Sunday School Lesson 27: 1 Kings 12-14; 2 Chronicles 17, 20
Posted by Jim F. on July 12, 2010
The material of this lesson, especially that of chapters 12-13, is important to understanding the rest of Old Testament, for the eighty years that it covers details the split that occurred between the ten tribes of Israel in the north and the tribe of Judah/Benjamin in the south. Since these accounts, like the rest of the Old Testament, were edited many years later (for example, after the return from Babylon) by descendants of those in the southern kingdom, you should think about what their point of view would have been and how that might have shaped their version of the story, the only version we have. There is no factual, objective account of the division, only this one written by someone on one side of the division and later edited by people also on that side of the division. On the other hand, the fact that, apparently, the original writer continually refers to all Israel—both the northern and the southern kingdom—shows that he, at least, was not a simple propagandist for the south. He had the unification of Israel at heart.
After this lesson, the material we read will often not be in chronological order. You can use the Old Testament chronology in the LDS Bible Dictionary to see how the materials we study are related to each other chronologically.
1. Original Israel splits into two factions. The first, in the north, is called Israel and ruled by Jeroboam. The second, Judah, is in the south and ruled by Rehoboam. (1 Kings 12:1-20)
2. Jeroboam builds temples in Shechem and Penuel. His hand is withered because he has demanded the arrest of a prophet who prophesies against the temple at Bethel (supported by Jeroboam). Then he is healed by that same prophet. (1 Kings 12:21-Chap. 13)
3. When Jeroboam’s son, Abijah, becomes ill, Jeroboam sends his wife to the prophet Ahijah in Shiloh for counsel. However, instead of telling her what will become of their son, Ahijah tells her that Jeroboam’s descendants will be destroyed. (1 Kings 14:1-20)
4. Judah takes up idolatry and Shishak, king of Egypt, invades and pillages the Jerusalem temple. (1 King 14:21-31)
5. After three generations, Jehoshaphat, Rehoboam’s great-grandson, reigns righteously, bringing peace to Judah and respect to Jehoshaphat from the kings of nations that had previously been enemies. (2 Chronicles 17)
6. The Moabites and Ammonites join forces to attack Israel, but Israel is saved by the choir! (2 Chronicles 20). Choir director’s take notice: ammunition to use to get more support for the ward or stake choir.
1 Kings 1
Verse 1: Why was Shechem important to the Israelites? Why might they have gone to Shechem to crown the new king? (See Genesis 12:6-7; 33:18-20; and Joshua 24:21-24.) What point does Rehoboam make by going to Shechem to be crowned rather than to Jerusalem?
Verses 2-4: Why does Jeroboam return? What do the people want Rehoboam to do? Are they negotiating the terms under which they will accept him as king? Is it telling that they do not complain about Solomon’s idolatry? Are they asking for some form of self-rule or merely for leniency?
Verses 6-7: What did the elders demand? What are they trying to do in verse 7? What was their advice for Rehoboam’s success? Are they telling him what he should do, or are they just answering his question at the end of verse 6, “How do ye advise that I may answer this people”? In other words, are they answering sincerely or merely giving strategic, political advice?
Verses 8-11: What does it mean in verse 8 that he “forsook the counsel of the old men” before he had spoken with the young men? What did the young men advise? How do you explain this difference? What do his counselors mean when they advise Rehoboam to tell Israel “My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins”? How could the king beat them with scorpions? (In other words, what is a scorpion?) How does the young men’s advice about who should be servants (which in Hebrew at that time meant “slaves”) differ from that of the elders?
Verses 13-14: How do you explain the difference in counsel that the two groups gave to Rehoboam? Why would each of the groups advising Rehoboam give the advice that they did? How do you explain his preference for the second group’s counsel?
Verse 15: Why would the writer attribute these events to the Lord? (Compare verse 24.) How much do you think God intervenes in the course of history? Why would he intervene in this case? What factors determine his intervention or nonintervention? How does he intervene when he does? For example, how might we see his hand in contemporary history? What are the implications of our understanding of how he intervenes in world history for how he intervenes in the history of the Church or in our individual lives?
Verses 16-17: How is the term “David” used in verse 16? Why do the people attack David? This is the moment when Israel is split, never to reunite until the Second Coming. Is this split a result of the decision to have a king? If so, how?
Verse 18: What happens to the tax collector sent by Rehoboam to gather the tribute?
Verse 19: What does the phrase “unto this day” tell us about the author of this account?
Verses 20-21: What does the text mean when it states that none followed Rehoboam but the tribe of Judah, when verse 21 tells us that Benjamin also followed?
Verses 21-24: What happens to the army that Rehoboam gathers to go to war against the north? How might we understand these verses as telling us the point of the story we have just read? How might these verses constitute the writer’s “and thus we see”? Does the writer of these verses intend to show us a brave king who takes the advice of the man of God or does he intend to show us someone who, when the time comes to fight, is a coward?
Verse 25: Shechem was already an old city by the time of Jeroboam, so what does the writer mean here when he says that Jeroboam built it?
Verses 26-27: Why did Jeroboam think that the people would return to Rehoboam as their king if they worshiped in Jerusalem?
Verses 26-29: Why did Jeroboam build golden calves, or bulls, in Dan and Bethel? Why in those two cities? Where are they geographically? Where have we seen a golden calf before (Genesis 32)? So what? What is happening that Rehoboam would follow Aaron’s lead even after they had seen the Lord’s reaction to the first golden calf?
Thinking about the golden calf. Here are some things that will help you think about the complexity of the writer’s claim that Rehoboam committed idolatry:
1. We have an image of twelve oxen in our temples. Some are golden. Why are they all right but Rehoboam’s calf is not.
2. Contemporary scholars believe that the golden calves were not intended for idol worship, but were to serve the same function in Rehoboam’s temple that the seraphim served in the Jerusalem temple.
3. The bull is a symbol of fertility (Job 21:10) and of power (Psalm 22:12).
4. Abraham sacrificed a calf when he offered the sacrifice in which his covenant was made (Genesis 15:9). The sacrificed calf was a sign of the covenant (Jeremiah 34:18).
5. A calf was sacrificed for an individual sin offering (Leviticus 9:2; see also 1 Samuel 16:2). A red heifer was sacrificed for the communal sin offering (Numbers 19:1-10). Calves and oxen were also used for other sacrifices. (See, for example, Deuteronomy 15:19.)
6. Calves are a symbol of Joseph—Deuteronomy 33:17: “His [Joseph’s] glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns [Hebrew: “wild oxen”]: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.”
7. After noting the reference to the symbol of Ephraim as a bull (Deut. 33:17), former dean of Religious Education at BYU, Andrew Skinner, writes in a footnote (Studies in Scripture, vol. 4, p. 22):
See also the Hebrew of Gen. 49:24, in which the phrase ‘abîr ya ‘akōb is used, the literal meaning being “bull of Jacob.” The King James Version translates the phrase as “mighty God of Jacob.” The bull was a symbol for divine power in the ancient Near East. The earliest dated archaeological object of Pharaonic Egypt—the Narmer Palett—depicts the bull as a symbol of the power of the first Pharaoh. The Canaanites of Ugarit worshiped their god El as a bull, Baal was depicted as mounted on a bull.
Even if the golden calves were ornamental rather than idolatrous, what was the danger of putting them in the northern temples?
Verses 30-33: The Word Biblical Commentary (12:163) summarizes the six complaints that the writer has against Jeroboam:
1. Since the calves were made in the same place, there was a religious procession to take one of them to Dan in the far north.
2. Existing open-air altars had been converted into temples by adding walls and a roof.
3. Anyone could become a priest, not just Levites.
4. Jeroboam changed the religious calendar.
5. Jeroboam went to the altar, though only priests were allowed to do so.
6. Country priests were brought to Bethel to serve there.
Why would Jeroboam do these things? The writer gives Jeroboam’s reforms a negative interpretation. Can you think of any possible positive interpretation, one that those in the northern kingdom might give?
1 Kings 13
What is the point of this strange story? What does the writer intend us to learn from it? One writer says that this story “is about the marks of authentic prophecy—to be specific, the degree of obedience to which a genuine bearer of revelation is willing to commit himself” (Word Biblical Commentary 12:173). Do you agree, or do you see the story having another point? If that is the point, what does this story tell us about the sign of a true prophet?
Verse 1: Is it a problem that Jeroboam is burning incense on the altar? If it is, why doesn’t the prophet mention it? How could it not be a problem?
Verses 2-3: What prophecy does this man make upon the altar, as it were?
Verses 4-5: What happens to Jeroboam as he puts forth his hand to stop these proceedings, and what happens to the altar? How is this like an earlier experience involving Aaron and Miriam (Numbers 12)? Do you think that the writer wants us to see that parallel? If so, why?
Verses 7-10: Why does Jeroboam offer the prophet a gift, and why is the gift refused? (Remember that we have seen people offer gifts to the prophets before, as tokens of respect, and the prophets have accepted them. That was the custom of the time. See, for example 1 Kings 14:3.)
Verses 11-32: Here we have one of the strangest stories of the Old Testament, with one prophet tempting another to disobey God—and succeeding. Note how the Prophet Joseph changes this text (footnote 18b). What does this change add to the story? How does this change make sense in the story? Why would one prophet of God lead another prophet of God astray? What was the reaction of the second prophet to the death of the first (13:29-32)?
Verse 32: Knowing the later meaning of Samaria to those in Judah, what does this verse tell us about the purpose of this story?
Verse 33: Of what is the writer accusing Jeroboam?
1 Kings 14
Verses 1-4: Why does Jeroboam send his wife to Abijah the prophet when their son becomes ill? In other words, why send his wife, rather than go himself? Why to Abijah specifically? What does it mean when the text says “Abijah could not see; for his eyes were set by reason of his age”? If he couldn’t see, why did she go in disguise? Abijah and Jeroboam had been on friendly terms (1 Kings 11:29-39). What does the wife’s need to disguise herself suggest about their relation now? Why might that relation have changed?
Verses 8-9: Given what we have seen of David, how can the description of him in verse 8 be true?
Verses 10-11: This description of the males in Israel as those who urinate against the wall and the house of Jeroboam as dung is blatantly offensive. Why does the prophet use that kind of language?
Verses 13-14: What does this tell us about Jeroboam’s son? Knowing this, why wouldn’t the Lord allow the son to live and rule? Is the point of this story to be found in verse 14: the Lord will choose the king, not the king? (Compare 1 Kings 11:29-40.) How is this relevant to us?
Verses 15-16: What does the phrase “beyond the river” signify? What event is the prophet foretelling? Do you think that verse 16 is part of the original prophecy or something added by a later editor? Why?
Verse 19: Notice the reference (see footnote 19a) to records that we do not have. (For a complete listing see Lost Books in the Bible Dictionary.)
Verses 20-21: Notice the shift from the history of the north to the history of the south. The writer is giving us a parallel history. We will see this repeatedly. What is significant about the reference to Rehoboam’s mother (verse 21)? Why is this repeated in verse 31? What is the writer telling us about Rehoboam’s upbringing?
Verse 24: What important clue is contained in verse 24 regarding why the Lord had cast off the nations that were in Canaan? The term “sodomite” means “cult prostitute.” It translates a collective term that stands for both males and females. Cultic prostitution was the practice of ritual sexual intercourse at temples. There are serious debates as to whether the practice actually existed and to what degree, or whether it is a modern misunderstanding of ancient texts. The reasons for the practice are debated as much as is the question of its existence. Some argue that it was primarily to raise funds for the temple, others that it was part of fertility rituals, still others that it was an accusation made up by a nation’s enemies and didn’t really happen.
Verse 25: Jerusalem is sacked by the king of Egypt in the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign, the first of many such sackings. Each time the pattern is the same: go to the temple and the palace and take everything of value. What is the symbolic meaning of an army doing that? We know from Egyptian records of the same time period that Shishak invaded not only Judah, but also Israel. Why doesn’t the writer mention that?
2 Chronicles 17
The lesson material shifts to Jehoshaphat, the great-grandson of Rehoboam (1 Kings 15:9-24). In the intervening years Rehoboam’s son Abijam and Rehoboam’s grandson, Asa, ruled in the land of Judah. We have few details of their reigns except for the constant battles against Israel. Asa apparently tried to bring about religious reform, and the text speaks of him as having a” heart [that] was perfect with the Lord all his days” (1 Kings 15:14). In spite of his attempts, the high places were not removed. Neither does it happen under the rule of his son, Jehoshaphat. He replaced the gold vessels in the temple for a time, and then took them out again to bribe the king of Syria to attack Israel from the north in a two-front war. At that point the Lord sent Hanani the seer to rebuke Asa for relying on the king of Syria, rather than on the Lord. Asa, in his wrath, had the seer thrown in prison, and when Asa has reigned for 39 years, he contracted a foot disease and died: “he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians” (2 Chronicles 16: 12).
Verses 1-7: Note the reforms imputed to Jehoshaphat. What are the consequences of these reforms? (See verses 5-6; 10-13.) Why would such consequences come as a result of his righteousness? Usually when we see the phrase “his heart was lifted up,” it has a negative sense, indicating pride. What is the difference when Jehoshaphat’s heart is lifted up (verse 6)?
Verses 7-9: What educational reforms did Jehoshaphat institute? Why would he turn so early to educational reforms? (See Deuteronomy 17:18-20.) What lesson is there for us in this?
2 Chronicles 18-19
Though these chapters aren’t part of the lesson materials, I recommend reading them. In them Jehoshaphat joins forces with Ahab, king of Israel, to battle against Syria. Ahab is one of the most wicked of Israel’s kings and the husband of Jezebel (who has become the personification of an evil woman). When the two kings are trying to decide whether to go to battle, Jehoshaphat summons all of the prophets he can find and taunts Ahab by asking whether there isn’t a prophet in Israel. Ahab says there is, but that prophet (Micaiah) always prophecies evil against him—which is once again the case when Micaiah is summoned. As the combined Judah-Israel forces battle with Syria, Ahab is indeed killed. Later, when Jehoshaphat himself returns from the successful battle, a seer rebukes him for forming a league with evil (Ahab) regardless of the cause. In chapter 19, Jehoshaphat institutes judicial reform to bring judicial practice into line with the Mosaic Law and to get rid of corruption. He divides the courts into two parts, the religious courts, under Amaraiah, the chief priest, and the state courts, under Zebadiah, the leader of Judah. (We see here that the idea of separation of church and state, in this case probably resulting from conflicts of the interests of each in matters of the revenues accruing to them, has its beginnings in the Bible.)
2 Chronicles 20
Verses 1-4: What does Jehoshaphat’s response to the invasion of the Moabites and Ammonites tell us about him?
Verses 6-12: Why the list of questions at the beginning of the prayer (verses 6-7)? Why refer to Abraham, and why describe him here as “thy friend for ever”? (Compare Genesis 41:8.) For Jehoshaphat, what is one function of the temple (verse 9)? Is he appealing to the prayer that Solomon made at the temple dedication? (See 2 Chronicles 6:12-42.) What event is verse 10 referring to?
Verse 13: It cannot be true that literally all the men of Judah, with their families, stood before the Lord to hear Jehoshaphat’s prayer. Who do you think were his audience?
Verse 14: Why would the answer to the prayer of Jehoshaphat come through someone else in the congregation? What might that teach us? Why would Jahaziel’s genealogy be important enough to make it the preface to his proclamation? His genealogy goes back to Asaph, one of the Levite musicians in the temple at the time of David. (See 1 Chronicles 25:1—what is the significance of describing the musicians as prophesying? Another place that choir directors should note!)
Verse 17: Compare Exodus 14:13. Why is the language of the two similar? What point is the writer making for us?
Verse 20: Jehoshaphat’s advice continues to be good advice. Notice the parallel: “believe in the Lord” is parallel to “believe [or “have faith in”] his prophets,” and “so shall ye be established” is parallel to “so shall ye prosper.” What is the point of that parallel? (The Hebrew word translated “established” means “to confirm,” “to support,” and it has connotations of certainty.) In this context, however, what prophets is Jehoshaphat talking about? Who makes the prophecy that Jehoshaphat asks Israel to rely on?
Verse 21: Why would Jehoshaphat appoint singers? What were they singing? Why that?
Verses 22-23: In what way is this a repeat of Joshua’s attack on the city of Jericho? How are those two events similar? How are the two results similar?
Verses 25-26: What economic good came as a result of this invasion?
Verse 28: Note, again, the importance of music to the temple. Is music similarly important to us? In other words, for us, is it essential to worship, or is it merely ornamentation? What evidence would you produce to argue against someone who says that we use it merely ornamentally?
Verses 29-30: What political good came as a result of the battle? How does the Lord answer Jehoshaphat’s rhetorical question (2 Chronicles 20:6)?
Verse 33: What point is the writer/editor making here?
Verses 35-37: Why is this part of Jehoshaphat’s history merely tacked on to the end? How do you reconcile the differences between this account and that of 1 Kings 22:49-50?