Lessons in comfort from the Word.
The Word of God invites us to confess the very things we exhaust ourselves to hide.
The reign of King Jeroboam constitutes one of the darkest chapters in Israelite history. His reign is marked by a steep descent into ungodliness. Indeed, when the verdict comes down on Jeroboam’s rule, it is not a pretty sight (1 Kings 14:9–10). Perhaps the saddest part, though, is that he, too, was counseled on several occasions on the significance of fidelity to Yahweh and the consequences if that fidelity were ever broken, much like his predecessor Solomon (1 Kings 11:37–38; 13:1–16). But notwithstanding the warnings, Jeroboam remained stubbornly self-sufficient. Rather than acquiesce to the words of God, he went headlong in his own “evil way,” plunging the people of God into deeper and deeper sin (1 Kings 13:33–34). Such is the backdrop to chapter 14, in which the historian of the Books of Kings relays the details of Jeroboam’s awful demise.
A lesson about bribery.
The chapter opens with Jeroboam in a bad spot. Crisis has struck the royal family as the heir to the throne, Abijah, has fallen seriously ill (1 Kings 14:1). Even for all of his recent posturing as the preeminent political and spiritual authority, Jeroboam was not immune from suffering. We are made to understand the severity of Abijah’s condition by noticing the king’s response:
At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick. And Jeroboam said to his wife, Arise, I pray thee, and disguise thyself, that thou be not known to be the wife of Jeroboam; and get thee to Shiloh: behold, there is Ahijah the prophet, which told me that I should be king over this people. (1 Kings 14:1–2)
The king’s reaction to his son’s illness elicits a decision that is hugely embarrassing, both personally and politically: he has to ask for help. The monarch who has thus far exhausted so much time and energy and resources in order to establish himself as the absolute ruler of Israel, is now forced seek “outside assistance.” He finally has to admit that there is something for which even he is not sufficient. But, as if that were not humbling enough, he is constrained to seek the help of a prophet of a religion he has brazenly attempted to replace. That Jeroboam is all but forced to resort to the aid of the prophet Ahijah is no small example of divine poetic justice at work.
Jeroboam, unable to handle how mortifying this situation is to his ego, enlists the help of his wife to go before the prophet in his stead. The cowardice is exasperated as he concocts a plan to disguise his wife to give the appearance of happenstance in her visit with Ahijah. Her concealed identity and collection of groceries — the bread and cakes and honey (1 Kings 14:4) — were meant to mask any indication that she was a member of the royal house. Jeroboam’s ploy was predicated on his wife being able to slip in and out of Shiloh without garnering any attention. He was insistent that no part of this scheme comes back on him, besmirching his name.
As you can see, Jeroboam hasn’t changed one iota since the first time he was introduced. He is still adamant that life proceed on his terms. The king of Jeroboam’s heart is still Jeroboam. He determines that Yahweh’s blessings are dependent on the appropriate procurement, as though the favor of God was an item that can be bought and sold (which it isn’t). He longs, says Dale Ralph Davis, for “the help of the word in the emergencies of life but not the rule of the word over the course of life. He desires only the occasional word of God. He wants the word of God for his crisis but not for his routine or practice. He craves light in his trouble but not on his path. He doesn’t want to live with the word but only visit it — like one does a whore.”1 Jeroboam’s whorish approach to the truth precipitated his plot to bribe his way into good fortune.
A lesson about orthodoxy.
“God is not mocked,” however, as St. Paul reminds us (Gal. 6:7). Yahweh cannot be bribed or bought off, no matter how uniform one’s disguise. His favor is not a magic crystal ball which, when accompanied by the right words, will spill out good fortune. God’s Word of truth is not some sort of divine piñata which, if shaken just right, will rain candy (“showers of blessings”) down on us. We cannot curry the mercy of God as though we’re buying our favorite treat out of a vending machine.
We’d be wise not to hasten to adjudicate Jeroboam’s faith, or lack thereof — especially when we are often similar practitioners. While we would likely be quick to affirm our orthodoxy, in theory, our functional religion often parrots what Jeroboam hath wrought. Not only had Jeroboam rejected the worship of Yahweh, he had actively set out to replace it with a religion of his own choosing, of his own making. Yet, even still, his first inclination when the “chips were down” was to turn heavenward. His first instinct when the worst life has to offer happened was to seek divine assistance.
Mankind hasn’t changed much since then. We, too, are beguiled by a “use in case of emergency” approach to God’s Word. Funeral homes and hospital rooms are still the predominant places where God is seen as life’s truest necessity. “One frequently finds people eager for Jesus’ aspirin,” comments Dale Ralph Davis elsewhere, “but not interested in his kingship.”2 When life falls apart and disaster strikes close at home, there is an innate sense to cry out for help from the Man Upstairs, as if God is predisposed to always come through for everyone all the time. And, indeed, it is true that the best decision one can make when in a crisis is to seek the counsel and care in the house of the Lord. But the hard truth, however, is that God’s promises of comfort and relief are uniquely directed to his own sons and daughters (Rom. 8:28). Those who know the Lord by faith know of his tender loving mercy. Those who do not know the Lord do not.
A lesson about supremacy.
Jeroboam’s wife does his bidding, traveling to Shiloh to seek “good fortune” for their son (1 Kings 14:4). At first, their scheme appears to be perfectly planned. The prophet Ahijah is a blind old man now, seemingly someone easily taken for a ruse. But, as is soon revealed, God was still the only One in charge of this situation, as he alway is. Despite his increasing age and failing health, the Lord was still going to use his prophet in a mighty way. Prior to the king’s wife’s arrival, Ahijah receives another word from the Lord — a word which exposes the feigned and faulty faith of Israel’s king:
And the Lord said unto Ahijah, Behold, the wife of Jeroboam cometh to ask a thing of thee for her son; for he is sick: thus and thus shalt thou say unto her: for it shall be, when she cometh in, that she shall feign herself to be another woman. (1 Kings 14:5)
Whereas Jeroboam and company figured they could fool Ahijah, there was no fooling Yahweh. Indeed, as soon as the missus’ feet hovered over the threshold of Ahijah’s door, “the jig was up.” “And it was so, when Ahijah heard the sound of her feet, as she came in at the door, that he said, Come in, thou wife of Jeroboam; why feignest thou thyself to be another?” (1 Kings 14:6). For all of Jeroboam’s elaborate scheming, Jehovah still reigned supreme over this moment. He always has and he always will. Jeroboam despised the very grace of God which had made him king. He punted on Yahweh’s covenantal standards and, therefore, the blessings, too. Such is why he was about to incur the horrendous consequences for such rank unfaithfulness. “Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone” (1 Kings 14:10).
The prophet welcomes Jeroboam’s wife but proceeds to admit that all he has for her is “bad news” — namely, the imminent devastation and total destruction of the house of Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:7–16). Jeroboam’s kingdom would be ripped right out of his hands, reminiscent of his predecessor (1 Kings 14:8; cf. 11:11). What’s more, all of his heirs would yield to the disgrace of a death with no burial. More pointedly, they’d be regarded as no better than roadkill upon which vermin and buzzards nibble (1 Kings 14:11) .
Notwithstanding how well we disguise ourselves, the truth of God’s Word will always find us out (Num. 32:23; Jer. 23:29). God’s Word is an unmasking agent, a sword which cuts through our best laid plans and finest motives to expose our desperate hearts (Heb. 4:12; Isa. 49:12; Rev. 1:16). There is no veneer we can erect through which God’s Word cannot see. He sees all the things from which you are running. He sees all the things you are trying to hide, trying to forget, trying to pretend did not happen. That was true in Jeroboam’s day and it is still the case today.
A lesson about legacy.
The legacy of Jeroboam is one that ought to make the hairs on the backs of our necks stand at attention. His reign began with a word from the Lord, through the prophet Ahijah, announcing that he was about to inherit a portion of the kingdom of Israel. He was, then, given the assurance that so long as he walked with the Lord, the Lord would be with him (1 Kings 11:37–38). It didn’t take long, though, for Jeroboam to remove himself from such stipulations and forge his own way. “After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way” (1 Kings 13:33). Jeroboam’s legacy is one of infamy, disgrace, and shame.
As it happens, everything comes about just as God said it would (1 Kings 14:17–18). Upon Jeroboam’s wife return home, Abijah breathes his last, sending all of Israel into a state of mourning. The historian, then, summarizes the remainder of Jeroboam’s reign in two brief verses:
And the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, how he warred, and how he reigned, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel. And the days which Jeroboam reigned were two and twenty years: and he slept with his fathers, and Nadab his son reigned in his stead. (1 Kings 14:19–20)
Of particular interest in the historian’s abstract of Jeroboam’s demise is the fact that the bulk of his kingly activities are lost to us, recorded in a book that does not exist anymore. His successes have gone into oblivion. That all the details of Jeroboam’s military, political, and social exploits are lost to history is suggestive of what truly matters in light of eternity, i.e., what matters is Who you worship. For Jeroboam that was himself. All of his decisiveness is executed to venerate his own name and preserve his own dynasty.
But for all his toil, for what is Jeroboam remembered? For being a king who “behaved more wickedly than all who were before” him (1 Kings 14:9). In fact, if you trace the phrase “the sins of Jeroboam” throughout the remaining passages in the Books of Kings, you will find that is a trademark which defines the next 200 years of Israelite history. The kings who fall are said to follow “the way of Jeroboam.”3 Jeroboam’s tragic legacy is not only a lesson for all of Israel, it’s a lesson for us, too.
“Accomplishments don’t matter; fidelity does,” Davis continues; “all the energy and exertion you have poured into making your mark in your calling may prove one huge irrelevance. The only thing that matters is whether you worshiped Yahweh alone.”4 It matters very little what you and I accomplish in the eyes of the world. It matters infinitely more what we do in the eyes of God. Or perhaps I should say, it’s of infinitely greater worth what you confess.
The Word of God invites us to confess the very things we exhaust ourselves to hide. All the disguised blemishes are known by the God of the Word, who greets us with the arresting declaration of uncanny grace, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The rest for our weary souls is only found in this Word which reveals the supreme authority of the universe is for you, and has sought abide with you and in you.
Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly (Ross-shire, England: Christian Focus, 2020), 160. See also Dale Ralph Davis, The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2007), 97–98: “[Jeroboam] wants God’s word to alleviate his distress; he does not want it to set his course. He wants that word for his relief but not for his rule; he wants to use but not follow God’s word. He welcomes it as a horoscope to give light on his present dilemma but not as a compass to direct his whole journey. It is a resource he consults, not a regimen to which he submits. He needs its comfort but wants none of its correction.”
Davis, Word Became Fresh, 98.
See especially 1 Kings 15:26, 30, 34; 16:19, 26; 22:52; 2 Kings 10:31; 13:6, 11; 14:24; 15:18, 24, 28; 17:21–23.
Davis, 1 Kings, 165.