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Strife and Idolatry

1 Kings 12–16

Each time a new king was anointed to rule the Kingdom of Israel (Saul, David, and Solomon), the tribes made a show of support.  Not always were they of one accord.  Saul was a Benjaminite, and David ruled from Judah while Saul was still king.  The tribe of Judah was always David’s strongest support, and that continued with Solomon.  Judah was the largest tribe, and Benjamin, the smallest tribe, was often counted with it.  When Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, reigned after Solomon’s death, all the tribes were suffering under the taxation imposed by Solomon.  Rehoboam sought counsel from seasoned advisers as well as his young peers, because he had been approached with the idea of decreasing the burdens on the people.  It was actually Jeroboam, called from exile in Egypt, who had made the petition for the people: “Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee” (1 Kings 12:4).

The Disobedient Prophet Slain by a Lion by Gustave Dore


The counsel of the seasoned advisers was to ease the burden on the people, but Rehoboam hearkened to his peers: “My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:14).  When the other tribes heard this decision (called “Israel” in this scripture), they refused to uphold the right of Judah to rule: “What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents” (1 Kings 12:16).

Thus, the ten tribes, now called Israel, separated from Judah and the smathering of other tribes that lived among the tribe of the Judah.  When Rehoboam sent his messenger, Adoram, to them, they stoned him to death.  Israel made Jeroboam their king and separated into a northern kingdom.  Rehoboam garnered the support of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, meaning to make war upon the new northern kingdom, but the Lord intervened and forbade them: “Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They hearkened therefore to the word of the Lord, and returned to depart, according to the word of the Lord” (1 Kings 12:24).

Jeroboam, king of Israel, was concerned about the three pilgrimage festivals wherein the children of Israel were commanded to go to the temple to offer sacrifice.  He worried that if his subjects were to go to Jerusalem, they might throw their support over to Rehoboam and even relocate in the south.

“If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, evenunto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.   Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves ofgold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.  And he set the one in Beth-el, and the other put he in Dan” (1 Kings 12:27-29).

Thus began the government-supported idolatry of the northern kingdom.  Jeroboam ignored the Mosaic dictate that the tribe of Levi would bear the priesthood.  “And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi” (1 Kings 14:31).  Jeroboam then established new feast days that were at different times of the year than those ordained by the Lord through Moses.  He did all this to keep the people from sojourning in Judah.  Certainly, the most religious of the Israelites departed from Israel at that time, and migrated to Judah to be near the temple, and to observe the holy feast days.

“Adam Clarke said that Jeroboam “invented a political religion, instituted feasts in his own times different from those appointed by the Lord, gave the people certain objects of devotion, and pretended to think it would be both inconvenient and oppressive to them to have to go up to Jerusalem to worship. This was not the last time that religion was made a state engine to serve political purposes.” ( Commentary, 2:437.)

“Even though he made golden calves, “that Jeroboam had in his mind not merely the Egyptian Apis- worship generally, but more especially the image-worship which Aaron introduced for the people at Sinai, is evident from the words borrowed from [ Exodus 32:4 ], with which he studiously endeavoured to recommend his new form of worship to the people: ‘Behold, this is thy God, O Israel, who brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.’ . . . What Jeroboam meant to say . . . was, ‘this is no new religion, but this was the form of worship which our fathers used in the desert, with Aaron himself leading the way.’ . . . And whilst the verbal allusion to that event at Sinai plainly shows that . . . Jehovah was worshipped under the image of the calves or young oxen; the choice of the places in which the golden calves were set up also shows that Jeroboam desired to adhere as closely as possible to ancient traditions. He did not select his own place of residence, but Bethel and Dan. Bethel, on the southern border of his kingdom, which properly belonged to the tribe of Benjamin [see Joshua 18:13, 22 ], the present Beitin, had already been consecrated as a divine seat by the vision of Jehovah which the patriarch Jacob received there in a dream [see Genesis 28:11, 19 ], and Jacob gave it the name of Bethel, house of God, and afterwards built an altar there to the Lord [see Genesis 35:7 ]. . . . Dan, in the northern part of the kingdom, . . . was also consecrated as a place of worship by the image-worship established there by the Danites, at which even a grandson of Moses had officiated; and regard may also have been had to the convenience of the people, namely, that the tribes living in the north would not have to go a long distance to perform their worship.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 3:1:198–99.)

“In ordaining a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, Jeroboam subverted the great feast of Tabernacles (which was held on the fifteenth day of the seventh month). He held a similar feast but at the same time undermined the ordinance. (See Clarke, Commentary, 2:437–38.)

“Jeroboam cast off the Levite priests (see 2 Chronicles 11:14 ; 13:19 ) and ordained “priests of the lowest of the people” ( 1 Kings 12:31 ), allowing any to be appointed if they would just consecrate themselves by offering “a young bullock and seven rams” ( 2 Chronicles 13:9 ). He also assumed priestly functions himself (see 1 Kings 12:33 ). His rejection of the Levites resulted in their evacuation from his kingdom and uniting themselves with the kingdom of Rehoboam in Jerusalem” (see 2 Chronicles 11:13–16 ).

In 1 Kings 13, there is an odd story about a prophet who prophesied against Jeroboam as the king offerred incense at one of his heathen altars.  The prophet said that a king named Josiah would be raised up in Judah who would over-mount Jeroboam.  The prophet also gave Jeroboam a sign, that the altar would break and the ashes upon it would pour out.  Insulted, Jeroboam commanded his men to seize the prophet.  He pointed at the prophet with his finger and that hand dried up, so he could not retract it again.  Also, the altar rent and the ashes poured forth.  Jeroboam pleaded with the prophet to restore his hand.  When the prophet did so, Jeroboam invited him to take food with him, but the prophet had been commanded not to (Jeroboam was probably not keeping the Mosaic dietary laws, so his food was therefore unclean).  The prophet took his journey back the way he came, as the Lord had commanded.

However, an old prophet to the northern kingdom waylaid him, and lying, told him he had also received the word of God that the prophet of Judah should stop and eat with him.  The Judean prophet did so, and the old prophet railed against him in prophetic words, saying he would never rest in the tombs of his fathers.  Indeed, when the Judean prophet went his way, he was attacked by a lion.  The lion stood by his carcass, and next to the prophet’s donkey, but didn’t eat the prophet or attack the donkey.  The old prophet buried him and requested to be buried with him upon his own death.  Then he proclaimed that all the Judean prophet’s prophecies against Jeroboam would come true.

“There are some problems in this story of the man of God who came from Judah to warn the king of northern Israel and lost his life in the mission. Some help is available in the [Joseph Smith Translation] of verse 18 , which indicates that the old prophet said, ‘Bring him back . . . that I may prove him; and he lied not unto him.’ Also there is a change in verse 26 , in which the last part reads: ‘. . . therefore the Lord hath delivered him unto the lion, which hath torn him, and slain him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake unto me.’ These make the account more understandable and more acceptable. The young prophet should have obeyed God.” ( Rasmussen, An Introduction to the Old Testament and Its Teachings, 2:4; emphasis added.)

Jeroboam’s son fell ill, and then he realized he needed help that no dumb idol could provide.  He sent his wife in disguise to Shiloh to seek Ahijah the prophet, who had prophesied to Jeroboam of his future kingship.  Ahijah was stricken with the effects of old age and could not see.  The Lord warned him, “Behold, the wife of Jeroboam cometh to ask a thing of thee for her son; for he issick: 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).

“This fallen world is rampant with deception and dishonesty. Though men often deceive one another, the Lord’s anointed can draw upon the gift of revelation and thereby see into the hearts of others or have things made known to them which cannot be obtained through the natural senses” (see Jacob 2:5 ; Job 42:1 ; 1 Kings 8:39 ; Hebrews 4:12–13 ; D&C 6:16 ; 33:1 ).

When Ahijah heard the sound of her feet, he called her the wife of Jeroboam and gave her sad tidings — because of their idolatry all of Jeroboam’s relations would be killed and never receive a proper burial.  His son would die the second the mother entered the city and would be the only one of their family who would ever receive a proper burial.  The Lord would raise up a king that would cut off Jeroboam’s house.

Jeroboam reigned for twenty-two years, and then his son Nadab took over the rule of the northern kingdom of Israel.  Meanwhile, Rehoboam son of Solomon reigned in the southern kingdom of Judah for seventeen years.  The people of Judah were also wicked and idolatrous: “For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree.   And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel” (1 Kings 14:23, 24).

“Settled in Canaan, Israel became a more sedentary, agricultural people, whereas before they had been more nomadic. Their dependence upon the productivity of the soil enticed them to turn to the worship of Baal. In such worship, with its emphasis on fertility, such practices as ritual prostitution of both sexes became rampant. Those who engaged in such practices were referred to by the Lord as sodomites. Other terms, such as high places, images (idols), groves, high hills, green trees, were all associated with the false and reprehensible forms of worship that often led Israel far from the Lord and that Judah, too, practiced under Rehoboam and at other times: “Among early nations it was the custom to erect altars on hilltops ( Gen. 12:7–8 ; 22:2–4 ; 31:54 ). After the settlement in Canaan heathen altars were found set up on various hills and were ordered to be destroyed ( Num. 33:52 ; Deut. 12:2–3 ). Altars to Jehovah were built at several high places ( Judg. 6:25–26 ; 1 Sam. 9:12–25 ; 10:5, 13 ; 1 Chr. 21:26 ; 1 Kgs. 3:2–4 ; 18:30 ). Such altars became local centers of the worship of Jehovah. When idolatry came in, many of these altars were desecrated and used for heathen worship.” ( Bible Dictionary, s.v. “high places.” )

“Concerning the sanctuaries wherein worship of Baal took place, one author explained: “Each place has its own Baal, who is worshipped at the local sanctuary. The sanctuary is at an elevated spot outside the town or village, either on a natural eminence or on a mound artificially made for the purpose; these are the ‘high places’ of the Old Testament; originally Canaanite places of worship, they drew to themselves also the worship of Israel. The apparatus of worship at these shrines is of a very simple nature. An upright stone represents the god. . . . He was supposed to come to the stone when meeting with his worshippers; and in the earliest times of Semitic religion this stone served the purpose of an altar: the gifts, which were not originally burned, were laid upon it, or the blood of the victim was applied to it. But besides the altar and the upright stone of massebah the Canaanite shrine had another piece of furniture. A massive tree-trunk, fixed in the ground and with some of its branches perhaps still remaining, represented the female deity who is the invariable companion of the Baal. This is the Ashera of Canaan, a word which in the Authorized Version is translated ‘grove,’ after an error of the Vulgate, but which in the Revised Version is rightly left untranslated. [ Judges 3:7 ; 6:25 , 2 Kings 23:6 .] The word Ashera is in such passages the designation of the tree which stood to represent the goddess.” (Allan Menzies, History of Religion, 172; see also Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel [religion 301, 2003], pp. 245–48 , 255 .)

The Lord did not come to Rehoboam’s aid when “Shishak” of Egypt invaded and looted the temple and the king’s treasure.  The northern and southern kingdoms vexed each other constantly, so there was always war between them.

“The king of Egypt referred to here as Shishak was most probably the “Libyan prince who founded Egypt’s XXIInd Dynasty as the Pharaoh Sheshong I. He reigned for 21 years c. 945–924 B.C. He harboured Jeroboam as a fugitive from Solomon, after Ahijah’s prophecy of Jeroboam’s future kingship [see 1 Kings 11:29–40 ]. Late in his reign, Shishak invaded Palestine in the fifth year of Rehoboam, 925 B.C. He subdued Judah, taking the treasures of Jerusalem as tribute [see 1 Kings 14:25–26 ; 2 Chronicles 12:2–12 ], and also asserted his dominion over Israel, as is evidenced by a broken stele of his from Megiddo. At the temple of Amun in Thebes, Shishak left a triumphal relief-scene, naming many Palestinian towns.” (J. D. Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Shishak”; see also 2 Chronicles 12:5–12 for a detailed account of Shishak’s invasion.)

When Rehoboam died, his son Abijam took over the kingdom.  Abijam walked in all the sins of his father.

“Abijam was unrighteous, as his father had been. “But for David’s sake,” for the sake of the promises made about the house of David and to preserve the royal lineage through which the Messiah would come (see Isaiah 9:6–7 ; Luke 1:32 ; Acts 13:22–23 ), the Lord did not reject Abijam, who was David’s great-grandson, but allowed the throne to pass to him and then to his son (see Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 3:1:217). The word lamp refers to the idea of a light or a candle that continues to burn rather than being put out. Symbolically, then, Abijam’s line, or light, was allowed to continue rather than being extinguished. (Concerning Christas the Son of David, see Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, pp. 188–95).

“For an account of Abijam’s reign, see 2 Chronicles 13 (where he is called Abijah). Although he was not a righteous man, neither was he completely unrighteous, for he called Jeroboam and his army to repentance (see 2 Chronicles 13:4–12 ), and his army prevailed over Jeroboam’s ‘because they relied upon the Lord’” ( v. 18 ).

When Abijam died, his son Asa ruled Judah in his stead.  This was twenty years into Jeroboam’s rule in the north.

Asa ruled forty-one years in righteousness: “And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burnt itby the brook Kidron.  But the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asa’s heart was perfect with the Lord all his days” (1 Kings 15:12-14).   (For a detailed account of Asa’s reign, see 2 Chronicles 14–16 .)

Asa “had idolatrous altars and images torn down. He also began to eliminate the male and female prostitutes who attended the pagan temples, groves, altars, and shrines. The reforms soon brought peace among the people, which made them more happy and content. He realized that the pagan peoples might again try to impose their false religious practices on his people, so he also used this interval of peace to build up his territorial defenses” (see 2 Chronicles 14:7 ).

Baasha took over in the northern kingdom and continued to war against Judah.  He set up a city in Ramah, to prevent his subjects from travelling south to Jerusalem.  Asa made a treaty with the king of Syria, Ben HaDad, and caused him to attack the northern kingdom.  The people of Judah were able to carry away all the building materials used at Ramah.  Asa died and Jehoshaphat took over Judah.

Nadab had taken over the northern kingdom of Jeroboam, but he was killed by Baasha of the house of Issachar.  “And it came to pass, when he reigned, thathe smote all the house of Jeroboam; he left not to Jeroboam any that breathed, until he had destroyed him, according unto the saying of the Lord, which he spake by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite” (1 Kings 15:29).  Baasha was a wicked king who caused all of Israel to sin.

The prophet Jehu said to Baasha: “Behold, I will take away the posterity of Baasha, and the posterity of his house; and will make thy house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.  Him that dieth of Baasha in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dieth of his in the fields shall the fowls of the air eat” (1 Kings 16:3, 4).  Following the rule of Baasha in the north came the rule of his son Elah.  Elah was slain by Zimri, the captain of his chariots, who then reigned.  Zimri killed all the family of Baasha, as prophesied.  Asa was still ruling in the south when Zimri became king of the north.  The armies of Judah attacked, and when he saw the war was lost, Zimri burned himself to death in his house.  There was then a competition for the throne, won by Omri, who was extremely wicked.  When Omri died, Ahab his son reigned in his stead.  Asa had ruled eight years in the south at that time.  “And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him” (1 Kings 16:33).

“Ahab, son of Omri, was even more evil than his father, who had “[done] worse than all that were before him” ( 1 Kings 16:25 ). The scripture states that Ahab “did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him” ( 1 Kings 16:30 ). Ahab married Jezebel, daughter of King Ethbaal of Phoenicia, who practiced idolatry of a most depraved kind. Ahab built a house of Baal in the capital city of Samaria and placed an altar to the Phoenician sun god inside it (see 1 Kings 16:32 ). He then made a grove in which the people could indulge themselves in immoral practices around a symbol dedicated to the fertility goddess Ashtaroth. Four hundred priests, who ate at Jezebel’s table at state expense, assisted her in the extravagant and unholy religion she had brought into Israel.

Clarke summed up this marriage, as well as Jezebel’s life, in these words:

“This was the head and chief of his offending; he took to wife, not only a heathen, but one whose hostility to the true religion was well known, and carried to the utmost extent. 1. She was the idolatrous daughter of an idolatrous king; 2. She practised it openly; 3. She not only countenanced it in others, but protected it, and gave its partisans honours and rewards; 4. She used every means to persecute the true religion; 5. She was hideously cruel, and put to death the prophets and priests of God; 6. And all this she did with the most zealous perseverance and relentless cruelty.

“Notwithstanding Ahab had built a temple, and made an altar for Baal, and set up the worship of Asherah, the Sidonian Venus, . . . yet so well known was the hostility of Jezebel to all good, that his marrying her was esteemed the highest pitch of vice, and an act the most provoking to God, and destructive to the prosperity of the kingdom.” ( Commentary, 2:450–51.)

*This article was adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.

Next: Elijah

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