Jeroboam and Rehoboam; or, God in Government.

1 Kings 12, 1 Kings 13; 2 Chronicles 12.

1868 82 God's glory must be maintained. "Before all the people I will be glorified" was God's announcement by Moses to Aaron in the day of his brother's greatest honour and deepest distress. (Lev. 10:3.) His sons Nadab and Abihu had "offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out a fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." A terrible end to a glorious morning was this judicial action of God on Aaron's sons. "And Aaron held his peace." He was silent. What could he say to this but acquiesce in it? It was right, it was fitting, that the God of the whole earth should resent an affront offered Him by those whom He had brought into such close official relationship to Himself. If all Israel had failed, they ought, as the tribe of Levi did on another memorable occasion, to have cared for the glory of Jehovah, and to have sedulously guarded against the introduction of unhallowed fire into the tabernacle of God. They did not; for they introduced it, and died.

If men fail to care for God's glory, He may, for a time, forbear, but in the end He must act: He cannot deny Himself. He cannot acquiesce in the failure of His creature in this or any other matter. The Gentiles, when they knew God, glorified Him not as God: so He gave them up to uncleanness. (Rom. 1:21-24.) Belshazzar, though he knew the facts of Nebuchadnezzar's sickness, glorified not God: so the handwriting appeared to announce his approaching doom. (Dan. 5:23.) Jeroboam displaced Him in Israel when he set up the golden calves: so God had to show that He was God. Rehoboam with Judah forsook His law: so He made them feel the consequences of their sin.

Because of the grievous abominations and idolatry sanctioned by Solomon, Jeroboam was appointed by God to be the future king of the ten tribes. The kingdom became his, because God could not suffer sin in Israel without taking notice of it; and the kingdom would be his and his children's without change of dynasty, if he walked in God's ways, as David had done. The reason of his having it and the condition of his keeping it were both plainly declared on that day, outside the walls of Jerusalem, when Elijah the Shilonite rent the new garment, and gave him ten pieces out of the twelve. And God proved Himself faithful to His word. Solomon was to be king all the days of his life, because of David's sake; but the kingdom should be taken out of the hands of his son, and the ten tribes should be given to Jeroboam.

An exile in Egypt till Solomon's death, Jeroboam was recalled after Rehoboam had ascended the throne, and quickly found himself the accepted ruler of these ten tribes. The sure result of disobedience was clearly manifested when he was made king. He knew the reason of his elevation. The beneficial effect, on the children, of the father's obedience he had witnessed in the continuance of the kingdom unbroken in the hands of Solomon. He knew the cause of the delay between the promise of the kingdom by the mouth of Abijah at Jerusalem, and his possession of it at Shechem. If ever there was a man who had been initiated into the cause of God's governmental dealings with His creatures, that man was Jeroboam. The relation of cause and effect in the severance of the kingdom in twain he knew perfectly; and the terms on which he could retain for himself and family the kingdom he knew also. To retain the kingdom he must be obedient to God; to lose it, he had only to be regardless of God's glory, and take his own way. He chose the latter alternative; he set up the golden calves in open hostility to the altar at Jerusalem: so God had to intervene, and to glorify Himself.

Once seated on the throne of Israel, to keep possession of it was his object. Abijah had years before told him how to do this, but he followed his own heart, and drew Israel into grievous and abiding sin. The calves were set up at Dan and Bethel. A priesthood also he instituted; and a house of high places he built, in imitation, doubtless, of the temple on Mount Moriah. He invented a feast, too, in the eighth month instead of keeping the one God appointed for the seventh. All being ready, following the example of Solomon at the dedication of the temple, he stood to burn incense on the altar. At the dedication of the temple God manifested His presence, and showed to all He took knowledge of what went on: the fire descended and consumed the sacrifice, and the glory of the Lord filled the house. At the institution of the feast Jeroboam devised, God likewise manifested that He witnessed what Israel were engaged in: a prophet appeared, and cried against the altar but just erected for a new worship. He announced its destruction, and foretold that the object Jeroboam had at heart, to keep Israel permanently separated from Judah, his sin had effectually prevented. A child born to the house of David, Josiah by name, should exercise authority where Jeroboam then stood, the religion and the rites that day inaugurated should pass away; and the altar devoted, as people might suppose, to the worship of Jehovah under the figure of the calves, should be defiled by the burning on it of men's bones. The priesthood Jeroboam had appointed God disowned; and where they had offered up sacrifices, priests of the high places should be sacrificed; and a sign was given as an earnest of the fulfilment of this prediction — the altar was rent and the ashes poured out. The Lord Jehovah had been that day grievously dishonoured, and He would show it; He rejected the sacrifice. No fire from above descended to consume it, but the altar on which it was laid was rent underneath it. Jeroboam had imitated Solomon, and grievously sinned against God. God rejected the imitation, and more markedly signified His displeasure. He accepted Solomon, and answered his prayer. He regarded not Jeroboam; for the prophet He sent addressed himself to the altar.

Attempting to seize God's prophet, Jeroboam had to own the power of the Lord: his arm dried up so that he could not withdraw it — outstretched in the very act of rebellion against God, it remained a spectacle to all the people. At the altar he had reared, before the calf he had made, the power of Jehovah was displayed. His arm remained stretched out, showing what he would do; but control over it he had lost — a striking illustration of man's impotence when arrayed against God. Jehovah on that occasion made all to see that He was above and distinct from the idols; and Jeroboam had to confess before all the company of Israel there assembled that Jehovah alone could help him. "Entreat now the face of the Lord thy God, and pray for me that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the Lord, and the king's hand was restored him again." The prayer was immediately answered and God was the more glorified, His power was exhibited in fixing that outstretched arm, and His power was seen in re-invigorating it.

But whilst Jeroboam was healed, not one particle of the judgment then pronounced was averted, nor was it delayed a single day beyond the stipulated time. It was the prophet He accepted, not Jeroboam. The prayer of the man of God received an immediate answer, but not because God would show mercy to Jeroboam; for the king did not turn to God, nor humble himself before Him, neither did the people. God vindicated His name where it had been so flagrantly outraged; but He did no more, because they were not in a condition to have mercy shown them; yet He was ready to be merciful. That was, that is, His character. "He delighteth in mercy" is the revelation of Himself given us in Micah 7:18. "The Lord God gracious and merciful," etc., such was the statement, as He would be displayed in government, made to Moses when in the cleft of the rock at Mount Sinai. It needs only the opportunity to display this; and the opportunity is furnished when men are ready to receive it. The history of Rehoboam shows this.

For three years after Rehoboam's accession Judah walked in the ways of David and Solomon. Then they failed, and forsook the law of the Lord, and Shishak king of Egypt was raised up to be their enemy. This was the first time since the exodus that the power of Egypt was felt by the children of Israel. In the fifth year of Rehoboam Shishak invaded Judah. Whilst Judah glorified God by serving Him, He prospered them; when they forsook His laws, He dealt with them; and speedily did the punishment overtake them. Strong for three years, within the two following ones Rehoboam found himself weak and defenceless, a foreign power ravaging the country, and Jerusalem itself threatened. The defended cities proved no barrier, for the invaders were a great host. What were the people to do? The princes assembled at Jerusalem were powerless to avert the threatened calamity. The king and his counselors with all their wisdom could not divert the conqueror from his purpose. God then sent a message by Shemaiah, telling them of their sin, and that He should deal justly with them. "Ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hands of Shishak," was the message Shemaiah had to deliver. What a message was this! Who could say a word against it? It was perfectly just. God dealt with them as they had dealt with Him. He could not pass over their sin. They reaped the fruits of their own actions.

Perfectly just, yet how terrible was this! not a hint of mercy, not a glimmer of hope. Who could support such a manner of dealing with them on the part of God? Let any poor child of Adam, who trusts to his own righteousness, ask himself if he could stand to be dealt with by God strictly — as he has done to God, to receive from God according to what he has done and no more. What man is there who, in his inmost soul, would not shrink, if such a proposal were made to him? But how did the king, the princes, act when Shemaiah delivered his crushing message? They glorified God, and that moment mercy was vouchsafed them. "The Lord is righteous" was their reply. They humbled themselves, and said no more. They deserved such treatment. They took their right place before Him. They justified God, without excusing themselves. Jeroboam asked to have his arm healed. He felt the inconvenience and desired its removal, but not one word in justification of God escaped his lips. Rehoboam and his people asked for nothing. We read not of any prayer for the removal of Shishak. They justified God, and He was manifest to them. "Because they have humbled themselves, therefore I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance, and my wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak." How ready is God to respond to people when they own Him as the righteous Ruler! Ahab humbled himself, and God deferred the threatened judgment till his son's day. Jezebel did not follow her husband, so the dogs ate her flesh in Jezreel.

What a character is that of our God! Righteous He is, yet merciful. "Because they have humbled themselves." They took their right place before Him, therefore He could say, "I will grant them some deliverance. It is God in government that we have set forth in these two histories, a warning and an encouragement to all who will take heed. Shishak plundered Jerusalem, the golden shields were taken away, the treasures of the Lord's house and of the king's house he got possession of — he took all. A sorrowful time it must have been for Judah; but the secret of the Lord they knew. His wrath should not be poured out on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak. Israel was already given up, having acquiesced in the sin of Jeroboam. (2 Kings 14:16.) Judah deserved the same treatment; but, when they humbled themselves, God granted them some deliverance, and it was not till the reign of Manasseh that the fiat went forth for their captivity in Babylon. (2 Kings 21:12-16; 2 Kings 24:4-5.)

God's ways in grace we may well trace, but His ways in government also. God must be glorified. If His people fail in this, He must act against them; but if they humble themselves, He can show mercy, and He surely will. Rehoboam was strong for three years, then weakness supervened. The cause was shown: He humbled himself, and Judah with him, and the impending chastisement was mitigated, and he again became strong in Jerusalem. Jeroboam was a mighty man of valour, no despicable enemy in the field as Abijam found; but of him, after the establishment of the calves, and the mission of the prophet to Bethel, we read not that he prospered. "Who hath hardened himself against God and prospered?" asked Job. Shall a sinner humble himself before God without experiencing mercy at His hand? Let Rehoboam, Ahab, and Manasseh reply.