As a child I found one of the most impressive Bible stories to be that of Solomon. It taught me from an early age that God’s priorities are not that we should be rich, famous or powerful but that we should be wise and obedient in the things that God has given us to do. From an early age I asked God to make me wise, and I still do. Whether I am or not is for others to judge, but I do know that no matter how wise you may be, it is still all too possible to make atrocious decisions of commission and omission. Current affairs bears this out, as does history, particularly as Solomon’s reign progresses (or should that be, regresses?)
For all his initial good intentions, the ways in which God blessed and prospered him, his great building achievements and his undoubted great wisdom and acquisition of knowledge, Solomon went down the slippery slide into idolatry. It’s not how well you start in life, but how well you finish, for it is at the end of his life that Solomon handed on his legacy to his son, Rehoboam.
Rehoboam’s claim to fame, or rather claim to notoriety, was that instead of consulting God or even listening to the voices of experience, he took the advice of young and inexperienced men, provoked the northern tribes of Israel and caused a split in the kingdom, which set the scene for endless bloodshed, a loss of spiritual identity for the north and ultimate Exile and destruction for all the tribes. What was he thinking?!
Well here is an interesting twist. We read in 12:15, “So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfil the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam…” which was, “See I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand… I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshipped Ashtoreth… and have not walked in obedience to me.” (11:31, 33). The implication is that God had prompted Rehoboam to cause division in the kingdom as judgement for the idolatry of Solomon and the people before him!
That God should do that doesn’t absolve Rehoboam or Jeroboam from responsibility for causing the split. It would seem that God uses the intrinsic evil in people to bring about his purposes as he does with people’s inclinations for good. ‘Our’ decisions may not always be conscious, but they accord with our inner character. In the Christian sphere, the person who has become a follower of Christ and received the Spirit of God, is born from above. Their spirit is changed and their bias is turned towards God. As they continue in that relationship they will want to do what is right, to obey God, and even though they will sometimes fail spectacularly, sense of guilt and conscience should quickly bring them to repentance. King Jeroboam’s bias went the other way. He is remembered as the one who set the ten northern tribes of Israel on a trajectory of idolatry. No king after him turned the tide “away from the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.” (Incidentally, it makes you wonder what sort of a father Nebat may have been.)
The southern kingdom of Judah and Benjamin fared somewhat better with a mixture of good and bad kings, measured not by their power or earthly success, but on the ways in which they led the spiritual life of the country either towards or away from God. The Judean kings (with one queen), beginning with Rehoboam read, evil, evil/good, good, good, evil, evil, evil, good, good, good, good, evil, good, evil, evil, good, evil, evil, evil, evil.
The hero in the North is never the king, but the prophet Elijah (and behind him, God of course). Here are stirring acts of God for desperate times. Drought and rain on command, feeding by ravens, oil and meal that doesn’t run out and then the contest on Mount Carmel with fire from heaven.
It’s well known that it only takes one negative comment to undo a whole string of positives. Jezebel’s threat seems to indicate to Elijah that after all that he has been through and all that God has done, Jezebel continues to control the monarchy and the Baalistic religion of Israel. Elijah wants to die but (as we have noted in a discussion on suffering in the world) he doesn’t see the big picture, only his own bits of the jigsaw, which are looking decidedly dog-eared!
God’s answer to Elijah may help us to hang in when things look bleak and out of control.
It’s basically this…
Elijah, go and anoint the next kings of Aram and Israel, and then your own successor – and understand that you are not alone. I have 7000 faithful people in Israel.
God knows what will both cause and allow events to happen. He has taken it all into account. The knowledge encouraged Elijah to continue his given prophetic ministry and to again confront King Ahab.
The last book in the Bible, Revelation, is avoided by many, and yet it has a similar message. “Hang in there. God is in control. He has already won and when history has played out you will see it even more clearly.” Finish well!