(25) King Rehoboam made bronze shields to replace the gold ones – 1 Kings 14:27

Having reviewed the wisdom books that reflect the characters of David and Solomon we shall now return to the historical account in 1 Kings and look at the lives of their descendants and the people they ruled.

During the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon, the people of Israel had become a nation for the first time. Saul set up an informal court, David built a palace in Jerusalem while Solomon built many cities, a standing army and a large civil service. However, although the country was very prosperous under his rule it came at a cost of high taxation on the people.

When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam came to the throne. This triggered a national assembly where the people gave the new king an ultimatum. They would serve him if he reduced the heavy load of tax.

Rehoboam took counsel. The older men who had been his father’s counsellors advised him to recognise that the king served the people and to accept their demands but his young friends saw kingship differently and told him to tell the people that “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:14). At this, the ten northern tribes revoked the treaty that they had made with David and rebelled against Rehoboam and appointed Jeroboam as their king. The tribe of Judah stayed loyal to Rehoboam and so Israel split into two kingdoms – Israel in the north with Samaria as its capital, and Judah in the south which retained Jerusalem. All out war between the new nations was averted when the prophet Shemaiah told Rehoboam not to fight against Israel.

In the northern kingdom Jeroboam recognised that he had a problem with his hold on power. People from across Israel went to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Lord, at least for the annual festivals. This loyalty to God and his temple could result in people maintaining a loyalty to the house of David rather than to him. To avoid this he made two golden calves and put one in the north and one in the south on the route to Jerusalem. He then instituted a festival of worship of these calves to coincide with the one in Jerusalem.

It is hard for us to appreciate the appeal of worshipping idols in this way, but the people of Israel adopted this form of worship, which also incorporated practices from the worship of the Canaanite gods Baal and Asherah, and continued to worship in this way for the next two hundred years. This idolatry was a direct violation of the first two of the ten commandments, and led to adultery and murder, in violation of the sixth and seventh commandments , as Canaanite worship included ritual prostitution and the sacrifice of infants. God sent prophets to tell Jeroboam that his dynasty would be short and that Israel would go into exile as a result of their sin.

Back in Judah the people had access to the temple and were ruled by David’s grandson. With this heritage they had everything going for them but we read that this did not guarantee them success. Rehoboam led the people of Judah into the same false worship as Jeroboam had led Israel in the north. The result of them abandoning God’s covenant was war with Egypt. In Rehoboam’s fifth year the King of Egypt invaded Judah and came right into Jerusalem where he stripped the temple and the palace of their treasures. In particular, the writer of Kings notes that he took the gold shields that Solomon had made for the temple. The glory of that magnificent building which housed God’s covenant with his people was taken within a few short decades of its completion.

Rehoboam’s response to God withdrawing his presence because of his people’s disobedience is tragically similar to the response of God’s people down through the ages. King Rehoboam made shields of bronze. To the casual observer these looked like the golden ones but everyone knew that they were poor substitutes for the real thing. In the same way as his religion was an attempt to reach God without meeting the demands of his covenant, so the bronze shields imitated the show of glory but lacked the quality of substance within. We need to focus on the heart of our relationship with God, not the outward show for the benefit of ourselves or others.

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