1 Kings 13:33-16:14
The reign of Jeroboam is portrayed as a negative image of Solomon's reign. Solomon's great achievements and the spiritual promise of his life are laid out in great detail in 1 Kings 3-10 with only a few hints that spiritual disaster was lurking. Then, in a quick, brief summary, chapter 11 described the sin of Solomon and the decline of his kingdom. In contrast, the promise and righteous potential of Jeroboam is presented in a brief form first. 1 Kings 11:29-39 present the promise to Jeroboam that if he would obey God his kingdom would be established forever. However, Jeroboam's sin and subsequent decay of his reign are spelled out in much greater detail in 1 Kings 12:25-14:20.
First Kings 13:33-14:20 presents Jeroboam in a final cycle of disobedience and the consequence of death. The section concludes with Jeroboam's own death. Having completed his treatment of Jeroboam, the author of 1 Kings returns chronologically to the beginning of Rehoboam's reign. First Kings 14:21-31 describes the reign of Rehoboam. Since Rehoboam died before Jeroboam did, 1 Kings 15:1-8 takes us the subject of Rehoboam's son, Abijam. Following his death, his son, Asa, became king of the Southern Kingdom and his reign is described in 1 Kings 15:9-24. Jeroboam (King of the Northern Kingdom) died during Asa's reign in Jerusalem so the author shifts back to the Northern Kingdom in I King 15:25. Verses 25-32 describe the brief reign of Nadab and verse 27 introduces Baasha who assassinates Nadab. The treatment of Baasha's reign is found in 1 Kings 15:33-16:7. First Kings 16:8-14 narrates the brief reign of Baasha's son, Elah, which was ended when he was assassinated by one of his military generals, Zimri.
1 Kings 13:33-14:20 - Jeroboam's Final Cycle of Disobedience
First Kings 13:33-34 forms an epilogue following the long story about the man of God from Judah found in verses 1-32. This epilogue evaluates Jeroboam's response to the prophecy that was revealed both by the man of God's sign in withering Jeroboam's hand and in his subsequent death. Jeroboam obviously was a participant in the events described in 1 Kings 13:1-10. We may be sure that he would have heard about the death (and the causes of the death) of the man of God who spurned his invitation to dinner. Since the prophet who led the man of God astray was from Bethel and the man of God was buried in that prophet's tomb, we may assume that the tomb was in or near Bethel.
On a regular basis Jeroboam would have been reminded of the prophecy and its meaning. God had dramatically called Jeroboam to obedience. However, even in the face of all of that, Jeroboam did not turn (repent) from the pathway of evil that he was walking. In fact, Jeroboam increased his sin by appointing priests for the high places. Thus he increased the thrust of the royal support of Baal worship by the appointment of these priests. The author of 1 Kings shows the depth of his disgust by his description of these priests. Anybody who wanted to be priests were consecrated to the job. Service to Baal was so inconsequential that no training, no tradition, no qualifications were necessary to serve as his priests.
Verse 34 gives a historical summation of the impact of Jeroboam's decisions about the high places and the golden calves. This sin was the reason God "cut off" the house of Jeroboam and destroyed it. The Biblical phrase "cut off" reflects the cultural assumption of Israel that families, tribes, and peoples are significantly inter-connected to each other. The meaning of life was bound up in the connections of one's family, tribe, and people. The worst of all punishments - a kind of living death - was to have those connections severed. In fact, death with no surviving family members meant that the family as a whole had been "cut off" from all connection to the human race. Thus the judgment promised to Jeroboam was not just that he would die or that his kingdom would be destroyed. His whole family line would be wiped out. The connections that gave meaning and a future to him would be severed.
Given the statement that Jeroboam's house would be cut off it is not at all surprising that chapter 14 begins with a narrative of the death of Jeroboam's son. The judgment of God was already beginning on the family of Jeroboam. The story begins with the common observation that Jeroboam's son, Abijah, had become sick. There is heavy irony as soon as Jeroboam's son's name is mentioned. The meaning of Abijah in Hebrew is "Yahweh is my father." It is possible that Abijah had been born and named back when Jeroboam was still following Yahweh and before his great sin of idolatry. At any rate it is ironic that a son named "Yahweh is my father" will be the son through whom Jeroboam first feels the cutting-off judgment of God.
It is noteworthy that when Jeroboam's son became sick he wanted a word from the prophet Ahijah. It was Ahijah who had met him on the road years earlier (1 Kings 11:29-39) and foretold that Jeroboam would become the king of the Northern Kingdom. Jeroboam has no doubt about the authenticity of Ahijah's relationship with God. The king was sure the prophet could be relied upon to give the sure word of God. From a literary standpoint the author of 1 Kings makes it clear that Ahijah has the first word and the last word in Jeroboam's public life. Though the prophet seems less influential and powerful than the king from an earthly standpoint, the prophet is the one who has the last word.
It is a sad commentary on Jeroboam's life that he dared not go to the prophet himself. He sent his wife disguised so she would not be recognized as the king's wife. When our relationship with God gets to the point that we are afraid for God's people to even recognize us, we are in deep trouble. Jeroboam senses a profound alienation from God - so strong that he is afraid for God's prophet to even see him. But Jeroboam is also desperate for a word from God. It is interesting that all the priests that Jeroboam "made" priests are not being called upon for a word from God at this point. Jeroboam has uncovered the bankruptcy of his wicked spiritual leadership. He had to have an authentic word from God, but he was afraid to face the prophet who could give it to him. In Israelite culture, sending one's wife to do such a task was a clear sign of abject weakness.
The gift of ten loaves, some cakes, and a jar of honey was a rather small gift for a king to give a prophet. It may be that a larger gift would have "blown" the queen's disguise. Some scholars believe that the small gift reflects on the low status that Ahijah had among Israelites. Others believe that Jeroboam was trying to manipulate the prophet through a gift. It may be more likely that the gift was simply a culturally acceptable token of appreciation and honor. The narrative does not make a point of the gift. If the purpose was manipulation it failed. So did the disguise. God thwarted Jeroboam's attempt at secrecy and miraculously revealed to the prophet who was now blind both the identity of Jeroboam's wife and the message that was to be delivered to her. As soon as her foot was at the door of Ahijah's door he exposed her disguise and announced that he had been commissioned to bear "heavy" (bad) news to her.
The message of Ahijah is given in two parts, verses 7-11 and verses 12-16. The literary marker of the two sections is the word "go," found in verse 7 and verse 12. The first part of the message is a word from God directed to Jeroboam. Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus says the Lord. The message of these verses is the overthrow and end of Jeroboam's kingship and family.
The message begins with a reminder of God's grace that had been spurned. Jeroboam had been exalted from being one of the people to being their leader. God had done that for him. God had made available to him the possibility of an eternal dynasty like that of David's. But Jeroboam had not responded like David had. Jeroboam's heart had not been like David's heart. In fact, verse 9 indicates that Jeroboam had set a new record in wickedness.
The climax of the indictments in verse 9 is the final phrase, You have cast me behind your back. This expresses the utter disregard that Jeroboam had shown toward God. Perhaps a comparable phrase in our time would be that Jeroboam had "trashed" God. It is a sobering thought that no matter what outward evidence we may try to construct of our belief in God, He knows when He is of no value to us in our hearts, minds, thoughts, and lives. Jeroboam was reaping the judgment that comes not only to outward wickedness, but also that which comes to one whose attitude is that God doesn't really matter.
The judgment on Jeroboam is expressed in a form that was terrible for ancient people to hear. Not only would every male be "cut off" from Jeroboam' house, his family would be consumed as completely as manure is consumed when used for fuel. As G. H. Jones notes, "Every trace of the existence of the house of Jeroboam will be wiped away."
To make matters worse, their deaths will not be peaceful and normal. They will die violently and without proper burial. Nothing horrified ancient Israelites more than the prospect of their bodies being desecrated after they were dead and unable to protect themselves. That dogs would chew the bodies of Jeroboam's family that died in town, and birds would pick at the bodies of those killed in the countryside is a gruesome picture of the end of Jeroboam's family. That no one of their family would be present to provide a proper burial is a stark testimony of the disintegration of the family.
Ahijah then turned his attention to the immediate purpose of the queen's visit. Jeroboam's son, Abijah, would die from his illness the moment his mother set foot in town. Yet as tragic as that word from the Lord was, Abijah would be the lucky one. He would be the only child of Jeroboam to receive a proper burial. The respect that God had for him would be reflected in the fact that all Israel would mourn his death. His brother would not be so favored.
Verses 15 and 16 then interject an even heavier word from God. Not only would Abijah die, not only would Jeroboam's house be destroyed in utter ruin and shame, but even the whole nation of the Northern Kingdom would be lost. Verse 16 notes that Israel would be rooted out of the land that God had given to their fathers. Verse 17 states that God will give Israel up. There is no punishment worse than that of being turned over to the consequences of your sins by God. Verse 17 is reflected in Romans 1:24, 26, and 28. Part of the grace of God is that He often protects us from the full brunt of the consequences of our sin. The most severe judgment that God metes out is to withdraw that protection and let sin run its full course in our lives. So it would be with Jeroboam.
Once the judgment had been pronounced it was not necessary to rehearse the details at the point of fulfillment. Verse 17 and 18 simply note that Abijah died the moment his mother reached the threshold of the house and that all Israel mourned for him just as God had said. Verses 19-20 present the standardized formula announcing Jeroboam's death, resources for additional research, the length of his reign, and his successor, Nadab. The short reign of Nadab will be taken up in 1 Kings 15:25.
1 Kings 14:21-31 - The Reign of Rehoboam
The reign of Jeroboam over the Northern Kingdom is usually reckoned to have extended from about 922 BC to about 901 BC. Since the author of 1 Kings began his treatment of the post-Solomon era with Jeroboam, he presented all that he wanted to say about Jeroboam and recorded Jeroboam's death. At that point he moves from 901 BC in the Northern Kingdom back to 922 BC in the Southern Kingdom. He will present the life and death of Rehoboam and the kings following Rehoboam until one of them lives back 901 BC (Jeroboam's death). At that point the author will return to the Northern Kingdom and trace its kings up to the one who lives past the death of the last king mentioned from the Southern Kingdom.
Rehoboam reigned from 922 BC to about 915 BC. He was followed by his son, Abijam, who only ruled until 913 B.C. Abijam was succeeded by his son, Asa, who reigned from 913 to 873 BC. Thus, in 1 Kings 14:21-15:24, the author will deal with Rehoboam, Abijam, and Asa, all of the Southern Kingdom, before returning to deal with Nadab, Jeroboam's successor in the Northern Kingdom.
The numbers that appear in 1 Kings 14:21 are different in the Greek translation of the Old Testament than they are in the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible. The upshot is that we are not really sure about how old Rehoboam was when he became king, nor is it clear how long he reigned. The evidence is contradictory; we will not be sure about Rehoboam's chronological facts.
However, the spiritual evaluation of Rehoboam's leadership is not in doubt. Verses 22-24 spell out a clear pattern of idolatry and degrading practices of pagan worship under the reign of Rehoboam. New lows in spirituality were recorded in Judah during the time of Rehoboam's influence. The high places were shrines for the worship of Baal. The pillars or sacred stones as they are variously translated were phallic symbols of Baal representing his sexual prowess. The Asherah poles or sacred poles were symbols of female fertility. They frequently had a large hole representing the vagina of Baal's female consort.
The goal of Baal worship was to motivate Baal to indulge in sexual relationship with his consorts. The technique to motivate Baal was imitative magic (see Ba'al Worship in the Old Testament). Thus the high places (Baal temples) were staffed with female temple prostitutes that the worshipper could use to show Baal what to do. Not only did this perversion flourish under Rehoboam's leadership, male prostitutes were common also.
The author of 1 Kings would not have needed further evidence to condemn Rehoboam. However, verses 25-28 provide another illustration of the deterioration of what God had accomplished through David and Solomon. David had extended Israel's military frontiers. Solomon had further expanded the borders and had negotiated a treaty with Egypt. Rehoboam was so weak that the Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt was able to invade Jerusalem and ransack the temple and the palace. The extravagant gold shields that Solomon had made (see 1 Kings 10:16-17) were taken by Shishak.
The fact that Rehoboam replaced Solomon's gold shields with shields of bronze is a pitiful evidence of how far the nation has declined in the few short years of his reign. Even apart from the gross perversions mentioned in verses 22-24, the shift to bronze shields would have adequately signally to a Biblical reader that Rehoboam was a sinner.
The section on Rehoboam closes with the standardized summary of his death, burial, and successor. However, verse 30 makes the added comment that there was continual war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam. There is no archaeological evidence of full-scale war between the two kingdoms at this period of history. Further, the prophet Shemaiah had forbidden Rehoboam to attack the Northern tribes early in his reign (1 Kings 12:22-24). It is more likely that the comment of verse 30 means that there were constant border skirmishes between the two nations at that time. Neither was powerful enough to completely defeat the other, but each was always looking for a change to weaken the other and to probe for the opportunity for a bigger victory. Nevertheless, it is a sad commentary on the sinfulness of both Jeroboam and Rehoboam that they would lead Israelites and Judahites who had just a few years earlier been fellow countrymen into years of hatred and killing.
1 Kings 15:1-8 - The Reign of Abijam
First Kings names Rehoboam's successor as Abijam. Second Chronicles calls him Abijah. Only two good things can be said about the reign of Abijam from the standpoint of 1 Kings. First, his reign was short; it lasted only 2 or 3 years. Second, Abijam was David's great grandson and God had mercy on him for that reason.
The negative aspect of Abijam is also presented with two facets. First, he committed all the sins that Rehoboam had led Judah to commit. There was no slacking off in wickedness. Even though his reign was short Abijam was quite able to keep the momentum of sinfulness rolling. Second, Abijam's heart was not true to the Lord like David's heart. The Hebrew word describing his heart is shalem, a form of the Hebrew greeting shalom. The meaning is "whole" or "at one" rather than just the idea of peace. Abijam's heart was not whole or one; he had a divided heart; he was double-minded (see James 1:8).
The author of 1 Kings was convinced that Abijam survived only because of God's graciousness for the sake of David. Yet, in verse 5, the author cannot resist mentioning David's sin with Bathsheba. The promise that God made to David in 2 Samuel 7:14-15 extends grace to Abijam. The guilt of David arising from the incidents recorded in 2 Samuel 11-12 haunts the Davidic family. David's sexual immorality reaps the whirlwind in the perversion of the whole nation under Rehoboam and Abijam. Guilt and grace conflict, but grace still wins out in the author's observations on Abijam. The long-term commitment of God's grace has overcome the results of shortsighted sin in many lives. After noting that the skirmishing between Southern and Northern Kingdoms continued, the author mercifully closes the book of Abijam and introduces his son Asa.
1 Kings 15:9-24 - The Reign of Asa, A Righteous King in Judah
The dismal history that has been unfolding since 1 Kings 11 and Solomon's good days finally finds a bright spot. Asa is recommended as a good king. The evaluation is not made on military or economic grounds. It is a spiritual evaluation. Asa did what was right according to verse 11. The Hebrew text literally states that he lived uprightly in the eyes of God. When the plumb line of God's judgment was held up to Asa's life, he stood straight and true to the pattern God had set.
Verse 14 notes that his heart was shalem with the Lord. There was wholeness, a oneness with God in Asa's heart. There is no higher recommendation that the author of 1 Kings can make. However, Asa's life backed up the comment about his undivided heart. He removed the temple prostitutes and the idols, probably including the pillars and Asherah poles.
Perhaps the most difficult reform brought about by Asa was the demotion of the old queen mother, Maacah. She was the daughter of Absalom and had become the favorite wife of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:20-22). She was the mother of Abijam/Abijah and probably the grandmother of Asa. By the time of Asa, Maacah held the powerful position of queen mother, as had been the case with Bathsheba after David's death. To remove her from her position of power would have required considerable insight and courage.
Asa also destroyed the image Maacah had made of, or for, the Asherah. This would have been an image of one of Baal's consorts with exaggerated breasts and vagina. The presence of such an image in the royal household was a disgrace, and Asa risked the wrath of the queen mother to destroy it. Asa is an excellent example of a man who followed God completely enough to put his own household in order though it was not easy.
Despite the integrity and success of Asa there were two areas of failure that the author of 1 Kings cannot fail to mention. First, he failed to take away the high places. Though the worship of Baal had been weakened, Asa failed to destroy the centers of that worship. The roots that could sprout forth in idolatry again were not destroyed. The potential for future sin was left unchallenged. Though Asa's righteousness was a bright spot in Judah's history, that failure opened the door to considerable grief in the days after his reign.
Second, Asa entered into an alliance with Syria against the Northern Kingdom, the people who should have been his own countrymen. Not only did Asa enter such an alliance, he emptied the temple treasures to buy the favor of the Syrian ruler. He mortgaged the future to buy present security. The author does not condemn Asa for this action; he simply reports it in verses 18-21. However, there is no need for the author to give his evaluation of the matter. Any Jewish reader will recognize that it was the future of the temple that was mortgaged. This is a serious failure on Asa's part. It reflects the human assumption that human manipulation is necessary to secure our future. The word of God is not enough. Asa's failure was a failure of faith. In that he was not alone, in his age or in ours.
For all the good report that 1 Kings gives Asa there is one word of judgment. In the stereotyped conclusion to his reign in verses 23-24, the author mentioned that Asa was afflicted with diseased feet in his old age. From an Old Testament perspective this would have been seen as a clear punishment for his spiritual failures.
1 Kings 15:25-32 - The Short Reign of Nadab
The author now returns to the Northern Kingdom to pick up the thread of the narrative of Jeroboam's son. Nadab perpetuated Jeroboam's sin both in his own life and in what he led his nation to do. However, the judgment that God had promised on the family of Jeroboam did not delay. Nadab's reign lasted less than two years (probably the last part of the year he became king and the beginning of the next year - perhaps less than one full year). While Nadab was leading Israel in a military siege against Gibbetheon, a Philistine city, Baasha assassinated him.
Verse 29 brutally notes that as soon as Baasha killed Nadab, he killed every member of Jeroboam's/Nadab's family. Thus the judgment of God promised against Jeroboam in 1 Kings 14:10-11 was fulfilled. The author of 1 Kings saw nothing else significant to mention about Nadab and so he turns his attention to the reign of Baasha.
1 Kings 15:33-16:14 - The Reigns of Baasha and Elah
The instability of this period of the history of Israel and Judah is reflected by the rapid-fire treatment of the successive kings. No one commands much attention. The author of 1 Kings wants the reader to understand that sin does not lead to stability and peace. Baasha came to the throne of the Northern Kingdom by murdering Nadab. However, though Baasha destroyed Jeroboam's family, he followed Jeroboam's footsteps. The only comment the author of 1 Kings can make is that Baasha walked in the way of Jeroboam and in the sin that he caused Israel to commit. The only good thing about Baasha is that he was God's instrument to fulfill the promise of judgment on Jeroboam's family. However, Baasha's planting of assassination would be harvested in the death of his own son.
The prophet Jehu appears on the scene at the beginning of chapter 16 and announces a word of judgment on Baasha's family almost identical to the word of judgment against Jeroboam's family given back in 1 Kings 14:11. Here is a historical illustration of the truth, "he who lives by the sword will also die by the sword" (See Revelation 13:10). Though Baasha reigned twenty-four years, his son Elah survived less than two years on the throne. Baasha had murdered Nadab and brought about a change from the dynasty of Jeroboam. In an almost instant replay of poetic justice, Baasha's son Elah was murdered on the throne by Zimri and a new dynasty was ushered into the Northern Kingdom. The house of Zimri became the third dynasty to rule the Northern Kingdom within a twenty-six year span. The sin of Jeroboam was exacting a terrible price of national instability for the people God had asked him to lead.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
These are study and reflection questions to facilitate a weeklong devotional journey into the Books of Kings. As you begin each day pray that the Lord will speak to you through His Word and that the Holy Spirit will breathe spiritual life into your heart through your study and reflection.
First Day: Read the notes on 1 Kings 13:33-16:14. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two new understandings that seemed important to you.
2. Select one or two spiritual insights that you want to apply to your own life. Describe the way they would apply to you.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you have the courage and insight of Asa to bring renewal to both your family and your nation.
Second Day: Read 1 Kings 16:8-34. Now focus on 1 Kings 16:15-23.
1. How long did Zimri rule as king of the Northern Kingdom? What do you think the length of his reign indicated?
2. How did Zimri's death come about? How would you evaluate the means of his death in terms of the direction and purpose of his life?
3. What happened to the people of the Northern Kingdom after Elah and Zimri died? To what degree did Omri have the blessing of God on the beginning of his kingship? To what degree did he have the support of the people?
Third Day: Read 1 Kings 16:8-34. Focus in on 1 Kings 16:24-34.
1. What accomplishments of Omri do these verses describe?
2. What evidence do these verses give of Ahab's spiritual condition? How does he compare with his predecessors on the throne of the Northern Kingdom?
3. Verse 34 indicates Ahab buried his children in the foundation of various buildings to bring good luck. What does Joshua 6:26 have to say about this practice? What is the Bible's view toward children? Why do you think the Bible takes such a position?
Fourth Day: Read 1 Kings 17:1-24. Focus in on 1 Kings 17:1-16.
1. What was Elijah's message to Ahab? If Baal was the god of rain, what special significance does Elijah's message have?
2. What were the consequences of Elijah's message for Elijah himself? How did God provide for his need? What conclusions can you draw for your own life?
3. If you had been the widow, how would you have felt about Elijah's request from you? Write a brief prayer asking God to help you trust Him to supply all your need (see Philippians 4:19).
Fifth Day: Read 1 Kings 17:1-24. Now focus in on 1 Kings 17:17-24.
1. Why did the woman think her son had died? How does this compare with the question of John 9:2? How might you apply Jesus' answer in John 9:3-4 to this passage?
2. Compare this story with 2 Kings 4:32-37 and Acts 9:36-41. What are the similarities and differences in these stories? What conclusions would you draw from them?
3. What is the role of God in 1 Kings 17:17-24? What is the role of God in restoring and sustaining life for you? How do you respond to what God does for you?
Sixth Day: Read 1 Kings 17:17-18:16. Make 1 Kings 18:1-16 your focus.
1. What side was Obadiah on? What is your evaluation of him? Why?
2. Why was Obadiah afraid to convey Elijah's message to Ahab? Was it a legitimate fear?
3. Do you see yourself more like Elijah or like Obadiah? Why? Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to make you willing to be used in accomplishing his will for your nation.