After Solomon’s reign in Israel which lasted for 40 years, national blessing and honour really began to fall apart due to Solomon’s disobedience regarding his marriages and idolatry. In honour of King David, God mercifully allowed Solomon to complete his rule without serious political unrest and division, but after his son Rehoboam came to the throne, God’s judgment came upon the nation in severe terms of division and warfare.
One issue of note is the role of the prophets during this time. In the midst of the idolatry of the time, there were those who obviously continued to be faithful to God and the covenant he had established earlier. These were the prophets who became instruments of communication from God to the leaders of the time. 1 Kings 12 speaks, for example, of Shemaiah through whom God conveyed a message of restraint to Rehoboam when he wanted to go to war against Jeroboam, who had just rebelled against King Rehoboam, taking ten tribes of Israel with him.
Meanwhile, Jeroboam began to set a pattern for religious idolatry in Israel that became increasingly more offensive to God. He made two golden calves to encourage worship at either end of his kingdom — Dan in the north and Bethel in the south. He also built shrines for pagan worship, ordained priests quite arbitrarily from among the people, and established festivals of worship to take the place of those established earlier in Israel.
During this time, another unnamed prophet came from Judah to Bethel and prophesied against the altar there in Jeroboam’s presence. When Jeroboam objected, his arm suddenly became paralyzed and the altar split in two spilling its ashes, just as the prophet had predicted. Jeroboam asked for healing from the prophet who prayed for him so that his arm once again became normal. Jeroboam was so grateful that he invited the prophet to his house for a meal. But the prophet refused because God had told him not to turn aside from his mission for any reason. In the mean time, another old prophet in Bethel heard about what had happened and went after the prophet from Judah to ask him to come to his house for a meal. He lied that God was speaking through him and invited the prophet from Judah to his house. When the prophet from Judah went with the one from Bethel, the latter told the former that because the former had disobeyed, he would be buried somewhere else. On that very day, as the prophet of Judah returned home, he was killed by a lion, and then buried in Bethel in the grave prepared for the Bethel prophet.
This unusual story speaks powerfully, not only about God’s faithfulness through his prophets in dark times, but also about the importance of even prophets themselves paying careful attention to God’s commands. The old prophet from Judah confused God’s command with another prophet’s message that challenged the original message from God. I suppose the lesson is that God’s word is true even when others, who profess to know God, challenge God’s original message. At the same time, mercifully, God honoured both men’s genuine prophetic work by fulfilling their prophecies. Some of God’s ways in this will continue to be a mystery to us, but in the end, it is interesting that God never leaves himself without some kind of human witness to his truth.
Another mighty example of God’s genuine prophet in this time is the case of Ahijah of Shiloh who provided a scathing prophecy for Jeroboam when his wife disguised herself to go and ask him (by her husband’s direction) about the future of their ill son. Ahijah recognized her even though she was disguised and he couldn’t see because of his old age. He prophesied not only that this boy would die, thus making it impossible for him to become the next ruler in Israel, but Jeroboam’s reign would come to a terrible end, and then also that Israel would eventually be scattered to a place beyond the Euphrates River because of its terrible idolatry.
I am most interested in this interplay between the prophets of God in this time and the kings of the time. It continues throughout these years, Elijah and Elisha being some of the most prominent in Israel beginning in 1 Kings 17. I love the sense of authority with which these men spoke in such dark times. I love the fact that God maintained a powerful witness to his own existence, plans, and purposes during this time. I love the fact that God speaks even when there is such a blatant departure from his ways.
Often, in these days, I can’t help but think that there are similar patterns of idolatry within the church and among countries that have been dominated by Christian thought for centuries. Canada and America are among those nations that have risen to prominence, no doubt, partly because of God’s mercy and grace communicated through the Gospel. But now, in these nations, we see signs of significant departure from God’s ways. Former people of faith have erected idols built on science, technology, materialism, financial prosperity, and the sensual pleasures that come with all of that. While science, money, and pleasure in themselves are not bad, they become a problem when the Enemy uses them to replace the true worship of God in our lives.
In the midst of this situation, and in line with this historical account of God’s people’s departure from him, a legitimate question to ask has to do with the identity and words of God’s true prophets in these days. What continues despite the idol worship of our times is, God’s faithfulness to his promises, God’s witness to his own existence and our accountability to him, and God’s true prophets who diligently and accurately represent his voice. This has a specific application to those who seek to provide spiritual leadership in Christ’s church and kingdom in these days, but it also has a general application to all Christians because they are called to live prophetically — as the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). I pray, by God’s grace, that somehow in my daily Christian life, as well as in my pastoral work and spiritual leadership, I may be among those who seek to faithfully represent God in the midst of the idolatries of our times.