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Monday, August 22, 2022

The Divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

We’re in the midst of a series of sermons about times in the Bible when people separated.  Sometimes, the disputes that divide people develop over generations and that is certainly the case in the story I want to share today.  Today, I want to study the divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

A lot of people don’t realize Israel had a civil war and divided into two kingdoms—north/south.
That’s one of the reason’s reading the Bible can be confusing, because when we say “Israel” it can a number of different things.  It can refere to the Twelve Tribes of Israel before they were a united Kingdom and were still a loose confederation of tribes known as Israel.  Israel can also refer to the unified kingdom that came together under King Saul, King David, and King Solomon.  After the civil war,  Israel was the northern kingdom who quickly rejected God and served idols, but Judah was the southern kingdom who compiled the Old Testament of the Bible and also was also sometimes referred to as Israel (though the proper name was Judah).  Judah was the "Israel" from which came Jesus, who was a "Jew" because he was of the tribe of Judah.  All these different names can make understanding ancient Israeli history in the BIble very confusing for mdern readers.

It wasn't just one thing that cause the civil war between Israel and Judah.  It was a multitude of things that developed over generations. As with many split ups, it was very complicated.  There were many political rivalries, because Israel was a kingdom of tribal people and tribal people tend to be very clannish (it's that my tribe is better than your tribe kind of thing).  Furthermore, people felt over-taxed.  All of Solomon's great building projects caused a heavy tax burden on his kingdom's subjects.  Ultimately, God ordained the split up of Israel into two Kingdoms (as we will see in the Scripture reading).

The wedge that eventually drove a split between Israel in the north and Judah in the south started with King Solomon.  Solomon was King David’s son.  You’ve probably heard about Solomon because he was supposed to be the wisest man who ever lived.  Furthermore, under Solomon’s rule, Israel became very rich and powerful.  Solomon also built the famous Temple in Jerusalem, which we hear about so often in the Bible.  For these reasons, you might think Solomon was an ideal ruler.  Unfortunately, Solomon had a fatal flaw that became the downfall for his Kingdom.

1 Kings 11:1-3
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.

Strange Bedfellows
Groucho Marx once quipped, "Politics doesn't make strange bedfellows--marriage does."  And that was certainly the case for Solomon.  You have to understand, most Solomon’s marriages were political in nature.  Marriage was a way for one ruler to secure a treaty with another ruler.  (It’s harder to betray someone who’s married into your family.)  Solomon was so powerful that everyone wanted a treaty with him.  That’s why he had so many wives. 

God knows the human heart better than we know it ourselves.  Who you choose to marry has the greatest influence of anyone on your attitudes and beliefs.  That’s why God told His people in Israel not to marrying foreigners--to protect Israel from being led astray by foreign people who worshipped false gods and idols. (The prohibition was really about the foreign god’s of foreign people.  If the foreigners forsook their false God’s and committed to worship the God of Israel alone, then there was no issue.  Israelis could then marry foreign people.  We see many examples of this.  Rahab and Ruth are two such examples, and they are even included in the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah.) 

Even though Solomon was a wise and effective ruler, he forsook God’s warning and his many wives and combines swayed his thinking and corrupted his decisions.  He even began to worship false gods.

1 Kings 11:9-13
The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord’s command. 11 So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. 12 But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. 13 And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.”

1 Kings 11:29-32
One day as Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh met him along the way. Ahijah was wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone in a field, 30 and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten of these pieces, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and I will give ten of the tribes to you! 32 But I will leave him one tribe for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel.

The Divided Kingdom
Israel remained united as long as Solomon was in power, but eventually Solomon died and his son Rehoboam came to power.  Rehoboam refused to reduce taxes in Israel and even boasted he would raise them higher and enforce them stricter than Solomon had.  So, the 10 northern tribes of Israel revolted and the kingdom of Israel was torn in two.  You can read about it in 1 Kings chapter 12.

It was not God’s will that Israel be torn in two.  God preferred Israel to remain one kingdom that was faithful to God.  Unfortunately, Solomon was not faithful to God and neither was his son Rehoboam.  So, God allowed Jeroboam to rebel and split the kingdom in two—with Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  What happened next was the saddest development of all.

1 Kings 12:26-30
Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. 27 When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

28 So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

29 He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. 30 But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.

Golden Calves
So, Solomon’s led his kingdom to worship false gods, God tore 10 tribes away to form their own kingdom in the north.  Then, Jeroboam does the same thing and leads the 10 tribes in the north to worship idols and false gods too!  (Do you ever just want to scream?)

God gave Jeroboam 80% of the kingdom.  What an opportunity and he squandered it!  Rather than worship God faithfully, Jeroboam was scared and greedy and power hungry and paranoid and tried to control it all and he turned away from God.  He used religion as a weapon to manipulate people.  He set up idols.  He led the people of Israel astray.  Ultimately, the 10 northern tribes of Israel who turned away from God and worshipped the golden calves disappeared from the earth.  Their kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC.  The entire population was killed or deported and assimilated into other people groups.  They no longer exist.  We call them the 10 lost tribes of Israel.  So what started as a good thing, ended very badly because of idolatry and unfaithfulness.

There’s a practical lesson in this for us today.  We always need to be on guard against idolatry and false gods in life, but the temptation is even greater when we are going through some kind of terrible trauma--when we lose someone we love, go through a divorce, when the kids all move out and you’re on your own, when you retire from your career, move from one place to another, etc.  In these moments, your life, your routines, your relationships, your emotions get shaken up.  You may find yourself looking for something to cling to. Be sure you cling to Jesus and not some golden calf.

Idols and false gods can be appealing because they're often tangible things that you can touch.  For Northern Israel, it was a golden calf they could see and touch that was beautiful and expensive.  This seemed more real than the invisible God, Yahweh of the Old Testament.  For us today, idols can be people or money or power--things we see in the world and the world tells us are really important.  We can feel like these are the things we should cling to, but these "false gods" always let you down.  Jesus never will.

Money, power, people, prestige—all the things of this world—give a false sense of security, but they cannot provide what we really need.  We are called to worship the One True God through Jesus Christ. 
He’s the only One that’s real and eternal.  So don’t let your trials drive a wedge between you and Christ.  Hold to Jesus even more firmly, especially when your life gets turned upside down.

The Untied Methodist Church
I once received a pen from a company selling promotional merchandise.  The sent me a free pen with my church's name on it in hopes that I would buy a large order.  However, they misspelled the name of my church and printed it as "Mt Zion Untied Methodist Church" instead of United.  I always thought that was funny.  I didn't realize at the time it was also prophetic. 

Right now, the United Methodist Church is facing a denominational split.  Many believe the UMC has drifted from God’s original mission and lost its way.  Not only has the UMC lost it’s footing on historical, biblically based Christian doctrine.  The UMC has also grown dysfunctional, inefficient, and overbearing.  Like the divide between the Israel and Judah, the divisions in the UMC didn't develop overnight; it took generations.  A lot of small things have added up to the insurmountable divide we see in our denomination today.

Congregations and pastors across the globe are rightfully discerning whether now is time to disaffiliate from the denomination.  Along with this, they are contemplating what to do next if they leave the UMC.  Some will join the new Global Methodist Church—a new denomination that formed in May.  Some will join other Methodist denominations.  Others will become independent congregations with no denominational affiliation where they can make up their own rules without being beholden to a denomination. 

I believe God has ordained this split in the United Methodist Church, but I also believe God ordained the split to help His Church be more faithful to Jesus and not simply do whatever they want.  This is a critical time for everyone to stay close to Jesus through prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and worship.  The temptation at a time like this is to do what we want to do.  the temptation is to try and take control so we can make things the way we want them to be.  If we’re not careful, we may find ourselves acting like Jeroboam—who got scared and greedy and power hungry and paranoid and turned away from God.  He set up idols and he led his people astray.  They were destroyed and are no more.

We are living in a special time in the life of God’s Church.  It’s critical that we act as God’s Church and not just do whatever we want.

What about your own life?  What are you facing right now and what is God saying to you today?

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