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Political measures of Jeroboam - the golden calves - the new priesthood and the new festival - the man of Elohim from Judah - his message and sign - Jeroboam struck by Jehovah and miraculously restored - invitation to the man of Elohim - heathen view of miracles - the old prophet - return of the man of Elohim to Bethel - JUDGMENT on his disobedience - character of the old prophet and of the man of Elohim - sickness of the pious child of Jeroboam - mission of his mother to Ahijah - predicted judgment - death of the child - remaining notices of Jeroboam. 1 KINGS 12:25-14:20
FROM the history of Judah under Rehoboam, we turn to that of the newly-established kingdom of Israel, the record of which is only found in the Book of Kings (1 Kings 12:25 - 14:20). The first object of Jeroboam ("He shall increase the people") was to strengthen the defenses of his throne. For this purpose he fortified Shechem, the modern Nabiris - which he made his residence until he exchanged it for Tirzah (1 Kings 14:17) - and also the ancient Penuel (Genesis 32:30, 31; Judges 8:8), on the other side Jordan. As the latter place commanded the great caravan-route to Damascus and Palmyra, its fortification would serve the double purpose of establishing the rule of Jeroboam in the territory east of the Jordan, and of protecting the country against incursions from the east and northeast. His next measure, though, as he deemed it, also of a protective character, not only involved the most daring religious innovation ever attempted in Israel, but was fraught with the most fatal consequences to Jeroboam and to Israel. How deeply Israel had sunk appears alike from the fact that the king acted with the approval of his advisers* - no doubt the representatives of the ten tribes - and that the people, with the exception of the Levites and a minority among the laity, readily acquiesced in the measure. It implied no less than a complete transformation of the religion of Jehovah, and that for a purely political object.
* It has been suggested that the expression (1 Kings 12:28): "the king took counsel," only refers to deliberation in his own mind. But the view given in the text seems the more rational, consistent, and accordant with the language of the original.
The danger that, if the people regularly resorted to the great festivals at Jerusalem, their allegiance might be won back to their rightful king, who held rule in the God-chosen capital, was too obvious not to have occurred to a mind even less suspicious than that of an Oriental despot, who had gained his throne by rebellion. To cut off this source of dynastic and even personal peril, Jeroboam, with the advice of his council, introduced a complete change in the worship of Israel, In so doing, his contention would probably be, that he had not abolished the ancient religion of the people, only given it a form better suited to present circumstances - one, moreover, derived from primitive national use, and sanctioned by no less an authority than that of Aaron, the first High-priest.* It was burdensome and almost impossible to go up to the central Sanctuary at Jerusalem. But there was the ancient symbol of the "golden calf,"** made by Aaron himself, under which the people had worshipped Jehovah in the wilderness.
** It has been objected that Jeroboam could not have wished to have recalled to Israel the service of the golden calf in the wilderness, in view of the punishment which followed that sin. But the words and the fact clearly point to it; and many ways might be found of either ignoring or explaining away the consequences of Israel's conduct at that time.
Appealing, perhaps at the formal consecration of these symbols, to the very words which Aaron had used (Exodus 32:4), Jeroboam made two golden calves, and located them at the southern and the northern extremities of the territory of the ten tribes. This was the more easy, since there were both in the south and north "sacred" localities, associated in popular opinion with previous worship. Such in the extreme south was Beth-el - "the house of God and the gate of heaven" - consecrated by the twofold appearance of God to Jacob; set apart by the patriarch himself (Genesis 28:11- 19; 35:1, 7, 9-15); and where of old Samuel had held solemn assemblies (1 Samuel 7:16). Similarly, in the extreme north Dan was a "consecrated" place, where "strange worship" may have lingered from the days of Micah (Judges 18:30, 31).
The setting up of the golden calves as the symbol of Jehovah brought with it other changes. An "house of Bamoth," or Temple for the high-place altars, probably with priests' dwellings attached, was reared. The Levitical priesthood was extruded, either as inseparably connected with the old worship, or because it would not conform to the new order of things, and a new priesthood appointed, not confined to any tribe or family, but indiscriminately taken from all classes of the people,* the king himself apparently acting, in true heathen fashion, as Chief Pontiff (1 Kings 12:32, 33).**
* Our Authorized Version renders "the lowest of the people." But this is not implied in the original, which uses an expression conveying the idea of all ranks and classes, in opposition to the Levites.
Lastly, the great Feast of Tabernacles was transferred from the 7 th to the 8th month, probably as a more suitable and convenient time for a harvest-festival in the northern parts of Palestine, the date (the 15 th ) being, however, retained, as that of the full moon.
That this was virtually, and would in practice almost immediately become idolatry, is evident. Indeed, it is expressly attested in 2 Chronicles 11:15, where the service of the "Calves" is not only associated with that of the Bamoth, or high-place altars, but even with that of "goats"* - the ancient Egyptian worship of Pan under the form of a goat (Leviticus 17:7).
* So literally, and not "devils," as in our Authorized Version and according to the Rabbis.
It is true, the text does not imply, as our Authorized Version suggests, that the new priests were taken "from the lowest of the people." But the emphatic and more detailed repetition of the mode of their appointment (1 Kings 12:31, comp. 13:33), of which apparently the only condition was to bring an offering of one young bullock and seven rams (2 Chronicles 13:9), enables us to judge on what class of people the conduct of the religious services must soon have devolved.
A more daring attempt against that God-ordained symbolical religion, the maintenance of which was the ultimate reason for Israel's call and existence - so to speak, Israel's very raison d'etre - could not be conceived. It was not only an act of gross disobedience, but, as the sacred text repeatedly notes, a system devised out of Jeroboam's own heart, when every religious institution in Israel had been God-appointed, symbolical, and forming a unity of which no part could be touched without impairing the whole. It was a movement which, if we may venture so to say, called for immediate and unmistakable interposition from on high. Here, then, if anywhere, we may look for the miraculous, and that in its most startling manifestation. Nor was it long deferred.
It was, as we take it, the first occasion on which this new Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated, perhaps at the same time also the dedication of the new Temple and the inauguration of its services. Bethel was in festive array, and thronged by pilgrims - for no less a personage than the king himself was to officiate as Chief Pontiff on that occasion. Connecting, as we undoubtedly should do, the last verse of 1 Kings 12: with the first of chapter 13, and rendering it literally, we read that on this feast which he "made" (i.e. of his own devising) "to the children of Israel," the king "went up on the altar," that is, up the sloping ascent which led to the circuit around the altar on which the officiating priest stood. The sacrifices had already been offered, and their smoldering embers and fat had mingled with the ashes (1 Kings 13:3).* And now the most solemn and central part of the service was reached. The king went up the inclined plane to the middle of the altar** to burn the incense, when he was suddenly arrested, and the worshippers startled by a voice from among the crowd (comp. here the similar event in John 7:37). It was a stranger who spoke, and, as we know him, a Judaean, "a man of Elohim." He had come "in*** the word of Jehovah" (1 Kings 13:1) - not merely in charge of it, nor only in its constraining power, but as if the Word of Jehovah itself had come, and this "man of God" been carried in it to deliver the message which he "cried to the altar in the word of Jehovah" (ver. 2). It was to the spurious and rival altar that he spake, and not to the king - for it was a controversy with spurious worship, and King Jeroboam was as nothing before Jehovah.
** Ver. 1 in the original: "Jeroboam stood upon the altar" - this because "going up" the inclined plane to the middle of the altar, he would stand on the circuit of the altar, when laying on it either sacrifices or incense.
*** So literally.
That altar, and the policy which had reared it, would be shivered, the altar desecrated,* and that by a son of David** whereof he gave them immediate symbolic evidence that Jehovah had spoken by his mouth that day,*** by this "wondrous sight,"|* that the altar would be rent, and the ashes laden with the fat of the sacrifices poured out.
* The most effectual mode of desecration would be by the bones of dead men (comp. Numbers 19:16). For the fulfillment of this prediction, see 2 Kings 23:16.
** We would put the words in 1 Kings 13:2, "Josiah by name," within hyphens, thus: " - Josiah by name - ," as not those of the original prophecy, but of the writer of the Book of Kings, being added for the purpose of pointing to the fulfillment of that prediction. Our reasons for this view are: 1. That there is a similar, and in that case, unquestionable, explanatory addition by the writer in ver. 32, where the "cities of Samaria" are mentioned (see our note below); 2. That prophecy never deals in details; 3. That the present would be the only exception to this rule. For, the mention of Cyrus by name in Isaiah 44:28; 45:1, affords no parallel instance, since Cyrus, or Coresh, means "Sun," and may be regarded as the designation (appellation) of the Persian kings, which Cyrus afterwards made his own name (like Augustus Caesar). Keil, indeed, argues that Josiah was also an appellative title, meaning "Jehovah supports him" - but this explanation seems, to say the least, strained. There is no need to suppose that, contrary to the universal canon of prophecy, a prediction would give a name 300 years before the time. Of course, fully believing, as we do, in the reality of prophecy, we admit that this would be quite possible; but on the grounds mentioned, and on others which will readily suggest themselves, it seems so unlikely, that we have adopted a view, supported, if not suggested, by the reference to Samaria in ver. 35. True and reverent faith in Divine revelation will make us only the more careful in our study of its exact meaning.
|* The Hebrew word means a marvelous sign.
Arrested by this uncompromising announcement from one whom he regarded as a daring fanatical intruder, the king turned quickly round, and stretching out his hand towards him, commanded, "Seize him!" But already a mightier Hand than King Jeroboam's was stretched out. Now, if ever, would Jehovah vindicate His authority, prove His Word, and show before all the people that He, Whose authority they had cast off, was the Living God. Then and there must it be shown, in the idol-temple, at the first consecration of that spurious altar, at the first false feast, and upon King Jeroboam, in the pomp of his splendor and the boastfulness of his supposed power (comp. here Acts 12:22, 23). The king had put forth his hand, but he could not draw it back, the Hand of the LORD held it. Some mysterious stroke had fallen upon him; and while he thus stood, himself a sign, the top of the altar suddenly parted, and the ashes, clogged and heavy with the fat of idol- sacrifices, poured out around him. No hand was stretched out to seize the "man of God". Nor was there need of it - the "man of God" had neither design nor desire to escape. Rather was it now the king's turn, not to command but to entreat. In the expressive language of the original, "And the king answered" (to the unspoken word of Jehovah in the stroke that had arrested his hand), and said, Soften now the Face of Jehovah thy God, and make entreaty on my behalf, and (or, that) "my hand shall return to me."
It was as he craved - for the prophecy and controversy were not with the king, but with the Altar. And all this had been only a sign, which had fulfilled its purpose, and would fulfill it still more, if the same Power that had appeared in the sudden stroke would again become manifest in its equally sudden removal. As for Jeroboam, Jehovah had no controversy with him then and there, nor indeed anywhere. The judgment of his sins would soon enough overtake him and his house. It might, indeed, seem passing strange that the king could now invite this "man of God" to his palace and table, and even promise him "a reward," if we did not bear in mind the circumstances of the times, and the heathen idea of miracles. To the heathen the miraculous, as direct Divine manifestation, was not something extraordinary and unexpected. Heathenism - may we not say, the ancient world? - expected the miraculous; and hence in those times God's manifestation by miracles might almost be designated not as an extraordinary, but, according to the then notions, as the ordinary mode of teaching. Moreover, heathenism regarded miracles as simply manifestations of power, and the worker of miracles as a magician, possessed of power - the question being, whether the power of the deity whom he represented was greater than that of other gods, or not. It was, no doubt, in this light that Jeroboam regarded this "man of Elohim" the name Elohim itself expressing especially "power."* This, as well as knowledge of the character of his own "prophets," and perhaps a secret hope that he might attach him to himself by a "reward," prompted the words of the king. He would do honor to the man of power, and, through him, to the deity whom he represented - perhaps even gain the man of God.**
** I prefer this to the view that Jeroboam's conduct was merely prompted by the wish to nullify the effect upon the people. Such a motive seems, psychologically, unlikely in the circumstances.
It need scarcely be said, that the mere fact of the "man of God" entering the king's palace and sharing his feast, probably a sacrificial idol-feast would not only have been contrary to the whole scope and spirit of his embassy, but have destroyed the moral effect of the scene enacted before the people. So, to mention a much lower parallelism is the moral effect of all Christian testimony, whether by word or life, annulled by every act of conformity to, and fellowship with the world (comp. Romans 12:1, 2). But in the present instance any danger of this kind had by anticipation been averted. God had given His messenger express command, neither to eat bread nor to drink water in that place, nor even to return by the way that he had come. These directions had, of course, a much deeper and symbolical meaning. They indicated that Bethel lay under the ban; that no fellowship of any kind was to be held with it; and that even the way by which the messenger of God had come, was to be regarded as consecrated, and not to be retraced.*
* The general explanation, that this was added, in order that it should not be known what route he took, so that he might be fetched back, needs no refutation.
In the discharge of the commission entrusted to him, the "man of God," who had "come in the word of Jehovah," was to consider himself as an impersonal being - till he was beyond the place to which, and the road by which he had been sent. Whatever view, therefore, we may take of his after-conduct, it cannot at least surprise us, that at that moment no earthly temptation could have induced him to accept the king's offer (1 Kings 13:8, 9).
Yet, as we think of it, the answer of the "man of God" seems to us disappointing. It is like that of Balaam to the messengers of Balak (Numbers 22:13, 18), and yet we know that all along his heart was with them, and that he afterwards yielded to their solicitations, to his own destruction. We would have expected more from the "man of God" than a mere recital of his orders - some expression of feeling like that of Daniel under analogous circumstances (Daniel 5:17). But, in repeating before all the people the express command which God had given him, the "man of God," like Balaam of old, also pronounced his own necessary doom, if he swerved from the injunction laid upon him. He had borne testimony - and by the testimony of his own mouth he must be content to be judged; he was quite certain of the command which God had laid upon him, and by that certainty he must abide.
And at first it seemed as if he would have done so. His message delivered, he left Bethel by another way than that which he had come. Among his astonished audience that day had been the sons of an old resident in Bethel, whose real character it is not easy to read.*
* See the remarks further on.
In the sacred narrative he is throughout designated as Navi, or Prophet (literally: one who wells forth"), while the Divine messenger from Judah is always described as "man of Elohim" - a distinction which must have its meaning. On their return from the idol-temple, the eldest of his sons* described to the old prophet the scene which they had witnessed. Inquiring from them what road the "man of God" had taken - which they, and probably many others had watched** - he hastily rode after him, and overtook him.
* In the second clause of ver. 11 the singular is used, "his son," not as in our Authorized Version, "sons." The plural which follows shows, however, that several sons were present, though one was the spokesman. From the presence of the "old prophet" in Bethel, and that of Ahijah in Shiloh, we infer that, if there was a migration of pious laity into the territory of Rehoboam - which, however, is not expressly stated in 2 Chronicles 11:16 - it must have been that of a minority.
** This disposes of the argument quoted in the previous page as to the reason why the "man of God" was to return by another road.
The "man of Elohim" was resting under "the terebinth" - apparently a well-known spot where travelers were wont to unlade their beasts of burden, and to halt for shelter and repose (a kind of "Travelers' Rest"). Repeating the invitation of Jeroboam, he received the same answer as the king. There could be even less hesitation now, since the "man of God" had actually left Bethel, nor could he possibly have deemed it right to return thither. Upon this the old prophet addressed him as a colleague, and falsely pretended, not indeed that Jehovah, but that "an angel in the word of Jehovah," had directed him to fetch him back, when the other immediately complied. As the two sat at table in Bethel, suddenly "the word of Jehovah was upon the prophet* who had brought him back." Because he had "resisted (rebelled against) the mouth of Jehovah, and not kept the commandment which Jehovah had commanded him,"** his dead body should not come into the sepulcher*** of his fathers.
* So literally.
** So literally.
*** The sepulchers in Palestine were not like ours, but generally rockhewn, and consisted of an ante-chamber and an inner cave in which the bodies were deposited in niches, the entrance to the sepulcher being guarded by a stone. For details, comp. Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, p. 171.
Startling as such an announcement must have been, it would set two points vividly before him: his disobedience and his impending punishment - the latter very real, according to the views prevailing at the time (Genesis 47:30; 49:29; 50:25; 2 Samuel 19:37, etc.), although not implying either immediate or even violent death. It is very surprising to - us and indicative of the absence of the higher moral and spiritual elements - that this announcement was not followed by any expression of sorrow or repentance, but that the meal seems to have continued uninterrupted to the end. Did the old prophet seem to the other only under an access of ecstatic frenzy? Did the fact that he announced not immediate death blunt the edge of his message? Had disobedience to the Divine command carried as its consequence immediate spiritual callousness? Or had the return of the "man of God" to Bethel after all been the result of a deeper estrangement from God, of which the first manifestation had already appeared in what we have described as his strangely insufficient answer to Jeroboam's invitation and offer? These are necessarily only suggestions - and yet it seems to us as if all these elements had been present and at work to bring about the final result.
The meal was past, and the "old prophet" saddled his ass to convey his guest to his destination. But the end of the journey was never reached. As some travelers were passing that way, they saw an unwonted spectacle which must have induced them to hasten on their journey. Close by the roadside lay a dead body, and beside it stood the ass* which the uhhappy man had ridden - both guarded, as it were, by the lion, who had killed the man, evidently by the weight of his paw as he knocked him down,** without, however, rending him, or attempting to feed on his carcass. Who the dead man was, the travelers seem not to have known, nor would they, of course, pause by the road.
* From 2 Kings 2:24 we gather, that the forest around Bethel was the haunt of wild beasts. It will be easily understood, that it was almost necessary the lion should remain by the dead body, alike to show the Divine character of the judgment, and to induce the passers-by to make haste on their journey.
** This is clearly implied by the word "broken" in 1 Kings 13:26, marginal rendering.
On passing through Bethel - which from the narrative does not seem to have been their ultimate destination, but the first station which they reached they naturally "talked in the town" about what they had just seen in its neighborhood. When the rumor reached the "old prophet," he immediately understood the meaning of all. Riding to the spot, he reverently carried home with him the dead body of the "man of God," mourned over, and buried him in his own sepulcher, marking the place by a monumental pillar to distinguish this from other tombs, and to keep the event in perpetual remembrance. But to his sons he gave solemn direction to lay him in the same tomb - in the rock-niche by the side of that in which the "man of God" rested. This was to be a dying testimony to "the man of God" that his embassy of God had been real, and that surely the "thing would be" (that it would happen) "which he had cried in the word of Jehovah against the altar which (was)at Bethel, and against all the Bamoth-houses which (are)* in the cities of Samaria."
With this profession of faith in the truth of Jehovah's message, and in the power of the LORD certainly to bring it to pass at some future time, would the old prophet henceforth live. With it would he die and be buried - laying his bones close to those of the "man of God," sharing his grave, and nestling, as it were, for shelter in the shadow of that great Reality which "the man of God" had cast over Bethel. So would he, in life and death, speak of, and cling to Jehovah - as the True and the Living God.
More than three hundred years later, and nearly a century had passed since the children of Israel had been carried away from their homes. Then it was that what, centuries before, the "man of God" had foretold, became literally true (2 Kings 23:15-18). The idol-temple, in which Jeroboam had stood in his power and glory on that opening day, was burned by Josiah; the Bamoth were cast down; and on that altar, to defile it, they gathered from the neighboring sepulchers the bones of its former worshippers, and burned them there. Yet in their terrible search of vengeance one monument arrested their attention. They asked of them at Bethel. It marked the spot where the bones of "the man of God" and of his host the "old prophet" of Samaria* lay.
* The mention of Samaria here and in 1 Kings 13:32 must have been explanatory additions by the writer, since Samaria was only built by Omri (1 Kings 16:24). This, of course, confirms the view we have expressed about the mention of the name of Josiah. It need scarcely be stated, that this in no way invalidates the truthfulness of the narrative, but rather confirms it.
And they reverently left the bones in their resting-places, side by side - as in life, death, and burial, so still and for aye witnesses to Jehovah; and safe in their witness-bearing. But three centuries and more between the prediction and the final fulfillment: and in that time symbolic rending of the altar, changes, wars, final ruin, and desolation! And still the word seemed to slumber all those centuries of silence, before it was literally fulfilled. There is something absolutely overawing in this absence of all haste on the part of God, in this certainty of the final event, with apparent utter unconcern of what may happen during the long centuries that intervene, which makes us tremble as we realize how much of buried seed of warning or of promise may sleep in the ground, and how unexpectedly, but how certainly, it will ripen as in one day into a harvest of judgment or of mercy.
But too many questions and lessons are involved in this history to pass it without further study. Who was this "old prophet?" Was he a true prophet of Jehovah? And why did he thus "lie" to the destruction of the "man of God?" Again, why was such severe punishment meted out to the "man of God?" Did he deserve any for what might have been only an error of judgment? And why did his tempter and seducer apparently escape all punishment? To begin with the old "prophet" of Bethel - we do not regard him as simply a false prophet, whose object it was to seduce "the man of God," either from jealousy or to destroy the effect of his mission.*
* This, in one form or another, is the view of Josephus, the Targum, and of most of the Rabbinical and Christian commentators.
On the other hand, it seems equally incorrect to speak of him as a true prophet of God, roused from sinful conformity with those around by the sudden appearance of the Judean messenger of Jehovah, and anxious to recover himself by fellowship with "the man of God," even if that intercourse could only be secured by means of a falsehood.*
* So Ephr. Syr., Theodor., Witsius, Hengstenberg, Keil, and Bahr.
Nor would we describe his conduct as intended to try the steadfast obedience of the "man of God." The truth seems to lie between these extreme opinions. Putting aside the general question of heathen divination, which we have not sufficient materials satisfactorily to answer, it is at least certain that not every Navi was a prophet of Jehovah. That God should have sent a message through one who was not His prophet, need not surprise us when we recall the history of Balaam. Moreover, it was peculiarly appropriate, that the announcement of guilt and punishment should come to the "man of God" through the person who had misled him by false pretense of an angelic command, and at the very meal to which the "man of God" should never have sat down. Again, it is evident that, from the moment he heard of the scene in the idol-temple, the "old prophet" believed in the genuineness and authority of the message brought to Bethel. Every stage in the history deepened this conviction, until at last it became, so to speak, the fundamental fact of his religious life, which must have determined his whole after-conduct. May it not have been that this "old Navi" was one of the fruits of the "Schools of the Prophets" - the prophetic order having apparently been widely revived during the later part of Solomon's reign? Settling in Bethel (as Lot in Sodom), he may have gradually lapsed into toleration of evil - as the attendance of his children in the idol-temple seems to imply - without, however, surrendering his character, perhaps his office of "Prophet," the more so as the service of Jehovah might be supposed to be only altered in form, not abolished, by the adoption of the symbol of the Golden Calves. In that case his immediate recognition of the "man of God," and his deepening conviction may be easily understood; his earnest desire to claim and have fellowship with a direct messenger of God seems natural; and even his unscrupulous use of falsehood is accounted for.
These considerations will help to show that there was an essential difference between him and "the man of God," and that the punishment which overtook the latter bears no possible relation to the apparent impunity of the "old prophet." That terrible judgment ought to be viewed from two different points, as it were, absolutely - from heaven downwards; and relatively to the person whom it overtook - from earth heavenwards. The most superficial consideration will convince, that, from the nature of the case, the authority of God must have been vindicated, and that by a patent and terrible judgment, if the object and meaning of the message which He had sent were not to be nullified. When "the man of God" publicly proclaimed in the temple the terms which God had prescribed, he pronounced his own sentence in case of disobedience. Besides, the main idea underlying the Divine employment of such messengers was that of their absolute and unquestioning execution of the exact terms of their commission. This essential condition of the prophetic office it was the more necessary to vindicate in Bethel, as also at the commencement of a period marked by a succession of prophets in Israel, who, in the absence of the God-ordained services, were to keep alive the knowledge of Jehovah, and, by their warnings and teaching, to avert, if possible, the catastrophe of national judgment which would overtake apostate Israel.
As regards "the man of God" himself, we have already noticed the increasing spiritual callousness, consequent upon his first unfaithfulness. But putting this aside, surely there never could have been any serious question in his mind as to his duty. By his own testimony, he had received express and unmistakable command of God, which Scripture again and again repeats, for the sake of emphasis; and his conduct should have been guided on the plain principle, that an obvious and known duty can never be set aside by another seeming duty. Besides, what evidence had he that an angel had really spoken to the "old prophet;" or even that his tempter was a "prophet" at all, or, if a prophet, acted in the prophetic spirit? All these points are so obvious, that the conduct of the "man of God" would seem almost incredible, if we did not recall how often in every-day life we are tempted to turn aside from the plain demands of right and duty by a false call in contravention to it. In all moral and spiritual questions it is ever most dangerous to reason, simple obedience and not argument is the only safe path (comp. here Galatians 1:8). One duty can never contravene another and the plainly known and clear command of God must silence all side-questions.
Viewing the conduct of the "man of God" as a fall and a sin, all becomes plain. He had publicly announced his duty, and he had publicly contravened it; and his punishment was, through the remarkable, though not miraculous, circumstances* under which it overtook him, equally publicly known. Throughout the whole history there is, so to speak, a remarkable equipoise in the circumstances of his sin and of his punishment, as also in the vindication of God's authority.
And yet even so, the moral effect of God's message was apparently weakened through the sin of His messenger. So terribly fatal in their consequences are our sins, even when publicly punished. For it is scarcely possible to believe that, had it not been so, Jeroboam would "after this thing" have uninterruptedly continued his former course of defiance of the authority of God. But here the history also turns from Israel to its wretched king, and in a narrative of deepest pathos shows us at the same time the punishment of his sin, and the wonderful tenderness of God's dealings towards those who, in the midst of greatest temptations, have kept their hearts true to Him, and are preserved by His mercy from the evil to come. And most comforting is it to know that God has and keeps His own - even though it be in the family of a Jeroboam, and that true piety finds its respectful acknowledgment, even among a people so sunken as was Israel at that time.
If it were necessary to show how unhappiness and sin go hand in hand, the history about to be told would furnish ample evidence of it. The main reason of its insertion in the Biblical record is, of course, that it gave occasion to announce the Divine punishment upon the race of Jeroboam, as having traversed the fundamental condition on which the possibility of the new dynasty rested (1 Kings 11:38). At the same time, it seems also to cast an important side-light on the transaction between Ahijah the prophet and Jeroboam, when the former first announced to him his future elevation to the kingdom (1 Kings 11:29-39). Keil renders 1 Kings 14:7. "Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel: Therefore, because thou hast elevated thyself from amongst the people, and I have given thee ruler over My people Israel."
If this rendering is correct, it would imply that his elevation, or leadership of Israel, was in the first place entirely Jeroboam's own act, and that, having so elevated himself and assumed the leadership, God afterwards bestowed on him the rule to which he aspired, leaving for future trial the fitness of his race for the kingdom.
But, besides the higher Divine meaning of this history, it possesses also a deep human interest. It gives us a glimpse into the inner family life of the wretched king, as, divested of crown and purple, and having cast aside statecraft and religious falsehood, he staggers under a sore blow. For once we see the man, not the king, and, as each man appears truest, when stricken to the heart by a sorrow which no earthly power can turn aside. From Shechem the royal residence had been transferred to the ancient Canaanite city (Joshua 12:24) Tirzah, the beautiful (Cant. 6. 4), two hours to the north of Samaria, amidst cultivated fruit- and-olive-clad hills, up on a swelling height, with glorious outlook over the hills and valleys of rich Samaria.*
* The fullest description is that in Guerin's Samarie, tome i., pp. 365- 368. It is the modern Thallusah: comp. Bottger, Topogr. Histor. Lex. zu Flavius Josephus, p. 243.
The royal palace seems to have stood at the entering in of the city (comp. 1 Kings 14:17 with ver. 12). But within its stately apartments reigned silence and sorrow. Abijah, Jeroboam's son, and apparently the intended successor to his throne, lay sick. He seems like the last link that bound Jeroboam to his former better self. The very name of the child- Abijah, "Jehovah is my Father," or else "my Desire" - indicates this, even if it were not for the touching notice, that in him was "found a good thing towards Jehovah, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam" (ver. 13) We can conceive how this "good thing" may have sprung up; but to keep and to cause it to grow in such surroundings, surely needed the gracious tending of the Good Husbandman. It was the one green spot in Jeroboam's life and home; the one germ of hope. And as his father loved him truly, so all Israel had set their hopes on him. Upon the inner life of this child - its struggles and its victories - lies the veil of Scripture silence; and best that it should be so. But now his pulses were beating quick and weak, and that life of love and hope seemed fast ebbing. None with the father in those hours of darkness - neither counselor, courtier, prophet, nor priest - save the child's mother. As the two kept sad watch, helpless and hopeless, the past, to which this child bound him, must have come back to Jeroboam. One event in it chiefly stood out: it was his first meeting with Ahijah the Shilonite. That was a true prophet - bold, uncompromising with. With that impulse of despair which comes upon men in their agony, when all the delusions of a misspent life are swept away, he turned to the opening of his life, so full of hope and happy possibility, the ambition had urged him upon the path of reckless sacrifice of all that had been dearest and holiest; the unlimited possession had dazzled his sight and the sound of flattery deafened his ears. As to Saul of old on the eve of that fatal battle, when God and man had become equally silent to him, the figure of Samuel had stood out - that which to us might seem the most unlikely he could have wished to encounter - so now to Jeroboam that of Ahijah. Could he have wished to blot out, as it were, all that had intervened, and to stand before the prophet as on the day when first he met him, when great but not yet unholy thoughts rose within him? Had he some unspoken hope of him who had first announced to him his reign? Or did he only in sheer despair long to know what would come to the child, even though he were to learn the worst? Be this as it may, he must have word from Ahijah, whatever it might be.
In that hour he has no friend nor helper save the mother of his child. She must go, in her love, to the old prophet in Shiloh. But how dare she, Jeroboam's wife, present herself there? Nay, the people also must not know what or whither her errand was. And so she must disguise herself as a poor woman, carrying with her, indeed, as customary, a gift to the prophet, but one such as only the poorest in the land would offer. While alone and in humble disguise the wife of Jeroboam goes on her heavy embassy, across the hills of Samaria, past royal Shechem, Another has already brought her message to Shiloh. No need for the queen to disguise herself, so far as Ahijah was concerned, since age had blinded his eyes. But Jehovah had spoken to His aged servant, and charged him concerning this matter. And as he heard the sound of her feet within the door, he knew who his unseen visitor was, and addressed her not as queen but as the wife of Jeroboam. Stern, terrible things they were which he was commissioned to tell her; and with unswerving faithfulness and unbending truth he spake them, though his heart must have bled within him as he repeated what himself called "hard tidings."*
* In the original it is simply "hard."
All the more deeply must the aged prophet have felt them, that it was he who had announced to Jeroboam his future elevation. They concerned Jeroboam; but they also touched every heart- string in the wife and the mother, and must well nigh have torn each one of them as they swept across her. First:* an uncompromising recital of the past, and a sternly true representation of the present - all glare, dazzle, and self-delusion dispelled, until it stood in naked reality before her.
* Commentators have noted in the ten verses of Ahijah's message (vers. 7- 16) a rhythmic arrangement, viz., twice 5 verses - the first stanza (vers. 7-11) consisting of 3 + 2, the last stanza (vers. 12-16) of 2 + 3 verses.
Only two persons are in this picture, Jehovah and Jeroboam - all else is in the far background. That is enough; and now once in full sight of those two persons, the wife, the mother, must hear it all, though her ears tingle and her knees tremble. Not this child only, but every child, nay, every descendant, down to the meanest, whether it be child or adult* - swept away: "And I will sweep out after the house of Jeroboam, as one sweepeth out dirt until it is quite gone" (1 Kings 14:10).**
** This is the literal, and, as will be perceived, much more forcible rendering.
And not only this, but also horrible judgment; the carcasses of her children lying like carrion in street and on field, their flesh torn and eaten by the wild, unclean dogs that prowl about, or picked from their limbs by birds of prey who swoop round them with hoarse croaking.*
* Comp. here Exodus 20:4, 5; Deuteronomy 28:26. Even the alteration of this latter passage in 1 Kings 14:11 is in favor of the earlier age of the Book of Deuteronomy - since the addition about the "dogs" points to Eastern town-life, where the wild dogs act as scavengers of cities.
Thus far for Jeroboam. And now as for the child that lay sick in the palace of Tirzah - it shall be in God's keeping, removed from the evil to come. As her feet touched the threshold of her doomed home, it would die. As it were, such heavy tidings shall not be brought within where he sleeps; its terrors shall not darken his bed. Before they can reach him, he shall be beyond their shadow and in the light. But around that sole-honored grave all Israel shall be the mourners, and God Himself wills to put this mark of honor upon His one child in that now cursed family. Lastly, as for apostate Israel, another king raised up to execute the judgment of God - nay, all this not merely in the dim future, but the scene seems to shift, and the prophet sees it already in the present.*
* The words of the original are somewhat difficult to render on account of the abruptness of the speech; but the above, which corresponds with our Authorized Version, gives the correct meaning.
Israel shaken as a reed in the water by wind and waves; Israel uprooted from their land, - cast away and, scattered among the heathen beyond the river, and given up to be trampled under foot. Such is the end of the sins of Jeroboam and of his people; such, in the bold figure of Scripture, is the sequel of casting Jehovah "behind their back."* Of the further course of this history we know no more. The queen and mother went back, stricken, to her home; and it was as the prophet had told her from Jehovah. And this literal fulfillment would be to her for ever afterwards the terrible pledge of what was yet to come.
Nor do we read any more of Jeroboam. It almost seems as if Holy Scripture had nothing further to say of him, not even concerning his later and disastrous war with the son of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 13:2-20). That is told in connection with the reign of the second king of Judah. Of Jeroboam we only read that he "reigned two and twenty years," that "he slept with his fathers," and that "Nadab his son reigned in his stead."*
* We subjoin the following as the most interesting of the Rabbinical notices about Jeroboam (comp. the Nachalath Shimoni, vol. i., p. 37, b and c): The name of Jeroboam is explained as "making contest among the people," either in reference to their relationship to God, or as between Israel and Judah (Sanh. 101, b). His father Nebat is identified with Micah, and even with Sheba, the son of Bichri (Sanh. ib.). The Talmud records various legendary accounts of Jeroboam's quarrel with Solomon, in which the former appears more in the right (Sanh. ib.), although he is blamed alike for the public expression of his feelings and for his rebellion. That rebellion is regarded as the outward manifestation of long-existing disunion. The government of Jeroboam is looked upon as distinguished by firmness, and he is praised for his wisdom, which had given rise to great hope. Pride is stated to have been the reason of his apostasy from God. (Sanh. 102 a). The promise to Jacob in Genesis 35:11, "Kings shall come out of thee," is applied in Bereshith R. 82 (ed. Warsh. p. 146, b), to Jeroboam; but he is regarded as not having share in the world to come. Seven such are mentioned: three kings - Jeroboam, Ahab, and Manasseh, and four private persons - Balaam, Doeg, Ahithophel, and Gehazi (Sanh. 90, a). He is also mentioned among those who are condemned eternally to Gehenna in Rosh ha-Shanah, 17, a.