Little that happened in the first ten chapters of 1 Kings prepares the reader for the distressing contents of chapters 11-14. Following Solomon’s request to the Lord for ‘an understanding heart to judge thy people’, 1 Kgs. 3. 9, the historian records, ‘And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing’, v. 10. From that point onwards his name, fame, wisdom and wealth resounded far and wide throughout the surrounding area. Tragically, however, the Lord’s pleasure was now replaced by His anger: ‘the Lord was angry with Solomon’, 11. 9.
Solomon’s desires, disobedience, and departure from the truth of God’s word provided a dark backdrop for events that followed. God’s holy and righteous anger emanated from His desire to have the first place in His people’s hearts and lives. He is, indeed, ‘the Lord, whose name is Jealous’, Exod. 34. 14. Solomon knew the scriptures and yet his behaviour flew in the face of such truth. Perhaps one of the greatest surprises was that this departure came when he was old, 1 Kgs. 11. 4.
It might have appeared reasonable to the casual onlooker that since Solomon had reached a pinnacle of power and influence he was free to act as he pleased. However, nothing could have been further from the truth. Solomon was about to feel the chastening hand of the sovereign God, and learn that he did not have the authority to act as he pleased.
First, the Lord spoke to Solomon and informed him that He would rend the kingdom from him and give it to another, v. 11. The Lord, who had ensured that ‘his kingdom was established greatly’, 2. 12, had the sovereign right to take it from him. However, He also made a promise to Solomon: ‘Howbeit I will not rend away all the kingdom; but will give one tribe to thy son for David my servant’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake which I have chosen’, 11. 13. Even in the midst of the most severe chastisement, the grace and mercy of a faithful God were in evidence.
Second, the Lord stirred up an adversary against Solomon, namely, Hadad the Edomite, v. 14. Hadad had fled, as a young child to Paran, and subsequently to Egypt, when Joab had murdered his family, vv. 15-17. He remained in Egypt until the deaths of David and Joab, v. 21, but, at precisely the right moment, the Lord overruled and led him back to Edom.
Third, the Lord stirred up yet another adversary, namely Rezon, the son of Eliadah, v. 23. He had fled with a band of followers when David had attacked his master. He became captain of his fellow escapees and eventually ruled over them in Damascus, vv. 23-24. He proved to be a formidable adversary. Once again, the Lord demonstrated that He was in control of the events of history and used the nations at His will to chasten a rebellious people.
Fourth, ‘Jeroboam lifted up his hand against the king’, v. 26. He was a young man who had caught Solomon’s eye as an industrious worker, when building Millo and repairing the breaches in the wall around Jerusalem. His industry led to him being put in charge of the house of Joseph, v. 28.
Prophets had not been in evidence in Solomon’s kingdom up to this point, but from now on they appeared at regular intervals. They served to heighten awareness of the word of the Lord during these dark days, and the consequences of rejecting it. Ahijah the Shilonite met Jeroboam in a field, vv. 29-30. He appears suddenly and we know nothing about him. However, the Lord’s word, not the prophet’s biography, is crucial. At this private meeting, Jeroboam received a startling message from the Lord through Ahijah: ‘And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces: and he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces: for thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, Behold I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee: (But he shall have one tribe for my servant David’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel)’, vv. 30-32. The ‘new garment’ suggests the comparative newness of the kingdom.
Ahijah did not seek a public platform for this important message. He had the discernment to know when a message from the Lord needed to be delivered in private, rather than in public. He teaches us never to seek personal power or position when delivering the word of the Lord to others. Preachers ought never to get more important than the message, or the One of whom they speak. The Lord, through Ahijah, unfolded the reason for His action, i.e., the rising tide of idolatry in the land, v. 33. Perhaps to bridle any unfettered ambition on Jeroboam’s part, He informed him that He would ‘not take the whole kingdom out of his (Solomon’s) hand … unto his son will I give one tribe’, vv. 34-36. He also emphasized the need for Jeroboam to be patient, as He would act in His own time: ‘But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand, and will give it unto thee’, v. 35. The Lord’s promise to Jeroboam was also accompanied by a solemn warning that He would be with him and make him strong, only if he were obedient to His commandments, v. 38. Sadly, however, he was driven by personal ambition and he was not prepared to be patient.
The final words of the sovereign Lord through Ahijah are touching and lift the gloom: ‘And I will for this afflict the seed of David, but not for ever’, v. 39. His gracious promises to David will be fulfilled when Christ returns to reign.
Fifth, God’s sovereignty was displayed in bringing Solomon’s reign to a close. A reign that had reached such heights ended in the depths of disappointment, vv. 42-43. There was a deep fault-line running through it that began with a wayward heart and ended with the tolerance of idolatry. Solomon’s thirst for wealth placed an immense burden on the nation, 12. 4, and after his death it led to the division of the kingdom.
Such was the depth of Jeroboam’s departure from the Lord that he felt unable to approach Ahijah directly. No doubt, Ahijah had followed developments in the kingdom with growing dismay, as Jeroboam led the people deeper and deeper into idolatry. The only way Jeroboam could see to avoid confrontation with Ahijah was to resort to deception. The plan was simple: ‘And Jeroboam said to his wife, Arise, I pray thee, and disguise thyself, that thou be not known to be the wife of Jeroboam; and get thee to Shiloh: behold, there is Ahijah the prophet, which told me that I should be king over this people. And take with thee ten loaves, and cracknels, and a cruse of honey, and go to him: he shall tell thee what shall become of the child’, 14. 2-3. The present was that of a poor person, not a king, and therefore was part of the deception to throw the prophet off the scent as to her true identity. The prophet’s word had already proved to be reliable in his life and therefore he had no reason to doubt that it would not be so again. However, there was no possibility of Jeroboam succeeding with his deception. Indeed, he and his wife soon discovered that her disguise was totally unnecessary in the first place. They were unaware of the fact that Ahijah ‘could not see; for his eyes were set by reason of his age’, v. 4.
Clearly, Jeroboam had turned his back upon Ahijah since their first meeting; indeed, he had shown no concern for his welfare and was totally unaware of his current physical condition. Nevertheless, if he had deserted the aged prophet, the Lord had not: ‘And the Lord said unto Ahijah, Behold, the wife of Jeroboam cometh to ask a thing of thee for her son; for he is sick’, v. 5. Her deception was uncovered before she even entered the door of his house in Shiloh. If his sight was impaired, there was nothing wrong with his hearing! His ear was open to God’s voice.
Significantly, Jeroboam’s wife did not speak once throughout her visit. It was the Lord’s voice that was heard through Ahijah. The section begins with, ‘And the Lord said’, and closes with, ‘the word of the Lord’, vv. 5, 18. Once again, no matter how much he sought to escape from it, it was God’s word that confronted, challenged, and condemned Jeroboam. His wife must have been taken aback by Ahijah’s initial greeting, ‘Come in, thou wife of Jeroboam; why feignest thou thyself to be another? for I am sent to thee with heavy tidings’, v. 6. Her son’s health, the reason why she came to the prophet, was not even mentioned to begin with. She was instructed to convey a message to Jeroboam that must have shaken her to the core. As soon as she reached the threshold of her home following the visit to Ahijah, her son died, v. 17. One can only begin to imagine what impact burying his son must have had upon Jeroboam, with the weight of impending judgement also hanging over him. However, whatever he felt, it did not lead him to repentance towards God. His sin in setting up a counterfeit religion based on idolatry is a recurring theme throughout the remainder of the book.
Ahijah’s behaviour was impeccable throughout his exchanges with Jeroboam. It was a dangerous time to be a faithful servant of the Lord. Jeroboam was a powerful man, but Ahijah did not flinch from declaring to him ‘all the counsel of God’, cp. Acts 20. 27. It is a touching picture to see him sitting poor, blind, and alone in his house. It was a costly business to be loyal to the Lord; however, in a very real sense, he was not alone. It was in these humble circumstances that the Lord spoke to him, 1 Kgs. 14. 4-5.