From a sermon series on 1 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
Last time, we read a sad story about how the wise king Solomon turned away from God in his old age. As a result, God declared that Solomon’s kingdom would be split.
Today, as we read 1 Kings chapter 12, we see the kingdom of Israel beginning to split. Two messages from today’s story: First, despite human foolishness, God is in control. Second, despite human foolishness, God is gracious. Let us pray.[Read 1 Kings 12:1-24]
There are two important characters here: Rehoboam and Jeroboam. It’s easy to confuse them because their names sound the same.
To recap: Rehoboam is one of King Solomon’s sons and the grandson of David. He inherited the throne. Jeroboam is not a family member. He was mentioned in the previous chapter as one of Solomon’s former officials who rebelled. Jeroboam was willing to submit to the new king, Rehoboam, but that didn’t happen because the new king made a mistake.
God is in control despite human folly
Rehoboam’s mistake was he tried to rule with an iron fist. In chapter 12, he speaks to the people of Israel as if they are all his slaves. He chose not to listen to more experienced advisors, who recommended he present himself as a servant of the people.
As a result, the nation rebelled against Rehoboam. In verse 16, the people say, “What share do we have in David? Look after your own house, David!” They rejected the dynasty of David, which is Rehoboam’s lineage.
Interestingly, the writer of 1 Kings does not simply blame Rehoboam for this rebellion. In verse 15, the writer says, “So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.”
He refers to the prophecy we read about last month, in the previous chapter, chapter 11 verses 31 to 39. The prophecy said that 10 tribes out of the 12 tribes of Israel would break away from the king, and God would give those 10 tribes to Jeroboam.
In other words, God had predicted that Israel would split. One of the nation’s worst disasters was part of His plan.
It’s always interesting to read passages that talk about God’s involvement in political matters. I’m reminded of a similar story of Moses’ time: the story of how God hardened the heart of an Egyptian king to stubbornly resist listening to Him.
So, was it really Rehoboam’s fault that the kingdom split? Did God harden his heart? You may wonder, “How much free will did Rehoboam have?”
As human beings, we cannot fully comprehend the events of this world or even our own actions sometimes. Today’s story doesn’t answer the philosophical debate about free will. But one thing we can conclude is that God is in control and nothing surprises him.
When world leaders and important men do foolish things, it can cause the entire world to be afraid. But God isn’t surprised. Every leader in this world is still under God’s authority and control. Every person’s life is in God’s hands.
Jesus told his disciples not to worry even if they knew bad things were going to happen. Jesus himself would be betrayed, arrested, and killed. When he told his disciples that this would happen, they began to feel sad and worried. In John 14, he comforts them by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”
Likewise, the Apostle Paul reminds us not to worry. In Romans chapter 8, verse 28, he writes, “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” He concludes in verse 39: “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So let’s remember that God is in control, no matter what bad things people do.
God’s plan will be fulfilled despite human folly
Before I end with some thoughts about God’s grace, I want to pause on the idea of “God’s plan.”
If you have been following this sermon series on 1 Kings, you may remember that God had a plan for Israel that involved King David’s lineage.
Earlier this year, I referred a few times to the passage 2 Samuel 7, in which God promises King David that his dynasty will last forever. In 2 Samuel 7:16, God says to David, “You will always have descendants, and I will make your kingdom last forever. Your dynasty will never end.”
If this is God’s plan, then why is David’s dynasty being overthrown now?
The deeper meaning of God’s promise is fulfilled through the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. He is both the physical and spiritual descendant of David. We know that Jesus will reign over this world forever, at the right hand of God. It has always been God’s plan to meet the needs of this world through Jesus.
Thankfully, that is a plan that cannot be stopped, even by the human mistakes made by Solomon and Rehoboam. No matter what, God’s aims will be accomplished.
The bad news is that human beings can still tarnish and distort the image of God’s goodness on Earth. What I mean is that, sadly, we can create obstacles for ourselves and other people that make it hard for them to see God.
I’m reminded of Martin Luther, one of Christianity’s most famous champions of faith. Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
As Protestants, we are glad for Martin Luther’s work to reform the Church of his time. For example, he taught that we cannot attain salvation through good deeds or by paying money to the Church. We can only be saved by the grace of God and by Jesus’ sacrifice. So, many Christians still look up to Martin Luther today.
However, towards the end of his life, he was quite sickly and depressed. He suffered from many stomach problems. As a result of his illness and mood swings, he wrote many toxic things, criticizing other people: Jews, Catholics, and even his fellow Protestants.
In one essay, he told Protestants to burn down houses and synagogues of Jewish people. I’m not sure if this was black humor or really his true feeling. Either way, it was a change of attitude from his earlier years. Earlier, he was very optimistic about reaching out to Jews by showing them kindness.
Sadly, these destructive things that Luther wrote were discovered hundreds of years by people in his country, which is Germany. The Nazis discovered his documents and used Luther’s writing to justify genocide of the Jews during World War 2. Isn’t that sad? God’s heart of love for the Jewish people has never changed; and yet, one letter written by a Christian in a foul mood was used as a tool to kill 6 million Jews.
Luther’s story reminds us that, as Christians, our actions can affect how the world views Jesus Christ.
We are thankful that God will not abandon his plan to save us. At the same time, let’s seek to bring glory to His name, rather than shame. In our weaknesses, may God’s grace enable us.
God is gracious despite human folly
My final point today is that God is gracious despite human folly.
Our story in 1 Kings ends on a hopeful note. Now, what happened after Israel’s rebellion?
As God predicted, ten tribes broke away and followed Jeroboam. This group would later be called “the house of Israel.” The remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, remained with the original king, Rehoboam. This group would be called “the house of Judah.” They still had control of the city of Jerusalem. Verse 21 says that Rehoboam gathered 180,000 fighting men to subdue the rebellion.
But, in verse 22, God reached out to Rehoboam through a prophet named Shemaiah. God’s instruction said, “Don’t fight your brothers. Go home. This whole situation in the kingdom is my doing.”
Rehoboam then made a wise decision. He listened to God and did not go to war. Whether or not God influenced his heart, I would say that it was God’s grace.
In line with God’s judgment and discipline of a sinful nation, the kingdom split in two. But there was no need for further destruction. God didn’t want the two halves to destroy each other.
You see, God doesn’t enjoy seeing us reap the fruit of our mistakes. He doesn’t want His people to die because of their sins.
Though the story of Rehoboam and Jeroboam shows tragedy and judgment, the greater picture is God’s mercy.
And that is what the gospel is about. That is why God sent Jesus to us. When Christians try to summarize the gospel, they often use this verse from the Bible, John chapter 3 verse 16. It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Let’s pray that the world will embrace God’s love.