What does it mean to be faithful? We are surrounded by a culture today, a people who have long forgotten the meaning of the word. Cheating men tear it out of the dictionary of their lives and swinging women throw it to the wind. We live in a world where love is not measured by how much we can give away, but how many people will let us take.
Relationships are a meaningless line on our Facebook profile that can be changed with the click of a button. In a relationship with “Dave.” Single. In a relationship with “Amy.” Dave and Amy change their status to engaged. Dave changes his status to “in a relationship with Stacy.” Amy changes hers to “it’s complicated.” George declares what everyone is really saying. “George sets his status to ‘in a relationship with myself’.”
What is faithfulness in a world where adultery bleeds from our TV screens? We trade our cell phones in every year for the “latest model” and the worst sin out there is wearing last-year’s fashion! Why try to fix up that old car your grandfather gave you when you could trade it in for an Xbox and take out a lease on the beautiful BMW on the lot?
Faithfulness is a foreign concept to us, but it wasn’t to the Israelites. The first thing that God did when humans failed him in the Garden was promise to raise up one who would one day crush the head of the serpent though his heal is bruised. The same promise was delivered to Abraham, the father of this great nation with we have walked for so long. Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon: all received the same promise, the same proclamation that one day God will fully reveal himself to his people in the form of Jehovah made flesh. However, even before that day, God poured his love out of his people by guiding them by a pillar of fire and cloud in the desert. He shared his desire to be with David by promising to maintain his kingdom throughout the generations, and solidified his faithfulness with Solomon through explosions of glory in the temple.
God has been with his people from the very beginning, and he is still with us today. The most amazing element of his faithfulness is that it is not dependant on us. The people didn’t have to be perfect for God to want to walk with them in the desert. He set himself up in the tabernacle not because of anything special about the people, but everything special about God: his ultimate desire to be with us and bring us back to himself, because so often we leave him.
We fail. We fall. We sin. And such sins have horrid repercussions. We saw David’s downfall and the devastation that it caused in his personal life, his family, and his kingdom. Solomon’s downfall was no different. It started small, grew to a mammoth greater than his own glory… but despite such failure and the devastating results, God remains faithful and true to his word. He works out his will and his ways within the messy downfall of the kingdom of Israel.
Jereboam Rebels Against Solomon
Solomon is not living the way God had told him to. He was no longer wholeheartedly serving his LORD, but instead his heart beat for another—or rather 1,000 others… his wives. He trusted in what they had to say more than God—these foreign women who worshipped foreign gods. They received not their wisdom from Heaven as Solomon did, but from the world around them, from the ways of their ancestors, the ways of their culture, their religion. Solomon begins to worship these other gods, give his allegiance to the snake instead of the serpent-crusher.
Israel falls from the most prosperous and glorious time in its history to a devastation that matched their time in Egypt. Solomon begins to rely on his wealth, his power, his armies. He builds high walls around the cities, gathers chariots and horses, and is so desperate for such projects showcasing his own glory that he institutes slave labour. He works the people hard, seperates his kingdom by tribe into work camp, appointing slave masters over each camp to keep things running like a well-oiled machine. We see a shadow of Egypt in his ways, an image of Pharaoh on his throne. Something must be done.
Is God now trapped in that box of a temple that this humble king turned tyrant built for him? Has he forgotten his promises to his people? No, God’s faithfulness never dries up or runs out, even when his own people leave him.
Jeroboam was one of the servants of Solomon. He was put in charge of running the two tribes of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, into the ground. Perhaps he sees all the horrors going on around him. Perhaps he hears dissension among the people and starts to think, “I can do better than this guy, Solomon.” But it is not just Jeroboam who witnesses the horrors spreading throughout Israel. God sees and decides it is time for a new king. He sends a prophet to Jeroboam who rips his cloak in twelve pieces, one for each tribe of God’s people.
1 Kings 11:31-36
31 Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes. 32 But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe. 33 I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molek the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in obedience to me, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my decrees and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.
34 “‘But I will not take the whole kingdom out of Solomon’s hand; I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of David my servant, whom I chose and who obeyed my commands and decrees. 35 I will take the kingdom from his son’s hands and give you ten tribes. 36 I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name.
God promises Jeroboam the kingdom, but not all of it. Just as David’s sons fought amongst themselves, so Solomon’s son and his servant will do the same. The devastating results of Solomon’s sins spill out across the nation, tearing it into pieces like a cloak. Out of the ashes rise two kingdoms, one ruled by Solomon’s son Reheboam and the other by Jeroboam.
God’s special people, chosen nation, destroyed. Israel goes from the mountain top to the valley quicker than it realizes its feet are slipping. There is a promise hanging in the dust kicked up from their tumble. A promise of a nation, a king, redemption, freedom, peace; where is that promise now? Weaving through the promise of judgement is a promise of faithfulness. He doesn’t give the whole kingdom to another as has been the case in the past. Instead he saves the tribe of Judah “for the sake of his servant David” for the sake of the one whose heart beat after him. God stands firm on what he told David: if he remained true to God, God would stay true to him. God is always faithful even when we fail. He remembered his promise to David and works a nugget of grace into this devastating scene.
Rehoboam as King
After Solomon dies his son becomes king of the whole nation. Rehoboam’s father started out as the wisest man in the world, turning to God for direction in leading this great nation. His son, however, learns from Solomon’s later life mistakes, taking counsel from those around him. The nation has split because of Solomon’s slave-labour policies and Rehoboam has an opportunity to reconcile his father’s mistakes, but makes them worse.
Jeroboam comes with his followers saying, “what are you going to do about all of the maltreatment in Israel? Will you continue to use your people as slaves?” Rehoboam says, “Yes. In fact, I will make it worse.” Suffice it to say, the people are not happy and leave with Jeroboam to start a new nation. Solomon’s son won’t have it, and he musters an army to go up and take back the people by force.
These people will not agree to disagree. Rehoboam turns from enslaving his own people to killing them, but his army never makes it. Along the road, a prophet comes to him and says…
1 Kings 11:24
24 ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.’” So they obeyed the word of the Lord and went home again, as the Lord had ordered.
Rehoboam thinks that he is the anointed one of God. His grandfather David was given an incredible promise to have a never-ending dynasty. His father Solomon was granted incredible wisdom by God, but little does Rehoboam know that God separated the people. God started the rebellion. God put the seed of doubt in Jeroboam’s heart to cause 10 of the 12 tribes to leave. Solomon’s sins have indeed torn the kingdom apart. Brothers fight against brothers, Judah against the rest of Israel.
Jeroboam creates his own Religion
Rehoboam, though he is of David’s dynasty, has many issues. He does not lead the people as a correct representation of God. He is abusive, divisive, and it seems like God only allowed him as king because of his love of David. Perhaps the other king is the one who shows incredible godly qualities. After all, it was Jeroboam whom God first approached. It was Jeroboam who received the prophecy that he would one day be king and bring an end to the tyrannical reign of Solomon. Perhaps there is some hope in the rest of Israel.
Jeroboam doesn’t constrain his people. He doesn’t force them to build great cities, frees them from the slavery which Solomon had enforced. He seems promising, but he is more concerned about serving the people than serving God. More concerned about maintaining his own throne than God’s kingdom.
Isreal, being a very religious nation, looked to their leader as an example of how to approach God and each other. Solomon, Rehoboam’s father built a grand temple, an incredible expression of God residing with his people, his glory reigning in a simple frame of wood and stone. With sacrifices in the temple so important to their ways, Jeroboam becomes afraid that the people will return to Jerusalem, to the temple, to serve God and get shackled by Rehoboam once again. Jeroboam is afraid that he will lose his mighty kingdom because of religious fervour, so he comes up with a plan. The king creates his own religion.
1 Kings 12:26-30
26 Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. 27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”
28 After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 29 One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. 30 And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.
The culture all around us promotes unfaithfulness. It is in the way people talk about each other, how we act. It’s all about me. It’s not fair for me to stay in a marriage where my wife is disrespectful. It’s not fair for me to stay in this house were my husband ignores me. It’s not right that I have to do more chores than my brother. It’s not best for me to be a missionary so I’ll become a laywer instead. I don’t have money to put in the offering plate because I’m trying to save up for the bigger house that I deserve. I can’t wait til the weekend, because then I don’t have to serve the boss man for a few days—then its all about me. We are so obsessed with ourselves that we have no room for others: trading old faithful for fleeting, love for a feeling, covenant relationships for a sexual experience.
If we ask advice from our friends, they may help up errect those golden calves in our lives. They may encourage us to be unfaithful to God, our spouse, or anything else. Get the new car; you deserve it! Go for the younger woman; you’ve been putting up with your nagging wife for too long.
King Jeroboam did much the same thing. He said, “the people are going to leave me. What am I to do?” After seeking advice he started his own religion. He set up golden calves, built temples to other gods on the high places, created alternative holy festivals for the people to engage in, even set up his own priests who weren’t Levites. “Go for it Jeroboam. Do whatever you can to keep the people for yourself. You won them over from Rehoboam. You are a better man than him. You are freeing the people. You deserve it!” Jeroboam listened to such idle advise as that of Job’s friends instead of turning to God. In fact, he created a culture that lured the whole nation away from God—a nation and religion centred around me instead of around God as it once had been. He led the people into unfaithfulness.
The king of Israel was a representation of God to the people. However, in this case, the question is… which god? Solomon came up with the idea of worshipping other gods, implemented it in his own life. Jeroboam takes it many steps further, encouraging it, promoting it, institutes freedom of religion without realizing how much freedom they were really losing.
God had told the people, time and time again, what would happen if they turned away and served other gods. We saw last week how he told Solomon that they would lose everything God had given them if they forgot about the giver. Land, freedom, wealth, life. They would return to how they once were in Egypt, crying out for release from the chains. The prophecy comes again, this time more specific, applying directly to Jeroboam.
1 Kings 14:16
And he (God) will give Israel up because of the sins Jeroboam has committed and has caused Israel to commit.
God’s faithfulness does not mean he ignores sin
Isn’t this about God’s faithfulness? How can we, on the one hand, call God faithful and then, on the other, see him prophecying again and again that the people will be cut off from the land? Just because God walks with us through the dark times doesn’t mean that he will prevent us from falling down. God is a light to our path, but only if we are willing to turn it on. God says, “the road ahead is rocky, but I am willing to clear it for you, show you where the rough patches are, teach you how to tame it… but you need to be able to see.
If you told someone not to walk in the woods at night because it was dangerous, and then they went and got hurt, would it be your fault? Perhaps you are not loving because you shake your finger at them and say, “Don’t go into the woods at night or you will break a leg!” When they break that leg would it be right to blame you because you came up with the idea, so you obviously caused it to happen! Why then do we do the same for God?
God doesn’t say that if the people turn and worship other gods he will dissown them. He is not saying that he will leave, never to return. Instead, he is saying, “you have left me… yet I will continue to seek out your redemption.” The people made their choice to turn away, but God never gives up. God is faithful even when we are not.
Jeroboam is not the last king of Israel. There are many more kings to come before the people experience the slavery that is being prophecied. Some are good. Some are bad. Some bring the people back to God, and others cause them to slip further down the slippery slope of destruction. Through it all, God remains with his people, stays true to his covenant, is faithful to his promises. He is there when the people worship other gods. He is there when the nation is torn in two. Even during this dark time he preserves the tribe of Judah because of his promises to David.
God never goes back on what he says whether it be good or bad. When we said he would maintain David’s line on the throne if he remained faithful, he does. When he said that the nation’s freedom will be taken away if they serve other gods, he does it. When he says he will never leave or forsake us, he means it. When he he says he loves us despite our sin… he does. He really does.
God walks with us through the good times and the bad. He will never leave us to go it alone. We may leave him, but he will never leave us, and when we do walk away, he is waiting with open arms for us to return. He is waiting for us to cry out for help so that he can rush in and knit our lives back together. Though we may not know what faithfullness looks like, God does. It is easy to think that God doesn’t love us as much as he says, or that we can fall from the fold of his grace. After all… that’s how the rest of the world works; that’s how love is portrayed on TV and lived out in our day to day: fleeting. But God is faithful. He is one of the few not fleeting. He holds onto us in the darkness of our lives, and shines his light to guide us. All we have to do is fall on him, cry on the shoulder of our lover, our saviour, our life, the ever-faithful one.