Forming Faith Blog

The Echo of History (1 Kings 12)

King Solomon’s son Rehoboam rejected a plea for mercy and caused the kingdom to fracture. It was an echo of historya history worse than the first.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana
A silhouette of a man holding a crown. With Rehoboam and Jeroboam, history repeats itself.
History Continued

Our movement through the history of Israel continues up to the pivotal events in 1 Kings 12. After the people begged for a king, God gave them Saul. Saul proved to be disobedient, so God chose the shepherd boy David to be the next king. David had a long and complicated reign and was followed by his son Solomon. Despite Solomon’s famed wisdom, he messed up royally, thus leading to our story today when his son, Rehoboam took the throne.

God’s Way or Not

In our faith formation resources, we have selected last week, this week, and next week as a single unit called “God’s Way of Leading.” Last week, we saw the coronation of David as king over all Israel. This “man after God’s own heart” is set as an example of a good leader, even if he abused his power, committed crimes, and was negligent of his parental responsibilities later on. A godly leader is one who puts God and the people first, a servant rather than a tyrant. So, in David, we got an example of “do this.” This week, we get a big “don’t do that” cautionary tale.

The Sins of the Father

Although the narrative in the Bible goes all the way back to creation, this particular thread began in 1 Kings 11. For all the wisdom God had given Solomon, he abandoned the commandment “have no other gods” and worshipped lots of other gods. [Interesting to note, one of Solomon’s “errors” listed in 1 Kings 11:1 was to marry a Moabite (along with a lot of other foreign women) although his great-great-grandmother Ruth was a Moabite herself.]

God’s punishment for these gross sins of idolatry was that the united kingdom of Israel would be ripped out of the hands of the Davidic dynasty (leaving only one, two, or three tribes, depending on how you count them), although this would happen to Solomon’s son, not the sinner himself. God even chose the leader who would take ten tribes away from RehoboamJeroboam. [Why do these names have to be so similar?]

Jeroboam’s Call

This future was not even kept secret. God told Solomon this, and the prophet Ahijah told it to Jeroboam with an object lesson of a torn garment. Solomon wasn’t too happy, so Jeroboam thought it best to take a temporary vacation to Egypt. Jeroboam even received a promise from God: if he followed God’s way like King David, then God would make of him a dynasty over Israel as David has over Judah (1 Kings 11:38).

That didn’t work out so well. Skipping to the second passage in this reading, Jeroboam’s first order of business, once he became king, was to set up shrines with golden calves in his own territory. History repeated itself. So, no royal dynasty for Jeroboam. In fact, his son reigned for only two years before being assassinated and his whole house was wiped out in a violent coup.

History Repeated

This act of setting up golden calves should sound very familiar. Even the proclamation Jeroboam makes is almost identical to Aaron’s back in Exodus 32:

He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

Exodus 32:4

So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

1 Kings 12:28

This direct connection between the time of the divided kingdom and the story of the exodus brings up the question of whether there are other parallels between this story and the other. In fact, there are.

Solomon’s Other Sins

Solomon really fits the warning God (via Samuel) gave to the people when they whined for a king (1 Samuel 8), though I find it curious that Scripture does not include this in Solomon’s sins. Samuel warned the people that a king would demand heavy taxation and conscription of able-bodied men and women. Solomon may have created many wonderful things in the kingdom, but he did so basically on the backs of “forced labor.” It sounds quite a bit like slavery to me.

Prior to being run off to Egypt, Jeroboam was hand-picked by Solomon to have “charge over all the forced labor of the house of Joseph” (1 Kings 11:28). That sounds like Exodus 1:11: “Therefore they [the Egyptians] set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharoah.” In fact, the Hebrew words both translated here as “forced labor” are related to the verb sabal (to bear a heavy load).

Hardened Hearts

Jeroboamtaskmaster turned delivererapproaches the new king, Rehoboam. He asks for deliverance for the people of Israel, but the king (pharaoh) doubles down (hardens his heart) on his cruel actions. So, via a leader chosen by God, God delivers the people of Israel from their forced labor again, though this time it went even worse than the first time. The people really went off the deep end on idolatry, led by this not-actually-Moses deliverer. History repeated itself, the second time worse than the first.

Learn from the Past (and Each Other)

All told, the people involved here really should have sat down and had a Torah lesson. The story that defines God’s relationship with the people of Israel is one of freedom from slavery and service to those who are vulnerable. But, the cycle of disobedience found over and over again in Scripture continues, eventually losing the upswing of the people’s repentance, until they are sent into exile (Assyrian for Israel and Babylonian for Judah). I think the elders Rehoboam first consulted were giving advice from their lived experience rather than directly referencing the Torah, but it was still sage advice. Listening for, and following, the wisdom of others is something that would benefit us, too.

Faith Formation Strategy: Listen!

The philosophy behind cross+generational ministry is that each person from each generation can have something to teach, some special wisdom from their experience. The young have much to learn from their elders (as Rehoboam did from his elders), however, the elders also have much to learn from the young. We can all become wiser—and our faith more formed—when we take the time to listen to the wisdom others can offer us, discerning, of course, what is truly wise.

Go out and follow God’s lead!

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a few bits of Background Info (and hymn suggestions) from our Living the Word: Contexts & Connections resource.

This is a revision of a blog post originally published for October 27, 2019.

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