Sunday, July 25, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #29 "He Took Up the Mantle of Elijah"

2 Kings 2; 5-6

BIBLE BALDERDASH GAME

Teaching Tip:  Take three class members out of the room and give two of them a piece of paper with the following terms on it:
  1. Abarim
  2. Cab
  3. Dothan
  4. Ehud
  5. Jebus
  6. Scrip
  7. Stacte
  8. Ziv
Give the third person a piece of paper which also includes the definitions of the words:
  1. Abarim: the mountain range Moses was standing on when he viewed the Promised Land
  2. Cab: a measure that equals a little more than a quart
  3. Dothan: a town ten miles north of Samaria, known for its good pastures
  4. Ehud: a certain left-handed Israelite
  5. Jebus: the ancient name for the city that is now called Jerusalem
  6. Scrip: a traveling bag made of leather and used for carrying food
  7. Stacte: a sweet spice used in the incense for the temple, probably made of tree gum.
  8. Ziv: the second month in the Hebrew year
The person holding the definitions is to use them in the game; the other two people are to make up their own definitions, attempting to be as believable as possible.  The object is to fool the class into believing the false definitions.

Return to the classroom together and pass out blank pieces of paper and pencils to the class members, asking them to number them 1-8.  Call out each word and have each of the three give their definition, then have the class members write on their papers which person they think gave the true definition.  Don't tell the class members which definitions were right until all the definitions have been given.  Then go through the list and have the person who read the correct definition raise his hand.  Of course, it will be the same person every time.  Hopefully, this will be a surprise to the class members, that the same person had the right answer every time.  Point out how easy it would have been to win the game if you had told them which person would have all the correct answers.  Also point out that the appearances or the intelligence or charisma of the person giving the accurate definitions was irrelevant, because you had given the person the correct answers.

There is a humorous quote that applies here:  "This life is a test.  It is only a test.  Had it been an actual life, you would have received more information on where to go and what to do."  This is the way life is for many people on the earth.  Lucky for us, we know the single person who has all the right answers, who has been given "more information on where to go and what to do."  That person is, of course, the Prophet.

THE PASSING OF THE MANTLE OF THE PROPHET

1 Kings 17:1 tells us Elijah was from Gilead, the wild country in the east.  2 Kings 1:8 tells us he was a "hairy" man, or a person who wore skins or furs, and leather; he was good at wilderness survival.  (Nobody knows what "Tishbite" means.)

The prophet who took his place was Elisha.  Ask class members to find all that they can about Elisha from 1 Kings 19:19-21.  Some answers follow:
  • He was a very wealthy man to have had twelve men plowing with twelve yoke of oxen at once.
  • He had a family he loved and respected; he was a good son who wanted to honor his parents before leaving.
  • When the call came, he was willing to give up his worldly possessions, as symbolized in his giving a feast of two oxen, valuable work animals.  Killing the animals showed that his course was final, irrevocable.
  • Despite having been a powerful man, he was willing to become Elijah's servant.
As soon as Elijah's mantle passed to Elisha, Elisha had the keys and power of the priesthood, and it was obvious to everyone present (2 Kings 2:8-15).  They were very different in their earthly stations and in their personalities and talents, but each was equally worthy, and each held the same calling as Prophet.  The Lord gave the power to the person who was right for the time.

THE IMPORTANCE OF OBEYING THE PROPHET

Teaching Tip:  Ask five class members ahead of time to read the following stories about Elijah and then share them with the class in their own words:
  • Elisha and salt in the water (2 Kings 2:19-22)
  • Elisha and the ditches (2 Kings 3:12-20)
  • Elisha and the borrowed oil vessels (2 Kings 4:1-7)
  • Elisha and Naaman's leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14)
  • Elisha and his servant (2 Kings 5:20-27)
In each of these incidents, the prophet's commands made very little sense.  In the cases of the first four, those involved believed the prophet and followed his instructions.  In the last case, Gehazi, Elisha's servant, did what seemed logical to himself, and suffered ill consequences because of it.

THE VISION OF THE PROPHET

The prophet always has a vision that we do not have; that's what makes him a prophet, seer and revelator.  When Elisha's town was surrounded by an army, ready to take Elisha as a spy, his servant was terrified, and cried, "Alas, my master!  how shall we do? And [Elisha] answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.  And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.  And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings 6:15-17).

Then Elisha temporarily blinded the enemies, offered to take them to the person they were seeking (himself), and instead led them to Samaria, where he restored their vision and let them go.  It may have been a real physical condition of sightlessness, or it may have been an inability to recognize Elisha as who he was.  But the point of the story is that the odds are always in the favor of the Lord God of Israel, and although we can seldom see or even imagine what His winning plan might be, it always exists and it always succeeds, and the prophet knows how to execute it.  Once we know this, we can give up our fear and trust the prophet fully.

INDIVIDUALITY, COMMANDS, AND VISIONS OF LATTER-DAY PROPHETS

When the Prophet Joseph Smith died and the saints were trying to determine the order of the Kingdom, and who should lead the Church, there was a famous incident in which Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young each spoke and it was readily apparent to those listening that Brigham Young was to take Joseph Smith's place as head of the Church.  In later years, those present referred to this feeling of certainty as if they had seen Brigham Young's face replaced by Joseph Smith's as he spoke.  Joseph Smith had been the Prophet of the Restoration and was perfectly fitted for that role.  Brigham Young became the Prophet of the Exodus, and his abilities, personality, and spiritual gifts helped him to move the Saints west.  And so it has been with each prophet: his particular gifts and visions have been ideal for the time and situation in which he serves.

President Hunter was our prophet for such a brief time.  He told us to become a temple-oriented people.  At that time, going to the temple more than once in a lifetime was nearly out of the question for many of the members of the Church.  Prior to that time there were not many Primary lessons about the temple, and there was always a caution in the lesson about being sensitive to those children whose parents had not been married in the temple.  And what point was there in telling humble saints in Africa or Asia or the South Seas to be focused on the temple?  For them to go was an impossibility.  But now the emphasis became entirely different:  not to simply avoid hurting people's feelings who hadn't been to the temple, but to tell them to get going, and if they couldn't go, to get ready for the impossible!

President Hunter's counsel would have been even more pointless if the previous prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, had not begged for and received the revelation that all people could receive blessings in the temple.  If he hadn't been so focused on racial equality in all temple blessings, how could President Hunter have told us that we should all be a temple people?  Because President Kimball felt driven to ask for the priesthood for all men, and temple blessings for all members, President Hunter could plead with everyone to be focused on the temple. 

And because President Hunter did that--and it only took him a short time to deliver his message--saints everywhere became more focused on the temple, more encouraged, more willing to be full tithe-payers and to be qualified as recommend-holders.  President Hinckley could then spearhead the enormous world-wide temple-building project of one hundred temples by the year 2000.  Those who heeded President Hunter's counsel were rewarded for their faith in the impossible during President Hinckley's tenure.

President Hinckley also had personality traits and spiritual gifts (talents) that were perfect for his time.  He was a fearless expert when dealing with the press.  He was inventive in solving the problem of bringing temples to more people.  He had a terrific sense of humor and counseled us continually to look on the bright side of life during fearful times.  When he advised us repeatedly to get out of debt, the American economy was strong.  Those who heeded his words were in a much better position to face the recession.

President Monson has continued to give counsel to be positive and hopeful despite troubled times and a negative press, saying, "The future is as bright as your faith."  He has continually stressed expressing love within our families; he has counseled us to enjoy the present day and the changes and challenges of our journey through life.  He has emphasized giving to others and blessing those in need, even in a time when many members themselves are struggling financially.  We need to examine his words carefully, and then examine our actions: do they match?  If the prophet's counsel seems illogical, unimportant, or even impossible, we had better take even greater care to follow it, because this indicates that he sees a vision we do not.

We can look all around and study opinions and recommendations to determine our personal course of action, but we would be wise to remember, as in the Bible Balderdash game, that if there is ever a question or a conflict between sources of information, the prophet is the one we listen to.  We may see others as being smarter, more experienced, better-looking, more financially successful, or as having access to more research, but none of that matters, because President Monson is the one who has been given all the right answers.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #28 "After the Fire a Still Small Voice"

1 Kings 17-19

The previous lesson focused mainly on the kings of Judah:  Rehoboam, Abijah(m), Asa, and especially Jehoshaphat.  During this same time period, a succession of kings each ruled Israel very briefly: Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Tibni and Omri (1 Kings 15:26, 34; 16:13, 19, 21, 25), each one an idolator.  When Ahab, the son of Omri, began to rule, the time was ripe for the Lord's vengeance, as "Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him" (1 Kings 16:33).  What was the issue?  It is stated previously in verse 31:  "As if it had been a light thing [as if it weren't enough] for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat [which was to worship Jehovah inappropriately and not as the only God], [he also] took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him."  The false god Baal hadn't been found in Israel since Gideon threw him out in Judges 6, many generations before, but now Ahab allowed Jezebel to bring him back.

Abruptly, it seems, the next chapter begins with the prophet Elijah (whose name means "Jehovah is my God") sealing up the heavens, but it is actually logical and chronological.

THE STORY OF ELIJAH'S LIFE

Teaching Tip:  Post wordstrips of the miracles performed by Elijah in random order on the board (just the first sentence of each on the list below). Have the class arrange them into chronological order.  As each wordstrip is posted chronologically by a class member, share the details of the event (the part after the first sentence).
  • Withheld the rain and the dew.  (1 Kings 17:1)  The miracles that Elijah performed were in direct defiance of the worship of Baal, who was considered to be the storm god, "responsible for bringing life-giving rains at certain times of the year and thus restoring fertility to the land. After the yearly rainy season, the ground got progressively drier, and eventually all vegetation died. During this period, Baal was thought to be in the power of the god of death and sterility. In this verse Elijah announces that...Baal has nothing to do with bringing rain and fertility. In reality the Lord controls both rain and drought, fertility and sterility, and life and death." (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 547)
  • Survived famine in hiding by being fed by ravens.  (1 Kings 17:3-4)  An alternate translation for the word "brook" in this account is "wadi" (Harper-Collins). A wadi is a stream bed that contains water only in the rainy season.  Obviously, this was not the rainy season, so even though it dried up eventually, finding water there was a miracle.  Obadiah is a sub-hero in this story, as he rescued and sheltered 100 prophets from Queen Jezebel's wrath (1 Kings 18:3-4).  The severity of the famine was extreme, causing King Ahab and his governor Obadiah to personally go out in search of pasture for their animals, although they probably each had a searching party with them (1 Kings 18:3-6). 
  • Perpetuated flour and oil for a widow's household.  (1 Kings 17:10-16) Widows had no means of financial support, so if they had no extended family to care for them, they could quickly become destitute.
  • Raised the dead.  (1 Kings 17:17-23)  This is another dramatic show of Jehovah's power vs. the idol's power, a powerful reminder to the children of Israel throughout generations as the story would be re-told:  The Lord God could actually overrule death (Harper-Collins).
  • Drew fire from heaven.  (1 Kings 18:21-39)  According to the people's belief, as the storm god, Baal should have easily been able to draw fire from heaven (Harper-Collins). Indeed Andrew Clarke's Bible Commentary claims the priests of Baal rigged their altars with fires beneath them, working through a system of tunnels, so that the sacrifices would appear to ignite spontaneously (quoted in Institute Manual, p. 61).  The duel with Elijah's God would have looked like an easy win to the priests of Baal.  It must have astonished them when their elaborate system failed.  (You can see pictures of Mt. Carmel here.)  (For more detail on Mt. Carmel itself, which is actually not a mountain peak but a ridge, click here.)
  • Killed 950 idolatrous priests.  (18:40)  (BiblePlaces.com also has a picture of the statue of Elijah killing the priests, which is found on Mt. Carmel.  Just scroll down.)  Who knows how Elijah actually killed the priests--likely he led the people in killing them--but he was following the Law of Moses:  the penalty for advocating worship of idols was death (Deut. 13:1-5).
  • Called a rainstorm.  (1 Kings 18:41-45)  Elijah placed himself in a position of ultimate worship and prayer, low to the ground, facedown.  Elijah's servant was probably sitting where the Baha'i Shrine of the Bab is today on Mt. Carmel, looking out toward the sea. To see the present-day view, click here and check out the top right photo.  If after watching that cloud swell up until the sky was roiling and black, Elijah did actually run ahead of Ahab to Jezreel, it was better than a half-marathon: 17 miles.
  • Was visited and fed by an angel twice during his time of greatest despair.  (1 Kings 19:1-7)  Unfortunately, Jezebel (who seemed to wear the pants in the royal family), was not humbled and converted by the fantastic display of divine power at Mt. Carmel, but enraged.  Elijah's astonishment and disappointment must have been overwhelming:  After controlling the elements for three years, after raising the dead, after all the mighty priesthood power he displayed in the duel with the priests of Baal, after condeming them all to death, after calling a storm from heaven himself, he was back in hiding again.  Even a mighty prophet of God who can control the elements, cannot control a human soul who refuses to repent.  Elijah felt such a sense of despair and uselessness that he requested of the Lord death.
  • One meal carried him for 40 days and 40 nights on a journey to Mt. Horeb.  (1 Kings 19:8-21)  Remember that the term "40 days and 40 nights" is symbolic.  (See a previous post.)  By going from Mt. Carmel to Mt. Horeb (which is Mt. Sinai) Elijah was retracing the steps of the Children of Israel and Moses backwards.  It was a journey of 150 miles to an outdoor temple, a journey to seek the comfort of God.  (More on this event in the next section.) 
  • Called fire from heaven to destroy 100 soldiers.  (2 Kings 1:10, 12)  The king who succeeded Ahab, Ahaziah, had suffered a fall.  He asked his fate of the idol Baal-zebub (a local version of Baal), rather than the prophet of the Lord.  Because of this, the Lord told Elijah to prophecy his death.  This, of course, did not please the king and three times he sent 50 soldiers to bring Elijah to him for punishment, but the first two times, Elijah destroyed them with fire from heaven, something that Baal was purported to be able to control.  Finally, with the third company, whose leader acted respectfully, acknowledging Elijah as a prophet, he went peaceably, but his prophecy did not change.
  • Brought a plague upon the kingdom of Judah.  (2 Chron. 21)  Jehoram, the son and successor of the great and righteous king Jehoshaphat of Judah, had allied himself with the kingdom of Israel by marrying the daughter of Ahab, thus uniting the kingdom briefly.  Because of his idolatry, Elijah sent him a letter, prophecying a plague of dissentery among his people, which actually killed the king himself. 
  • Parted the River Jordan and walked through on dry land.  (2 Kings 2:8)  This miracle was performed by Elijah on the day he left the earth, and is the basis of the Negro spirituals about the crossing of Jordan equaling death and entrance to Heaven.
  • Was taken into heaven in a chariot of fire.  (2 Kings 2:11)   The source of another beautiful Negro spiritual, "Swing low, sweet chariot."  It would be a great way to go.
LISTENING TO THE LORD

Elijah's prayer in the cave at "Horeb the mount of God" (1 Kings 19:9-18) has been used as an example of listening to the Holy Ghost, and it is very likely that the King James' Translators were the first to use the term "still, small voice," which has become another name for the Holy Ghost.  It is used only three times in scripture, the other two being in 1 Nephi 17:45 and D&C 85:6, each time clearly refering to the Holy Ghost.

As with some other great spiritual experiences in the scriptures (for example, Lehi's dream, Joseph Smith's First Vision, the Liberty Jail revelation in D&C 121, the vision of the Spirit World in D&C 138), this great, simple revelation came after a period of great trial, and a feeling of near failure.  Elijah was so discouraged, he wanted to die.  He had performed amazing feets of Priesthood power, the people had proclaimed that Jehovah must be Lord, and yet he was still stuck hiding in a cave because of one powerful woman.  What was the use?

He was at a temple mountain, however, the right place for a discouraged person to go.  He heard the Lord ask, "What doest thou here, Elijah?"  His cry of despair was, "I have been very jealous [zealous] for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."  Although the prayer was sincere and desparate, the answer did not come immediately.  The Lord told him he would get his answer on the mountain. 

Before Elijah left the cave, a wind came, strong enough to break rocks, then an earthquake, and then a fire.  Although Elijah had exercised the power of God himself in mighty ways such as these, he knew they were not always expressions of the Spirit of the Lord.  He knew how to recognize the voice of the Lord.  When they passed, there followed a calmness, a peacefulness, "a still small voice."  Elijah knew this was what he was waiting for.  "He wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering of the cave."  Once again he heard the question, "What doest thou here, Elijah?"

Elijah repeated his heart-rending prayer.  As most of us will do when depressed and discouraged, Elijah "awful-ized" his situation, saying he was the only prophet left, a complete failure, a hunted man. The Lord answered with the positive side of the situation, as He will often do for us.  He gave Elijah instructions on anointing two kings.  He also told Elijah that He had prepared a companion prophet to take over when Elijah's wish to leave the earth was granted.  Between the two kings and Elisha, the wicked idolators would meet their deaths.  And last but definitely not least, he informed Elijah that there were actually 7,000 in Israel who still worshipped the Lord.  Elijah had not been a failure.


ELIJAH'S LATTER-DAY MISSION

There are two verses of scripture that are found in four of the Standard Works; what are they?  The verses proclaiming Elijah's great latter-day mission.  In the Bible and the Book of Mormon, they are exactly the same.  In the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, they are exactly the same.  But the verses in the scriptures that were written in ages past are different than those that were written in the latter days, and that tells us something about our relationship with Elijah:

Malachi 4:5-6 and 3 Nephi 25:5-6:  "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (Joseph Smith's note: "Now the word turn here should be translated bind, or seal." Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 330)

D&C 2 and Joseph Smith--History 1:38:  "Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.  If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming."

Here are the differences:
  1. The latter-day verses clarify what the Prophet Elijah was to do:  Bring the Priesthood back to the earth.
  2. The word "heart" is made plural in the latter-day scriptures.  Perhaps that is just a change in syntax, or perhaps it is a change in meaning through the ages.  In Bible times, the heart was the seat of thoughts, intentions, and actions.  Today we think of the heart as the sensitive, feeling part of our soul.  Perhaps the real meaning is a combination of both.  If anyone has any thoughts to share on this, please leave a comment below.
  3. A very significant change:  the latter-day scriptures do not say Elijah will "turn the heart of the fathers to the children."  Apparently, that part of the promise has already occurred.  Now his job is to "plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers."  He will make us aware of the righteousness of our ancestors and the promises they have secured for us.  This awareness then, leads us to turn our hearts, our desires, to our ancestors.
  4. The final statement of warning is more severe and far-reaching in the latter-day scriptures.  Rather than the earth being smitten with a curse, "the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming."  This gives us some sense of the urgency and importance of our part in this plan, separate from the role of other generations.
"This is the spirit of Elijah, that we redeem our dead, and connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven, and seal up our dead to come forth in the firest ressurection; and here we want the power of Elijah to seal those who dwell on earth to those who dwell in heaven.  This is the power of Elijah and the keys of the kingdom of Jehovah" (TPJS, p. 337-338).

THE EXPLOSION OF THE SPIRIT OF ELIJAH

Of course, to carry out the promise, three things are needed:
  1. The Priesthood power
  2. The people with the desire planted in their hearts
  3. The places (temples) to bind the families together
We have the Priesthood restored.  Number one is done.  It needs only to spread throughout all regions of the earth.

We have many people, LDS and otherwise, who are crazy about genealogy.  We even had a very popular TV series here in America all about celebrities researching their genealogy ("Who Do You Think You Are?").  Access to records has become widespread: The Ellis Island records, the Freeman Bank Records, and now the New FamilySearch computer program combines loads of records which can be searched from home.  Number two is doing well collectively, but we must each ask ourselves individually whether we are on board, because we each must tie ourselves and our ancestors into this eternal family.

The grandeur, the majesty, and the magnitude of the spirit of Elijah can clearly be seen and easily measured in item Number Three: the spreading of temples throughout the earth.  By paying our tithing, holding current temple recommends, and participating in temple ordinances for the dead, we can further the work of Elijah in the temples.

(Teaching Tip:  You can use the following quiz of Temple Trivia [as if anything related to temples were trivial...] just for fun to illustrate the huge temple-building effort that is going on presently in the world.)
  • After the first 50 years of temple building in this dispensation, how many temples did the Church own and operate?  (Two.  The first two had been abandoned.)
  • After the next 50 years, how many temples were operating? (Seven.) 
  • In the third 50 years, how many more were built?  (Nine, for a total of 16.  Washington D.C. was the ninth, completed in 1977.  The Ensign magazine ran an article entitled, "The 16 Temples of This Dispensation.")
  • It took 161 years to have 50 operating temples on the earth.  How many years did it take to build the next 50?  (Three.  Boston, Masachusetts was the 100th, built in the year 2000.)
  • What is the oldest operating temple in the world?  (St. George Utah)
  • What is the oldest operating temple outside of Utah?  (Laie Hawaii)
  • What is the oldest operating temple outside of the United States?  (Cardston Alberta Canada)
  • What is the oldest operating temple outside of North America? (Bern Switzerland)
  • For which temple was the movie created in order to allow people of multiple languages to attend the same session?  (Bern, Switzerland)
  • Which temple was the first built in a Communist country?  (Freiberg Germany)
  • For which temple did the city leaders rename its street "Temple Drive," and the three blocks surrounding the temple, "Temple," "Genealogist," and "Chapel"?  (Stockholm, Sweden, built in 1985)
  • During which year were a record 34 temples were dedicated? (The year 2000)
  • How many temples are there in Utah (July 2010)?  (13, with two more announced)
  • The 133rd temple was just dedicated in June 2010.  Where is it?  (Philippines Cebu City)
  • How many temples have been announced and are not yet completed?  (19)
  • There is another temple scheduled to be dedicated in August 2010, which was announced 12 years ago.  Where is it being built?  (Ukraine Kyiv)
  • What percentage of the temples are outside of the United States?  (Just over 50%)
  • Which country outside the United States has the most temples?  (Mexico with 12)
  • How many temples are there on the earth today, including those announced or under construction? (152)

Sources for temple data:  lds.org temple page and ldschurchtemples.com.

There is also an excellent article on Elijah in the July 1990 Ensign.

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