After Solomon’s reign passed to his son, Rehoboam, Jeroboam and the tribes of the north split apart from King Rehoboam and the tribe of Judah (1 Kings 12:1-25).
"And Jereboam said in his heart, ‘Now the kingdom may return to the house of David. 27If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam, king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam, king of Judah.’"
28 Therefore, the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ 29 And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship the one as far as Dan. 31 He made shrines on the high places, and made priests of every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi” (1 Kings 12 26-31 NKJV).
The modern reader of the Old Testament might marvel at how easily the northern tribes were led into apostasy as political calculation created a false religion. But Judah did not remain faithful, either: 1 Kings 14: 23”For they (Judah) also built for themselves high places, sacred pillars, and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree. 24 And there were perverted persons in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.”
Israel had been called to be a distinct and separate people, a nation of priests, holy and set apart as God is holy. But now the nation was split in two, and each part looked very much like the nations around them.
Called to be a light to the rest of the world, Israel’s beacon shone no more. Darkness descended on the divided kingdom. Darkness remained in the north (Israel) for 200 years until the Assyrian captivity. The light flickered briefly at times in the south (Judah) but was extinguished for good just before the Babylonian captivity. Ezekiel chronicled this exodus, the glory of the LORD departing from the temple and from Jerusalem (Eze. 10:4, 10:19, 11:23).
The light shone again in Jerusalem 5 centuries later with the arrival of the Gospel. Although Jerusalem again chose darkness, the light traveled beyond Israel and beacons were established in ever broadening circles.
Light had given way to the traditions of men. In Matthew 15:8-9, Jesus quotes Isaiah:
These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me,
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
In Luke 7:46, Jesus sums up the problem: “But why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do the things which I say?” Unchanged hearts are unyielding.
Paul cautions in Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
Rehoboam and Jeroboam were practical men, realists living in a real world, political beings seeking survival. God had promised success to both kings, Jeroboam from Ahijah the prophet (1 Kings 11:29-39), and Rehoboam through God’s promise to Solomon (1 Kings 11:13) and from the elders who had counselled Solomon (1 Kings 12:7). God’s promise of success, His continued blessing and protection, was dependent on obedience, however. Each king chose to worship the secular rather than the divine, establishing control that perpetuated their positions rather than yielding control to God.
The people were no more faithful than their leaders. The northern people’s problem w/Rehoboam was Solomon’s taxation – not his 700 wives and princesses, and 300 concubines; not that he was an arms dealer; not that he sold part of Canaan, the Promised Land, to Hiram of Tyre; not that he built high places for Molech and Chemosh; etc (1 Kings 9 – 11). From the point of view of his subjects, Solomon’s sole sin had been to hit their pocketbooks (1 Kings 12:4).
In the southern kingdom, we do not read of any outcry against the idolatry of Rehoboam or his successors. In fact, the people seemed eager to pursue idolatry, and even lobbied King Joash to do so. “Now after the death of Jehoida, the leaders of Judah came and bowed down to the king. And the king listened to them. Therefore, they left the house of the LORD God of their fathers, and served wooden images and idols...” (2 Chr. 25:17-18).
Almost 1,000 years later, the Pharisees took the opposite approach, seeking to control God through adherence to the Talmud, rigorous additions to God’s law in the Torah. They reasoned that if everyone would be perfectly obedient to the rigid yoke (law) of the Pharisees, then God would be appeased and free Israel from Rome. God’s Law that had been rejected was modified by man, and the work of man had become an idol.
Holding onto light is impossible. And this is what history has proven throughout the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the New Testament. Rather than allowing the light to shine on us, we seek to take hold of it, to control it, to make it our own.
In the Garden, Eve reached for something beyond the light, and found only darkness. The light shone in the desert, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of light by night, but the people extinguished the light in the Promised Land. The light of the Gospel broke through the darkness, flickered briefly, and revived in the apostles and the spread of the Gospel. Darkness descended once again until the Reformation brought sparks.
The darkness that has descended since the Reformation is like the snow that blankets the far north country – shining brightly but cold, muffling every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God, hiding His creation beneath a veneer of artificial light that illuminates nothing and has no power over the darkness. From the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to the valley of Jezreel, from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land, snow has fallen over Christendom.
Jesus did not ask, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find a sinless world?” He asked, “…will He find faith?” (Luke 18:8). Nations are not saved. Individual people are saved. Leaders do not save people. An individual relationship with God that embodies the faith of Jesus saves people.
The Pharisees asked which commandment was the greatest, again limiting the choices of an answer by their question. Jesus stepped beyond their false choice and answered truthfully, quoting the Law that the Pharisees and Scribes already knew: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40, Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18). Jesus summarized the Law and the Prophets, obedience and relationship, in two verses.
We in the congregation do not teach this because we do not see it as relevant to the business of day to day living. Our leaders do not teach this because they do not see this as relevant to the business of the church and the denomination/non-denomination. There is a huge disconnect between how we are called to live and how we do live. We separate the physical world from the spiritual world, and there is no physical or spiritual health within us. The light does not shine – only dim reflections or poor imitations.
We have this promise that the light is not gone. What we see is the wintry darkness of a frozen heart. Elijah believed that he alone remained, but God said there was yet a remnant, 7000 more who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:10-18). Paul used this same Scripture to assure the Christians in Rome that God had not cast off His people, that there was still a remnant (Romans 11:4).
Always there is a remnant waiting for the light of the spring sun to penetrate the snow and call forth the green shoots.
Be a green shoot, confidant in the light.