Friday, July 9, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #27 The Influence of Wicked and Righteous Leaders

1 Kings 12-14; 2 Chronicles 17; 20

THE DIVISION OF THE KINGDOM

Unfortunately, Solomon set up the division of the Kingdom of Israel, which his father David had unified, by doing exactly what the Lord had warned the Israelites that a king would do (1 Sam. 8:5-18):  He forced such heavy taxation, particularly on the northern rural areas outside of Jerusalem, that when he died, the people were ready for revolt. 

REHOBOAM

The northern ten tribes invited Solomon's son, Rehoboam, the rightful heir to the kingdom, to Shechem to be crowned king (1 Kings 12:1).  This was out of order--he should have been crowned king in Jerusalem--so right away it was clear that something was afoot and Rehoboam knew he was on shaky ground.  The northern tribes also invited Jeroboam, an Israelite who had been a leader in Solomon's army, to the festivities.  Jeroboam had previously fled to Egypt for safety after the prophet Ahijah predicted that he would become the ruler of those ten tribes (1 Kings 11:28-39).  Although the prophecy was pronounced in the presence of only Ahijah and Jeroboam, one of them leaked it, and it made its way to Solomon (1 Kings 11:40), and undoubtedly many others.  Jeroboam was of the tribe of Ephraim, and Shechem was in Ephraim.  Very suspicious!  It would appear that the ten tribes decided to help fulfill the prophecy of Ahijah.

Jeroboam set up the rebellion, encouraging the people to ask Rehoboam whether he planned to reduce their burden (1 Kings 12:3-4).  It's clear that Rehoboam, who was completely inexperienced (2 Chron. 13:7 says he was "young and tenderhearted; 1 Kings 14:21 says he was 41 years old), didn't know what to do.  He asked advice of his father's old wise men, who recommended he be kind to the people, and serve them, and thus earn their devotion.  But, like teenagers will do, he also checked with his peers, and they insisted that he flex his royal muscle and show the people how tough he was, so they would be terrified of him.  Also like some teenagers, he figured that his buddies knew better what was happening and the geezers were out of touch.  Thus he made the foolish mistake of threatening the people with an iron glove (1 Kings 12:11) which gave the northern tribes exactly what they wanted: a reason to secede.  "What portion have we in David?" they cried.  "To your tents, O Israel!" Which is to say, "We will no longer be ruled by the descendant of David; let's pack up and go home."  When Rehoboam tried to enforce his threat by sending Adoram to either collect monetary taxes (Institute Manual) or servants for forced labor (Harper-Collins Study Bible) from the north tribes, they simply stoned him to death, and Rehoboam fled for his life back to the safety of Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:16-18).

Lessons to Learn: 
1) Older people usually give better advice.
2) People are loyal to those who serve them,
not to those who oppress them (see D&C 121:41)

JEROBOAM

Although Jeroboam had been prophecied to become the king, he did not remain true to the God of Israel.  He feared to have his people go to Jerusalem to worship appropriately, so he set up worship sites with idols intended to represent Jehovah, much as Aaron did in the wilderness (1 Kings 12:26-29).  He chose locations that had significance to the worship of Jehovah (Jacob saw his vision of the ladder to heaven at Beth-el, and a grandson of Moses had officiated at worship in Dan), hoping that would convince the people it was valid.  But the Lord didn't like it any better this time than He did in Aaron's time.  As if that weren't enough, Jeroboam set up his own festivals, and his own "priesthood" to officiate at the sacrifices, since the Levites were in Jerusalem.  For these reasons, he was condemned by the prophet to suffer the ignominy of rotting unburied after his death, a curse which his entire family would share, save one son because "in [that son] there is found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam" (1 Kings 14:11-13).  Unfortunately, the son escaped that fate by dying prematurely.

Lesson to Learn: 
We don't set the terms on worship;
we follow the ones the Lord sets.

ABIJAH

In the end, Jeroboam and his people were conquered by Rehoboam's son and successor, called Abijam.  Abijah was not himself a righteous man, but because he was of the promised House of David, his right to reign was honored by the Lord (1 Kings 15:3-5).  One thing David got right, which was a very, very important thing:  He always worshipped the Lord Jehovah.  Even though he made the grave error of following his lust until it led him to murder, he never turned to the worship of idols, as the other kings seem to have continually done. 

Abijah, likewise, knew to rely upon the Lord at the critical time.  He had the strength of character to stand upon a mount in his enemies' land, the land of Ephraim, and declare to all the ten tribes in detail the wickedness of the false worship Jeroboam had led them into, and invite them to join forces with the God of Israel (2 Chron. 13:4-9).  "As for us," he said, referring to the southern kingdom, "the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken him...behold, God himself is with us for our captain...O children of Israel, fight ye not against the Lord God of your fathers; for ye shall not prosper" (2 Chron. 13:10-12). 

And he was right:  Despite Jeroboam's clever ambush, the men of Judah routed them out.  "Thus the children of Israel were brought under at that time, and the children of Judah prevailed, because they relied upon the Lord God of their fathers" (2 Chron. 13:18).  Jeroboam died of his battle wounds, after Abijah had driven him from his lands (2 Chron. 13:19-20).  Presumably, his body remained there, unclaimed, in fulfillment of the prophecy, but there is no detail in the surviving records.

Lesson to Learn: 
Even foxhole prayers are heard,
if they're offered sincerely,
and to the real God.

JEHOSHAPHAT

And now we reach one of those rare stories in the Old Testament (or in life, for that matter): The story of a righteous king!  Jehoshaphat, the grandson of Abijah, and great-great-grandson of King David.  His father, Asa, set the stage for him, commanding his people to worship God, listening to the prophet, casting out the idols, rebuilding the altars, and leading the people in a covenant to follow the Lord, even removing his grandmother (footnote to 2 Chron. 15:16) from royalty because she wouldn't give up her idols (2 Chron. 14-15).

Jehoshaphat built upon the excellent example of his father (2 Chron. 17:3-6; also 2 Chron. 20:32).  As often happened in the Book of Mormon (see, for example, Alma 31:5), Jehoshaphat set up a system to teach the people the true gospel.  He sent five princes (officials), nine Levites, and two priests out as missionaries among the people.  Their call was important enough that they were each named individually in the account.  They carried the scriptures with them to be sure of the accuracy of their teaching.  "And they...had the book of the law of the Lord with them, and went about through all the cities of Judah, and taught the people" (1 Chron. 17:9).  The fear of the Lord fell upon all the surrounding kingdoms, so that they didn't dare to attack Judah.

Jehoshaphat angered the Lord a couple of times, though.  (Nobody's perfect.)  He made a marriage alliance with Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, and later went to war as his ally, rather than trusting in the Lord to protect his nation, for which he was rebuked by Jehu the prophet (2 Chron. 19:2).  But the rebuke was immediately tempered by an acknowledgement of Jehoshaphat's general righteousness:  "Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves [idolatrous worship sites] out of the land, and hast prepared thine heart to seek God" (2 Chron. 19:3).  After this rebuke, Jehoshaphat continued to send out his "general authorities" to preach the gospel (see footnote to 2 Chron. 19:4) and bring the people back to their God.  He also set up a system of judges, counseling them to judge for the Lord and not for man (2 Chron. 19:6-11).  (Later in life, he again formed some alliances of which the Lord did not approve.  They are briefly mentioned in 2 Chron. 20:35-37.)

Jehoshaphat's efforts to bring himself and his people closer to God paid off when an alliance of three other nations came against Judah to war.  Because of his scripture study, he knew exactly where to seek and claim help.  "And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.  And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord" (2 Chron. 20:3-4).  They assembled at the temple, which Jehoshaphat had refurbished, and united themselves in prayer to God, with Jehoshaphat himself as voice.  Jehoshaphat quoted the words his great-grandfather King Solomon offered in the temple dedication, which was recorded in the scriptures, and called upon the promise asked for at that time:  "If, when evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in thy presence...and cry unto thee in our affliction, then thou wilt hear and help" (2 Chron. 20:9).  (The dedicatory prayer quoted is found in 1 Kings 8, and repeats, after each of the above stated contingencies, something like, "then hear thou in heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause" [verse 45].  (See also "The Announcement of the Temple" in a previous post.)

After the prayer, one of the Levites, acting as prophet, came forth and said, "Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great [army]; for the battle is not yours, but God's...Ye shall not need to fight in this battle." And then came the famous words which Joseph Smith quoted at the conflict at Fishing River: "Stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord" (2 Chron. 20:15-17).  (See "A Latter-day Battle Fought from Heaven" in a previous posting.)

As is true of deeply faithful saints throughout time, the people of Judah immediately expressed gratitude for the blessing they had not yet received, bowing themselves to the earth, and then raising their voices in praise. 

In the morning, they began the day at the battlefield with a hymn.  Something about this singing triggered an "ambushment," or some kind of surprise attack in the battlefield below among the Ammonite alliance.  Perhaps it created a confusion, perhaps the Lord caused some freak scuffle, but however it started, the battle ensued with the three allied nations leaving Jehoshaphat's army entirely alone as they destroyed each other!  According to the scriptural account, it was complete devastation--none escaped alive.  The people of Judah were able to calmly walk among the dead and take their riches and jewels.  (Why did they bring them to battle?  One possible reason:  Living in a wicked nation, they did not dare to leave them at home, for thievery.)  There was so much, it took three days to haul it all off (2 Chron. 20:22-25).

What did they do on the fourth day?  What any faithful people would do: They gathered together to express their gratitude to the Lord.  They named the valley "Blessed" (footnote to 2 Chron. 20:26).  When they got back to Jerusalem, they continued their rejoicing in the temple.  The countries round about heard of the battle, and Judah remained completely peaceful and free of attack during all the rest of Jehoshaphat's reign.

Lessons to Learn: 
1) Scripture study always pays off.
2) We can be forgiven of our mistakes if we
    keep "preparing our hearts to seek God."
3) Preaching the gospel offers more safety
    than mustering soldiers.
4) Fasting works.
5) We must go to our battlefield, even
    if the Lord intends to fight the battle for us.
6) Songs of the righteous act as powerful prayers
    and mighty catalysts (see also D&C 25:12).
7) We should always maintain access to the temple
     (a recommend) so we can seek the Lord
     instantly for any emergency.
8) The Lord keeps His promises, even those
     pronounced generations before, and
    being aware of them helps us to claim them.
9) It is a show of faith to offer thanks to the Lord
     for blessings promised but not yet received.


Sources:  LDS Institute Manual, Harper-Collins Study Bible, Unger's Bible Dictionary

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I got confused with those two kings in 1 Kings 15 and 2 Chron 13. I think they cannot be one and the same person; the one Abijam whose mother is Maachah, and the other Abijah whose mother is Michaiah.

Megan said...

To Anonymous -- Abijam and Abijah are the same person.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abijah_of_Judah

http://amazingbibletimeline.com/blog/abijah-or-abijam-grandson-of-solomon-king-of-judah/

Anonymous said...

It appears both Rehoboam and Jeroboam had sons named Abijah. Jeroboam's son Abijah dies when his mother crosses the threshold to their house, and is the only one of Jeroboam's family to be buried after his untimely death. (It says he is a child but we don't know how old he was.)

Rehoboam's son Abijah or Abijam succeeds him as king of Judah.

One other note: The city of Shechem is in Manasseh, not Ephraim, although often the distinction was not made, as both were referred to as the Tribe of Joseph.

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Thank you for all of your comments. Sorry I was so slow to respond. I consulted Unger's Bible Dictionary and it agrees with Anonymous number 2 in this. Thanks for the question and the clarification. I have made the correction.