CHAPTER 19. —JEROBOAM AND THE TEN TRIBES
In the history of the two sections into which the kingdom of Solomon was divided at the beginning of the reign of Rehoboam (as alluded to in the last chapter)—the house of Israel and the house of Judah, —there are many scattered illustrations of the ways of providence, on which we may rely as implicitly as on any, because of their occurrences in a divinely authorised record of events. If it could be maintained that Kings and Chronicles were not inspired their value would be gone; but this cannot be maintained in the face of Christ’s endorsement of “the Scriptures” as a compilation of which they formed a part: not to speak of other evidences of their divinity. We propose to gather the principal of the scattered illustrations referred to, taking first the history of the kingdom of the Ten Tribes, and secondly that of the Two. The latter history is the larger, and brings us down to the days of the crucifixion. This looks like an extensive programme. It will be found, however, that the materials will not spread over a very large ground, and that in a very few more chapters, we may hope to reach the end of the subject.
Jeroboam was the leader of the national deputation to Rehoboam, on the death of Solomon, to obtain a remission of the national burdens. We have seen Rehoboam’s answer, and its effects in the revolt of the Ten Tribes from the house of David. We follow the Ten Tribes in their revolt, and find them elect this same Jeroboam king over them, in accordance with what Ahijah the prophet had said to him. He was head of the principal part of the house of Israel: and he had only to govern wisely to secure a great and established position. Of this he had been assured by divine message as follows:
“It shall be if thou wilt hearken unto all that I command thee, and wilt walk in My ways and do that is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments as David My servant did, that I will be with thee and build thee a sure house as I built for David, and will give Israel unto thee.”
How did Jeroboam use his position? In the worst way. He acted with a certain kind of prudence, but of a low order. He acted from natural fear and not from a perception of right. He did not give himself to the obedience of the Law of Moses. He looked at things as a mere politician, and fearing the effect of Israel’s continued observance of the feasts at Jerusalem, he appointed institutions of his own, in opposition to the Law of Moses.
“If this people go up to sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam, king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.”
He ought to have argued the other way, in view of the divine guarantee he enjoyed. He ought to have said, “So long as I guide this people to walk obediently to the commands of Jehovah, and send them to do sacrifice at the place where He has placed His name, my position will be safe.” But he evidently lacked faith in the word of Jehovah to him, and was not concerned to be subject to the commandments. Distrusting the effects of obedience,
“He made two calves of gold, and said unto the people, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt,” “And he set the one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. And he made an house of high priests, and made priests of the lowest of the people which were not of the sons of Levi.”
Expediency instead of principle is a poor rule of action. So Jeroboam found. His departure from the commandments of the Lord led to the very destruction of his house which he feared might result from an obedient course. Ahijah the prophet was instructed as follows:
“Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Forasmuch as I exalted thee from among the people, and made thee prince over my people Israel, and rent the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it to thee: and yet thou hast not been as My servant David, who kept My commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in mine eyes; but hast done evil above all that were before thee. . . . Therefore, behold I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam. . . . Moreover the Lord shall raise Him up a king over Israel who shall cut off the house of Jeroboam.”
The history of the fulfilment of this denunciation reveals or illustrates the ways of providence—ways in which human actors impelled by human motives, under an invisible guidance, work out results that are divinely-caused results, though apparently results are due to chance and human caprice.
Jeroboam dies: his son Nadab succeeds him. In his second year, Nadab undertakes a military expedition against the Philistines, and while engaged in the siege of Gibbethon, one of Nadab’s captains gets up a conspiracy against him, and gets proclaimed king in his place. Baasha, the successful conspirator, then performed the part against the house of Jeroboam thus recorded:
“It came to pass, when he reigned, that he smote all the house of Jeroboam: he left not to Jeroboam any that breathed, until he had destroyed him, according unto the saying of the Lord, which He spake by His servant Ahijah the Shilonite, because of the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and which he made Israel to sin, by his provocation wherewith he provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger.”
The point in the case lies in the fact that a divine purpose was executed by the hand of an unwitting military conspirator, and that what this conspirator did, Jehovah says, “I did.” Baasha promoted himself by his own conspiracy against Jeroboam; yet thus was fulfilled the intimation,
“THE LORD SHALL RAISE HIM UP a king which shall destroy the house of Jeroboam.”
And the perfectly natural agency was not considered inconsistent with the following message afterwards to Baasha himself:
“I exalted thee out of the dust, and made the prince over My people”
(1 Kings 16:2);
Whence we learn that the events in contemporary history, such as the coup d’etat of a Louis Napoleon, or the Zulu massacre of his son, are not excluded from the category of divinely-caused events by the circumstances that they are humanly explicable in their occurrence. The perfect naturalness of an event, and perfect obviousness as to its cause, is not inconsistent with an occult regulation of that cause, which may impart to a natural event a divine character as regards the divine object aimed at in the result. It does not follow that all human events are divinely caused: very few are. On the contrary the bulk of human action may be classified under the statement, that—
“God in times past suffered all nations to walk IN THEIR OWN WAYS”
And that the common run of men are “filled with the fruit of their own devices” (Proverbs 1:31). Still, there are events that are divinely caused, though apparently having only a human origin, and the perception of this fact enables us to commit our way to God, and accept natural occurrences as the guiding of His hand.
Another of the results of Jeroboam’s disobedience yields a further illustration of the same principle. Ahijah had said in denouncing Jeroboam’s transgression,
“The Lord shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and HE SHALL root up Israel out of this good land, which He gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river” (1 Kings 14:15).
This was the Lord’s message to Ahijah, in which it is declared the smiting of the Ten Tribes and their deportation to trans-Euphratean countries, would be Jehovah’s work. So it was. The calamity came in due course, but let the form of it be observed.
“In the days of Pekah, king of Israel, came Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria . . . In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away into Assyria and placed them in Halah and Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, which had brought them up out of the land of Egypt. . . . Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of His sight . . . The Lord rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hands of the spoilers”
(2 Kings 15: 29; 17: 6-7, 18, 20).
When a natural event is divinely used as the instrument of a divine purpose, the thing done is said to have been commanded of Jehovah, even when the doer of the work has received no known command. This peculiarity of divine language is signally illustrated in the case of Elijah. Famine had prevailed for a time, and the brook Cherith, by which the prophet had been sustained, having dried up, he was ordered to remove to another place, where he would be provided for.
“The word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.”
Superficially read, we should conclude from this that a message had been sent to the widow woman on the subject of supporting Elijah. It transpires, however, that nothing of the sort had taken place. When Elijah went to Zarephath, he found the woman in the depth of want from famine, and arranging for a last meal with her son (1 Kings 17: 12). How comes it then that Jehovah should say, “I have commanded a widow woman to sustain thee,” when in the ordinary sense He had not done so? Because of another sense more powerful than the ordinary sense. The ordinary sense is to give orders by word of mouth, written or pronounced: this is the only mode in which one man can cause another to carry out his wishes. But with God there is another mode, which is as high above the human mode as heaven is high above the earth. Speaking of the creation, David says,
“He spake and it was done: He commanded, and it stood fast.”
If we ask, how? we are informed, “By His Spirit.” What He wills, He accomplishes by His Spirit. For this reason, the fiat of His will executing itself by the Spirit is described as His word—His command. What God wills or appoints, He can say, “I have commanded.” He had arranged that this widow of Zarephath should sustain Elijah. Therefore, in divine language, He commanded her, though she knew nothing about it. In the same way, the God-hating Assyrian had received a charge against Israel, though he knew nothing of it (Isaiah 10: 6-7; 13-16). In the same way Cyrus had been called, surnamed, and guided, and addressed by Jehovah, although it is expressly testified that Cyrus knew not Jehovah (Isaiah 45: 1-5). In the same sense, the Lord is said in special cases to command the sword (Amos 9: 4), the serpent (verse 3), the clouds, etc. (Isaiah 5: 6). Causation and command are equivalent ideas in relation to God.
The only drawback to the practical application of this in our own lives, lies in our ignorance of when a matter may be of divine causation or otherwise. But this is largely offset by the testimony that “all things work together for good to them that love God,” and that if we commend our way to the Lord, He will direct our steps (Romans 8: 28; Proverbs 3: 6). These two assurances of the word will enable us, if we make an enlightened use of them, to take our whole experience as from God, and to patiently wait the evolution of events for the discernment of the divine purpose, ever remembering that that purpose has reference more to our standing in the kingdom of God when it comes than to present results.
1 Kings 20: 13—(“Hast thou (Ahab) seen all this great multitude? Behold I will deliver it into thine hand this day”)—is another instance of human action being divinely influenced. The matter in question was approaching battle, which proximately is a contest of natural force in which the stronger prevails. Battle ensued, and the Syrians fled: they did their best, but they could not succeed because of the paralysing effect of the divine purpose operating upon them. But there was a singular and suggestive exception. The king of Syria surrendering to Ahab and taking a very suppliant attitude, was spared by Ahab and dismissed with a treaty. In reference to this, he received the following message:
“Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life and thy people for his people” (1 Kings 20: 42).
Here is an apparent frustration of the ways of providence through human weakness. God meant the destruction of the king of Syria, and he escaped through Ahab’s misplaced lenity. The case reveals the fact that there is no mechanical coercion of the human will in the working out of the divine purpose by means of men; cooperation of man in such a case is necessary, and that where the result aimed at is not attained through the failure of that cooperation, the purpose will be accomplished by another instrument, for divine purposes will never ultimately fail.
A case in the opposite direction—a case of thorough cooperation with the divine intentions, eliciting divine approbation—is to be found in the reign of Jehu, the executioner of divine vengeance on Ahab’s house. Jehu’s mission was to extirpate the house of Ahab. He received express instructions to that effect.
“Thou shalt smite the house of Ahab, thy master, that I may avenge the blood of My servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord, at the hand of Jezebel” (2 Kings 9:7).
And right thoroughly he carried out the programme. Let the dreadful narrative be perused in chapters 9 and 10. It is condensed into the statement that—
“Jehu slew all that remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men, and his kinsfolks, and his priests, until he left him none remaining, . . . and when he came to Samaria, he slew all that remained unto Ahab in Samaria.”
See also the account of his slaughter of the worshippers of Baal after drawing them into a trap. What was the divine comment on these proceedings?
“Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in Mine eyes and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel”
(2 Kings 10: 30).
Here was a case of God’s purpose being thoroughly carried out by the instruments selected. The idea that anything else is possible—the idea that a divine purpose can be humanly opposed and delayed, may seem anomalous and impossible; but the fact is beyond question. The case already cited of Ahab’s release of the doomed king, is conclusive proof. It is further illustrated in the angel’s words to Daniel:
“The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one-and-twenty days: but lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. Now I am come to make thee understand, . . . and now will I return to fight with the prince of Persia; and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Grecia shall come” (Daniel 10: 13, 20).
The explanation of this, at first sight, extraordinary fact—that man can antagonise the divine purpose in the hands of the angels, “who execute His commandments, hearkening to the voice of His word”—is probably to be found in the nature of the process by which that work has to be carried out. Human rulers to whom the angels are unknown and invisible, have to be led by them into certain causes of action, without any interference with that law of intelligent volition which distinguishes intelligence from merely physical life. Men, whose actions the angels have to guide, are allowed the unfettered exercise of their wills, and the angels have to influence them to exercise those wills in a given direction, by regulating the circumstances around them. If you set fire to a house, you cause all its inmates to leave, without interfering with their free will. It is the exercise of their free will that leads them to endeavour to escape the fire. So the angels, by disposing circumstances, can influence men to act in a certain way without interfering with their volitions. Such a mode of carrying out the work entrusted to them makes their work a delicate and interesting one, and provides scope for the possibility of that kind of human antagonism which requires careful and persistent arrangement to overcome, as in the case of the Persian emperor, who unwittingly was fighting against an angel in the particular policy he pursued.
Berean Home Page