The message this mother didn't want to hear
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Southern Baptist, text: 1 Kings 14:1-18
Background: the united kingdom of Israel had broken into the ten northern tribes, calling themselves “Israel”. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin, in the south, were called “Judah”. The king of the northern tribes was Jeroboam of the tribe of Ephraim. He had received a message from the Lord by Ahijah the prophet, but Jeroboam had committed a number of very serious sins. His oldest son, the heir apparent, was sick. He sent his wife to Ahijah to find out what would happen to their oldest son. She got a message, all right, but it wasn’t one she wanted to hear.
I The journey to the prophet
The reign of Jeroboam started off with a blessing. The prophet Ahijah met him and promised him that he was going to be king of the ten northern tribes of Israel, and that if Jeroboam stayed faithful to God, his dynasty would last as long as David’s (see 1 Kings 11:37-38). When Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, caused the northern tribes to break away, Jeroboam was made king, just as God promised (1 Kings 12:20). The stage was set, so now, what would Jeroboam do?
Sadly, Jeroboam committed some terrible sins. One of these sins was by erecting two golden calves, and declaring them to be the gods of Israel (1 Kings 12:28). He put one in Bethel, near the southern border, and the other in Dan, at the farthest point north. Worse than this, some of the people went along with this, rejecting the God of Israel for the created gods of Jeroboam. I’ve always wondered why.
God tried to get Jeroboam’s attention during the time he reigned as king. 1 Kings 13 tells how a prophet of the true God brought a message. Jeroboam suffered the loss of his arm, but the prophet prayed for God to heal Jeroboam’s arm. God did, but Jeroboam didn’t repent of his sins.
And now his oldest son, the heir apparent, is sick, so sick that Jeroboam wonders what’s going to happen to the boy. What does he do?
He sends his wife, to the prophet Ahijah, to find out what the future holds!
A couple of things to remember: first, Ahijah lived in Shiloh, which was about 20-25 miles from Tirzah, where Jeroboam was living. This was in the hill country of Ephraim, where apparently the mountains weren’t too steep and the valleys not too deep, but still—to send a woman, alone, on a 50-mile round trip? We’re not told she had any escort or protection in the text. Second, why didn’t he himself go? Was he trying to seek the assistance of the “gods” he had established? Besides, the calves were in Bethel, but it seems the idols there were as far away as Ahijah’s house! Did he plan to cover all the bases, asking from God’s prophet, as well as from the priests (and probably prophets, too) of his idols?
We’re never told of his motive, but it’s interesting to me how he tries to use a disguise! He sent his wife instead of himself, he told her to change her appearance (clothes, etc.), and maybe even her accent or speech. It’s amazing how some folks never learn from previous lessons: in Joshua 9, the Gibeonites disguised themselves, pretending to be from “a far country” when they were in fact only a few miles away, and brought dry, moldy bread (and who keeps that stuff, anyway?) to prove how “desperate” they really were. The Israelites fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Then, during the time of the Judges, the Ephraimites lost 42,000 soldiers because of their dialect! Judges 12 tells how the Ephraimites had a problem with the “sh” sound and they couldn’t say “Shibboleth”. They said, “Sibboleth” and that was the signal—he’s an Ephraimite! Even today, some of us have trouble with certain sounds, vowels, diphthongs, etc., but I hope our accents never are used against us as part of a trial!
And to complete the ruse, she’s told to bring some basic food: ten loaves of bread (did she plan to eat them all?), some other food kind of like crackers, and a flask of honey. Plain food, the kind of diet some “country” people might eat according to some of the commentators (Jamieson, Faucett, and Brown; Matthew Henry, etc.). She was probably used to eating good food and plenty of it, being the queen, but now she’s asked to put on probably some of the worst clothing and worst food she ever had—all in an attempt to fool God’s prophet.
Did it work?
II The message from the prophet
It’s almost tragic that people try to fool God. The same God who promised Jeroboam the kingdom would easily see through his wife’s disguises. God informed Ahijah that Jeroboam’s wife was coming, and gave him the message which he was to declare to her.
Now, imagine the shock she must have felt when she comes to Ahijah’s house (maybe not even knowing exactly where it was, and asking for directions?), thinking she had fooled everybody, only to hear Ahijah call out, “Come in, wife of Jeroboam!”
She hadn’t fooled anybody! The prophet knew exactly who she was!
Even worse, she was going to get a message she didn’t want to hear. Ahijah started off with the beginning, so to speak, and didn’t stop till he had reached the not-too-distant future.
We can refer back to the text to get Ahijah’s message from God, to Jeroboam’s wife, and here are a few highlights (by the way, the term “harsh” message is the same Hebrew word for the way Rehoboam answered the people “harshly” in 1 Kings 12:13).
Verses 7-9 give a review of where Jeroboam had been, and where he was now. God had exalted him and given him the kingdom, but he had cast God behind his back. We could say he had thrown God away after becoming king. And I wonder how Mrs. Jeroboam had felt when Ahijah also brought up the fact that Jeroboam had made the idols and was encouraging, if not forcing, the northerners to sin by worshiping these false gods.
But Ahijah didn’t stop there. He went on to say that a dark future was coming for Jeroboam and his family or dynasty. In verses 10 and 11, Ahijah predicted the complete eradication of all, ALL, Jeroboam’s family. Every male, who urinated against the wall-would die. Every person who was under restraint or a free citizen-gone. God said that He would make a “clean sweep” until everyone—ALL—was gone. As if that wasn’t bad enough, none of Jeroboam’s family would even be buried in a grave: the dogs would eat the flesh of those who died in the city (dogs weren’t pets in those days, they were scavengers, like dingoes or wild dogs) and the birds would eat the flesh of those who died in the fields.
Among other things, that had to hit Jeroboam’s wife hard. She was a queen, and with her husband pronounced dead, and her sons pronounced dead, what was she going to do? Who would provide for her? What would happen when the next king came to power? Or did she even believe the words of the prophet?
And then, Ahijah delivers the most crushing blow of all. “When you enter the city, your child will die.” She wasn’t even given the chance to comfort him, to hear his words of love perhaps, and surely not even a chance to say any additional words to her oldest son. Every step she took on that journey back to Tirzah, was one step closer to the end of her son’s life. And she had a 25 mile walk, knowing that every step towards the end of that journey meant her son’s death was just that much closer.
Ahijah did give her a bit of comfort, however, stating that this son (Abijah, v 1), and he alone, would have a decent burial. This was simply because “ . . . something good was found towards the LORD God of Israel . . .”. Although we don’t know what that was, exactly, God did, and saw to it that Abijah would receive a state funeral, in that “all Israel (the northern kingdom) shall mourn for him (v 13).” According to verse 18, that happened exactly as predicted.
As if that wasn’t enough, Ahijah went on to predict the downfall of the entire northern kingdom. I confess that I had missed this verse before studying for this message, namely, that God had already determined that He was going to punish His people because of their sins. About 200 or so years later, that’s exactly what happened: foreign kings came and carried away various sections into captivity, then around 722 BC the Assyrians came and conquered the whole territory. 2 Kings 17 gives that story in detail. The driving factor behind this was not just the sins of the people—that was bad enough—but the fact that Jeroboam made or forced Israel to sin. The nation never repented, and eventually, God had enough, and indeed scattered them “beyond the (Euphrates) river,” because they had provoked God to anger (verse 15).
III The results of the prophet’s message
As was so often the case, the Israelite people heard God’s messages through and from the prophets many times. Seldom did they pay any heed to these messages, though, and the results we see in the balance of this chapter tell us all we need to know.
Sure enough, when Jeroboam’s wife entered the city, Abijah died (v 17). The nation held a funeral for him, verse 18, just as predicted. And a few years later, Jeroboam died, and so did his other son, Nadab, according to 1 Kings 15. Everything predicted to happen, did happen.
What is sad and troubling to me is that Mrs. Jeroboam heard the words of God’s prophet. Her husband knew (dimly, by this point?) of Ahijah’s ministry but we have no record that either he, or she, or Nadab, or anyone else in his family DID anything about it. We do not read that any of them repented. In spite of God’s warnings, they didn’t heed nor obey the voice of God.
And one final irony. It’s probably a given that most of the northern kingdom knew this woman’s name, what with her being the queen, etc. But God has seen to it that nobody now knows her name, or much of anything else. She didn’t want to hear the message—and she paid dearly for ignoring what God had to say. Don’t let what happened to her happen to you.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.