As it happens, today I was scheduled for Sabbath School, and as is often the case , I had an interesting and somewhat obscure story to tell, namely the promise of the division of Solomon’s kingdom and how it came to pass, which is told in 1 Kings 11 and 12 for those who are not aware. The passage that struck me as most interesting is the following prophecy from the prophet Ahijah to Jeroboam that led him to form a conspiracy against Solomon and to flee to Egypt for safety, which can be found in 1 Kings 11:29-40: “Now it happened at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite met him on the way; and he had clothed himself with a new garment, and the two were alone in the field. Then Ahijah took hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you (but he shall have one tribe for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), because they have forsaken Me, and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the people of Ammon, and have not walked in My ways to do what is right in My eyes and keep My statutes and My judgments, as did his father David. However I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, because I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of My servant David, whom I chose because he kept My commandments and My statutes. But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and give it to you—ten tribes. And to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may always have a lamp before Me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen for Myself, to put My name there. So I will take you, and you shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel. Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you. And I will afflict the descendants of David because of this, but not forever.’” Solomon therefore sought to kill Jeroboam. But Jeroboam arose and fled to Egypt, to Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon.”
There is a lot of interest in this story, and as is usual, the most interesting parts of the story are between the lines. Earlier in 1 Kings 11, we read that God was upset because Solomon had set up altars to the false gods of his various heathen wives, and so God promised to tear most of the kingdom from Solomon, whose heir Rehoboam was the son of one of those wives, a lady of Ammon. Ahijah takes the able Jeroboam, who had been raised up despite his status as the son of a widow (and therefore quite likely a somewhat marginalized person in society) to be over the laborers in Jerusalem, and tells him that he has been anointed to be the next king over ten of the tribes of Israel. Although Ahijah does this in a somewhat subtle way, word of it gets back to the king and Jeroboam is forced to flee for his life, because no king is willing to accept an anointed rival in peace, and Solomon had already shown his ruthlessness in dealing with rivals at the beginning of his reign.
Besides this area of political interest, though, which is not too surprising as someone who is interested in politics, there is a conditional promise to Jeroboam that he appears to have taken little heed to. Ahijah gave Jeroboam the same promise that David had been given by the prophet Nathan, that his wholehearted commitment to God’s ways would result in his having an enduring household, a dynasty that, like David’s, would last. And yet Jeroboam, when he finally became king, was so afraid that honoring God’s ways and having the people travel to Jerusalem would threaten his own hold over the people that he threw away his promise to make golden calves in Dan and Bethel, and instead of his name being synonymous with wholehearted worship of God like that of David, instead his name became an epitaph for nearly all of the kings of Israel who by and large sinned in the manner of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Even the better kings of Israel failed to overcome the weakness of the first ruler of the divided kingdoms, because they could not rise above their nationalism in order to worship God with a loyal heart.
This is something worth examining in greater detail. When push came to shove, it was the commitment of the people of the kingdom of Israel to their separate national identity that led them to persist in religious sin. For God, political disunity was no great threat to His desire to bless Israel. After all, the period of the judges had been fairly notorious for its political divisions and weaknesses, and yet God was king over all Israel. However, the various kings of Israel could not see any way for their own state to be viable apart from a separate national church under their own control. For them, the presence of a religious identity based on Jerusalem, the capital of a rival kindred nation, would be a continual threat to their own legitimacy. Yet the refusal to accept God’s rule over them, and to worship and follow in His ways, prevented Israel from ever gaining political legitimacy, as there were frequent coups and overthrows of government that made Israel politically unstable and ultimately brought it into an early captivity.
There are obviously lessons here for us today. Obviously, any legitimacy in the political realm and any lasting stability for a nation depends on the blessings of God that come from obedience. Equally obviously, a desire to hold onto an institutional or national identity that is founded upon separateness from others to whom we are bound by ties of kinship and culture can make it impossible to worship God as He commands. This is so because God’s laws and commandments and religious culture are universal in nature, admitting no boundaries in their way, while the regimes of man continually seek to defend certain turf as belonging to them, not trusting in God to let their territory grow as they show themselves to be devoted to obeying God and serving others. We are no more enlightened in our behavior in authority now than in the days of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, for all of the technological advancement we have made in the nearly three thousand years between then and now.
 See, for example: