Israel has split in two. Jeroboam rules 10 tribes and has set up his own gods. Anyone following God is kicked out and relocated in Judah under Rehoboam.
When we went through the book of kings I did not notice happened. It is possible that we were not told about it then. I even wondered about the Levites; whether they became priests to Jeroboam’s new gods. We see that the Levites were expected and allowed to remain God’s priests.
This story brought back to my mind the story of the golden calf in the wilderness. I find it interesting that Israel chose the same symbol for their false god twice. Is there something about cows that drew Israel to worship them? Anyway, I digress. In the story of the golden calf in the wilderness, the Levites were singled out to dispense God’s judgment as they were the ones who supported Moses in his anger against the people. This was the beginning of their stand as priests for the Lord. And they would be allowed to continue being His priests now because they were sent where His name ruled.
For three years Rehoboam and the people of Judah would serve the Lord. They would observe the feasts and sacrifices. He would honor God in how he ruled his much smaller kingdom. And those seeking to honor God flooded into Judah from Israel.
This was a good thing as far as both kings were concerned. Rehoboam’s numbers increased and Jeroboam got rid of anyone who would try and convince the people to turn back to God. I would love to know how many people chose to leave their lands to follow God. They had no idea if they would ever see their homes again. Can you imagine being one of these refugees?
When the kingdom split, those who went with Jeroboam thought they were going to get a better life. Solomon’s tax was heavy and his son promised even more taxes. Yes, they had still prospered even under Solomon’s burden but who knows what would become of them if Rehoboam had his way. Jeroboam promised relief and they were all for it.
In the beginning of the new kingdom there was some concern about Rehoboam trying to take the people back by force. He even sent his hired hand to try it. When the people rose up in mass to put him in his place everyone in Jeroboam’s camp cheered! They had withstood the first volley and were overjoyed at their success. But they were waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Rehoboam gathered troops and was sure to attack. Yet at the last minute they all turned back, even before setting foot across their new borders. The people scratch their heads and shrug their shoulders while still watching for what Rehoboam might do next.
Within months things start changing in the new kingdom. The people are proud that they still bear the name of Israel but something is missing. Some notice it sooner than others. What is missing is that the people who are called God’s chosen people no longer have a place to approach Him. They suppose they could still go to Jerusalem but with the hostilities would that really be a safe move?
Jeroboam noticed the difference right away and he knew the people would soon see it too. His whole powerbase is built on keeping the people content AWAY from Jerusalem and Rehoboam. But the people will need something to fill that void. Something to replace the God of their fathers. And he has been hard at work getting it ready to present to the people.
As soon as Jeroboam’s replacement is ready he presents it to the people. “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28).
A cheer rises up from most of the people. “Just what we have been missing! Somewhere to bring our worship and prayers.”
Those not cheering are at first standing with their mouths hanging open at the audacity. “These are NOT MY gods” they silently think. “Surely this is some kind of test or an elaborate joke.” These people’s hearts are troubled but they say nothing during the assembly. They do not bow down, at least not in spirit.
The Levites were intentionally NOT invited to the assembly. Jeroboam kept them away as their mere presence would remind the people of God’s commandment regarding other gods. Instead, Jeroboam has his officers, under his authority and his son’s directions, begin making it VERY uncomfortable for the Levites in ALL the cities where they live. Not even in the cities of refuge do the Levites receive refuge from Jeroboam. And before the week is out ALL the Levites have been ‘encouraged’ to seek lodging elsewhere. Some of that encouragement took the form of trampling of crops, burning of houses, killing of animals and general unrest stirred up around them. The Levites became the enemy of the new Israel.
Those who had remained silent at the assembly notice what is going on with the Levites and KNOW it is wrong but they continue on in silence. It is best not to stand out as a target. The Levites were an obvious target where they can probably fly below the radar.
A few weeks go by and the pressure has been turned up. NO ONE is allowed to go back and forth across the borders to worship the Lord. Those who have made the journey find that their return passage is halted in its steps. And those seeking to honor God here in the new Israel are found out and punished.
It is time to make a choice. Either stay in the land of their inheritance and forsake God or leave and follow Him. This choice means leaving everything behind and only taking what can be transported on their persons. Bringing anything more would be alerting those watching where they were going. It could mean their lives to be caught, if not now then soon!
Yet there was no guaranteed welcome on the other side of the border for them. A little had filtered back about how Rehoboam had welcomed the Levites. This was at least something to hold onto. That and the fact that their reason for leaving was to serve the Lord. Surely He would watch over those who chose Him above all else.
One such household prepares to make the journey.
“We will travel under cover of darkness. This way we can bring the donkey and let him can carry the children” instructs the husband.
“But what of our home and my mother’s dishes? Will we just leave them here? Can’t we make room for even my favorite dish” pleads the wife.
“Is it more valuable than breath for our children? You remember Yazim and his family. He was trampled ‘accidentally’ in his own field. This was just hours after he told Jeroboam’s guards that he would not worship at the abomination set up.”
“Are you sure it was retaliation?”
“Are you willing to risk it; our children’s future?”
“But what if we pretended to worship the idols Jeroboam set up?”
“AND RISK ANGERING GOD!? I would rather die first for surely it would mean His blessings would be withheld AND we would be risking His wrath upon us.”
The wife had no answer to give for she knew her husband spoke the truth. They would leave the next day and arrive in Judah, welcomed by those who also served the Lord.
What would you be willing to give up if it came to this choice? Have you seen signs that this will one day, not too far in the future, be a choice we will all be facing? Some are already facing it now.
Father God, PLEASE give me the strength to stand firm when/if that time comes. I pray I will recognize the signs and stand up to whomever sends them my way. Help me stand with those who stand for You.