Welcome to week 11!
The sin that could cost us everything...
It's sometime in the mid-900s B.C., Jerusalem, Israel.
The nation is in chaos. King Solomon, maybe the nation's most impressive king in terms of wisdom and splendor, has reached and passed the peak of his greatness; he has recently completed the building of the magnificent Temple, he has become famous throughout the known world for his wisdom, he has "made silver as common as stones in Jerusalem" (1 Kings 10:27). But just when all is nearly perfect, sin creeps in - silent and smooth, like the serpent in the Garden - and God's covenant with Israel demands that He respond to Solomon's rebellion:
Now the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord had commanded. So the Lord said to Solomon, "Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant. Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, 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 My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen." - 1 Kings 11:9-13
Adversaries rise from surrounding nations. Israel is at war. In the midst of this, a man named Jeroboam - an overseer of Solomon's slaves, appointed by the king himself - is met on the road outside Jerusalem by a prophet named Ahijah.
[Ahijah] said to Jeroboam, ". . . Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and give you ten tribes . . . because they have forsaken Me. . . . I will take you, and you shall reign over whatever you desire, and you shall be king over Israel. Then it will be, if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.'" - 1 Kings 11:31, 33a, 37-38
Solomon is outraged. He seeks Jeroboam's head, but Jeroboam flees to Egypt until King Solomon's death and the succession of the crown to his son, Rehoboam. In 928 B.C., Jeroboam is called back to Israel to reason with the new king, and when it becomes clear that Rehoboam has no desire to work for the good of his people, the kingdom splits - only by God's grace avoiding a bloody civil war. Exactly as Ahijah prophesied, Jeroboam becomes the overnight king of all but the tribe of Judah, which remains loyal to the house of David. He builds the city of Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and reigns there.
Imagine - one day a servant of the king, then a refugee in a foreign country, then a king over most of your motherland. All because, regardless of your personal merits, you were somehow hand-picked by God Himself.
And yet - how easy it is to forget that but for the grace of God, it could all have been different. That what you have is yours only because He is good, not because you earned it. That He has appointed you to where you are now for a purpose, called you to fulfill His will - and that as long as you are traveling within the parameters of His plan, you are invincible. Protected and guided by the hand of the One who saw fit to place you where you are.
And it's when all is nearly perfect that sin creeps in - silent and smooth, like the serpent in the Garden.
Did God really say...?
Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah." So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt." He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. - 1 Kings 12:26-29
Fear. Is God really in control? Is He serious about taking the kingdom away from David? Is He just playing with me? What if He takes it all away?
Self-dependence. I know how to solve this problem. I'll just steer the people clear of Jerusalem so they forget about David. I'll make sure I never lose my power.
Disobedience. Behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.
The platform of the High Place at Dan, which still stands in northern Israel to this day.
Jeroboam did nothing to earn his blessings, and yet he would do anything not to lose them - even defy the Holy God who gave them to him in the first place.
All because of one seemingly small slip-up: fear.
When God appointed Jeroboam to his totally undeserved position of authority, He set parameters around the blessing. There was only one thing Jeroboam had to do to keep his newfound greatness:
"Then it will be, if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you." - 1 Kings 11:38
All he had to do was the opposite of what Solomon had done: walk in obedience, set apart, refusing to fall prey to the temptations of idolatry.
But he saw the people, he saw the predicament that could transpire if they continued to sacrifice to the Lord in Jerusalem. He saw what was visible and what seemed logical. He feared.
He set up a self-powered solution to his fear.
And in that, he disobeyed.
He led the ten tribes of Judah into a blasphemous idolatry. He made up a completely unbiblical feast in hopes of being just religious enough to get by. In his desperate attempts to preserve the blessing he'd been given, he threw it away - and ultimately destroyed both his own future and the future of the entire nation he had been trusted to lead.
Thus says the Lord God of Israel, "Because I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over My people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you - yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only that which was right in My sight; you also have done more evil than all who were before you, and have gone and made for yourself other gods and molten images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back - therefore behold, I am bringing calamity on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male person, both bond and free in Israel, and I will make a clean sweep of the house of Jeroboam, as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone." . . . Moreover, the Lord will raise up for Himself a king over Israel who will cut off the house of Jeroboam this day and from now on.
For the Lord will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; and He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking the Lord to anger. - 1 Kings 14:7b-10, 14-15
Fear > self-dependence > disobedience > tragedy.
We've seen it before in this journey through the Bible, and we will certainly see it again. This subtle sin is far from limited to ancient kings. It might in fact be the most prevalent and enduring sin that has ever afflicted God's people - whether you are a perfect human being in the Garden of Eden, an unlikely king over God's chosen nation, or a modern-day Christian.
Our fear might not cost us a perfect, paradisaical existence with God - but it may cost us our intimacy with Him. We might not lose every male descendant from our family lines or cause our whole nation to be torn apart by the Assyrians - but we may lose our testimony to others. We might not set up an altar to a golden calf - but we will say to God in our disobedience, "I value this (thing, circumstance, person) more than I love You."
What might we be willing to give up in order to cling to what isn't ours to begin with?
In Hebrews 11, we're given a starkly contrasting picture to this bleak sketch of the faithless Jeroboam. We're given a list that has become known as the "Hall of Faith" - a list of believers who, though every circumstance and all human logic may have been against them, chose to see their lives exactly as God said they were, and thus altered the course of human history. They did not all live perfect, peaceful, rich lives - and in fact, many of them died brutally for their choice - but they all gained the blessing and reward of God, and got the privilege of watching Him work through them in amazing ways.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:1-2
As believers, we have the benefit of thousands of years of testimony from those who have walked by faith. Our race is easier because they went before us. Let us set aside the fear, the temporary things that would entrap us on our way - reject the blindfold of what is merely visible, and open our eyes to see Jesus. What more ultimate example of fearless obedience do we have than the One who walked to a criminal's death knowing that God could raise Him up again to be the Savior of the world?
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. - Jim Elliot
1 & 2 Kings: God of Israel
Total read time: 4.25 hours
Obadiah: God of the Mountain
Total read time: 5 minutes
Jonah: God of Compassion
Total read time: 10 minutes
Joel: God of Destruction
Total read time: 12 minutes