Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Unless the Lord Build the House (I Kings 11-14)

Israel is firmly planted in the land. The kingdom is established. God dwells along side them in his glorious holy temple. The nations are flocking to them to receive the blessings of the Lord. And then things all go to Hell.

Solomon arranges the downfall of the kingdom of David by marrying foreign women - one of the cardinal pitfalls warned against in the books of the law. From there his wives turn away his heart and seduce him into building idols to Ashtoreth, Milcom, Chemosh, and Molech.

The Lord pronounces judgment:
Since… you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.
Gone are the former threats of annihilating the people and starting from scratch. David and his wholehearted faithfulness really has changed things. Even Solomon’s idolatry is not enough to counter the blessings and promises toward the house of that great king – he will die a wealthy old man despite his sin.

The hammer instead falls upon Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. One of the ongoing themes of the Old Testament that I am slowly growing to appreciate is the connection between generations in sharing blessings and curses, righteousness and sin. Rehoboam is being punished for the sin of Solomon, and it’s every bit his own fault. After ignoring the advice of his older officials, he arrogantly insults the other tribes, which then incites a revolt. As in the garden, rebellion against the Lord is soon followed by enmity among brothers.

The Lord then raises up Jeroboam, who unites the ten northern tribes against the house of David in Judah. He is promised blessings from the Lord equal to David, if only he will be faithful in the same way David was. But Jeroboam is far too practical for such idealism. Knowing that constant pilgrimages to Jerusalem for worship might turn the people back toward union with Judah, he decides to create his own religion:
So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. … He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart.
This is bad…really bad. Jeroboam is Aaron, Korah, and Absalom all wrapped into one. He had a chance to be another great stone upon which he would build the kingdom of Israel, and instead he becomes the mother of all stumbling blocks. I don’t know if I recall seeing the Lord so mad at an individual person before. His pronouncement, when Jeroboam’s wife goes to inquire about a sick child, is shocking, even for the Old Testament:
Behold, I will bring harm upon the house of Jeroboam and will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will burn up the house of Jeroboam, as a man burns up dung until it is all gone. Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat, for the Lord has spoken it… Arise therefore, go to your house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die. And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the Lord, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam.
In other words, dying of sickness is a blessing for a son of Jeroboam. God sees something worth salvaging in the child, and death and burial is preferable for the utter ruin that he’s about to bring on Jeroboam’s house.

The wrath of God is proportional to the potential of man. I get the impression that Jeroboam really did have the potential to be another David. The promises were all there. David proved it could be done. And though Jeroboam fails, David's house will continue on. God's purposes will be fulfilled no matter what - but it is for man to choose what part he will play in fulfilling them.

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