Ten tribes, not twelve.
Civil war chopped up the nation God had designated as His own, the nation that had experienced a golden age under the reins (or reigns) of King David and King Solomon. But the surprising waywardness of the world’s wisest man brought God’s condemnation. For David’s sake, there would be a descendant of his on the throne, but the nation would fracture. Ten tribes would break away from Judah and the Davidic kings. Ten tribes said no to Solomon’s son and his plans to increase their taxes and servitude. Ten tribes had enough, and they had a leader, trained in Egypt, to take them out from under the oppressive rule.
All well and good, since God ordained this split. He sent a prophet to anoint the new king of the new country that would become known as Israel.
It came about at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clothed himself with a new cloak; and both of them were alone in the field. Then Ahijah took hold of the new cloak which was on him and tore it into twelve pieces. 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 give you ten tribes … because they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the sons of Ammon; and they have not walked in My ways, doing what is right in My sight and observing My statutes and My ordinances, as his father David did. (1 Kings 11:29-33)
God put on Jeroboam a stipulation, however — the same one He’d put on King Saul, King David, and King Solomon:
it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.(1 Kings 11:38)
Not too complicated, really. God wanted the leader of His people to listen to Him and obey Him. Jeroboam failed.
God had laid out instructions for worship which included all the people making a pilgrimage to the temple — the only place they were to offer sacrifices — during certain feast days. Jeroboam reasoned that the people of his new nation would get to Jerusalem and regret splintering from Judah. They’d abandon him. His solution? He’d abandon God.
He decided to make a shadow religion. He designated not one, but two locations inside Israel’s borders as holy places. To prove it, he erected a golden calf on each site, and told the people that this image was the god who had brought them out of Egypt. To service the worship, he appointed priests from whatever tribe rather than from the tribe of Levi as God had ordained. All of this became a stumbling block for Israel. Not a single king after Jeroboam undid the wrong he created. For the next hundred and fifty years, Israel suffered political coups, assassinations, and war, but instead of turning to God, they ran after the very gods that brought the LORD God’s wrath down on Solomon in the first place.
It’s so tempting to shake my head and think, What stiff-necked people; they never learned. But sadly, human nature is the same today as it was in Solomon’s day.
God does not hide what He wants. Just the opposite. Not only did He send a multitude of prophets, but He miraculously brought His word into written form. And still He didn’t rest. He sent His Son, that baby we talk about in passing every Christmas, and said, here’s what I want you to do: believe in my Son. That’s it. Believe in Jesus — in who He is and what He’s done.
Who is He? He is the Messiah, the Christ. What’s He done? He’s died in order to cancel out the sin debt against us, and He’s risen again, taking His rightful place at the right hand of the Father.
What God asks isn’t hard. No pilgrimage or yearly sacrifice. No dietary laws to keep. In fact, it is because we cannot keep the laws of God that we need to accept Jesus. There is no other way. None of us is good enough or rich enough or talented enough or hard-working enough to dig ourselves out of the debt we owe because of our sin. Jesus Christ alone is the pure Lamb of God. When I put my faith in Jesus, the Father qualifies me to share in the inheritance with the rest of the saints.
Good news, worth a bit of celebrating, don’t you think?