No one is above the Lord. His word authoritatively directs every kind of people, and the dead small and great will one day be judged based on their response to it (Mt. 12:36; Jn. 5:24-30; Rev. 20:11-15). Even notable public figures are responsible to obey Him. 1 Kings 12-13 provide three incidents that show the folly of ignoring God’s word.
Fathers and Sons
It is difficult to be the son of an illustrious father – especially when that father is the wisest man of antiquity (1 Ki. 4:29-34). Neither wisdom nor spirituality are inherited traits (Jn. 1:12-13); consequently, the challenge of succeeding Solomon should have motivated Rehoboam to petition God for wisdom as his father had (1 Ki. 3:4-15). Instead, he plunged ahead into a tense situation at Shechem, relying on his impetuous young counsellors and his own wobbly judgment.
The frequent site of momentous decisions in the Bible (e.g. Josh. 24 and Jn. 4), Shechem had associations that made it an inauspicious setting for negotiations with discontented subjects. Hall observes: “The very place puts Israel in mind of a rebellion. There Abimelech had raised up his treacherous usurpation over and against his brethren: there Gaal against Abimelech: there was Joseph sold by his brethren, as if the very soil had been stained with perfidiousness.”1
Man Of Steel or Clay?
Rehoboam chose to begin his reign by brandishing a whip to his disgruntled citizenry. He should have adopted David’s servant-leadership style, but his pride made him authoritarian, not conciliatory. One writer explains: “Rehoboam sees leadership in terms of rights rather than responsibilities; he is confrontational and arrogant, and he suffers the consequences. But those consequences are far-reaching and long-lasting, affecting thousands of people. A division is caused which became seemingly irreparable, which will only be healed by the Lord Himself at the outset of His earthly reign . . . How did it come about? One rather minor point in his estimation it would appear: he did not seek help from the Lord, either from the scriptures, nor from a prophet, nor through prayer. An amazing omission!”2 Clearly he never learned his father’s proverb: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).
Rehoboam’s conceit cost him the ten northern tribes; thereby, fulfilling the punishment that was prophesied in Solomon’s days (1 Ki. 11:29-39). It also drove the rebellious leadership to complain of the emptiness of the Davidic covenant for them. Sadly, his haughtiness conveyed a wrong concept of an unmerciful God to the people. They mistook his lack of compassion as the official policy of David’s God (1 Ki. 12:16). Similarly, unbiblical harshness still drives people away from the seed of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. Biblical oversight must reflect the meekness, holiness, and wisdom of the Church’s Head (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).
Despite this apparent catastrophe, God remained in control: “. . . the turn of events was from the Lord, that He might fulfill His word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (1 Ki. 12:15). Davis remarks: “Is kingdom division a sad affair? Yes, but Yahweh had already predicted it and is here bringing his word to pass. Are Rehoboam and his favorites arrogant, cocky, and stupid? Probably. But verse 15 testifies that human hubris never catches Yahweh by surprise. He uses it. Big men (especially royal, arrogant ones) are simply little servants of Yahweh’s word. Contrary to our fears, human stupidity is not running loose but is on the leash of God’s sovereignty.”3
Jeroboam: The Industrious Fool
Seeing the poor quality of Judahite leadership, one expects better from Ephraim, but this was not so. Although he was an able manager of men, in spiritual matters Jeroboam was a disaster. His self-servingly cynical approach to governance led to idolatry becoming the national religion to bolster his regime’s legitimacy. This is ironic, for the Lord promised to establish his kingdom, if he would obey Him (1 Ki. 11:37-38). But as Henry comments: “. . . he would contrive ways and means, and sinful ones too, for his own safety. A practical disbelief of God’s all-sufficiency is at the bottom of all our treacherous departures from him.”4 Another adds that he “. . . turns away from orthodoxy, not because it is no longer true but because it is no longer useful. He does not find it false but fearful. You see his thinking then. He must hold on to ‘his’ kingdom, and, since he cannot simply trust Yahweh’s word for that, he must make himself secure. That is the stimulus here for false religion. If you cannot trust God, you will use religion. In Jeroboam’s case, what matters is not truth but position – his position.”5
Distorting the truth in this way leads to absurdities like the golden calves that Jeroboam enshrined at Dan and Bethel. He reverted to the ancient error of Israel’s initial idolatry at Sinai (Ex. 32), with the idea that if his people returned to the temple in Jerusalem, they would soon reconcile with their southern kinsmen. God’s promise of a lasting kingdom contingent on His obedience was abandoned in favor of a more “realistic” strategy – according to human thinking, at least. Thus, they “. . . exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever . . .” (Rom. 1:25).
The Prophet’s Obedience and Disobedience
The Lord sent an anonymous “man of God” to condemn Jeroboam’s apostate religion (1 Ki. 13:1-10). After foretelling its destruction almost three centuries later under Josiah, he was threatened with arrest, but the rebuking royal hand was shriveled even as it stretched forth to issue this command. At the king’s request, the prophet compassionately prayed for his healing. Jeroboam was thankful for this physical mercy, but the Almighty’s goodness did not lead him to repentance (1 Ki. 13:33-34; Rom. 2:4-5).
If that were the end, what an uplifting instance of truth triumphing over falsehood this would be! Unfortunately, the man of God ignored his orders not to eat or drink in this territory (1 Ki. 13:11-32). He declined the unequal yoke of Jeroboam’s table, but fell for the false “revelation” of an older, local prophet; consequently, he was executed by a divinely sent lion.
God’s Word Does It All
The lesson of these three tragic examples is that God’s Word must be obeyed. He controls history, and the rise and fall of political rulers and spiritual leaders occurs by His direction. If such figures need to obey the Lord’s Word, how much more do we? The Scriptures are our Creator and Savior’s revealed will for us. “Buy the truth, and do not sell it, Also wisdom and instruction and understanding.” (Prov. 23:23). •
1. Joseph Hall, Works, Vol. 2. (Oxford: The University Press, 1863), p. 4.
2. Bryan Charles, Day by Day: Pictures and Parables, ed. John Bennett. (Fareham, UK: Precious Seed, 2009), p. 55.
3. Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Kings. (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2002), p. 129. [Italics original.]
4. Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), p. 499.
5. Davis, p. 139. [Italics original.]