Ahijah Foresees Rebellion
Formations: June 10, 2018
Scripture: 1 Kings 11:29-39
For all its exotic stories, strange cultures and colorful characters, the Old Testament is remarkably relevant to our modern world. No matter how odd the story may seem, we can learn valuable lessons about life because God is God and we are humans who are incomplete without God's love and grace.
Ahijah is called a “minor” prophet because he appears briefly, unlike the “major” prophets who had a longer ministry or a book named after them. First and Second Kings were recorded because they teach valuable lessons for every generation. Our text is part of what scholars call Deuteronomic History, which includes Joshua, Judges and 1-2 Samuel. The close connection to God's covenant and the law reinforces the irreducibles of Israel's faith: worshipping God only and daily living by his code of morality (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
Solomon succeeded his father David and ruled during the golden age of Israel's history. Solomon built the temple, brokered peace and trade deals with other nations, cemented political partnerships through arranged marriages with the daughters of foreign kings, expanded Jerusalem to an impressive capital, and earned the title of wisest man in the world. Those were heady times for a people who lived for generations as nomads tending their flocks and herds and who were formerly slaves in Egypt. God had been with them from the beginning, but like all of us, their prosperity and success too early became their joy and security. God became more a cultural image and less real. The progression of spiritual collapse repeats through the generations: God blesses, the blessings become the peoples' expectation, the blessings become god, the people forget God, the people suffer, there is a turning back to God…and the cycle begins again.
Our story begins in the darkening days of Solomon's reign, when visible prosperity and declining faith are at the center of Israel. The prophet Ahijah appears without warning to Jeroboam on the road outside Jerusalem, announcing that the reign of Solomon is finished, rebellion is coming, and this loyal servant will be the next king. But even more, the great kingdom will be torn apart. Ahijah acts out his message by taking off his new outer cloak and cutting it into twelve pieces, each piece representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. He tells Jeroboam to take ten of the pieces for himself because he will one day be their king, “for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'See, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes'” (v. 32). The two tribes of Judah and Benjamin will constitute the southern kingdom, with the absorption of Benjamin by the stronger Judah.
Jeroboam was a trusted lieutenant for Solomon, overseeing part of the king's vast workforce. Solomon, although he built the impressive temple, had allowed his various foreign wives to build temples and altars to their false gods in Israel. God confronted Solomon: “You have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you” (v. 11). Hearing of Ahijah's prophecy, Solomon attempted to kill Jeroboam, so Jeroboam fled to Egypt where he lived in exile until Solomon's death. In spite of God's promises, Jeroboam and his several successors in the northern kingdom repeated the same critical mistakes that destroyed Solomon. Why is it that humans have such a short spiritual memory? There were numerous pagan gods and their worship involved prostitution and child sacrifice in contrast to God's love, forgiveness, moral standards, compassion for the disadvantaged and faithful promises. As God's people, Israel was to show the world how to live a truly meaningful life as God's beloved children.
Since we have the advantage of all those tragic Old Testament and the power of God's grace we wonder why Israel could not figure out how faith works. Take a quick look at today's events and we must ask ourselves the same question. But God never gives up.
The cross and resurrection are God's ultimate answer and offer us the opportunity to be his beloved children. We marvel at God's promise to King David (2 Sam.7:16). The picture of 1 Kings 11:36 is that David's “lamp would never burn out.” But that image is not about a political throne in a broken world. John's Gospel describes Jesus as “the light of the world” (John 9:5). Jesus' human lineage traces back to King David, but God's promise of grace is offered to all the world. Israel's purpose within God's plan was to show the world the character of God and the way to God. Israel should have been “the light of the world” in their day and in fact points us to Christ. We, as the modern church, have the same purpose.
Ahijah's appearance to Jeroboam reminds us that God calls us all to be disciples of Jesus, to put aside the loyalties and influences of this world, and shape our living by the words and actions of Jesus. God never stopped loving Israel for all her sins. When God promises to love, he never backs away – but we do! In the Old Testament we are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul and strength (Deut. 6:5). Jesus affirms that same core of faith in God (Matthew 22:27). That love must be demonstrated by our love for others (Leviticus 19:18; Matt.22:39).
We may not worship gods of harvest or fertility, but we have our own gods of popularity, power, wealth, position, achievement and self. I'm writing on my patio today, shaded by wonderful green trees, glimpsing a variety of radiant blossoms, watching colorful birds fuss over feeding rights, and captivated by ethereal clouds moving against a blue sky. The world is not God, it is the handiwork of God that sings a melody of his existence. The God I know and love is greater than what I see or can explain. He is the God who loved David, Solomon and Jeroboam. He is the God who revealed his love and purpose to prophets like Ahijah. He is the God who loves me enough to come into my world as Jesus. I learn from the Ahijahs God has sent into the world, urging me away from the empty and temporary idols of this world to the life God gives us in Jesus.
Retired after almost 50 years in pastoral ministry, Michael K. Olmsted enjoys family, supply preaching and interim work, literature, history, the arts and antiques.
Formations is a curriculum series from Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc. through NextSunday Resources.
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