Jeroboam son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow, rebelled against the king. The following was the reason he rebelled against the king. Solomon built the Millo, and closed up the gap in the wall of the city of his father David. The man Jeroboam was very able, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious he gave him charge over all the forced labour of the house of Joseph. About that time, when Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Ahijah had clothed himself with a new garment. The two of them were alone in the open country when Ahijah laid hold of the new garment he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. He then said to Jeroboam: Take for yourself ten pieces; 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. One tribe will remain his, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. This is because he has forsaken me, worshipped Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and has not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, as his father David did. Nevertheless, I will not take the whole kingdom away from him but will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of my servant David whom I chose and who did keep my commandments and my statutes; but I will take the kingdom away from his son and give it to you—that is, the ten tribes. Yet to his son I will give one tribe, so that my servant David may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name. I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires; you shall be king over Israel. If you will listen to all that I command you, walk in my ways, and do what is right in my sight by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you, and will build you an enduring house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. For this reason I will punish the descendants of David, but not for ever.’ Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam; but Jeroboam promptly fled to Egypt, to King Shishak of Egypt, and remained in Egypt until the death of Solomon.
The plot thickens
The warning given to Solomon was crystal clear. If you stay on track then the Temple will be hallowed and the succession is secure. If not then the House, the Temple and the Dynasty will fall. Actions have consequences. And here is the unfolding of that warning.
Jeroboam is an outsider and the son of a servant and a widow and yet he is handed four fifths of the kingdom on a plate. This is not a whim, flagrant ambition, nor pride but it is the promise of God after the king’s unfaithfulness. Rehoboam, lacking his father’s wisdom, listens to the wrong people, made disastrous choices, and so the Kingdom is divided. The unthinkable has happened. In a few short years we have travelled from the pinnacle of achievement to the break down of all that is familiar. The account has twisted and squirmed. Modern soap operas have nothing on the Hebrew Scriptures’ plots and outcomes.
As we approach Christmas the chances of being stopped on the road by a passing prophet and handed a random gift of most of the kingdom are, thankfully, fairly remote. After all, what would we do with it? Just as Jeroboam accepted the challenge, so too we can be ready for whatever surprises are in store this Advent – and at any other time God chooses. We are not just talking about random acts of kindness but about radical, life changing, encounters that can shape our own destiny and the lives of people around us. Often that happens in the most unlikely and unexpected of places.
And so “Jeroboam promptly fled to Egypt to King Shishak of Egypt and remained in Egypt until the death of Solomon” when it was safe for him to return and claim the Kingdom. Doesn’t that also sound a familiar turn in the story at this time of year when another refugee had to flee from the wrath of a ruler?
The plot thickens once again
Loving God help us to be ready for whatever surprises and challenges you have in store for us this Advent. May we be ready to stop and listen to the most unlikely people in the most unlikely places.
As the plot of our own lives, the country’s life, and the life of the world thickens and thickens again be with us all and give us the wisdom and the hope to do your will. Amen
The Rev’d Carole Elphick is a Retired Minister and is a member at Muswell Hill.