel were settled in the land (Joshua 24.1-28). It was a recognised place at which YHWH had recorded His Name (suggested by Joshua 8.30-31 with Exodus 20.24). It was the place where the stone of witness had been set up (Joshua 24.26) and it may well be that the regular reading of the covenant required by the Law of Moses took place at Shechem whose two local mountains Ebal and Gerizim, together with the narrow valley that lay between them, formed a natural amphitheatre (see Deuteronomy 27.1-26).
Rehoboam should, of course have recognised that the very choice of this site for their gathering emphasised that Israel saw themselves as separate from Judah when it came to crowning a new king, and were calling on him to renew his obedience to the Law of Moses, and to walking in the ways of YHWH, something which Solomon had signally failed to do. Solomon had previously slipped into the joint kingship so easily, because he had done it while David was still alive, and when the kingdom was at peace. It had thus been easy to forget this independent feeling in Israel, and the fact that kingship in Israel had always been by popular acclamation. It had been so for Saul (1 Samuel 10.24; 11.12-13), for David (2 Samuel 5.1-3) and indeed for Solomon (1 Chronicles 29.22). And we should not forget how delicate had been the situation after Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 19.9-15; 19.41-20.2). Israel did not see themselves as Judah’s lapdog.
But sadly Rehoboam had been brought up in Solomon’s court, and he had been bred with a sense of arrogance and with the feeling that all Israel and Judah were there to do his bidding. He saw himself as ‘a king like the kings of the nations’. In his view the people were simply there to be whipped into line. And while when he took advice from his father’s older counsellors they gave him good advice as to the need to meet the people half way, he preferred the advice of the younger arrogant aristocrats like himself who assured him that what was needed was to show them who was in charge. So what brought about Rehoboam’s rejection was the arrogance that had become so much a part of Solomon’s lifestyle, and which he had passed on to his son. In contrast, in the case of Jeroboam, his downfall would come about through his turning his back on the covenant and diluting Yahwism, in order, as he saw it, to protect his kingdom. This would result in his destroying the religious heart of Israel, something which would affect all the kings who followed him. Thus both aspects of Solomon’s failures came out in his successors.
Overall Analysis (12.1-14.31).
Note that in ‘a’ Rehoboam’s reign commenced unhappily and in the parallel it continued unhappily. In ‘b’ Jeroboam received the Kingship through YHWH’s covenant, and in the parallel his house loses the kingship because of his sin. In ‘c’ Jeroboam acts in disobedience against YHWH and in the parallel the man of God acts in disobedience against YHWH. Central in ‘d’ is the condemnation of the alien altar by the man of God.
Rehoboam’s Arrogance Alienates Israel (12.1-16).
The elders of Israel came together with a view to anointing Rehoboam as king on condition that he would guarantee them a somewhat easier lifestyle, but he was too arrogant to take advantage of the offer, and instead listened to the advice of younger hotheads like himself. The result was, that under the influence of Jeroboam, Israel asserted its independence and decided to choose its own king for itself.
However, what is of the greatest interest to the writer is not the to-ing and fro-ing between Rehoboam on the one hand and Jeroboam and the elders of Israel on the other, which as far as he is concerned is simply part of the by-play, but on the fact that ‘it was a thing brought about by YHWH, that He might establish His word which YHWH spoke by the hand of Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat’ (verse 15). It was that history was moving forward in accordance with the word of YHWH.
Note that in ‘a’ all Israel came to make Rehoboam king in Shechem and in the parallel they rejected him and returned home. In ‘b’ Jeroboam returned from exile in Egypt to support the pleas of the men of Israel, and in the parallel the king did not listen because of His plan to make Jeroboam king. In ‘c’ the people demanded that their load might be made lighter, and in the parallel Rehoboam said that he would make it heavier. In ‘d’ Rehoboam called on the people to give him three days in which to make his decision, and in the parallel they returned to him on the third day. In ‘e’ Rehoboam sought the advice of the old men and received their reply, and in the parallel Rehoboam sought the advice of the young men and received their reply. Centrally in ‘f’ Rehoboam turned from the counsel of the old men to receive the counsel of the young men who had grown up with him.
12.1 ‘And Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king.’
As a result of the death of Solomon all Israel gathered at the Israelite sanctuary at Shechem in order to determine who should rule them. They had a sense of independence that was unfortunately unrecognised by Rehoboam. But they also seemingly had no other idea in their minds but to submit to Rehoboam as long as it was on the right terms. That was their intention in gathering at Shechem.
Shechem was the place to which Israel had first gathered under Joshua for the reading of the Law and the renewal of the covenant (Joshua 8.30-35), and the place where Joshua had renewed the covenant after the initial stages of the invasion were over and Israel were settled in the land (Joshua 24.1-28). It was a recognised place at which YHWH had recorded His Name (suggested by Joshua 8.30-31 with Exodus 20.24). It was the place where the stone of witness had been set up (Joshua 24.26) and it may well be that the regular reading of the covenant required by the Law of Moses took place at Shechem whose two local mountains Ebal and Gerizim, together with the valley that lay between them, formed a natural amphitheatre (see Deuteronomy 27.1-26). Its very sacredness gave a sense of solidity and assurance to Israel. Here at Shechem they would surely find YHWH’s will.
This is a reminder to us that while Jerusalem had finally been established as the Central Sanctuary, (even though the existence of the Tabernacle was still within living memory), there were other sanctuaries at which YHWH could be legally worshipped. Later we learn of an altar on Mount Carmel that was declared to be an altar of YHWH usable by Elijah (18.30-32). And Elijah mentions other such acknowledged altars of YHWH (19.10).
12.2-3 ‘And it came about, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was yet in Egypt, where he had fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt, and they sent and called him), that Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came, and spoke to Rehoboam, saying,’
But Israel had not forgotten Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who had fought their corner with Solomon, and they recognised that he was just the man to negotiate on their behalf in this situation. So they sent to Egypt where he was a refugee, calling on him to come and be their negotiator and mediator. And once he had arrived he and the elders of Israel went to negotiate with Rehoboam. Jeroboam was seemingly from one of Israel’s leading families (he was a ‘mighty man of valour/wealth/property’), so that his worth and authority was recognised by all.
12.4 “Your father made our yoke grievous. Now therefore you make the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, lighter, and we will serve you.”
The Israelites then sent a deputation to put their requirements to Rehoboam, which no doubt included Jeroboam. Their terms were very simple. They were prepared to acknowledge Rehoboam as their king on condition that he could assure them that he would lighten the yoke that his father had put on them with his building schemes and constant demands. They wanted a relaxation of the pressure on them so that they could concentrate more on their own welfare and their families.
12.5 ‘And he said to them, “Depart yet for three days, then come to me again.” And the people departed.’
Rehoboam then asked for three days in which he could consider the matter before he gave his reply. This was not unreasonable as they would want him to come forward with some concrete proposals. They saw kingship in Israel as something resulting from a covenant between the king and the people. Even in the case of Solomon he had been made king while the Hebron covenant with David had still been active, and his kingship was later renewed and acknowledged by Israel (1 Chronicles 29.22). So they went away feeling quite hopeful. Concessions on taxes and on labour levies were often a regular feature on the accession of a new ruler, something evidenced in inscriptions.
12.6 ‘And king Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, saying, “What counsel do you give me so as to return answer to this people?” ’
Rehoboam then called together his father’s old counsellors, men of wide experience and politically astute, and asked them how, in their view, he should reply.
12.7 ‘And they spoke to him, saying, “If you will be a servant to this people this day, and will serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants for ever.” ’
Their reply was that in their view if he was willing to meet the men of Israel half way, with a little humility, and consider Israel’s genuine grievances, recognising at the same time that one of his duties as king was to serve his people, he would win them over and they would become his loyal subjects permanently. They recognised the goodwill and sense of loyalty that Israel had towards Solomon’s son, and that Israel had a genuine grievance.
12.8 ‘But he forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and took counsel with the young men who were grown up with him, who stood before him.’
But Rehoboam was not happy with their advice. His ‘wise’ father had not brought him up to consider the good of the people. Rather he had brought him up with an overbearing attitude of arrogance and self-interest. An arrogant and despotic father rarely produces a considerate son. So Rehoboam did not feel that what his counsellor’s were advising was a good idea. He felt that it was too humiliating, and giving too much away. Thus he then turned to the younger men who had grown up with him at court, and who were constantly in his presence.
12.9 ‘And he said to them, “What counsel do you give, that we may return answer to this people, who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Make the yoke that your father put on us lighter?’ ”
He asked them how they felt that he should reply to Israel’s request for their yoke to be made lighter. The answer was really a foregone conclusion, for to a man they were as arrogant and despotic as Rehoboam himself. They were the younger aristocrats of the court who saw themselves as being God’s gift to the world in the wrong sense, and they had grown up under Solomon’s despotic rule.
12.10-11 ‘And the young men who had grown up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus shall you say to this people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but do you make it lighter to us’, thus shall you speak to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. And now whereas my father burdened you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.”
These younger men (men of military age and therefore young in contrast with the aged counsellors, but probably mature in age, for Rehoboam himself was 41 years of age (14.21) and had eighteen wives, sixty concubines, twenty eight sons and sixty daughters - 2 Chronicles 11.21) had grown up with him at court, and they gave him the answer that fitted in with his own attitude. Let him show the men of Israel who was in charge, and let them know that he was even more of a man, and even stronger, than his father and that he would do precisely as he liked. Let him inform the rebellious people that his little finger was thicker than his father’s thighs. In other words that he was tougher than his father and would do precisely as he liked. So whereas his father had simply beaten them with whips, he would beat them with scorpions. The intention was to frighten them into submission. And if they would not submit, so much the worse for them.
By this he was, of course, negating God’s covenant with David which had been based on his walking in YHWH’s ways and doing what was right in his eyes. He was basically declaring that did not intend to walk by that covenant. He was going to walk in his own ways.
12.12 ‘So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had bidden saying, “Come to me again the third day.” ’
Thus when Jeroboam and all the elders of Israel came on the third day to receive Rehoboam’s reply he was in no mood for compromise.
12.13-14 ‘And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and spoke to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” ’
And he answered the people roughly, ignoring the advice of the wiser old men, and relying on the counsel of his contemporaries. Let Israel recognise that they were not dealing with any soft option. If his father had made their yoke heavy, he would add to it and make it heavier. His father may have chastened them with whips, but he would beat them with scorpions, the creatures whose painful sting was almost beyond bearing. They would be made to pay for their insubordination.
Some see ‘scorpions’ as referring to a special kind of whip into which were woven sharp pieces of bone or metal which increased the potency of the whip. But there is really no need to destroy the typically vivid metaphor.
12.15 ‘So the king did not listen to the people, for it was something brought about of YHWH, that he might establish his word, which YHWH spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.’
The reply was so foolish that the prophetic author knew that there could only be one explanation for it. It was of YHWH, so as to bring about His purposes. It was in order that He might establish the word that He had spoken to Ahijah the Shilonite, to be passed on to Jeroboam (11.35-39). That did not, of course, excuse Rehoboam, whose behaviour was simply that of a spoiled and very arrogant person. He had behaved as he had been brought up to behave, following the example of his father. But the prophetic author points out that YHWH takes up such folly and uses it to bring about His purposes.
12.16 ‘And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, “What portion have we in David? Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel. Now see to your own house, David.” So Israel departed to their tents.’
The people of Israel, however, were in a determined mood. They had been prepared to cooperate, but their lives had become so unbearable that what Rehoboam threatened could only take them over the edge. So when they saw that he had not listened to them, they boldly declared that they no longer ‘had any portion in David’. They no longer saw themselves as being in the Davidic covenant, or saw the Davidic house as having authority over them. They no longer saw the son of Jesse as their inheritance. From now on ‘David’ (Rehoboam) could look after his own house. They would return to the freedom of their own homes no longer under ‘David’s’ yoke. It was a total rejection of any covenant that they had had with David or his house.
‘What portion have we in David? Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel.’ For this compare 2 Samuel 20.1. This was seemingly a regular way of indicating a withdrawal from negotiations and from any covenant which might be seen as binding them. It also indicates that they did not see their relationship with the house of David as having been too binding. It was dependent on mutual response. Covenants were two-sided.
We have a clear indication here that the representative of the Davidic house could be spoken of as ‘David’, something to be borne in mind whenever ‘David’ is mentioned in the future. (Thus ‘for David’ in the Psalms may sometimes simply refer to the current member of the Davidic house, while the mention of ‘David’ in the prophets looked forward to the future king).
The consequence of all this was that Israel returned to their homes (‘departed to their tents’, i.e. their places of abode, a phrase carried over from their wilderness days). They would choose their own king. Considering the forces that were at Rehoboam’s disposal it was a decision that required some bravery. But they clearly felt that they had had enough, come what may. Such had been the wisdom that Solomon had inculcated in his son.
Rehoboam Seeks To Whip Israel Into Line But Is Prevented By YHWH Whilst Jeroboam Is Made King Over All Israel (12.17-24).
Rehoboam still had total control over all who dwelt in the cities of Judah, including Jerusalem, and, we learn, also part of Benjamin. These had never been as much affected by the continual labour levies as the remainder.
Arrogantly assuming that Israel could be ‘whipped into line’ he therefore sent Adoram who had total overall control over the labour levies, one of the leading men in the kingdom, to overawe the rebels and bring them to heel. In his folly he still thought that the authority of the king would be sufficient to subdue the rebels, and that the sight of Adoram would cause them to climb down. It was a foolish move, for it blatantly declared his intention to treat them all as bond-men, and that he had no intention of listening to them. But Adoram was so hated that as soon as the men of Israel recognised who was among them they stoned him to death. Hearing the news, and realising almost too late the danger of the situation Rehoboam then hurriedly mounted his chariot and fled with his bodyguard to Jerusalem.
As far as Israel were concerned that was the end of the rule of the Davidic house, and so they appointed their champion Jeroboam as their king, a man with whom YHWH had made a covenant similar to the one that He had made with David (11.37-38). From now on only those who acknowledged the authority of the elders of Judah would follow Rehoboam. But Rehoboam was not taking this lying down, and he assembled all the armed might that was still under his control in order to bring the rebels into line. It could only result in a vicious civil war. It is noticeable that there is no mention of foreign mercenaries. It may be that in the security of Solomon’s kingdom they had been disbanded.
The host that he gathered was a formidable one. However, God then spoke through a prophet and forbade him to move forward. While the account is truncated it seems very probable that Rehoboam initially consulted with the prophets in order to determine the mind of God, as David had done and kings of Judah would do later (compare Jehoshaphat in 2 Kings 3.11, and how David had constantly sought answers through the ephod before going to war - e.g. 1 Samuel 30.7-8). Thus when Rehoboam received the news that YHWH was against the enterprise he did not move forward. It was as well. It could only have resulted in a huge bloodbath, for the kingdom was divided against itself. But it meant that at one stroke, without any fighting, the kingdom of Solomon was divided up into two, while the remainder of the empire would necessarily disintegrate around them. It had only been held together by armed might and tight control. From seemingly being destined to rule an empire, Rehoboam, through his own folly, had become merely a petty king, although it would not be obvious immediately.
Note that in ‘a’ those over whom Rehoboam reigned from all Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah remained under his rule, and in the parallel it was they who were forbidden by the prophet Shemaiah, to fight against their brothers, because what had happened was YHWH’s will. In ‘b’ Rehoboam sent Adoram to bring the rebels into line, and subsequently fled to Jerusalem, and in the parallel when he arrived at Jerusalem he gathered his army in order to bring the rebels into line. In ‘c’ Israel rebelled against the house of David, and in the parallel none followed the house of David but Judah. In ‘d’ and centrally Jeroboam was made king over ‘all Israel (apart from Judah)’.
12.17 ‘But as for the children of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them.’
This is a summary of the situation as it applied practically. Jerusalem had become the centre of the empire, and this had naturally resulted in a considerable movement of peoples from all tribes to live in and around Jerusalem. We must remember here that we are dealing with a complicated situation that was not easy to describe in simple terms, for the old distinctions were now blurred. Israel was no longer a confederation of twelve separate tribes, living apart and only coming together at the main feasts, or at ‘the call to arms’. Indeed it had never really been quite as simple as that as Judges 1 demonstrates with its picture of the tribes broken up by Canaanite conclaves. Furthermore there would have been continual movements between the tribes since those days, and a good deal of integration, especially as large cities grew up. And it would include fraternisation with the peoples of the land (note the picture described in Judges 1.27-36, and the pressures exerted by invasions as described throughout the book of Judges). The process would have been going on since the time of Joshua, as various pressures caused movements of large numbers of people throughout Israel/Judah (consider the movement of part of the tribe of Dan to Laish (Judges 18) and the displacement of the families who had followed David), and this was especially so as many lost connection with the land, while from the time when under David the kingdom became one whole, and the centre of a mighty empire, and on through the days of the united kingdom under Solomon when the tribal boundaries had been virtually replaced by administrative districts, continual inter-change and consolidation would have taken place. While agriculture remained central to the economy, other ways of living opened up in the cities. This would especially have happened through the widespread use of the forced levy, which would have uprooted many people from the land, and through the centring in Jerusalem of political power and religious worship (augmented by the establishment of the Temple as the Central Sanctuary) which would have drawn people to it from all parts of Palestine, and meant that all who had ambitions tended to focus on Jerusalem.
Thus many of ‘the children of Israel’ from all tribes must have become established within the territory of Judah/Benjamin. And as these would be people mainly untouched by the labour levies, being rather the administrators of the empire and the entrepreneurs, there would be no discontent among them. The consequence was that those who remained loyal to Rehoboam came from all tribes, although founded on the tribe of Judah as the base, for the ancient loyalties of the tribe of Judah had always been towards the house of David, and they had always, as a result, had special treatment. Many trades would also have built up which left people unconnected to the old roots, and they too would often have felt partly ‘emancipated’ from the tribal system. They looked to the civic authorities rather than to the tribal leaders.
Over against all this there would still be fierce tribal loyalties among large numbers, especially in the countryside, and much of the wider justice system would still be founded on the rule of the people by the aristocracies of the tribes. Similarly those who had been deeply involved in land-ownership and agriculture from time immemorial, would still feel wedded to the tribal system which ensured their ownership of the land, and gave them a recognised position in Israel. These were ‘the people of the land’. Indeed this tension between the old roots in the land and in the tribes, and the new administrators, traders, politicians and others connected with the large cities, would remain throughout the period of the monarchy.
12.18 ‘Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the men subject to taskwork, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And king Rehoboam hurriedly got him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem.’
However, the current situation had to be dealt with, and Rehoboam, still encamped at Shechem with his officials and his bodyguard, had lost patience, and assuming in his folly that all that was required was a show of determination in order to quell a rebellious people who were nobodies, sent Adoram, the high official who had overall control over the labour levies, a man who would be known and feared among the people, in order to bring them into line.
Whether Rehoboam’s aim had been for Adoram to negotiate with Jeroboam, who had once been his subordinate, or whether the hope had been that before his authority Israel would withdraw in fear, we do not know, for the sight of the hated Adoram simply inflamed the people, with the result that they stoned him with stones. This was enough to bring home to Rehoboam the seriousness of the situation, and the consequence was that he hurriedly mounted his chariot, and together with his retinue, returned to Jerusalem. The proposed coronation had not gone quite as planned.
12.19 ‘So Israel rebelled against the house of David to this day.’
The result of all this was that a final break had been made by Israel from the rulership of the house of David which continued until the writer’s day. It was necessarily the end of the glory days and of the empire, and they now had to look for a new beginning. The united kingdom of David and Solomon was no more.
12.20 ‘And it came about that, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the congregation, and made him king over all Israel: there were none who followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.’
The news of the break with Rehoboam was naturally hurriedly disseminated by the elders gathered at Shechem to the whole of Israel, and when the people who had not been present learned that Jeroboam, the man who had championed their cause against Solomon was back among them, they hurriedly assembled in larger numbers and called him before their assembly, where they made him king over all Israel.
Consequently the only tribe which in its entirety followed the house of David was Judah, and from now on the southern kingdom would be known as ‘Judah’. It did, however, include within it a large minority of Israelites, which would include Simeonites who had been absorbed into Judah, and was clearly supported by large parts of Benjamin whose fate had become tied up with Judah because of their joint ownership of wider Jerusalem (Judges 1.8, 21). It was not the whole of Benjamin, for the parts around Jericho, for example, remained with Israel. Rehoboam would also have the support of the majority of the priests and Levites. We can see therefore why Ahijah could metaphorically depict it as ‘two tribes’.
12.21 ‘And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, and the tribe of Benjamin, a hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, who were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.’
On his return to Jerusalem the infuriated Rehoboam brought together all the armed forces at his disposal with the aim of bringing Israel into line. This consisted of a large force gathered from Judah and Benjamin which consisted of one hundred and eighty fighting units of picked fighting men, and his aim was to bring the house of Israel back under his control by force of arms.
‘To bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.’ His attitude is brought out by the writer here. How dared these Israelites defy ‘Rehoboam, the son of Solomon’! They would soon learn that they were not dealing with a nonentity. But then he was given pause for thought, because a greater power intervened.
We are not told whether Rehoboam actually consulted with Shemaiah the prophet, or whether the prophecy simply came independently, but the probability from past experience must be that Rehoboam would consult the prophets in Jerusalem about such a major initiative. Such consultation of YHWH before proposed large-scale military activity had been, and continued to be, a recognised principle with the Davidic house (1 Samuel 30.7-8; 2 Samuel 2.1; 5.19, 23; 2 Kings 3.11).
12.22 ‘But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying,
Whichever way it was ‘the word of God came to Shemaiah, the man of God’. God was not prepared to stand back and watch Israel/Judah tear itself apart in civil war. The term ‘man of God’ always indicates in Kings a prophet who was true to YHWH, independently minded because he only listened to YHWH, and mainly non-political. It would appear that Shemaiah was a prophet connected with Jerusalem in contrast with Ahijah who seems to have been a prophet connected with Shiloh. Thus it would appear that God had His true prophets operating throughout Judah and Israel in different places, unknown and unsung until the time came for them to speak openly in the name of YHWH. But we need not doubt that they were constantly proclaiming the word of YHWH to all who would hear it, and especially to those who came to them to be taught. This was what kept the faith of Israel alive. Amidst all that happened YHWH was continually at work maintaining a true remnant in Israel. (For that reason ‘the book of kings’ could equally have been called ‘the book of the prophets’, for their activities play a large part in the book).
12.23 ‘Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, saying, “Thus says YHWH, You shall not go up, nor fight against your brothers the children of Israel. Return every man to his house, for this thing is of me.” So they listened to the word of YHWH, and returned and went their way, according to the word of YHWH.’
The word of YHWH was simple. It was to the effect that they were not to fight against their brothers the children of Israel, because what had happened had been YHWH’s doing. They were therefore to accept it as the will of YHWH.
Note the reference to Rehoboam as ‘king of Judah’. This was now what he was in YHWH’s eyes. He was no longer king over Israel. The overall constitution of the new kingdom is then recognised in the further description, ‘all the house of Judah, and Benjamin, and the rest of the people’ tying in with what we have seen above.
It would have been a brave and foolhardy man indeed who would have gone out to fight in direct defiance of the word of YHWH, for all knew from their history what YHWH, the Lord of Hosts, could do to those who acted in disobedience to His command. It was writ large in their tradition (compare for example Numbers 14.40-45). And he was probably also aware through his spies that Shishak in Egypt was considering the possibility of a military expedition in Palestine, something which would only be encouraged by a civil war (it came anyway five years later). The arrogant king was therefore forced to cower before the word of the prophet. YHWH’s was a power that he could not fight against. And he probably knew that once the prophet’s word was known, few would have wanted to obey him anyway. For they still saw YHWH as their supreme Overlord.
Instead Of Choosing Wholly To Follow YHWH On The Basis Of The Covenant Made With Him, Jeroboam The New King Of Israel Chooses The Way Of Disaster (12.25-32).
But things were not going well in Israel, for sadly, on coming to the throne of Israel as YHWH had promised him through Ahijah, Jeroboam immediately forgot the covenant that YHWH had made with him promising him the establishment of his house (11.35-38), and he did it in view of what he saw as the greatest threat to his kingship. For while there were a number of sanctuaries in Israel where true worship of YHWH could be carried out (18.30; 19.14), and we need not doubt that there were true priests and prophets who were ready to maintain them, that did not alter the fact that the Central Sanctuary to which the tribes had to gather three times a year for worship together was in Jerusalem, and that many of his people had got into the habit of looking to Jerusalem as the central place of worship. This concerned him so much that he set about establishing a new cult. It was based on old recognised but bastardised sanctuaries, which were the bain of Israel, but it was his hope that they would turn his people away from Jerusalem. Thus instead of seeking YHWH’s guidance through the prophets as to what he should do, he used the popular syncretistic sanctuaries which had grown up as the basis of a new approach to Yahwism.
We can understand the problem. Worship at Jerusalem as the Central Sanctuary which was intended to bind all Yahwists together, even though there were two nations, would depend on a peace treaty made with Rehoboam, and this, along with the loyalty of the current priesthood towards the Jerusalem Sanctuary, made him recognise that Israel could never fully be a separate nation while they acknowledged Jerusalem as the Central Sanctuary. Indeed his fear was that his people would be wooed back to serving Rehoboam. We do not know what would have resulted had the attempt been made, which was clearly YHWH’s intention, but Jeroboam was not up to taking the risk, and consequently he made himself the standard of what was seen as evil in the northern kingdom, by carrying out ‘the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat’.
This sin consisted of setting up twin central sanctuaries in Bethel and Dan, two ancient and well recognised, but syncretistic sanctuaries, at which images of bulls were erected, and establishing a non-levitical priesthood made up of people of his own choosing. At these sanctuaries he established temples, in which the images could be placed, which contained ‘high places’ at which the people could worship. True sanctuaries of YHWH were apparently at some stage torn down (19.14), although we do not know how soon this happened. This undoubtedly pandered to the people, many of whom found syncretistic worship very acceptable, and its purpose was to stop them looking to Jerusalem.
The bulls were not intended to be seen as images of God, but were rather probably intended to replace the Ark as the place where YHWH would invisibly meet with His people, stood, as it were, on the back of the bull, for elsewhere gods were regularly depicted as standing on the backs of bulls. Theoretically it still recognised the invisibility of YHWH, but dangerously the images were also reminiscent of Baal worship, for Baal was regularly depicted by means of the image of a bull. It was thus a compromise, possibly partly with the hope of placating his Canaanite subjects and integrating them into Israel, and definitely with a view to turning his people’s thoughts away from Jerusalem. He also altered the timing of the popular Autumn festival, the time when all the harvests of the year were celebrated, which occurred prior to the coming of the rain in October/November. The result could only be a Yahwism that lost its purity, and became diluted and syncretised with Canaanite worship, bringing YHWH down to the level of other ‘gods’. This was ‘the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat’.
Note that in ‘a’ he fortified two fortresses in Israel, one on each side of the Jordan, probably with the aim of the focus of his people’s political thought being on them, and in the parallel he ‘fortified’ Bethel as a religious centre by providing it with a priesthood, hoping that it would become the central focus of their religious thought. In ‘b’ he was afraid that the people would observe the feasts and go and sacrifice in Jerusalem, and in the parallel he ordained a counter-feast, and himself went up to the altar and sacrificed in Bethel. In ‘c’ he established two main sanctuaries to rival the Central Sanctuary, setting up images within them, and in the parallel he established temples including high places in Bethel and Dan, and set up false priests within them. Centrally in ‘d’ what he did became a sin to the people.
12.25 ‘Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill-country of Ephraim, and dwelt in it. And he went out from there, and built Penuel.’
Taking advantage of the short peace which had been granted as a result of YHWH’s intervention in Jerusalem, Jeroboam set up two political centres, one on each side of Jordan, the one in Shechem which had been at the very heart of the rebellion, and the other in Penuel. Both were seemingly fortified in order to act as political centres in their areas. He would, however, eventually establish his capital city at Tirzah (14.17), but he knew that he would have to guard against the possibility of Rehoboam wooing the Israelites in Transjordan if they felt themselves cut off from any political influence.
Shechem, which was in the territory of Manasseh, but was geographically in ‘the hill country of Ephraim’, guarded the pass from east to west, and commanded the road through the hills of Manasseh to Bethshean. It was a crucial centre. Its refortification at this time is evidenced archaeologically. Penuel was in the east of Jordan, guarding a ford of the Jabbok, and possibly straddling the main trade route. It was no doubt established as a political centre in order to cement Israel’s unity with the Transjordanian tribes, and especially with Gilead. Within five years it would be listed by Shishak of Egypt as paying tribute on his expedition through Judah and Israel to interfere with the trade routes which had been so profitable for Solomon, and to obtain plunder and tribute throughout Judah and Israel, something which is evidenced by a relief in the temple of Amun in Thebes which names many Palestinian towns which were forced to pay tribute, and by a broken stele of his from Megiddo. It was an expedition which would have severely dented the military capacity of both nations, but only feasible because the empire had broken up.
The statement that there was continual war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam in 14.30 is clearly only a general one indicating the state of belligerence that constantly existed between the two nations. It was something which would result in hostilities at various points in time. They were unable to become reconciled. It does not, however, prevent there having been a period of uneasy peace at the beginning of his reign, not be it noted as a result of any friendly intention by Rehoboam, but arising out of YHWH’s intervention and no doubt the fear that Rehoboam may well have had on reflection of what the result of such a civil war might be, especially with Egypt making threatening noises. Israel could after all call on a large number of conscripts. The invasion of Shishak of Egypt in Rehoboam’s fifth year (14.25), reducing a number of the cities of Judah commencing with Gezer, and enforcing heavy tribute on Rehoboam, would undoubtedly later reduce his effective military capability, and would mean that he always had to be watching his back from then on. His folly at Shechem was reaping a bitter reward.
12.26-27 ‘And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now will the kingdom return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of YHWH at Jerusalem, then will the heart of this people turn again to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me, and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” ’
Along with his attempt to strengthen Israel’s ability to resist invasion, Jeroboam turned his thoughts to the religious position. He recognised the great danger that if Israelites continued their visits to the Temple in Jerusalem at one or other of the three great feasts (9.25), and went up to offer sacrifices there, their hearts might be turned back to Rehoboam, who would no doubt be on the lookout for the opportunity. And the consequence would be that they would then kill him at Rehoboam’s request and return to the service of Rehoboam. He felt that it was something that he could not risk.
It is very possible that had he consulted Ahijah the prophet he might have found a satisfactory solution to his dilemma, especially as any Israelite would certainly have been hesitant about visiting Jerusalem with no guarantee of safe conduct. In the time of David it had been solved by having two central sanctuaries for a time, neither of which had contained the Ark. And there were a number of genuine sites in Israel where YHWH had recorded His Name where this might have been arranged. But instead he determined to take matters into his own hands.
12.28-29 ‘Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set the one in Bethel, and the other he placed in Dan.’
Ignoring the prophets, and taking advice from his political advisers, Jeroboam set up two ‘calves of gold’, one in Bethel and the other in Dan, and called on Israel not to go up to Jerusalem but rather to worship at one of these two sanctuaries. ‘Calves’ was probably a derogatory description by the author of what were actually bulls, the description being based on the incident of Aaron and the molten calf. (Exodus 32.4). The idea of the bulls was probably that they be seen as bases on which the invisible YHWH would be visualised, thus replacing the Ark. Gods like Hadad, perched on the backs of bulls, were a common feature of local nature religions. The words cited are mainly taken from Exodus 32.4, indicating that that incident had suggested the idea to Jeroboam, but with ‘gods’ being in the plural because there were bull two bases, a plural which was no doubt also intended to be seen as a plural of intensity. Jeroboam, and the people, knew that there was only one YHWH, even though they were as it were, dividing Him into two on the two bases, a dangerous precedent.
Bethel and Dan had both been sanctuaries in the past, although the one in Dan very much had a reputation for unorthodoxy (Judges 18.30-31). It had clearly then ceased for a period, but had probably been later revived out of local enthusiasm. It was thus a convenient site for Jeroboam to seize on, both because of its ancient respectability in northern Israel, and in its readiness not to stick to the norm. Bethel was an even more ancient sanctuary (Genesis 12.8; 13.3-4; 28.19; 35.1-7), and was also a place where YHWH had recorded His Name. It catered for the south of Israel. But the probability is that the genuine priests of Bethel would not cooperate with Jeroboam, especially once the golden bull had been placed there. To them it would smack of Baalism (Baal was depicted in the form of a bull) and of setting up a graven image. That no doubt was why in the end he had to appoint his own priests. He may well have intended by his bulls to also lure the many Canaanites in his country to participate in the worship, thus uniting the country, even if it did produce a watered down Yahwism.
12.30 ‘And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one, even to Dan.’
The people began to flock to Dan, with its unorthodox and doubtful background, as their ‘central sanctuary’, something which ‘became a sin’ to them because it meant that they had turned away from orthodox Yahwism. This may well have been because there was already a regular annual pilgrimage to Dan which took place year by year around this time, which all now took advantage of, delighted to be freed from the old ties. Dan made no awkward demands on them. It must indeed be seen as probable that, with its syncretistic form of Yahwism, things went on in Dan that were very pleasing to the flesh, but not to YHWH. Dan had in fact been an alternative, but unorthodox, ‘central sanctuary’ in the days of the Judges (Judges 18.30-31). It thus enjoyed a distinction that Bethel did not have. And as suggested, it may well be that a well established procession and pilgrimage, which had long taken place yearly, brought about this situation (encouraged by Jeroboam because it took them as far from Jerusalem as possible). Excavations in Dan have in fact revealed there a high place and enclosure erected in the time of Jeroboam.
12.31 ‘And he made houses of high places, and made priests from among all the people, who were not of the sons of Levi.’
In Bethel and Dan Jeroboam also set up ‘temples’ to house the bulls (houses of high places), which also contained ‘high places’ where the people could worship, reminiscent of Baal worship. And, presumably because he could not persuade orthodox priests to serve in them, he set up his own priesthood of non-Levites because the Levitical priests would not cooperate. (What he should have done, of course, was find something in which they would cooperate. But Solomon had encouraged diverse ‘high places’ and they had become popular with the people - 3.2-3).
12.32 ‘And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast that is in Judah, and he went up to the altar; so did he in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves which he had made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.’
In his thoroughgoing attempt to turn the people away from Jerusalem worship Jeroboam replaced the three great feasts of YHWH with a feast established in the eighth month, to celebrate the end of the harvests. This was aping the Feast of Tabernacles, which was, however, in the seventh month. He was aware that the only way in which he could achieve success was by weaning the people completely away from orthodox Yahwism. The people of Israel lived so far from Jerusalem that they had in the main probably only attended one great feast a year (compare 1 Samuel 1.3), and this was thus the alternative that he now gave them which he hoped would take their minds off the regular feasts. And he supported this by himself ‘going up’ to the altar in Bethel and offering the same kind of sacrifices (presumably through his new-fangled priests) as would be offered during the feast of Tabernacles, no doubt at the same time arranging for many other freewill offerings which would result in great feasting and celebration. He may well by this have been intending to make Bethel more popular, and it is possible that he arranged the festival fairly quickly in order to celebrate the establishment of his kingship at ‘a feast of YHWH’. (If the gathering at Shechem had been for the seven year reading of the Law, that assembly would have been in the seventh month - Deuteronomy 31.9-11).
But Jeroboam could not have accomplished all this unless the hearts of the people had been with him. It was clearly only possible because Solomon’s own behaviour had encouraged a diluted Yahwism. Loyalty to pure Yahwism had long grown dim, except among those who heeded the prophets.
We may end the passage by summing up ‘the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat which will have such prominence throughout Kings.
He was thus basically rejecting the revealed religion of YHWH and shaping a pale copy of it to his own choosing. As a result he was misrepresenting the God of the Covenant of Sinai, and rejecting all His revealed requirements. He was turning the God of Sinai into a god like any other god, and removing the sense of awe and holiness that the Tabernacle had been designed to inculcate. Although he possibly did not realise it, it was an act of open rebellion against YHWH and His revelation of Himself.
We, too, can be in danger of the sin of Jeroboam, for whenever we fail to recognise our own responsibilities towards Jesus Christ as our Lord, and begin to shape our worship of God around things which are simply pleasing to ourselves, rather than around what encourages true worship, and begin to fit our ‘heavenly service’ into the shape of men’s earthly ideas instead of according to the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures, we become as guilty as Jeroboam. The sin of Jeroboam is responsible for much of the ‘worldliness’ which is in the church today.
Jeroboam, The False Altar, The Man Of God And The Old Prophet (12.33-13.34).
What follows may appear to be strange story with which to commence the reign of Jeroboam, but we must not take it out of context, and in context it is a cameo of the future of Israel. It is a story of contrasts and warnings against disobedience. On the one hand we have the downrightly disobedient Jeroboam who has basically turned away from true Yahwism, and received ample warning of what YHWH would do unless he repented. On the other, standing out in stark contrast, we have the fearless man of God, who came from Judah in total obedience, only for him also to turn out to be disobedient because he allowed himself to be persuaded by lies to go against YHWH’s word. He was a warning to the godly in Israel that they must stand firmly by the truth, and not be persuaded to waver by smooth tongues. And in the middle we have the wavering, and backslidden prophet who was unsure of both himself and the current situation. Unwilling to accept the man of God’s genuineness because of his readiness to compromise, he brought about his disobedience by subtlety, only to recognise too late that he was dealing with a true man of God, and that what he had brought was the truth. He was a warning to the compromisers in Israel, who were not happy with what Jeroboam was doing, but were not prepared to do anything about it, and as a consequence were in danger of also dragging down the true believers. It is thus a story of the unbelieving, the true believer and the doubter, a picture in miniature of the situation in Israel as it fought to cope with the new situation.
It is a remarkable story also in that it introduces a new period in which God will manifest Himself in a series of miracles, a series which will come to its head in Elijah and Elisha, as God encourages the faithful in the midst of apostasy. God was acting positively in the new situation as, humanly speaking, He fought to keep the believing in Israel faithful to Himself. It will be noted as we continue that most of what we know about Jeroboam revolves around, not his achievements, but his apostasy and his contact with men of God who pass judgment on him and seek to bring him to repentance. This was the story that the prophetic author wanted us to be aware of. How God dealt with the erring nation.
One of the problems that many find puzzling is as to why God allowed the faithful man of God to be deceived with the result that, having faithfully fulfilled his mission, he was struck down for disobedience. And we ask ourselves, ‘what got into the old prophet?’ But what happened to the man of God came as a stark and permanent warning to the believing in Israel to beware of itself being led into disobedience by false words. Like Samson who was similarly guilty of disobedience the man of God probably accomplished more in his death than he did in his life. And the behaviour of the false prophet is the all too familiar story of the path of compromise that often not only renders useless the ministry of those caught up in its ways, but can also undermine the faithful who are seeking to remain true to God. This is the story of Israel, and of the church.
We should recognise that while to us the man of God’s sin was not very heinous, it was not only an act of gross disobedience, but was also in Israel’s eyes a declaration that YHWH was at peace with Israel because the man of God accepted Israelite hospitality. The only thing that could annul that declaration was the death of the one who had made it. (Had the man of God still been alive he would have been the first to agree).
The first and last verses in the passage form an inclusio, with 12.33 defining the crowning sin that brought the wrath of God down on Jeroboam, and 13.33-34 indicating that in spite of that he did not turn from his sin, but continued in it so that his sin became sin to the whole house of Jeroboam resulting in it being cut off from the earth.
Within the inclusio are three subsections: the judgment of the man of God on the altar of Jeroboam (12.33-13.10), the dealings of the old prophet with the man of God (13.11-32), the final conclusion about the house of Jeroboam (13.33-34).
But first we must bring out the overall chiasmus which binds the passage as a unity. The passage can be analysed as follows:
Note that in ‘a’ Jeroboam goes to celebrate his self-appointed feast at Bethel, the false sanctuary that he has set up, and in the parallel ‘this thing’ became a sin to the house of Jeroboam, and resulted in it being cut off. In ‘b’ Jeroboam offered incense on the false altar, and in the parallel he did not return from his evil way but consecrated as priests whom he would. In ‘c’ the man of God cried against the altar and demonstrated its condemnation, prophesying its future defilement, and in the parallel the old prophet confirmed that the words of the man of God were true and that they would surely come about. In ‘d’ the old prophet learned what the man of God had said and done, and in the parallel, having sought him out, he buried him because he had accordingly led him astray. In ‘e’ the old prophet discovered the way that the man of God had taken, and in the parallel he went and found the man of God’s body cast in the way. In ‘f’ he called on his sons to saddle his ass, and in the parallel he did the same. In ‘g’ the old prophet found the man of God and invited him to eat with him, and in the parallel he declared that he was dead because he had done so. In ‘h’ the man of God declared that he must not eat or drink in Israel, and in the parallel he ate and drank, and died. In ‘i’ the old prophet declared a false prophecy to the man of God, and in the parallel he declared a true prophecy. Centrally in ‘j’ the man of God was disobedient to YHWH and ate and drank water in Israel.
Jeroboam Is Challenged By A Man Of God (12.33-13.10).
Jeroboam appears not only to have appointed his own priests, but also to have exalted himself by taking the position of king-priest, for he offered incense at the altar, thus making himself the centre of the cult, something for which in future days Uzziah would be struck with leprosy. But his enjoyment of his new position was somewhat tarnished by the arrival of a man of God from Judah at the very moment when he was offering incense, who, with all eyes upon him, denounced the altar at Bethel as a false altar, declared that it would one day be desecrated by the sacrificing on it of the very priests of the high places whom Jeroboam had appointed, and warned that as a sign that this would be so YHWH would that day tear the altar apart and spill out its ashes.
An infuriated Jeroboam then sought to have the interloper arrested, but to his horror, on stretching out it became withered, and it was only due to the compassionate intercession of the man of God that his hand was restored. Immediately thereafter the altar was duly torn apart and the ashes spilled out. YHWH was revealing His view of things in no uncertain terms. When Jeroboam then tried to persuade the man of God to partake of food with him, the man of God refused on the grounds that YHWH had forbidden him to either eat or drink until he had returned to Judah. This was a further sign of YHWH’s enmity towards Jeroboam because he had spurned the covenant of YHWH. He could no longer ‘eat before YHWH’ (Exodus 24.11).
That the man of God came from Judah is itself significant. We know, for example that the prophet Ahijah lived at Shiloh, and we will soon discover that there was an old prophet who lived at Bethel. Why then did YHWH not send them to denounce Jeroboam? We can only assume that thereby it was YHWH’s purpose to emphasise that while the countries were operating separately they were to see themselves as still united in YHWH. Judah and Israel were still to be united by the covenant, and Judah therefore had an interest in Israel’s religious purity. (We must remember that the tribes of Israel had been able to maintain such a unity even when they had been divided up into separate groups under different Judges in the book of Judges, for it was a religious unity rather than a political one).
We should note that by this exhibition of His power and anger YHWH was actually giving Jeroboam an opportunity to repent (13.33), but sadly the cry fell on deaf ears. Jeroboam had set himself on a path from which he would not turn aside.
Note that in ‘a’ Jeroboam went up to Bethel for a feast that he himself had devised, and in the parallel the man of God left Bethel using a new way, and not the previous way that he had used. In ‘b’ Jeroboam ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and in the parallel the man of God refused to partake of Jeroboam’s food and water. In ‘c’ the man of God cried out against Jeroboam’s altar declaring it to be unfit, and that it would never be restored, and in the parallel Jeroboam had been rendered unfit by a withered hand, and the man of God restored it. In ‘d’ the man of God declared that the altar would be torn open and the ashes spilled out, and in the parallel that is what happened. Centrally in ‘e’ Jeroboam sought to have the man of God arrested and finished up with a withered hand which like the withered altar was unfit for use.
12.33 ‘And he went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and went up to the altar, to burn incense.’
Note the prophetic author’s emphasis on the fact that Jeroboam went up to the altar of his own devising (‘the altar which he had made’) in the month which ‘he had devised of his own heart’, and ordained a strange ‘feast for the children of Israel’, with himself acting as king-priest by offering incense. In other words he was seeking to rid Israel of all that God had required at Sinai, and replacing it with devices and ideas of his own. He had basically rejected the revelation at Sinai in favour of his own innovations. It was the grossest of sins.
13.1 ‘And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of YHWH to Bethel, and Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense.’
But as he stood at the altar ready to burn incense a man of God from Judah strode into the sanctuary in response to ‘the word of YHWH’ (compare Isaiah 9.8; 55.11) and caught him in his act of sacrilege (compare 2 Kings 15.5 along with 2 Chronicles 26.19). It is probable that the man of God would have been distinctively dressed so that all knew that he was a prophet of YHWH.
13.2 ‘And he cried against the altar by the word of YHWH, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says YHWH, Behold, a son will be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and on you will he sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men’s bones will they burn on you.”
Before all the gathered people the man of God denounced the altar ‘by the word of YHWH’. ‘By the word of YHWH’ indicates that it was as a result of the word of YHWH being at work within him, in other words, he was under inspiration of the Spirit of God. He declared that a king named Josiah would arise in the house of David who would one day sacrifice on that very altar the priests of the high places who burned incense on it, and would burn dead men’s bones on it. (For the fulfilment of this see 2 Kings 23.20).
It will be noted that he did not attack Jeroboam directly, only by implication. Instead he directly attacked the altar. He could not therefore be accused of insulting the king. The prophesying of a name belonging to someone who would arise in the future was unusual, and can be compared with Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming of Coresh (Cyrus) in Isaiah 44.28-45.1. But the name Josiah means ‘YHWH has given.’ It was indicating that a future king would be ‘given by YHWH’ who would bring all this about. And if we compare this with 2 Samuel 12.25 we can see that the name may originally simply have been seen as declared by YHWH as a God-given name indicating His personal choice of that person without it necessarily being intended to be the person’s given name which was used of him (just as YHWH had given the name of Jedidiah to Solomon, a name which was not used of him but indicated that he was God’s chosen one). Thus the prophecy did not strictly require that a Josiah should be born under that name, only that one would be born whom God could call ‘Josiah’. In the event, however, as so often happens with God, it later turned out that the prophecy was fulfilled to the letter.
The importance of this is that we must not see this as simply a kind of ‘forecast ‘ that would then wonderfully happen so that we could say, ‘how wonderful’. It was a declaration of what God would give to His people in the future in His God-given chosen king. That God chose to combine the two and granted both adds to its wonder.
While some have suggested that the name slipped in later as a marginal note made by someone who knew who it was who had acted like this, and wanted to draw attention to it, there are no real grounds for denying its genuineness in context. After all if YHWH could not forecast the name of someone in the future He would not be the God of Scripture, and certainly not the God Who has already recorded the names of all His elect in the Lamb’s Book of Life from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13.8; 17.8).
13.3 ‘And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign which YHWH has spoken, Behold, the altar shall be torn apart, and the ashes that are on it will be poured out” ’
The man of God then gave a sign which would take place on ‘the same day’. He declared that that very day the altar would be torn apart and its ashes would pour out onto the ground. The ashes of the genuine altar were looked on as sacred and had normally to be disposed of in a ‘clean place’ (Leviticus 6.10, 11). Thus the idea here was that these ashes would be defiled, and revealed as ‘common’ and not sacred, by being tossed on the ground, an indication that YHWH had rejected the altar and its contents. The tearing apart of the altar would further indicate that it too was rejected by YHWH. The covenant that it was supposed to represent had been ‘torn up’.
13.4 ‘And it came about, when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, that Jeroboam put forth his hand from the altar, saying, “Lay hold on him.” And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back again to him.’
Hearing what the man of Good had declared, and rapidly recovering from his surprise, the king ‘put forth his hand from the altar’ and called on his men to arrest the man of God, because of the words that he had spoken against the altar. But then to his horror he realised that the hand that he had put forth had become withered and dried up so that it was useless (it was thus not just nervous paralysis). Moreover he discovered that he could not draw it back again. He realised that he had reached out his hand against the servant of YHWH and had been smitten. In those times a dried up ‘hand’ would be seen as excluding him from any future participation in the priesthood and the cult. He would be seen as disfigured (compare Leviticus 21.16-21). It would also, of course, mean that he was maimed for life.
13.5 ‘The altar also was torn apart, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of YHWH.
And then as all watched in horror the altar itself burst open, and its ashes poured out onto the ground, fulfilling the sign given by the man of God. The bursting open of the altar may have been caused by excessive heat within it, or even by an earth tremor, but the miracle was that it had happened just as the man of God had prophesied, and at the right time. It confirmed to all YHWH’s rejection of the altar.
13.6 ‘And the king answered and said unto the man of God, “Entreat now the favour of YHWH your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again.” And the man of God entreated YHWH, and the king’s hand was restored to him again, and became as it was before.’
Meanwhile the king was conscious of his own troubles. His hand was withered and useless. And recognising that this really must be a man of God who was before him, he called on him to have compassion on him and plead his case before YHWH. The man of God responded and entreated YHWH on his behalf, and his arm was restored to what it had been before
‘Entreat now the favour of YHWH.’ This literally means ‘soften the face of YHWH’. He was acknowledging his sin and recognising the need for propitiation.
13.7 ‘And the king said to the man of God, “Come home with me, and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.” ’
No doubt very shaken and relieved the king now called on the man of God to come home with him and refresh himself after which he would give him a reward. He was hoping that, as a result of the man of God eating with him he would be able to know that he was no longer seen as YHWH’s enemy, and that he was forgiven. The laws of hospitality were such that to eat with someone was to declare goodwill towards them and indicate no evil intentions against them. And this would equally apply in the case of an official representative. Thus he was seeking to curry the man of God’s favour, and the favour of YHWH Himself.
13.8-9 ‘And the man of God said to the king, “If you will give me half your house, I will not go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place, for so it was charged me by the word of YHWH, saying, You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, neither return by the way that you came.”
But the man of God rejected both his offer of food, and of reward. Indeed, he declared, if Jeroboam were to offer him half his house he would not accept his hospitality, or eat or drink with him. For YHWH had strictly charged him not to eat or drink, or to return in the same way in which he had come.
This last was a further indication of YHWH’s firm judgment on the house of Jeroboam, and on Israel, for ‘not returning by the same way’ indicated that this was not a friendly visit. There was to be no peace between them and YHWH. Someone avoided taking the same way back when they suspected possible reprisals. Thus this was a further act of rejection and an indication of open hostility between Israel and YHWH.
13.10 ‘So he went another way, and did not return not by the way that he came to Bethel.’
So the man of God left Bethel and took another way back to Judah, not returning by the way that he had come, thus openly confirming Jeroboam’s rejection by YHWH. Indeed the whole scene had been prophetically acted out for that purpose, as a final plea to Jeroboam to consider his ways (13.33).
The Old Prophet And The Man Of God (13.11-32).
Meanwhile dwelling in Bethel was an old prophet who had served YHWH for many years. The fact that he was not present at the celebrations taking place at the Sanctuary, but rather sent his sons, indicates that he was very old. He was no longer actively involved as a prophet.
But when he learned from his sons what the man of God from Judah had done, and the words that he had spoken, he was clearly concerned. He felt that it was his duty as a prophet of Israel to ensure that the man of Judah had been a true prophet (13.32). So he sought the man of God out and invited him home to eat bread with him. But as he had with Jeroboam the man of God refused because YHWH had forbidden him to partake of food and drink in Israel as a sign that He was at odds with Israel.
Unless we see the old prophet as being deliberately malicious through jealousy we can only assume that what happened next was a test that he was making so as to determine whether the man of God really was a true prophet, or was simply acting on behalf of the king of Judah in order to undermine Jeroboam’s authority. His reasoning was probably that if the man was a true man of God he would discern that he was lying to him. Thus he told the man of God a false story suggesting that YHWH had countermanded His previous command and was now willing for him to partake of food in Israel. When the man of God changed his mind and began to eat with him the old prophet no doubt felt himself satisfied that the man of God was not a true prophet after all.
But then, as of old, the word of YHWH came to him while they were eating, and to his horror he learned what he had really done. He had to acknowledge to himself that he had seemingly betrayed a true prophet of YHWH. But, however embarrassed he might have felt, because it was the word of YHWH for the man of God he could not hold it back, and he declared to the man of God that because he had disobeyed YHWH he would not die in peace (would not be laid in the tomb of his fathers) although no other detail was given. We are not told what the man of God’s reaction was.
The man of God then departed, and while he was on the rough trail back to Judah (in obedience to YHWH he had had to avoid the normal road), he came across a lion which attacked him and killed him, so fulfilling the prophecy of the old prophet. When the old prophet learned of this he was filled with dismay and arranged for the man of God’s body to be brought back to Bethel to be laid in his own tomb, and as a result confirmed to his sons the genuineness of the man of God’s prophecy. He now knew that he was a true man of God after all.
In our easygoing Christianity and our modern lack of the fear of God we necessarily question why God allowed this to happen to His true servant. But it is important to recognise the significance of the situation. This man of God was the first of many who would be called on to prophecy to an antagonistic Israel, and thus through what happened to him God was bringing a warning to all future prophets that once He had given His word, they must strictly obey His word and not turn aside from it for any reason. Nor must they listen to those who would seek to play it down. It indicated to all future prophets the seriousness of being a man of God. (We can in fact look back in the Scriptures and see similar situations. Consider for example the case when YHWH ‘attacked’ Moses on his way back to Egypt for having been disobedient and not circumcising his son (Exodus 4.24-26), or when Moses and Aaron were both punished severely for smiting the Rock and misrepresenting God (Numbers 20.12), or when the sons of Aaron were smitten for disobedience in the Sanctuary (Leviticus 10.1-2), or when Uzzah was struck down for touching the Ark (2 Samuel 6.7). All were examples of a similar gross disobedience by chosen servants of God).
Furthermore we should remember that by his folly the man of God had in effect countermanded his own message by eating and drinking in Israel, and had the matter ended there all Israel would have believed that the man of God’s message no longer applied. We must remember in considering this the vital role that hospitality played in ancient society. It was not just a casual thing. Once you had supplied hospitality, or received it, you had made a pledge of friendship which was seen as sacrosanct. It was a sign of guaranteed friendly relations. On the other hand to refrain from hospitality was a direct sign of enmity, and of evil intentions. Thus the man of God’s disobedience could have had catastrophic results on the faith of the true believers in Israel. The only way in which that could be avoided was by YHWH’s judgment falling on the man of God, thus indicating that in his act of enjoying hospitality he had not been YHWH’s representative.
Note that in ‘a’ the old prophet heard the words that the man of God had spoken and in the parallel he declares that he was a true man of God. In ‘b’ the old prophet determines the way that the man of God has taken, and in the parallel he finds his body cast in the way. In ‘c’ he calls for his ass to be saddled, and in the parallel does the same. In ‘d’ the old prophet calls on the man of God to eat bread with him, knowing that it had been forbidden by YHWH and in the parallel we learn of the consequence of the man of God’s disobedience. In ‘e’ the man of God says that he cannot eat bread with him and in the parallel he disobeys YHWH by eating bread with him. In ‘f’ the old prophet gives a lying prophecy, and in the parallel he gives a true prophecy. Centrally in ‘g’ we learn of the man of God’s gross disobedience.
13.11 ‘Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el, and one of his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Beth-el. The words which he had spoken to the king, them also they told to their father.’
The old prophet was seemingly very old and no longer active, for he refrained from going to the feast and sent ‘his sons’. It may even be that this was his way of avoiding partaking in something that he was not sure about for 13.20 indicates that he was a genuine prophet of YHWH. On the other hand the fact that he sent his ‘sons (they may have been younger members of his prophetic guild - i.e. ‘sons of the prophets’, rather than actual sons, but we cannot be sure), prevents us from being too dogmatic about it, and it may in fact be that he was not fully aware of all that was going on, or indeed that he was willing to compromise for the good of the nation. But he was certainly moved into action when he learned of what the man of God had done.
It would seem that as an elder statesmen among the prophets he felt that it was his responsibility to check out the man of God’s credentials. Was he a genuine man of God whose word should be listened to? Or was he one of Rehoboam’s magicians who had been sent to try to undermine Jeroboam’s position by the use of magic?
13.12 ‘And their father said to them, “What way did he go?” Now his sons had seen what way the man of God went, who came from Judah.’
So he asked his sons which way the man of God had gone. In that mountainous country there were not many routes that a man could take back to Judah, and as the departure of the man of God had no doubt been observed with keen interest by many after the exciting events, his sons knew which route he had taken. Having arrived on the normal road from Jerusalem he had seemingly taken one of the rougher trails back, which led through rougher country, so as to avoid going back on the same road that he had come in on.
13.13 ‘And he said to his sons, “Saddle for me the ass.” So they saddled the ass for him, and he rode on it.’
On learning which route he had taken, the old prophet called on his sons to saddle his ass so that he could pursue the man of God.
13.14 ‘And he went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak, and he said to him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?” And he said, “I am.” ’
The old prophet soon came across the man of God sitting under an oak tree. The man of God had had a strenuous and unnerving time and was probably seeking to refresh himself. It was not every day that he was called on to confront kings and arrange for miracles, and the road back was rough. He was probably gathering his resources. The old prophet then ascertained from him whether he really was the man of God who had come from Judah.
13.15 ‘Then he said to him, “Come home with me, and eat bread”’
Once he knew that he had found his man he invited him back to his home to eat bread with him. This may have been a test in order to ascertain whether his words had been genuine, or it may just be that he thought that the prohibition would not apply to eating in his home.
13.16 ‘And he said, “I may not return with you, nor go in with you, nor will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, for it was said to me by the word of YHWH, “You shall eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way in which you came.” ’
But the man of God soon put him straight, and pointed out that he could not return with him, nor could he eat and drink water ‘in this place’ because it had been forbidden to him by YHWH. He clearly saw this as a specific ‘word of YHWH’. ‘In this place’ appears to have meant Israel (Judah was only a few miles away from where they were).
13.18 ‘And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of YHWH, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’ ” He lied to him.’
The old prophet then informed the man of God that he too was a prophet of YHWH, something which the man of God had probably discerned from the way in which he was dressed. And he informed him that an angel had spoken to him ‘by the word of YHWH’ and had told him to bring the man of God back to his house so that he might eat food and drink water. ‘By the word of YHWH appears to be the equivalent of inspiration by the Spirit.
The mention of the angel was probably the old prophet’s way of avoiding putting his lie directly in the mouth of YHWH, and it should possibly have caused the man of God to stop and think. This was clearly a less direct message than he had himself received. However, as he knew that angels had spoken to men in the past he let it go.
The kindest way in which we can see these words of the old prophet is to consider them as a kind of test of the genuineness of the man of God, otherwise they are both inexcusable and incomprehensible. Indeed as the old prophet was seemingly himself a godly man (verse 20) it is the only reasonable explanation. It is true that there may have been other conflicting emotions such as jealousy on behalf of the prophets of Israel that a man from Judah should be fulfilling this role, but it is difficult to believe that for such a reason he would actually plot the man of God’s downfall. On the other hand if he was genuinely trying to discover whether this really was a genuine ‘man of God’ what he did was explicable, and even possibly justifiable. His reasoning was probably that if the man of God were truly a man of God he would discern his lie.
‘He lied to him.’ The bald statement without a conjunction brings out the horror and starkness of the thought.
13.19 ‘So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water.’
Unfortunately the man of God took his words as genuine and returned to his house to eat and drink with him. He should not, of course, have done so without Himself receiving a word from YHWH, but one problem with being an honest man was that he assumed that others, especially prophets of YHWH, were also honest men. He would probably not have considered the possibility that he was being tested out. After all had not YHWH’s miraculous working confirmed his genuineness? The old prophet meanwhile was probably congratulating himself on the success of his attempt to prove that the man was an impostor. Otherwise why would he have gone against a word that he had received from YHWH? Neither had considered the possibility of the depths of human sinfulness.
13.20-22 ‘And it came about, as they sat at the table, that the word of YHWH came to the prophet who brought him back, and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, “Thus says YHWH, Forasmuch as you have been disobedient to the mouth of YHWH, and have not kept the commandment which YHWH your God commanded you, but came back, and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, ‘Eat no bread, and drink no water,’ your body will not come to the sepulchre of your fathers.’ ” ’
But once they were participating in the meal the old prophet, to his horror, unexpectedly received the word of YHWH in the same way as he had done of old. And this word revealed to him that he had misjudged the man of God and had actually led him astray. He had caused him to disobey the express command of YHWH. He must have been appalled and ashamed at himself. But as it was the word of YHWH he knew that he had to communicate it and so he declared to the man of God that because he had been disobedient to the word of YHWH by coming back with him and eating and drinking with him he would not die of old age in peace and be buried in the family tomb. Rather he would suffer an untimely death. It was the same punishment as had been exacted on Moses and Aaron when they had disobeyed YHWH by striking the rock against the express commend of YHWH (Numbers 20.12). It left the date of death uncertain.
We have already mentioned above the seriousness of what the man of God had done. By accepting hospitality in Israel he had indicated as the representative of YHWH that YHWH was at peace with Israel. But this was to invalidate his own previous message. Thus it was necessary for him to be punished in such a way that all would see that in spite of his wrong behaviour, the word of YHWH against Israel stood sure, and that in eating and drinking he had not been acting as YHWH’s representative, but as a disobedient sinner.
13.23 ‘And it came about, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, that is, for the prophet whom he had brought back,’
The man of God appears to have taken what he had learned calmly enough, (after all many suffered untimely deaths), and once the meal was finished he went on his way on his own ass which had been saddled for him.
13.24 ‘And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him, and his body was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it. The lion also stood by the body.’
But as he took the rough mountain road through the hills he was met by a lion which was ‘by the way, which slew him, leaving his body lying in the road with the ass standing beside him. It is significant that YHWH spared the man of God’s body from being mauled and eaten. That would have been looked on as an ignominious double judgment (compare 2 Samuel 21.10).
It is often questioned why a lion should uncharacteristically not maul and eat his kill once he had made it. There are a number of possibilities. The first is that the lion was not in fact hungry, having recently eaten, and had only killed because it had felt itself trapped. That would explain why it neither scavenged the body nor attacked the ass, and why it was in no hurry to desert the spot. It was sated. Furthermore it is necessary to take God into account.
The second possibility is that the lion was aware of a kind of holy aura that surrounded the man of God and his ass. Animals are often responsive to the supernatural when men themselves are not so aware. It may therefore have been held at bay, as the lions would later be with Daniel (Daniel 6.22). The third possibility is that animals do not always act in character. Men have often been taken by surprise by the unexpected behaviour of animals. They do not always act ‘true to form’.
13.25 ‘And, behold, men passed by, and saw the body cast in the way, and the lion standing by the body, and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt.’
But certainly the sight was unusual enough to cause comment, and when men passed by and saw the dead body, and the live ass and lion, they immediately reported what they had seen in the next city that they came to, which was the city where the prophet dwelt.
The indirect ‘the city where the old prophet dwelt’ rather than saying ‘Bethel’ is intended to draw attention to the fact they were unconscious instruments of YHWH. He had deliberately ensured that the message reached the old prophet by bringing them to his city.
13.26 ‘And when the prophet who brought him back from the way heard of it, he said, “It is the man of God, who was disobedient to the mouth of YHWH, therefore YHWH has delivered him to the lion, which has torn him, and slain him, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke to him.’
The news reached the ears of the old prophet who ‘had brought him back from the way’, and it probably included a description of the man and his clothing. This last comment about being ‘brought back from the way’ probably has a double significance. He had not only brought him back from the road that he had taken, but had also stopped him from walking in the way of YHWH. ‘Walking in YHWH’s way’ is a popular description of the spiritual life in Kings (e.g. 2.4; 3.14; 9.4). And when the old prophet learned of the dead man he recognised that it must be the man of God who, because of his disobedience to YHWH’s word, had been slain by a lion at YHWH’s behest.
13.27 ‘And he spoke to his sons, saying, “Saddle me the ass.” And they saddled it.’
So once again he called for his ass and set off on the route that the man of God had taken.
13.28 ‘And he went and found his body cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the body. The lion had not eaten the body, nor torn the ass.’
The lion was clearly quiescent which suggests that it had previously gorged itself and was feeling listless and uninterested in food, for it had not only not eaten the body of the dead man of God, or his ass, but also allowed the old prophet to remove them both from the scene. Lions are very lazy creatures and regularly lie about for hours when they are full, occasionally rising to stretch themselves in the hot sun. It had clearly decided that this mountain track was a suitable resting place. But to people who had never taken the time to study the habits of lions this seemed like a miracle, for all knew what lions usually did when they had made a kill.
13.29 ‘And the prophet took up the body of the man of God, and laid it on the ass, and brought it back, and he came to the city of the old prophet, to mourn, and to bury him.’
The prophet then took up the body of the man of God and laid it over his ass, and then led the ass back to his own city, where he could mourn his death and bury him respectably.
13.30 ‘And he laid his body in his own grave, and they mourned over him, saying, “Alas, my brother!” ’
Laying the body in his own family grave and they all mourned him, calling him ‘brother’. It was an acknowledgement that they recognised him as also being a genuine man of God.
13.31 ‘And it came about, after he had buried him, that he spoke to his sons, saying, “When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre in which the man of God is buried. Lay my bones beside his bones.” ’
The old prophet, no doubt filled with remorse, then spoke to his sons after he had buried him and called on them to ensure that when he himself was dead they would bury him in the same tomb in which the man of God was buried, laying his bones by the bones of the dead man of God. It was a declaration of solidarity with the man and his message. We should not overlook the bravery of the old prophet in thus openly declaring himself as in favour with the man of God and his message. It would not make him popular with Jeroboam. But it would indicate clearly whose side he was on.
13.32 “For the saying which he cried by the word of YHWH against the altar in Beth-el, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, will surely come about.”.
And he confirmed that now he knew that the man of God was a genuine prophet of YHWH and that his word spoken against the altar would surely come about. The death of the man of God had underlined his message even more than what had happened previously, and had brought home its genuineness. Indeed that man of God continues to preach to us today, for that is why you are reading these lines. Through his death he bore a message which will speak to men of the need for obedience to God while mankind goes on existing. His death had not been in vain.
The phrase ‘the cities of Samaria’ is presumably an updating so as to identify the area in mind by using a geographical term recognisable to the author’s readers. The actual identifying phrase used by the old prophet may well by that time have been considered to be geographically obscure (we do not, of course, know what it was). ‘Samaria’ as applied to the whole of Israel arose much later. We should note, on the other hand, that the name Samaria was not a totally new name, for it was known in the area before the city of Samaria was built, presumably signifying ‘belonging to, or connected with, the family of Shemer’, a powerful family in the area (16.24). Its use here, however, appears to be synonymous with ‘Israel’, but we do not know by what name the area that would be called ‘Israel’ and ‘Samaria’ was previously known. Nor possibly did the prophetic author’s readers.
A Summary Emphasising Jeroboam’s Failure To Repent And Its Consequences (13.33-34).
Having told the full story of Jeroboam’s failure to obey YHWH, and the prophetic witness that had cast condemnation on it in no uncertain way, Jeroboam’s behaviour is now summed up. In spite of all that had happened, and all that YHWH had done to convince him otherwise, he continued to make common people into priests of the high places, doing it simply on the basis of their willingness to act. He was hardened and unrepentant.
The fact that he appointed them ‘on the basis of their willingness to act’ may suggest that it was not seen as a popular job, which may further suggest a certain level of resentment at Jeroboam’s ‘reforms’, and an uneasiness with what he had done. They were prepared to enjoy it, but they did not want to be directly involved in it. They still recognised that YHWH had of old set apart the house of Aaron to be priests.
But what Jeroboam had done was so heinous that it resulted in his house continually failing to live up to the covenant that YHWH had made with him (failing to walk in His ways and obey His commandments), with the result that YHWH purposed to cut it off and destroy it from off the face of the earth.
13.33 ‘After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again from among all the people priests of the high places, whoever would, he consecrated him, that there might be priests of the high places.’
YHWH’s initial purpose in sending the man of God had been to lead Jeroboam to repentance. But his heart was so hardened that he did not return from his evil ways. He refused to repent. And he demonstrated this by continuing to appoint as priests of the high places anyone who was willing. On their expressing willingness he consecrated them as priest of the high places, in order that there might be sufficient priests.
13.34 ‘And this thing became sin (a failure to hit the mark, to live up to the covenant) to the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.’
What he had introduced and carried through became a ‘sin, a missing of the mark’ to the house of Jeroboam. He had not only gone astray, but had led his family astray as well. And this would finally result in his house being ‘cut off’ and destroyed from the face of the earth (see 15.29). This was in total contrast to the permanent dynasty that YHWH had promised to him if he would walk in His ways (11.38).
It will be noted in all this that, apart from what can be picked up in passing, all we have learned about the secular history of Jeroboam is that he fortified Shechem and Penuel (12.25). The remainder of the narrative has been concerned with Jeroboam’s rejection of YHWH by means of his religious innovations, and the response of YHWH as He replied to him through the activities of His prophets.
The other thing about his secular history that we will learn is that there was continual on and off warfare with Judah for the whole of his reign and beyond (14.30), something which could only weaken both countries. It was not a happy state of affairs. They were back to the worst days of Israel/Judah described in 2 Samuel 3.1, except that Judah was not getting stronger and stronger either. They were both getting weaker, and thus vulnerable to enemies round about, and all because their two kings had refused to walk in YHWH’s ways and obey Him, and the people had done nothing about it.
Apart from these two verses if we want any further information about Jeroboam’s long reign we must consult ‘the book of the words of the days of the kings of Israel’ (1 Kings 14.19). But unfortunately for historians we do not have it.
Jeroboam’s Wife Approaches Ahijah The Prophet Concerning The Sickness of Their Son (14.1-18).
The life story of Jeroboam concludes with a quite remarkable story. It would appear that there was one member of the house of Jeroboam who was still seeking to be faithful to YHWH, and that was Abijah, the son of Jeroboam. And because YHWH intended to bring shame and disgrace on the whole house of Jeroboam He chose to save Abijah from this disgrace by bringing him to a premature, but honourable, death, followed by full mourning and a respectable burial. Like the man of God in the previous story it is the true believer who comes to premature death, within God’s purposes.
It is true that in neither case is there a hint of resurrection. Such a doctrine was unknown in Israel at that time. But resurrection is the only thing that makes ultimate sense in both these cases (and Elijah will also shortly be snatched away into ‘heaven’ - 2 kings 2.1, 11). And certainly David seems to have had a sense the death was not the end for the true believer (Psalm 16.11; 17.15; 23.6). What this story does therefore clearly teach is that it is better to die in a true relationship with God, than to live on without it.
In the story Jeroboam sends his wife in disguise to discover from Ahijah the prophet what will happen to his ailing son (of unknown age). But forewarned by YHWH Ahijah takes the opportunity to denounce Jeroboam for his failure to live by the covenant that YHWH had made with him and declares that the child, the only member of the house of Jeroboam who is pleasing to YHWH, will die. It should be noted that this demonstrates that in spite of his apostasy, Jeroboam recognised that truth could only be found with the true prophets of YHWH. He had also demonstrated that when he had called on the man of God to heal him. In other words in his heart he really knew where the truth lay, but he saw it as too costly to accept.
Note that in ‘a’ Jeroboam sends his wife incognito to the prophet Ahijah in order to discover what will happen to his ailing son, and in the parallel the child was buried, and mourned by Israel as Ahijah had said. In ‘b’ Jeroboam’s wife arose and went to Shiloh, and in the parallel she arose and went to Tirzah. In ‘c’ YHWH tells Ahijah what he must say to Jeroboam’s wife, and in the parallel we learn what he was told to say. In ‘d’ Ahijah tells her that he has heavy tidings for the house of Jeroboam, and in the parallel we learn what those heavy tidings were. Centrally in ‘e’ Jeroboam is informed why he has been rejected.
14.1 ‘At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick.’
Abijah the son of Jeroboam had become very ill. We know neither the nature of the sickness nor the age of Jeroboam’s son, although the assumption from verse 13 must be that he had reached the age of accountability. We can recognise, however, that the sickness was a very serious one, leaving open the possibility of his death. That was why Jeroboam was so concerned.
14.2 ‘And Jeroboam said to his wife, “Arise, I pray you, and disguise yourself, that you be not known to be the wife of Jeroboam, and get yourself to Shiloh. Look, there is Ahijah the prophet, who spoke concerning me that I should be king over this people”
So Jeroboam, aware that he was not looked on by the true prophets of YHWH as acceptable, but equally aware that they alone had the true ability to look behind events, urged his wife to go in disguise to Ahijah the prophet in Shiloh. Ahijah was the prophet who had initially declared that he would become king over Israel (11.37-38), which gave him a certain status in Jeroboam’s eyes.
14.3 “And take with you ten loaves, and cakes, and a cruse of honey, and go to him. He will tell you what will become of the child.”
He also told his wife to take with her a good supply of provisions for the prophet. This was not a bribe, but normal practise. The size of the gift was limited lest Ahijah guess who it was from. We should note in this regard that prophets were regularly consulted on health matters, and other matters of local concern, and it was seemingly considered right to take them food. Compare Samuel in 1 Samuel 9.6-7. Worldly people, however, probably thought that the more generous the gift that they sent, the more generous would be the reply, for that was how they behaved in their own lives. And his hope was that the prophet would give him good news about his young son, and might even heal him.
14.4 ‘And Jeroboam’s wife did so, and arose, and went to Shiloh, and came to the house of Ahijah. Now Ahijah could not see, for his eyes were set by reason of his age.’
Jeroboam’s wife obediently did what she was told, and rose up and went to Shiloh, to the house of Ahijah the prophet. Ahijah was blind through old age and could not see clearly. Shiloh had by this time been partly restored after its mauling by the Philistines.
14.5 ‘And YHWH said to Ahijah, “See, the wife of Jeroboam comes to enquire of you concerning her son, for he is sick. Thus and thus shall you say to her, for it will be, when she comes in, that she will pretend that she is another woman.” ’
But while Ahijah was at least partially blind physically, he was not spiritually blind, and YHWH still spoke to him. YHWH forewarned him who was coming to see him, and the reason for her visit, and that she would be in disguise. And He also told Ahijah what he was to say to her from YHWH, once she had arrived.
14.6 ‘And it was so, when Ahijah heard the sound of her feet, as she came in at the door, that he said, “Come in, you wife of Jeroboam. Why do you pretend that you are another? For I am sent to you with heavy tidings”
When the woman entered, no doubt hoping that her disguise would not be penetrated by the blind old prophet, she must have been greatly disconcerted when he welcomed her as the wife of Jeroboam, and asked her why she was pretending to be someone else. (Although he hardly needed to be a prophet to know in fact the reason for the subterfuge). The point behind his question was that she should have known that nothing was hidden from YHWH, the all-seeing. He then informed her that he had heavy tidings for her.
14.7-9 “Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, ‘Forasmuch as I exalted you from among the people, and made you prince over my people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it to you, and yet you have not been as my servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do only what was right in my eyes, but have done evil above all who were before you, and have gone and made for yourself other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and have cast me behind your back,”
The heavy tidings concerned the covenant that YHWH had made with Jeroboam through Ahijah. As the God of Israel YHWH had exalted Jeroboam over Israel, and had made him prince (nagid, YHWH’s war-leader) over them, and had torn a large proportion of David’s kingdom from his house and had given it to Jeroboam. But Jeroboam had not responded in kind. He had not behaved like David, who had kept His commandments and followed Him with all his heart, doing only what was right in His eyes, but had rather done evil more than all who had come before him. He had made for himself ‘other gods’ and molten images in order to provoke YHWH to anger, and as a result he had cast YHWH behind his back. The molten images were, of course, the golden calves. The ‘other gods’ were the result of the syncretism that his actions had brought into Israel’s worship with the result that they were worshipping Baal and Asherah as well, at the same time as they worshipped YHWH, and even probably sometimes worshipped Baal under the name of YHWH. (It was easy to mix up YHWH with Baal nominally, because Baal meant ‘lord’ and YHWH could be addressed as ‘baali’ - ‘my Lord’ - Hosea 3.16-17). But the underlying attributes of the god that they were worshipping were those of Baal, with plenty of ritual sex and no morals. They had cast YHWH and His pure covenant behind their backs.
‘Have done evil above all who were before you.’ There was a long history in Israel of leaders who had failed YHWH’s people, commencing with Aaron who had made the golden calf, but Jeroboam had out-sinned them all. It should be noted that there is nothing particularly ‘Deuteronomic’ about these words. The ideas are simply generally Mosaic.
‘And have cast me behind your back.’ Compare Ezekiel 23.35. It indicates total rejection (compare Jesus’ words to Peter, “get you behind me Satan” - Matthew 16.23).
14.10 “Therefore, behold, I will bring evil on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every man-child, him who is shut up and him who is left at large in Israel, and will utterly sweep away the house of Jeroboam, as a man sweeps away dung, until it is all gone.”
As a result YHWH intended to bring evil on the house of Jeroboam. He would cut off from the house of Jeroboam every male child (literally ‘he who relieves himself against the wall’ which every male who was able to stand did), and this would be so whether they were kept under close supervision or were allowed to go about at large. In other words it would apply to male children of all ages. And He would sweep away the house of Jeroboam like a roadsweeper sweeps away a pile of animal dung, until it is all gone, or like a family would sweep the dung out of the part of their houses shared with domestic animals. At that time domestic animals were kept in people’s houses, and together with the asses that bore the wealthy through the streets, they ensured that the streets and lower parts of the houses of cities were regularly covered with animal dung. It was a fitting picture of what the house of Jeroboam had become like.
14.11 “Him who dies of Jeroboam in the city will the dogs eat, and him who dies in the field will the birds of the heavens eat. For YHWH has spoken it.”
Furthermore the deaths of all his household would be violent. Thus if they died in the city their bodies would be left for the scavenger dogs which infested every city to eat. And if they died in the open countryside they would be left to the scavenging birds, for there would be no one to bury them. The picture was a dismal one, but it was the consequence of disobedience, and failing to walk in YHWH’s ways. It would in fact happen almost literally, for when Baasha assassinated Jeroboam’s son he then proceeded to murder all the other members of the royal family (15.29).
14.12-13 “Arise you therefore, get you to your house, and when your feet enter the city, the child will die, and all Israel will mourn for him, and bury him, for he only of Jeroboam will come to the grave, because in him there is found some good thing towards YHWH, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam.”
Furthermore he had no good news for them even as regards their ailing son. For as soon as she returned home her son would die. But he pointed out that he would be the fortunate one, for he alone of Jeroboam’s sons would be properly mourned and buried. He alone would come to a respectable grave. And that was because there was that in him, alone of all the house of Jeroboam, which pleased YHWH. Paradoxically then YHWH was in fact looking after his best interests in letting him die. He was doing it because of His love for him. While there was at this stage no inkling of the resurrection, David had made declarations in the Psalms that suggested some kind of continuing existence (Psalm 16.11; 17.15; 24.6), and that alone really makes sense of this promise. True believers knew that they were in the hand of God.
14.14 “Moreover YHWH will raise him up a king over Israel, who will cut off the house of Jeroboam that day. But what? Even now.”
Furthermore it was YHWH’s intention to raise up a king over Israel who would cut off the house of Jeroboam ‘in that day’. In other words, when in the course of events Jeroboam’s house was smitten by a claimant to the throne, they were to recognise that it was of YHWH. For in the end all history is in His hands.
‘But what? Even now.’ The simplest explanation of these abrupt words is that they signify ‘But what shall we say? He has done it even now’. In other words YHWH would not only do it in some unknown future, but was even at this time bringing it about.
14.15 “For YHWH will smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and he will root up Israel out of this good land which he gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking YHWH to anger.”
What was more, in coming days YHWH would smite Israel in the same way as a reed bends before the wind in the water, and would root them out of their good land and scatter them Beyond The River (in Mesopotamia). And He would do this because they had made their Asherah-images, thus provoking YHWH to anger. To be scattered ‘beyond the River’ was to be cast out of the land which YHWH had given to His people (Exodus 23.31; Deuteronomy 11.24; Joshua 1.4; etc.). This was the fate which YHWH had constantly warned them about (Leviticus 18.28; 20.22; 26.33, 38-39; Deuteronomy 28.64-65; 29.27). It was simply taking God at His word.
The Asherah may have been images of the fertility goddess, or wooden poles which represented her, which were found in every syncretistic high place. Either way the fact that they were found in the sanctuaries of Israel demonstrated how far worship of the Canaanite gods and goddesses had been introduced (see Exodus 34.13; Deuteronomy 7.5; 12.3 where such things were to be destroyed).
The idea of being scattered in Mesopotamia also presented the horrifying picture of being taken so far away from their land that they would never return. Local prisoners of war, or those taken captives as slaves by neighbouring countries, always had a hope of restoration in one way or another, especially as it was part of YHWH’s future inheritance, but at this stage of history being taken Beyond the River meant going somewhere where there was no hope of release at the hands of an unknown people. They would be away from God’s inheritance. It was seen as the worst fate imaginable. The point behind this was that because they themselves had involved themselves in the Canaanite religion, they would be treated like the Canaanites should have been and driven from the land into a place from which they would not return. No particular foe was necessarily in mind, but no doubt news of the powerful states to the north had reached Israel through traders, and it would bring back to mind the examples from their own history when such a thing had happened. They knew from their history stories of the kings who had invaded from Beyond the River in the time of Abraham, kings who had taken captive slaves with them, and they further knew of the invasion by Cushan-rishathaim in Judges 3.8-11 which had troubled their land for so long. They therefore had something to go on.
14.16 “And he will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he has sinned, and with which he has made Israel to sin.”
And this would happen because YHWH had ‘given up Israel’. And it would be because of the sins of Jeroboam in which both he and Israel had partaken. There was to be no doubt of its root cause.
14.17 ‘And Jeroboam’s wife arose, and departed, and came to Tirzah, and as she came to the threshold of the house, the child died.’
No doubt shaken by what she had been told Jeroboam’s wife arose and returned home to Tirzah, mentioned here for the first time, but which had clearly become Jeroboam’s place of residence. It would later be Baasha’s capital city (15.33). And as soon as she arrived there and was approaching her house the child died. It was a seal on the doom of the house of Jeroboam.
14.18 ‘And all Israel buried him, and mourned for him, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke by his servant Ahijah the prophet.’
But this son at least died in honour. All Israel buried him and mourned him, just as YHWH had said through His prophet Ahijah. He would be the last member of the house of Jeroboam to be respectfully honoured and mourned. It is noteworthy that we are not now told where Jeroboam was buried.
Summary of The Acts Of Jeroboam, And Of His Reign And Death (14.19-20).
We have here the usual stereotyped summary which, with variations, will sum up of the reign of each king, as it did the reign of Solomon (11.41-43). Jeroboam’s reign could be summed up in the fact that ‘he warred and reigned’. But the sad thing was that his ‘warring’ was mainly against his brothers in Judah (14.30; compare 15.6). If only he had sought YHWH and the way of peace all this might have been avoided. As it was it would bring Israel to its knees.
14.19 ‘And the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, how he warred, and how he reigned, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.’
Jeroboam’s reign was taken up with ‘warring and reigning’, typical of a petty king of the day. The warring would appear to have been mainly against Israel, a situation which continued both throughout the reign of Rehoboam (14.30; 15.6), and that of Abiyah and Asa. The only hope of peace between them had ceased with Jeroboam’s apostasy. There was now no covenant tie which might have united them, and YHWH was for the present at odds with Israel. Thus YHWH had no more interest in Jeroboam. He had written him off. The recording of the details of his life was left in the hands of secular historians, in a history that is unknown to us but was clearly known to the author.
14.20 ‘And the days which Jeroboam reigned were two and twenty years, and he slept with his fathers, and Nadab his son reigned instead of him.’
His reign lasted twenty two years, after which he died and ‘slept with his fathers’. No information is given about his burial, something normally mentioned. It may indicate that he was seen as in disgrace (compare the emphasis on his ‘good’ son’s burial in 14.18). And he was followed by his son Nadab whose reign would soon come abruptly to an end.
Nadab was probably an abbreviation for Nabadiah, meaning ‘YHWH has freely given’. It appeared in one of the Lachish letters.
At the commencement of his reign Jeroboam had been presented with a huge opportunity. God had been willing to make with him a covenant similar to His covenant with David. Had he walked rightly with the Lord his future, and that of Israel, would have been bright. But instead he replaced God in his life with a religion of his own inventing. He ignored the Scriptures. That is why both he and his kingdom were lost.
The Reign Of Rehoboam of Judah c. 930-913 BC (14.21-31).
The sad thing about Rehoboam’s reign would be its extreme bankruptcy. He reigned over a country which went to the excess in religious apostasy and sin, he saw all his treasures which had been built up by David and Solomon stripped away, and he spent much of his time fighting with Jeroboam and thus weakening Judah. And he did it while ruling in the city which YHWH had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to put His Name there, chosen because it had been the city chosen by His servant David. But there is one thing indicated in his favour. While the country appear to have gone wild over false religion Rehoboam himself is not said to have been implicated and indeed is said to have worshipped regularly in the Temple. (The Chronicler is not quit so lacking in criticism, but even he does not condemn Rehoboam wholeheartedly).
The one thing that appears to have saved Rehoboam’s reign from being as catastrophic as Jeroboam’s was the true worship maintained in the Temple, which would partly explain the comment about him reigning in the city where YHWH had set His Name. It would appear from this that initially the future of Yahwism in Judah was being secured by the true worship of the Temple, the place where YHWH had set His Name, and in both Judah and Israel by the activities of the prophets, who certainly in Israel must have arranged sanctuaries at which those who were faithful to YHWH could truly worship. Problems would therefore begin to arise in Judah when the Temple itself went astray. But that would not be for some time.
From this point on each reign will begin with an opening formula similar in general to that which introduces Rehoboam’s reign, and the order in which kings are dealt with from now on will be based on whether they commence reigning during the reign of their counterpart in the other country who has already been introduced. Thus Rehoboam’s son Abiyam will follow Rehoboam, because Jeroboam was still reigning in Israel when he began to reign, and Abiyam’s son (Rehoboam’s grandson), Asa will then follow, for the same reason. Jeroboam will then die during Asa’s reign and so Jeroboam’s son will be dealt with next because he came to the throne while Asa was reigning, followed by Baasha, Zimri, Omri and Ahab, all kings of Israel, because all began reigning during the reign of Asa. Asa then died during the reign of Ahab so that Jehoshaphat of Judah will be dealt with after Ahab, because he began reigning during the reign of Ahab. And so it will go on. The result is that we have a continual, if imperfect, co-relation between what is happening in the two countries around the same time.
Note that in ‘a’ we have details of Rehoboam and his mother, and in the parallel we have the same. In ‘b’ we are informed about the acts of Judah and their sins, and in the parallel we have reference to the acts of Rehoboam, and especially his act in warring with Israel. In ‘c’ Judah went to excess in idolatry and false worship outside Jerusalem while in Jerusalem the king regularly visited the house of YHWH. In ‘d’ the land was defiled with adulterated behaviour, and in the parallel the king’s own ceremonial equipment was adulterated. Centrally in ‘e’ we have the fact that Jerusalem and the Temple were emptied of their treasures by Shishak.
14.21 ‘And Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which YHWH had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there, and his mother’s name was Naamah the Ammonitess.
After his bad start Rehoboam continued his rule over Judah. He was forty one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for seventeen years in Jerusalem, ‘the city which YHWH had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to put His Name there’. From this point on the reference for other kings of Judah will be shortened to ‘in Jerusalem’ but it is probable that we are intended each time to add these words on in our mind. The emphasis is basically on the fact that they are ruling in the city of David, the chosen of YHWH, for the reason why YHWH ‘chose’ Jerusalem was because of David’s interest in it. Jerusalem was blessed for David’s sake. We must never allow Jerusalem to replace David in our thinking. It was chosen because it was David’s city, and it was because David introduced the Ark into it that His Name was there (2 Samuel 6.2). Rehoboam was therefore to be seen as ruling in it as the new David.
‘And his mother’s name was Naamah the Ammonitess.’ With rare exceptions the introductory formulae for the kings of Judah regularly refer to the name of the king’s mother, thus confirming that the king’s blood line was genuine. It emphasised that he was born of a known wife of the previous Davidic king. Naamah may well have been one of the wives who led Solomon astray. She was no doubt a treaty wife. Rehoboam was thus half Ammonite.
Others see the mention of the mother’s name as signifying that she had special status and authority at court as ‘the queen mother’.
‘The city which YHWH had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there.’ The emphasis here is first on the fact that Jerusalem now housed the Central Sanctuary, which was where His Name was set because it contained the Ark of the Covenant, although it should be noted that it is the city that is being emphasised, not the Temple. The statement is based on Deuteronomy 12.5 which referred to wherever YHWH set up the Central Sanctuary, initially at Shechem and Shiloh. But there was no mention of a city there. The emphasis was simply on ‘the place’ where the Sanctuary was set up. So the idea here is that, because he was the new David, Rehoboam reigned in the city which had been chosen by YHWH with a view to pleasing His servant David, and where YHWH now dwelt with the king as His regent. Compare 11.13 which is the first indication in Kings that Jerusalem had been chosen, and there the idea is closely connected with YHWH’s covenant with David. The emphasis is thus not on the Temple, but on the YHWH/David partnership.
14.22 ‘And Judah did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they committed, above all that their fathers had done.’
Regularly in Kings the king’s reign is introduced with the words ‘he did evil (good) in the sight of YHWH’, thus we must see a deliberate distinction here between Rehoboam and Judah. It was Judah as a whole, but not Rehoboam, who are seen as doing evil in the sight of YHWH. He lost control over the country’s religious behaviour, but at least he retained his own loyalty to YHWH (verse 28), at least superficially. It was the one bright spot in his reign. The Chronicler, however, states that ‘he did evil because he did not prepare his heart to seek YHWH’ (2 Chronicles 12.14). While at the beginning of his reign he warmed towards YHWH, when the priests and Levites who were in Israel made their way to Jerusalem, his love again began to grow cold. It was revived again for a short while as a result of the invasion by Shishak, but then it again grew nominal so that he no longer prepared his heart to seek YHWH. But it is never suggested, even by the Chronicler, that he worshipped at the high places (see 2 Chronicles 11.13-12.14).
On the other hand the country as a whole apostasised. Solomon’s behaviour (not Rehoboam’s) was coming home to roost. So Judah did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and they provoked Him to jealousy with their sins and idolatry to a far greater extent than their fathers. From now on Yahwism would struggle to maintain its purity in a land which had succumbed to syncretism with Canaanite religion. This did not mean that they had ceased to worship in YHWH’s name. It meant that they were using a combination of Yahwism and Baalism to the detriment of Yahwism. They hoped to retain YHWH’s favour while at the same time enjoying what Baalism offered, a religion free of moral demands and offering sexual licence. We can see now why YHWH had wanted the Canaanites either to be driven out, or to be slaughtered. Judah was now experiencing the consequences of compromise.
14.23 ‘For they also built for themselves high places, and pillars, and Asherim, on every high hill, and under every green tree,’
We are given full details of how far they went. They filled the land with adulterated sanctuaries, which included all the Canaanite paraphernalia. The ‘high places’ were raised altars (Leviticus 26.30; Numbers 33.50), which were forbidden in Israel (Exodus 20.26). The ‘pillars’ represented male gods (Deuteronomy 12.3), probably in this case usually Baal, which is why they were frowned on. (Pillars erected to the glory of YHWH were not frowned on - Genesis 28.18; 31.45; Exodus 24.4). The Asherim were the images or poles which represented the fertility goddess. And these were set up in places seen as sacred, on high hills and under green trees (compare Deuteronomy 12.2). Religion abounded but it was no longer pleasing to YHWH. The essentials of the covenant had been stripped way, and the true sanctuaries were being sidelined. Every man did what was right in his own eyes and YHWH was diminished.
14.24 ‘And there were also sodomites in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which YHWH drove out before the children of Israel.’
Indeed the situation had deteriorated even further, for religious prostitutes of both sexes were introduced. It was all part of the fertility rites. It was the popular method of obtaining good harvests without having to resort to good living. Thus they entered into ‘all the abominations’ of the Canaanites, the abominations because of which YHWH had insisted on the Canaanites being driven out of the land. And Rehoboam seemingly let it happen without making any effort to interfere. Perhaps his confidence had gone as a result of the fiasco with Israel, so that he no longer dared to try to lay down the Law, preferring rather to enjoy himself in Jerusalem.
14.25-26 ‘And it came about in the fifth year of king Rehoboam, that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and he took away the treasures of the house of YHWH, and the treasures of the king’s house. He even took away all, and he took away all the shields of gold which Solomon had made.’
In view of what is written above the invasion by Shishak of Egypt in 925 BC was clearly intended to be seen as God’s judgment coming on the land of Judah. It was also revealing the folly of Solomon for putting such effort into amassing gold. His efforts would have been far better spent in training up his son to walk rightly in the sight of YHWH. Solomon cannot escape blame for what Rehoboam had become. So it was both a judgment and a retribution on Solomon and his son.
Shishak must have chuckled with delight when he saw his protégé Jeroboam made king of Israel, and then the two countries battling with each other. He had bided his time, waiting for them to weaken each other, and now he was ready to strike. He came with massive forces and his aim was twofold, firstly to secure the trade routes for Egypt, and secondly in order to obtain booty. He would die a year later.
Information about his invasion is found in the temple of Amun in Thebes. There he listed the towns from which he extracted tribute in Judah and Israel, and it was a long list. He first sacked Gezer on the border, and then moved into Judah towards Jerusalem city by city until, when he had reached Gibeon, Rehoboam sued for peace and paid him a huge ransom in the terms described above. The treasures that Solomon had built up had only been safe while the country was strong enough to hold on to them, and due to Rehoboam’s folly it was no longer strong enough to resist a revived Egypt. Shishak also invaded deeply into the Negev in the South, possibly as far as Ezion-Geber, hitting at the trade routes there, and once Jerusalem had yielded, he advanced from Gibeon into Israel and received tribute from many Israelite cities. We do not know in fact whether Jeroboam ceded the tribute peacefully, in gratitude for Shishak’s previous assistance, or whether Shishak had to sack the cities in Israel as well. There are indications that suggest that the former might have been so, but included among the list of Israelite cities who paid tribute were Penuel and Mahanaim in the Transjordan. This was then followed by Taanach, Megiddo and Shunem in the west as Shishak began to make his way back to Egypt along the coastal plain, laden with spoils. A stele belonging to Shishak was discovered in Megiddo, and we know that it was certainly partially sacked around this time. Megiddo was a huge city and would not yield up its riches easily. Shishak then appears to have set up his statue in Megiddo, the plinth of which has been discovered.
But none of this is mentioned in Kings. The only thing that was of interest to the author was the loss of the treasures of David and Solomon, because this demonstrated God’s judgment on Rehoboam (and on the deceased Solomon). It will be noted that concentration is not on the Temple treasure. Equal mention is given of the spoiling of the king’s house. This was not about the Temple. It was about Rehoboam.
14.27 ‘And king Rehoboam made as replacements shields of bronze, and committed them to the hands of the captains of the guard, who kept the door of the king’s house.’
And the result was that, having lost his ceremonial shields of gold, a humiliated Rehoboam had to make shields of bronze in order to retain his fading glory. The ‘glory’ of Judah had been lost because of the behaviour of the people at the high places, and the consequence was that YHWH took away its shields of gold, replacing them with shields of bronze. Its glory was thus twice adulterated. And the result was that the shields no longer needed the security of the House of the Forest of Lebanon, but were kept in the guard house.
14.28 ‘And it was so, that, as often as the king went into the house of YHWH, the guard bore them, and brought them back into the guard-chamber.’
So when in future Rehoboam went into the house of YHWH to worship, there was still a splendid ceremonial display as his bodyguard bore the shields of bronze which glistened in the sun, but all knew that the splendour was tarnished because of YHWH’s judgment on Rehoboam and on Jerusalem.
14.29 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Rehoboam, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’
Having dealt with what mattered to him, because of what it revealed about YHWH’s dealings with Judah, the prophetic author now referred his readers to the chronicles of the kings of Judah if they wanted further information about what Rehoboam had done. He was not interested in the secular details of the history of a king who did not concern himself with obeying YHWH.
14.30 ‘And there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually.’
One thing, however, he does stress and that is that there was a continual state of warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam. This may indicate that they fortified their frontiers, and bristled at each other over them, with the occasional incident occurring, and their not allowing any movement of people between them, or even that they made continual forays into each others territory for punitive purposes without the actual intention of a full scale invasion. It would be many years before the two countries could live side by side amicably. The hurt had gone too deep. But the result of this state of affairs would be that the people of Israel were discouraged from coming to the Temple as the Central Sanctuary, in order to worship YHWH in accordance with the covenant. That was another thing that YHWH had against Rehoboam.
14.31 ‘And Rehoboam slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David, and his mother’s name was Naamah the Ammonitess. And Abiyam his son reigned instead of him.’
And eventually Rehoboam died peacefully, and ‘slept with his fathers’, and he was buried with his fathers in the city of David. Note the emphasis on Jerusalem as ‘the city of David’. It was because of that that it had been chosen by YHWH.
The repetition of his mother’s name, which is unusual in Kings, was probably an indication of the author’s unhappiness with the fact that Solomon had married an Ammonitess. The Ammonites were one of the peoples excluded from becoming true worshipping Israelites (Deuteronomy 23.3), and his Ammonite wives had led him astray. But finally we learn that Abiyam his son reigned in his place. The Davidic dynasty continued.
The name Abiyam means ‘my father is Yam’ (see also 15.1, 7). Yam was a Canaanite god of widespread influence, which goes with Abiyam’s mother being an Ammonitess. Elsewhere his name is said to have been Abi-yah, ‘my father is YHWH (e.g. 2 Chronicles 13.1). This can be seen as a conversion of the previous name in order to remove its disgrace. It may have taken place when he came to the throne.
Rehoboam’s life is a warning for us to be considerate of other people’s needs. If only Rehoboam had ‘loved his neighbour as himself’ what a difference it would have made to Israel’s history. We need to recognise that unwise words and attitudes can rebound on us both in the present, and in our future lives. Better not to speak than to speak foolishly. It is also a warning to us to ensure that when we seek advice we do it in the right quarters. Rehoboam had had the good advice, he just did not listen to it.
The Early Kings Of Judah And Israel (15.1-16.28 )
There now follows information concerning the reigns of seven kings, each of which is dealt with briefly in order to bring out the lesson that the prophetic writer is interested in. The first two kings were kings of Judah. The first, Abiyam, shared the condemnation of Rehoboam, but the author emphasised that for David’s sake YHWH would establish for him a lamp in Jerusalem. He was a warning against compromise and half-heartedness. The second, Asa, turned out truly to be a lamp for he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, and his heart was right towards YHWH. Nevertheless due to his failing to fully trust YHWH he lost the treasures that he had built up, and ended up diseased in his feet. He was a warning against the danger of not fully trusting with all his heart. Things seemed, however, to be generally promising in Judah.
Due to Asa’s long reign the next five kings were kings of Israel. The picture in that case was one of continual decline as things got worse and worse. It began with Nadab who followed in the way of his father, and was assassinated as a result of God’s judgment on Jeroboam, continued with Baasha who not only continued in the way of Jeroboam but also sought to prevent Israelites from entering Judah in order to worship YHWH, and was continually belligerent towards Judah, with the result that his son, who followed in his ways, was also assassinated for the same reason. The man who carried out the assassination was Zimri, a chariot commander, who lasted only seven days, and after a period of civil war he was followed by Omri, Israel’s commander-in-chief who not only walked in the way of Jeroboam but also began to lay a greater emphasis on the open worship of Baal. Thus no king of Israel concerned himself with purifying the worship of YHWH, but instead contributed to the continuing deterioration. Indeed had it not been for the rise of Elijah faith in YHWH in Israel may well have died out.
The Reign Of Abiyam of Judah c. 913-911/910 BC (15.1-8).
The reign of Abiyam was very short, possibly cut off by illness, and during it he made no effort to improve the nation’s attitude towards YHWH, although nothing is said about his condoning it. He may well therefore himself have been faithful to the worship of the Temple, without having revealed a wholehearted response towards YHWH by seeking to reform the people.
All his life he had known a continual attitude of war towards Jeroboam and Israel, and it continued on during his own short reign. But because of YHWH’s covenant with David, YHWH set up his son (the Davidic heir) after him as a lamp in Jerusalem, because David had done what was right in His eyes, and had not turned aside from His commandments, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. Thus the dynasty continued for David’s sake.
Note that in ‘a’ Abiyam began his reign over Judah, and in the parallel he died and was buried, with his son reigning instead of him. In ‘b’ he reigned for three years in Jerusalem and in the parallel how he reigned could be found in the state records of Judah. In ‘c’ his heart was not right towards God, and in the parallel it was caught up in the continual antagonism between Judah and Israel. Centrally in ‘d’ his dynasty would continue for David’s sake.
15.1 ‘Now in the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam the son of Nebat began Abiyam to reign over Judah.’
The synchronisation between the reigns of the kings of Judah and the kings of Israel will continue on until Israel ceased to exist. It can mainly now be reconciled as a result of exhaustive studies by scholars. Abiyam came to the throne after eighteen years of continued belligerence between Judah and Israel (verse 6). The eighteenth year of Jeroboam was the seventeenth year of Rehoboam because Israel counted in the initial part of the reign prior to the first New Year as one year. Judah ignored that initial part of the year.
We are never told the age of Abi-yam, but the Chronicler tells us that he had fourteen wives, twenty two sons and sixteen daughters (2 Chronicles 13.21), so that he was well matured when he began to reign, possibly approaching forty. (Rehoboam died at around sixty - 41 plus + 17 plus). Thus he grew to manhood during the second half of Solomon’s reign, and was in his twenties when his father bought off Shishak. He had known the splendour of the days of Solomon, and had seen it all disappear because of Solomon’s folly. (He did not see his father as at fault - 2 Chronicle 13.7).
15.2 ‘He reigned for three years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom.’
In the usual introduction we learn that he reigned ‘for three years’ in Jerusalem. The calculation of the reigns of kings of Judah usually ignored the initial part of the reign prior to the first New Year, so that he reigned for at least two full years, and two partial years. And he reigned in Jerusalem, ‘the city which YHWH had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there’ (14.21) because of His love for David. The YHWH/David partnership continued.
His mother’s name was ‘Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom’ confirming that he was a true ‘son of David’. Some see Maacah as the granddaughter of Absalom, David’s son (Absalom being an abbreviation of Abi-shalom). However, the author of Kings always refers to Absalom as Absalom (1.6; 2.7; 2.28) so that others consider Abi-shalom to be some else. But the fact that Asa is also identified as having ‘Maacah the (grand-)daughter of Abishalom’ as queen mother may mean that the Davidic connection is being stressed. On the other hand the mention in the case of Asa may be due to the fact that because Abiyam died prematurely in his forties, Maacah continued as ‘queen mother, keeping out Asa’s mother, regardless of who Abi-shalom was. The question remains open.
15.3 ‘And he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him, and his heart was not perfect with YHWH his God, as the heart of David his father.’
Like his father Rehoboam, Abiyam appears to have himself worshipped at the Temple, remaining true to Yahwism, while at the same time not seeking to do anything about the worship of many Judaeans at the syncretised high places. Like his father his own faith was nominal, and not spiritually alive like David’s.
In a period of open warfare between Judah and Israel he would point to his own religious orthodoxy in contrast to Jeroboam’s unorthodoxy, thereby hoping to dishearten Jeroboam with the thought that YHWH was against him (2 Chronicles 13.9-1). But it was a largely nominal faith and not real enough to cause him to want to purify the faith of Judah. He was thus a disappointment to YHWH.
15.4-5 ‘Nevertheless for David’s sake YHWH his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, to set up his son after him, and to establish Jerusalem, because David did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.’
However for David’s sake YHWH promised the continuing of his dynasty in Jerusalem, and to establish Jerusalem, giving him a son to be a lamp in Jerusalem which kept alive his name and the lamp of the Davidic house (compare 11.36; 2 Kings 8.19 where it was specifically the lamp of the Davidic house). This was because David had done what was right in YHWH’s eyes, and had been continually obedient, except during the sad episode of Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 11).
The qualification ‘except only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite’ is given only here. As with ‘the city which YHWH had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there’ (14.21) it was in future to be ‘read in’ without being repeated. The prophetic author was not so stereotyped that he wanted to bore his readers with needless repetition.
15.6 ‘Now there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life.’
Virtually repeating 14.30 the prophetic author brings out that Abiyam had been brought up to continual belligerence between Judah and Israel all the days of his adult life, during the reign of his father. He had thus become inured to it and did not seek to make peace when he became king, thus hindering the possibility of Israelites returning to worship at the Central Sanctuary.
15.7 ‘And the rest of the acts of Abiyam, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? And there was war between Abiyam and Jeroboam.’
Apart from the fact that the state of war between Judah and Israel was continued, there was nothing further about Abiyam’s life that the prophetic author thought worthy of mention. All those interested in what Abiyam had done could consult the court records. The Chronicler records open warfare between the two in which Judah was victorious, and gained land and cities in Israel. But the author did not see that as significant. As far as he was concerned Abiyam was no better than Rehoboam.
‘And there was war between Abiyam and Jeroboam.’ At first sight this seems to have slipped into the text, and we expect it prior to the closing summary, but if we compare the following kings we will find a similar unexpected final comment at the end of their reigns which also comes in an ‘unexpected’ place. See 15.23b; 15.32; 16.7. It is a trait of the author which he eventually conquers.
15.8 ‘And Abiyam slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David: and Asa his son reigned instead of him.’
Abiyam died prematurely but peacefully, probably in his forties, and was buried in the city of David. He was thus an accepted Davidide. And his dynasty continued in that Asa his son reigned instead of him. The promise to David of a continuing house was being fulfilled.
Nadab’s life is a warning to us of the danger of being merely nominal in our Christian lives. Rather we must ensure that we keep alive the ‘lamp’ that God has lit within us so that it continues to shine brightly (Matthew 5.16).
The Reign Of Good King Asa of Judah c. 911-870 BC (15.9-24).
In Asa we have the first king following David who made a genuine effort to turn the people back to YHWH. He removed the most blatant excesses, and his only failure was that he failed to rid the land of all its illegitimate high places. But that was not as easy as it sounded for they abounded everywhere, and his men would receive no help from the locals in searching them out. It required a period when he could concentrate on that and nothing else, and that opportunity seemingly never arose. Possibly had he not had the continual problems on his frontiers he might have achieved more, for we are informed that his heart was fully right towards YHWH.
In dealing with Asa (and the other kings) we do not intend to continually incorporate the material from Chronicles, except where helpful in understanding Kings. For in order to understand what the prophetic author is getting at we have to deal with what he included, and mainly ignore what he omitted, remembering that he almost certainly knew about it and did not see it as suited to his purpose. For the life of Asa in Chronicles see 2 Chronicles 14-16.
Note that in ‘a’ Asa began to reign, and in the parallel he slept with his fathers and was buried. In ‘b’ he reigned in Jerusalem as David’s heir, and the previous queen mother continued to reign and proved unacceptable in her behaviour, and in the parallel the source from which the details of his reign could be found is given, and he was diseased in his feet. In ‘c’ he removed from the land all the religious innovations which threatened it, and in the parallel he removed the physical threat from the land. In ‘d’ he accumulated treasure in the Temple and in his house, and in the parallel he had to use it to obtain help from the Aramaeans. Centrally in ‘e’ there was continual hostility with Israel who blockaded his frontiers, thus hindering trade and access to Judah from the north.
15.9 ‘And in the twentieth year of Jeroboam king of Israel Asa began to reign over Judah.’
Asa began to reign over Judah in the twentieth year of Jeroboam. Rehoboam had reigned seventeen years and Abiyah three years in Judaean reckoning.
15.10 ‘And he reigned forty and one years in Jerusalem: and his mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom.’
And he reigned forty one years in Jerusalem, ‘the city which YHWH had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there’ (14.21) because of His love for David. The YHWH/David partnership continued.
‘And his mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom.’ This could make him the brother of Abiyah, but it is more likely that having been appointed ‘queen mother’ Maacah continued in the position, either because her daughter, Asa’s mother, was dead, or simply through seniority. She had only been in the position a short while. She would thus be Asa’s grandmother. (The Hebrew word is vaguer about the relationship than our English words and can mean mother or grandmother).
15.11 ‘And Asa did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, as did David his father.’
Asa is the first king after David of whom it was said that ‘he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH’ (compare Deuteronomy 13.18), and was thereby compared with David positively. David was the standard by which many of the kings of Judah would be judged.
15.12 ‘And he put away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols which his fathers had made.’
Asa put away the male and female cult prostitutes out of the land and ‘removed all the idols which his fathers had made’. In fact the only king of whom we have learned that he established idols in the land was Solomon, but Rehoboam and Abiyam had to take responsibility for not having rid the land of them, and for having allowed numerous idols to be established in the syncretistic high place. Thus Asa rid the land of all the idols that he was aware of.
15.13 ‘And also Maacah his mother he removed from being queen, because she had made an abominable image for an Asherah, and Asa cut down her image, and burnt it at the brook Kidron.’
And he especially removed his grandmother Maacah from being ‘queen mother’, which confirms that that position was a high official status. And he did it because she had erected an Asherah image in Jerusalem. Then he cut down the image and burnt it at the Wadi Kidron where the ashes of burnt waste were disposed of (compare 2 Kings 23.6). Thus he showed neither fear nor favour.
‘Abominable image.’ The root word means ‘a shock, an earthquake’ (Job 9.6), and thus something that causes trembling (compare Psalm 55.5; Isaiah 21.4; Ezekiel 7.18).
15.14 ‘But the high places were not taken away. Nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect with YHWH all his days.’
But the high places were not taken away. There were large number of them up and down the land, and what Asa did to Maacah’s image demonstrated that he would do the same to any that he found. But rooting out all of them would have required concentrated manpower, and he was busy defending Judah against her enemies. The ‘grumble’ was not against the legitimate high places such as Gibeon, Hebron and possibly Beersheba. In mind were the high places where pillars and Asherah-images had been erected, which YHWH had commanded must be rooted out in Leviticus 26.30; Numbers 33.52 (it was not a Deuteronomic idea). That he did what he could was fully appreciated so that it could be said of him that ‘his heart was perfect with YHWH all his days’.
15.15 ‘And he brought into the house of YHWH the things that his father had dedicated, and the things that he himself had dedicated, silver, and gold, and vessels.’
Since the removal by Shishak of Egypt of the treasures from the Temple and the king’s house in the days of Rehoboam more treasures had been accumulated by raiding spoils, by tolls from trading and by ‘taxation’, and these had presumably been stored in the House of the Forest of Lebanon as dedicated to YHWH. Asa now brought them into the Temple, together with what he himself had gathered and dedicated to YHWH. He was concerned lest YHWH think that he was retaining it all for himself. It included silver, and gold (there was no coinage) and vessels. The dedication of such things to the gods was common throughout the Ancient Near East.
15.16 ‘And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days.’
Due to the fact that Baasha came to the throne of Israel after Asa had become king of Judah the author’s ‘system’ has failed to mention him previously. It was one problem with his method. Baasha had in fact slaughtered Jeroboam’s family and had usurped the throne from Jeroboam’s son after Jeroboam’s long reign (15.27-30). Like Jeroboam he was a belligerent king, and thus during his reign there was continual hostility between Judah and Israel. Instead of cooperating, which would have been to their mutual benefit, they were still at each other’s throats.
15.17 ‘And Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah, and built Ramah, in order that he might not allow any one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.’
Baasha went even further than past kings, for he advanced into Judah and sought to fortify Ramah which was in the territory of Benjamin (part of which had gone over to the ‘ten tribes’) and only about eight kilometres (five and a half miles) north of Jerusalem. It was in a crucial position, being on the north-south road through mountainous country and at the head of the Descent of Beth-horon which led down to the Coastal Plain. It thus enabled Baasha to prevent people, especially trading caravans, and those who wished to visit the Sanctuary at Jerusalem (see 2 Chronicles 15.9), from travelling to Judah through Israel, and also prevented direct passage from Judah to the north. People could, of course still enter Judah by going through the valley of Esdraelon from the north and along the way that they would take for Philistia and Egypt, and then turning eastwards, but it made it a far longer circuitous journey. Baasha was trying to squeeze Judah’s trade and communications, and at the same time prevent his own people from going to Jerusalem to worship.
15.18a ‘Then Asa took all the silver and the gold which were left in the treasures of the house of YHWH, and the treasures of the king’s house, and delivered them into the hand of his servants.’
Asa saw that this could cause him great trouble, and that it was even close enough to be very threatening to Jerusalem, so not seeing himself as strong enough to compete with Israel on his own (for which in Chronicles he was rebuked by YHWH), he sought assistance from the Aramaeans (Syrians) who were to the north of Israel, and centred on Damascus. These were the people who, for reward, had gone to the aid of the Ammonites in the time of David (2 Samuel 10), and it was from Damascus that Rezon had caused trouble for Solomon (11.23-25). They were always ready to give aid if paid enough.
In order to obtain their help Asa knew that he would have to ‘bribe’ them, and so he took all the silver and the gold which he had stored up in the house of YHWH and in his own house, and arranged for his servants to take it to the Aramaeans in return for their assistance. Note again the emphasis on the fact that it was not just the Temple that was depleted, it was the king’s own treasury as well. It was the whole house of David and the country that suffered loss. We should note that while mentioned where necessary, the Temple is not a focal point of Kings. The focus is on the covenant with the house of David.
This is a reminder that although Asa was such a good king there were things in his life which displeased YHWH, otherwise all this would not have happened. What was lacking was a full trust in YHWH. When faced with this testing he should have trusted completely in YHWH, but instead he relied on human princes and as a result lost all the treasures that he had so laboriously built up (Chronicles makes it explicit).
15.18b-19 ‘And king Asa sent them to Ben-hadad, the son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, king of Aram (Syria), who dwelt at Damascus, saying, “There is an alliance between me and you, between my father and your father. See, I have sent to you a present of silver and gold. “Go, break your alliance with Baasha king of Israel, that he may depart from me”.’
Ben-hadad, the king of Aram, who lived in Damascus had made treaties with both countries as it suited him. And in the long term he broke them as it suited him (no treaty could be expected to last for ever. It would only have been treacherous if he had broken it immediately on making it). So Asa asked him to remember his alliance with Judah, and forget his alliance with Baasha, in return for a huge present of silver and gold, in view of Israel’s belligerence against Judah. He wanted Ben-hadad to act in such a way that Baasha, threatened from the rear, would withdraw.
Ben-hadad (which means ‘son of Hadad’, a prominent god of Aram and their equivalent of Baal the storm god) was a name confirmed in 8th century Aramaic inscriptions. He was the son of Tab-rimmon (‘Rimmon is bountiful, or willing, or good’ - Rimmon was another god in the Aramaean pantheon closely related to Baal), who was the son of Hezion. It is disputed whether Hezion was the Rezon who had been a thorn in the flesh to Solomon. Hezion may well have been his original name and Rezon his royal title, with the latter name meaning ‘prince’.
(The Milqart Stele (mid-9th century BC) from near Aleppo, written in Aramaic, was inscribed as follows: ‘The monument which Bar-hadad, son of Tab-rammon, son of Hadyan, king of Aram, set up for his Lord Milqart, which he vowed to him and he listened to his voice --’).
15.20 ‘And Ben-hadad listened to king Asa, and sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel, and smote Ijon, and Dan, and Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali.’
Benhadad responded to Asa’s generous offer and sent his commanders to raid cities in northern Israel. These included Ijon, Dan and Abel-beth-maacah, as well as the area around the sea of Galilee (Chinneroth) and all the land of Naphtali (which would interrupt the trade route to Tyre and Sidon). It thus gave the appearance of being a serious invasion (and would in fact have gathered much booty, and brought much suffering to the inhabitants).
Ijon and Dan were north of the Sea of Galilee. Abel-beth-maacah was in north Naphtali, and was the prominent city in which Sheba had been besieged by Joab (2 Samuel 20.14).
15.21 ‘And it came about that, when Baasha heard of it, he left off building Ramah, and dwelt in Tirzah.’
When Baasha heard of this he ceased fortifying Ramah, recognising that he had to pay attention to his wider frontiers, and returned and took up residence in Tirzah, his capital city, from where he could administer all Israel, and meet the threat posed by the Aramaeans.
15.22 ‘Then king Asa made a proclamation to all Judah. None was exempted. And they carried away the stones of Ramah, and its timber, with which Baasha had built, and king Asa built with it Geba of Benjamin, and Mizpah.’
Seizing his opportunity, Asa conscripted all Judah to the work of dismantling Ramah of Benjamin. None were exempted. And they took the materials of which Ramah was made and used it to fortify Geba of Benjamin and Mizpah, two strong border cites of Judah, thus making the frontiers secure.
The massive defences unearthed at Mizpah demonstrate a strengthening at this time of the defences northward in order to resist chariot attack.
15.23 ‘Now the rest of all the acts of Asa, and all his might, and all that he did, and the cities which he built, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? But in the time of his old age he was diseased in his feet (15.23).’
In the typical closing formula the prophetic author as usual informs us that if we want to know more about the doings and might of Asa, and the cities that he fortified, we should consult the court records for Judah. And he adds a typical postscript to the fact that Asa was diseased in his feet. This was probably not gout but something more serious, and the aim in mentioning it was in order to bring out that YHWH was not totally pleased with Asa. (Chronicles gives us more detail)
15.24 ‘And Asa slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father, and Jehoshaphat his son reigned instead of him.’
Asa too died peacefully, probably in his sixties, and he was buried with his fathers in the city of David ‘his father’. He shared the Davidic inheritance, in accordance with YHWH’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7. The reference to ‘his father’ underlines that he walked as David walked. And in accordance with YHWH’s covenant with David his son Jehoshaphat reigned instead of him.
Asa had had a long reign, which covered the period from the end of Jeroboam’s reign, through the reigns of Baasha, Nadab, and Omri, and up to the third year of Ahab. Thus while religious turmoil was taking place in Israel, Judah was relatively religiously stable. And this would carry on during the reign of his son Jehoshaphat.
There are numerous lessons from Asa’s long life. The first is that we need to walk faithfully in accordance with God’s requirements, with a heart that is right towards God. The second is that we need to root out of our lives all our ‘idols’. The third is that we need to learn to trust fully in God rather than in men. The fourth is that we need to take every opportunity to build up our defences (Ephesians 6.10-18).
The Reign Of Nadab Of Israel c.910-908 BC (15.25-31).
Nadab was the son of Jeroboam following the proclamation of Ahijah the prophet that God would cut off the house of Jeroboam. He was thus doomed from the start, and the main item in his reign as far as the prophetic author was concerned was his assassination by Basha, and the assassination of all the males in his house by which YHWH’s pronouncement was fulfilled.
He did, however, contribute towards his own downfall by following in the ways of his father, and especially by committing the sin for which his father and his house were condemned, namely the worship of the golden calves in the false high places. He also seemingly engaged in a foray against the Philistines, but the author’s only interest in that is that it determined the place of his assassination.
Note that in ‘a’ Nadab reigned over Israel, and in the parallel his acts are recorded in the court records of Israel. In ‘b’ he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH as his father Jeroboam had done, and in the parallel it is the sins of Jeroboam that have brought destruction on his house. In ‘c’ Baasha assassinated Nadab, and in the parallel he assassinated all his house. Centrally in ‘d’ Baasha slew Nadab and reigned instead of him.
15.25 ‘And Nadab the son of Jeroboam began to reign over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years.’
The kings of Israel counted their accession part year as a first year, thus Nadab only reigned for two part years, before he was assassinated, possibly not even achieving a full year. The accession of a new king was always a dangerous time as rival claimants vie for the throne, an especially in Israel where there was no tradition of accession.
Nadab began to reign over Judah in the second year of Asa king of Judah. Rehoboam had reigned 17 years plus his accession part year, which in Judah was not included in the number of years of his reign, Abiyam had reigned three years plus his accession part year, which is, however cancelled out by combination with the final part year of Rehoboam, Thus together they reigned for twenty years and a part year. The two years of Asa (omitting his accession part year because that makes Nadab’s third year into a full year), make twenty two years and a part year. Jeroboam reigned for twenty two years.
15.26 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin by which he made Israel to sin.’
Nadab continued in the ways of Jeroboam. He made no effort to bring Israel back to true Yahwism. Thus he continued to do what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and threw himself into his father’s falsely established religion.
15.27 ‘And Baasha the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar, conspired against him, and Baasha smote him at Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines, for Nadab and all Israel were laying siege to Gibbethon.’
The result was that when he was campaigning against the Philistines at the siege of Gibbethon, one of his commanders. Baasha, the son of Ahijah, conspired against him and assassinated him. Gibbethon was a frontier town of Dan (Joshua 19.44; 21.23) which had been occupied by the Philistines, and indeed was occupied by them for many years (16.15). Baasha was from the tribe of Issachar in south west Galilee.
15.28 ‘Even in the third year of Asa king of Judah did Baasha slay him, and reigned instead of him.’
This took place in the third year of Asa, when Baasha began to reign instead of Nadab.
15.29-30 ‘And it came about that, as soon as he was king, he smote all the house of Jeroboam. He did not leave to Jeroboam anyone who breathed, until he had destroyed him, according to the saying of YHWH, which he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite, for the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and by which he made Israel to sin, because of his provocation with which he provoked YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger.’
Once Baasha was in place and had returned to Tirzah he arranged the assassination of all the males in the house of Jeroboam. He left not one of them alive. This was just as Ahijah the prophet at Shiloh had prophesied, and it was because of the awful sin of Jeroboam which had provoked YHWH to ‘anger (antipathy against sin), a sin in which Nadab and all Israel had also participated.
We should note, however, that this slaughtering of the sons of the previously reigning house was common practise in those days when a new dynasty began. It prevented ‘pretenders’ arising from the old house to claim the throne, and ensured that there would be no one from the old house seeking blood vengeance in the future.
15.31 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Nadab, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’
The remainder of the acts of Nadab in his brief reign were to be found in the official state records of Israel.
The lesson we may learn from Nadab’s life, are:
The Reign Of Baasha, The Usurper Of Israel c.908-885 BC (15.32-16.7).
The prophetic author has nothing good to say about Baasha the Belligerent. He was belligerent, he did evil in the sight of YHWH, he continued the false cult, he was a murderer and he was so wicked that YHWH determined judgment on his house.
Note how an opening comment and a closing comment are tacked on before the opening formula and after the closing formula. In ‘a’ Baasha is revealed as being belligerent, and in the parallel he is revealed as being a murderer (‘because he smote him’). In ‘b’ began to reign and reigned for twenty four years, and in the parallel his son reigned instead of him and he ceased to reign and slept with his fathers. In ‘c’ he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and in the parallel the rest of his acts can be found in the court annals of Judah. In ‘d’ YHWH describes through His prophet how great his sin is, and in the parallel he describes how great his punishment will be. Centrally in ‘e’ YHWH’s sentence on Baasha is described.
15.32 ‘And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days.’
This is the opening part of an inclusio that encloses Baasha’s life (with 16.7). Usually similar statements have been made at the end of a king’s reign (14.30; 15.6, 7) or in the middle (15.16). Here it introduces his reign. Thus there is an emphasis in this case on just how belligerent Baasha was. Even though Asa was a good king Baasha would make no peace with him.
15.33 ‘In the third year of Asa king of Judah began Baasha the son of Ahijah to reign over all Israel in Tirzah, and reigned twenty and four years.’
Here we have the usual details for a king of Israel, the date when he began to reign and the length of his reign. His mother’s name was irrelevant because he was a usurper, and is anyway never given for the kings of Israel, possibly because they had no link with the Davidic house, or because the queen mother had no special status in Israel, or because in fact they were all usurpers, therefore their source did not matter. Baasha thus died in the twenty seventh year of Asa. 2 Chronicles 16.1 tells us of activity by Baasha in the thirty sixth year of the reign of Asa. This may suggest that Asa had been co-regent for a number of years prior to ascending the throne, years which the Chronicler’s source took into account. Co-regency was a wise method of kingship because it ensured a smooth transition of power on the death of a king to someone who was already partially in control and established in the eyes of the leaders of the land. (Rehoboam was forty one years of age when he became king, thus Asa would probably by then have been a growing lad, or even older. That being so half way through Rehoboam’s reign he would have been old enough to take on co-regency responsibilities, especially if his father was sickly (he died early)).
15.34 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin by which he made Israel to sin.’
Like all Israelite kings Baasha is seen as having done evil in the sight of YHWH because he did not seek to bring the nation back to pure Yahwism. He continued Jeroboam’s evil heresy himself, and led the people in that direction. Israel’s great crime, for which it would eventually be destroyed, was that from the beginning of its independent existence under the kings it distorted true Yahwism. By this he demonstrated that his action against the house of Jeroboam had not been prompted by a love for YHWH.
This did not, of course, mean that there were no true believers in Israel. Many in fact fled to Judah so that they could worship YHWH aright (e.g. 2 Chronicles 15.9), and in Israel itself a remnant of true worshippers remained (in Elijah’s day seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal). Thus it is clear that some provision was made by the prophets for true worship in Israel.
16.1-2 ‘And the word of YHWH came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying, “Forasmuch as I exalted you out of the dust, and made you prince over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam, and have made my people Israel to sin, to provoke me to anger with their sins.”
Once more a prophet interferes in the affairs of Israel. Israel was not left without a witness. There were still some who were seeking to turn the people back to true Yahwism. Here it is Jehu the son of Hanani. He pointed out that it was YHWH who had raised him from the dust (from low beginnings) and made him prince over His people Israel, allowing him to remove the house of Jeroboam. But in spite of that he had walked in the way of Jeroboam, and had continued and encouraged the false cult established by Jeroboam, making the people sin and provoking YHWH to anger (antipathy against sin).
Jehu the son of Hanani himself wrote his own record and was especially prominent in the days of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20.34). The Chronicler tells us that he rebuked Jehoshaphat for consorting with Ahab of Israel (2 Chronicles 19.2).
‘Prince (nagid).’ This was a term almost exclusively used of leaders in Israel/Judah. It was a further reminder that the king of Israel was supposed to be YHWH’s war leader and subject to his Overlord. For being ‘exalted out of the dust’ see 1 Samuel 2.8. For being made ‘prince over His people Israel’ see 14.7.
16.3 “Behold, I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”
And because of this YHWH would do to the house of Baasha what He had done to the house of Jeroboam. He would ‘sweep them away’ and all his sons would be destroyed.
16.4 “Him who dies of Baasha in the city will the dogs eat, and him who dies of his in the countryside will the birds of the heavens eat.”
This is the same fate as Ahijah the prophet had prophesied of Jeroboam. See on 14.11. The bodies of his male household would be left out in the open to be eaten by scavengers, a fate considered to be worse than death (compare the care that Rizpah took to ensure that it did not happen to her dead sons in 2 Samuel 21.10-11).
16.5 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Baasha, and what he did, and his might, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’
As usual we are informed that the remaining acts of the king, what he did and the might that he demonstrated, can be found in the court annals of Israel.
16.6 ‘And Baasha slept with his fathers, and was buried in Tirzah, and Elah his son reigned instead of him.’
Baasha himself died peacefully and was buried in Tirzah. And Elah his son reigned instead of him, but only very briefly, for he was assassinated by one of his commanders. When a king of Israel died the throne was seen as up for grabs.
Tirzah had probably become Jeroboam’s capital towards the end of his reign (14.17), and would remain Israel’s capital city until Omri transferred it to Samaria. It was eleven kilometres (seven miles) north east of Shechem. Excavations have revealed that at this time it had standard houses and a large administrative building, and was heavily fortified.
16.7 ‘And moreover by the prophet Jehu the son of Hanani came the word of YHWH against Baasha, and against his house, both because of all the evil that he did in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger with the work of his hands, in being like the house of Jeroboam, and because he smote him.’
But Baasha had been so evil that the prophetic author could not leave it there, and he repeats that YHWH had sent his prophet Jehu to him, and this time it is emphasised that it was with ‘the word of YHWH’, Being YHWH’s word its effectiveness was certain (compare Isaiah 55.11). And the double charge was that he had continued in the way of Jeroboam, and especially that he had murdered the house of Jeroboam (‘because he smote him’). For both of these sins he was to be especially punished.
Once again we have a lesson concerning God’s holiness and hatred of sin, and the certainty of punishment for those who continue in sin and who allow other ‘gods’ to interfere with their worship of Him. It is a recurrent lesson of this book.
The Reign Of Elah King of Israel c. 885-884 BC (16.8-14).
The death of a king after a long reign often ushered in a period when rivals for the throne reared their heads, and Israel had no established dynasty. Elah, the son of Baasha, does, however, appear to have been generally accepted as the rightful king, for the army as a whole were carrying out their usual responsibilities quite contentedly, and only intervened when they learned that Elah had been assassinated.
This occurred because unfortunately, among their number was a prominent chariot commander named Zimri, who saw Baasha’s death as an opportunity to seize the kingship for himself. Assassinating Elah in the capital, he immediately destroyed all his male progeny, and himself seized power. The army as a whole, however, on hearing of the blood bath that had taken place in Tirzah, were not pleased and appointed Omri, a prominent commander in the field, as rival king, and he immediately proceeded to besiege Tirzah where all the action had taken place. Realising the hopelessness of his position Zimri committed suicide. He had reigned for seven days! This would then introduce for Israel a period of civil war, for a further claimant named Tibni arose with strong support, and he and Omri vied with each other until finally Omri emerged triumphant. In all this Israel were seen as suffering because of their insistence on following the evil ways of Jeroboam with regard to false worship.
Note that in ‘a’ Elah began to reign over Israel, and in the parallel his acts can be found in the annals of the kings of Israel. In ‘b’ Zimri conspired against him, and in the parallel what he did is described. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the description of how he assassinated Elah and took his throne.
16.8 ‘In the twenty and sixth year of Asa king of Judah began Elah the son of Baasha to reign over Israel in Tirzah, and reigned two years.’
Due to the way Israelites calculated the reigns of their kings at this time, this means that he reigned only for a few months, part of his accession year, and part of the following year.
16.9a ‘And his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him.’
Elah’s chariot force was divided into two sections, and Zimri was the commander of one of those sections. His exalted position had made him ambitious and he decided that he would like to be king. After all, the present newly made king was descended from a nobody.
16.9b-10 ‘Now he was in Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was over the household in Tirzah, and Zimri went in and smote him, and killed him, in the twenty and seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned instead of him.’
So while Elah was drinking himself drunk in the house of his chief steward, Zimri went in and killed him. Arza may well have been in collusion with Zimri. Thus in the twenty seventh year of Asa’s reign Zimri set himself up as king of Israel.
16.11 ‘And it came about that, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, he smote all the house of Baasha. He left him not a single man-child, neither of his kinsfolks (literally ‘redeemers’), nor of his friends.’
Zimri in fact only reigned for seven days, but during that seven days he engaged in a bloodbath greater than any previously, not only slaying all the males in Baasha’s own house, including all who might feel that they had the responsibility of blood vengeance (‘his redeemers’) but also all those who were Elah’s friends and associates. He was taking no chances.
16.12-13 ‘Thus did Zimri destroy all the house of Baasha, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke against Baasha by Jehu the prophet, For all the sins of Baasha, and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned, and by which they made Israel to sin, to provoke YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger with their vanities.’
And this evil behaviour fulfilled what God had said through his prophet would happen to the house of Baasha. And it was because of Baasha’s sins, and Elah’s sins, and because they had failed to false religion which Jeroboam had initiated, and which led the people into sin, provoking YHWH’s righteous anger over their follies.
16.14 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Elah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’
Elah’s acts during his short reign could also be found in the official annals of the kings of Israel. While the account may appear a little repetitive we should notice that the sin was getting deeper and deeper. Israel were receiving the kings that they deserved, and were suffering accordingly. It is a reminder to us that unless we are very prayerful and thoughtful we too can get the leaders that we deserve. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
The Reign Of Zimri King Of Israel c. 884 BC (16.15-20).
As we have already seen Zimri’s reign was short and brief, but it was found in the annals of the kings of Israel and so it is included. His excessive bloodbath may have been what enraged the army against him, or they may have considered that he was too junior in command to be allowed to be king. Thus while still in their camp they immediately appointed their own representative to be king, Omri, who was commander of the hosts of Israel.
Omri then went and besieged Zimri in Tirzah, and when Zimri saw that the city was quickly taken he went into the king’s own house and burnt it around him, dying as a result. It was a fitting end for a fiery man. And it was the end that he earned because of the support that he had throughout his adult life given for the false worship of Jeroboam, and which he had intended to continue, and for all his sins. The point here was that his rebellion had had nothing to do with seeking to re-establish the true worship of YHWH. He had only had himself in mind.
Note that in ‘a’ we learn of Zimri’s reign and in the parallel are referred for details to the annals of the kings of Israel. In ‘b’ news came to the camp that Zimri had conspired and slain the king, and in the parallel we are informed of what the consequences were for him in that he then slew himself. Centrally in ‘c’ we learn of the armies reaction in making Omri king and besieging Zimri in Tirzah.
16.15a ‘In the twenty and seventh year of Asa king of Judah did Zimri reign seven days in Tirzah.’
It is noteworthy here that it does not say that he reigned ‘over Israel’. The validity of his claim to kingship is not acknowledged. And his reign only lasted for seven days. The name ‘Zimri’ is probably Aramaean (compare Zimri-lim of Mari) and he may well not have been a true Israelite, but a mercenary commander over half Israel’s chariot force. We are not informed about his antecedents.
16.15b ‘Now the people were encamped against Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines.’
It was when he was encamped before the same Gibbethon that Nadab the son of Jeroboam had been assassinated by Baasha (15.27). But unlike Elah at least Nadab had been there with his men, not enjoying drunken frivolities in his capital city while others fought on his behalf.
16.16 ‘And the people who were encamped heard it said that, “Zimri has conspired, and has also smitten the king,” for which reason all Israel made Omri, the captain of the host, king over Israel that day in the camp.’
News reached the camp of what Zimri had done in Tirzah. And as soon as they heard that Elah was dead, and that Zimri was playing the king, they appointed their own commander-in-chief as king, in the camp that very day.
16.17 ‘And Omri went up from Gibbethon, and all Israel with him, and they besieged Tirzah.’
Omri then left the siege at Gibbethon along with his troops (‘all Israel’ is not to be taken too literally. It meant all Israel who were with him. In other words he had unanimous support from his men) and besieged Tirzah.
16.18-19 ‘And it came about, when Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the castle of the king’s house, and burnt the king’s house over him with fire, and died, for his sins which he sinned in doing that which was evil in the sight of YHWH, in walking in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin which he did, to make Israel to sin.’
It is doubtful how much support Zimri had in Tirzah, apart from his own charioteers, with the result that the city would easily be taken (a fact not lost on Omri as we subsequently discover in his building of Samaria). Consequently when he realised that he was doomed, Zimri went into the most palatial part of the king’s house (one last dream?) and burned it around him, perishing in the flames. And we are told that this was because his rebellion had not been to do with the restoration of the true worship of YHWH. In his short reign he had carried on, and had intended to carry on, the false worship of Jeroboam. Thus he shared in his sins, doing what was evil in the eyes of YHWH.
‘The castle of the king’s house.’ The word translated ‘castle’ is usually translated ‘palace’. It may signify the palace strongpoint, or the most palatial part of the palace.
16.20 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Zimri, and his treason that he wrought, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’
Once more we close with reference to the annals of the kings of Israel. But in this case only we learn that Zimri’ behaviour was seen as ‘treasonable’. This in fact is what we would expect to find there, for the record would have been made in the time of Omri and he would have wanted it made clear that he himself had acted honourably, and that Elah’s death was not of his conniving. Zimri’s treachery in fact became legendary (2 Kings 9.31).
The whole story is a vivid reminder of Paul’s words, that whatever a man sows that will he also reap (Galatians 6.7).
The Reign Of Omri King of Israel c. 884-872 BC. (16.21-28).
We now come to the reign of one of Israel’s greatest kings humanly speaking, even though from the divine viewpoint he was a disaster. You would not, however, gather his greatness from the narrative (but see note below). For to the prophetic author of Kings Omri was an irrelevance because all he did was deepen the sin of Jeroboam, and take it a step further into pure Baalism. Thus all his greatness counted for nothing in the eyes of YHWH.
His reign began with civil war as Tibni, the son of Ginath, vied with him for the kingship. We are told nothing of Omri’s antecedents, which suggests that he was of humble birth and had worked his way up simply by his abilities. Tibni may well therefore have represented the aristocratic and landed classes of Israel who were seeking to prevent the upstart from taking the throne. Even Omri’s name was possibly not Israelite, although some see it as being a shortening of ‘Omri-yahu’ (YHWH is my life) or ‘Omri-baal (‘Baal gives me life’ - many Israelite names contained the name of Baal seeing it as signifying ‘Lord’ and therefore as referring to YHWH e.g. Ish-baal, Meri-baal the descendants of Saul), and the fact that he was appointed by ‘all Israel’ (i.e. his men) suggests that he himself must have been seen as an Israelite,, He was possibly part Israelite, part Canaanite.
It took a few years for the civil war to be decided, but almost inevitably, because of his superior military skill, Omri was victorious, and the result was that ‘Tibni died’. Omri then proceeded not only to support the false religion of Jeroboam but to ‘deal wickedly above all who were before him’. Indeed he may well have been part Canaanite himself which would explain why he took things to excess. The one noteworthy thing that the author records about him was that he founded Samaria as Israel’s capital city. That was so noteworthy an achievement that it had to be recorded, not only because Samaria became a famous city, but also because it finally gave its name to Israel. But there was a darker side to the picture. For Samaria became a centre for the worship of Baal.
Note that in ‘a’ Omri finally obtained the kingship, and in the parallel he passed it on to his son. In ‘b’ some slight information is given concerning his reign and in the parallel we are referred to the official annals of the kings of Israel for more detail. Centrally in ‘c’ we learn that Omri outdid all who were before him for wickedness.
16.21-22 ‘Then were the people of Israel divided into two parts, half of the people followed Tibni the son of Ginath, to make him king, and half followed Omri. But the people who followed Omri prevailed against the people who followed Tibni the son of Ginath. So Tibni died, and Omri reigned.’
The record of the civil war is brief but Tibni was successful enough for Omri not to be reckoned as king for three or four years. (He began to reign in the thirty first year of Asa, whilst Elah died in the twenty seventh). In the end, however, superior military ability succeeded and Omri became king. The laconic ‘so Tibni died’ speaks volumes.
16.23a ‘In the thirty and first year of Asa king of Judah Omri began to reign over Israel, and reigned twelve years.’
The twelve years of Omri’s reign (and six years of his ruling in Tirzah) includes the period of the civil war. Thus once that war was over and he had settled into the kingship he began to look around for a new capital.
16.23b-24 ‘He reigned six years in Tirzah, and he bought the hill Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver, and he built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill, Samaria.’
Having finally defeated Tibni Omri settled in Tirzah. But he was not satisfied with Tirzah. He had discovered earlier that it was not easily defendable. So he looked around for a better site for his capital city. This he found in ‘the hill of Samaria’ (Shemer’s hill) which he bought from Shemer for two talents of silver. And he built a fortified city on that hill and called it ‘Samaria’ after the name of the previous owner of the hill (which may well have been part of the sale agreement). Then he transferred to Samaria and rule from there for his final six years.
Omri may have had a number of reasons for his change of city:
Archaeology confirms that the Samaria built at the time of Omri was on a virgin site, and that it partly succeeded in its purpose comes out in that he was the first king of Israel to establish a dynasty that actually continued.
Note on The Greatness Of Omri.
In some ways it spoils the prophetic author’s purpose to outline the greatness of Omri, for his purpose was to indicate that (religiously speaking) Omri was a disaster. With all his greatness he was a nothing. The book of Kings is not written to man’s glory but to God’s glory, and as far as the author was concerned Omri was a bad lot. He was simply the builder of Samaria and part of the reason for the final destruction of Samaria. But in view of the probable historical interest of the reader we will consider what we know from external sources about Omri.
And we must remember that these two examples are simply two ‘accidental’ pieces of information. Without the external inscriptions we would never have known of them. We may yet discover more of his exploits if other inscriptions are found in the surrounding nations. And all this, we should note, was after recovering from a cruel and extended civil war.
End of note.
16.25-26 ‘And Omri did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and dealt wickedly above all who were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sins by which he made Israel to sin, to provoke YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger with their vanities.’
This was what was important to the prophetic author, that Omri added to the antagonism towards true Yahwism, and that in this regard he was worse than ‘all who were before him’ including Jeroboam. This might confirm that he was half-Canaanite, for Samaria lacked any pointer to the worship of YHWH, while his son Ahab would build a Temple of Baal there (16.32), and would be married to a princess of the Sidonians who would seek to encourage Baalism (16.31). In other words just as Jerusalem was the centre for the worship of YHWH, so Samaria became the centre for the worship of Baal. This would shortly lead to Yahwism’s lowest point in Israel, a position from which it would be partially rescued by Elijah and Elisha.
16.27 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Omri which he did, and his might that he showed, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’
As for the remainder of his acts, they were of no interest to the prophetic author, for they were merely concerned with secular affairs and therefore not important. Anyone interested could consult the official annals of the kings of Israel.
16.28 ‘So Omri slept with his fathers, and was buried in Samaria, and Ahab his son reigned instead of him.’
And having lived his evil life Omri died peacefully and was buried in Samaria, having added his contribution towards the downward path of Israel, and Ahab his son reigned instead of him.
For Kings part 1 (1-4) click here
For Kings part 2 (5-8) click here
For Kings part 3 (9-11) click here
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