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Ephraim's Chance to Rule: Jeroboam and the Rise of the Northern Kingdom of Israel
The prior post offered analysis suggesting the erosion of Ephraimite power among the Israelites, which resulted from Samuel’s bid to establish a dynastic rule, a euphemism for hereditary monarchy, by empowering his corrupt sons with positions of political authority. Responding to this political maneuver, the people thwarted Samuel’s attempt to disregard their voices on what they perceived as unbecoming conduct on the part of the prophet, not to mention the conduct of the priests preceding Samuel’s tenure at the tabernacle. And yet Samuel still retain a large degree of power in anointing Saul, the Benjamite, as king over Israel, using the lad, who stood “head and shoulders taller than all the people,” as the extension of his power.1 Try as he might, Samuel did not prevent Saul from making serious blunders during his reign, all of which resulted in the kingdom being stripped from Israel’s first king.
You’d think that with such an outcome the Lord would command that the government be reverted into its prior form. This was not the case; rather, the Lord sent Samuel on an errand to seek out a “man after His own heart,” namely David, son of Jesse.2 And it was this David who would continue the new monarchical government desired by the voice of the people—who lived happily ever after. Well, not quite, for The David Story reveals the military and political exploits of David and his ragtag band of warriors to be commendable in their initial operations, which eventually led to David subduing many of Israel’s enemies. David’s glory, however, did not last long. Like most men, he succumbed to the appetites of the flesh and fell from the high station he held with the Lord as a result of his murder of Uriah and committing sexual sin with Bathsheba.
Despite David’s follies, he received rich blessings from the Lord pertaining to his future in the eternities, but these promises did not mean he could forgo the consequences of his actions. Joseph Smith’s revelations concerning David’s fate reveal quite the opposite. His abuse of power resulted in him “falling from his exaltation” and all that he had obtained up until that point the Lord allocated to another.3 And some perhaps would guess that the individual to inherit David’s blessings was none other than his son Solomon since he obtained the throne upon David’s death. This seems not to be the case considering that Solomon, with all his wisdom, also succumbed to sin and allowed the introduction of idolatrous practices into Israel at the behest of his foreign wives. Clues woven throughout the Old Testament and Joseph Smith's prophecies reveal the inheritor of David’s blessings will appear in the “day of power” immediately preceding the Lord's Second Coming. Pertaining to David's immediate descendants, their rule beset the kingdom with turmoil and divisive politics culminating in the disintegration of the unified tribes.
The Rending of the Unified Kingdom
Solomon, like King David, stumbled because of his wives and did not seek the Lord and to establish his will among the Israelites; rather, he turned his mind to the gods of the regions roundabout.4 What’s so disheartening about this is that the Lord appeared to Solomon twice before he turned away his heart and loved his wives and their cultures more than his own, with all this kindling the Lord’s anger against Solomon and his household. Each of these appearances served to warn Solomon about worshiping the false gods of his wives and concubines, but he spurned the counsel of the Lord and cleaved to the idolatry of his consorts.5 To ensure Solomon understood the consequences of his misdeeds, the Lord made it known that he would “rend the kingdom from” Solomon, though not all of it for David’s and Jerusalem’s sake.6
Reading chapter 11 makes it evident concerning the reasons behind the Lord rending the unified kingdom away from Solomon and David’s future descendants, for Solomon and his son Rehoboam levied onerous taxes against the people to subsidize their lifestyles and political projects, whatever they might have been. It’s important to note the ultimate source from which these taxes emanated. As noted above, Solomon gave himself over to his wives and concubines in what Josephus calls “unreasonable pleasures.”7 Like all hedonists, Solomon’s insatiable desires provided a bridle by which others could control him for their own personal gain. In this case, it was his wives and concubines. Being “governed by them,” Solomon introduced the foreign practices connected with nations from which his wives came: Sidon (Zidon), Tyre, Ammon, and Edom.8 To satiate his wives infernal practices required much gold, silver, and precious things for adoring their gods’ places of worship, but accruing the funds necessary did not fall from heaven like manna; rather, Solomon exacted what he needed from the masses. Solomon, in his darkened mind, enslaved his people and apostatized from the faith of his fathers. “So he died ingloriously.”9
The fruits of Solomon’s idolatry comes to the fore when the people gather to Shechem for anointing Rehoboam king over Israel, for the people spoke of the “heavy yoke” under which they were made to serve the king and his edicts. The people made their grievances clear to Rehoboam, asserting the weight of bondage yoked upon them needed to be made “lighter.”10 Rehoboam had the chance to ease the burdens of the people and requested time to deliberate with his counselors at Jerusalem concerning the matter. “Depart yet for three days, then come again to me.”11 While at Jerusalem, Rehoboam held a council with two groups: the first consisted of able and wise men who understood the political gravity of the people’s pleas for relief; the second group comprised young men lacking wisdom to discern anything beyond their own immediate gratification. The wise men advised Rehoboam to serve the people and appease their wishes, for if he took this course, the people would remain his servants forever.12 And yet the young prince rejected this counsel and opted instead to side with the young men, no doubt his friends, who admonished him to make the yoke of the people heavier than it was under Solomon.13 Considering again the reason for the yoke in the first place, this latter counsel aimed at maintaining the status quo Solomon’s wives had ushered into society, which would continue to enrich the ruling class while the people eked out a meager living.
The scene in which Rehoboam delivered his response to the people’s request is suffused with interesting details pertaining to the true nature of politics. Upon hearing the prince’s plan to saddle an even heavier yoke upon them, the people withdrew their consent away from Rehoboam and doused his hope of maintaining the political power wielded by David and Solomon. It appears that the young elitists presumed that by virtue of their position they could simply decree edicts to which the people had to agree and obey. And yet the only reason these rulers had power came by way of the people desiring a king and giving their consent to this political office’s authority. From this it can be seen that no matter the form of government, it must maintain the consent of the governed for the continuity of political power to persist throughout society. The king simply represented a figurehead for carrying out the will of the people, which, in the case of King Saul, was to ensure the protection of the people from their enemies. With Israel enemies subdued under the reign of King David, his heirs adopted the religious practices of foreign women who perhaps had it in mind to weaken the Kingdom of Israel for the sake of their former nations. The king no longer performed the duties of his political office; rather, he turned out to be the people’s enemy.
Jeroboam and Ephraim’s Ascendency
In the revelation containing the consequences of Solomon’s misdeeds, the Lord notified Solomon that He would supplant his rule and give it to one his servants: “I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.”14 This servant’s name was Jeroboam, an Ephraimite. Solomon had initially noticed this man’s industriousness as he “repaired the breaches of the city of David,” for which the king invested him with the authority over the House of Joseph.15 Little did Solomon realize that the Lord set this man aside to obtain the generous portion of the kingdom; this becomes apparent when the prophet Ahijah met Jeroboam outside of Jerusalem in a nearby field. It was here that the prophet divulged the Lord’s will concerning the kingdom’s future. And Ahijah said to Jerobaom:
“Take the ten pieces [of the garment]; for thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee.16
This prophecy given set the stage for Ephraim to return to power and obtain the richest blessing the Lord could offer. But what exactly does such a blessing entail?
For starters, a stipulation attached to the blessing required that Jeroboam and his descendants keep the covenants of the Lord just as David had done after his sore repentance. This is a no-brainer when considering the Lord’s anger over Solomon’s devotion to idolatry and the worship of the gods of the Zidonians, Moabites, and Ammon.17 Thus, the Lord’s maneuver to strip most of the tribes of Israel away for David’s house was to ensure that the majority of His vineyard produced better fruit than what had spawned up until this point. This required the building of the Lord’s teachings and doctrines, and ensuring their proper diffusion among the people. Without the burdensome taxes required to placate the whims of the elite, the people would gain the ability to provided for the necessities of life and pursue the things of God, since their minds would be released from erroneous religious practices.
Should Jeroboam keep his end of the covenant, the Lord declared a promise like that He had made to David: “I will be with thee, and build thee a sure house as I built for David, and give Israel unto thee.”18 Comparing this verse with 2 Samuel 7:10-17 reveals the Lord’s intention to permit Jeroboam and his descendants to hold the kingly scepter of power, which would augment Ephraim’s birthright over the House of Israel. Such favor from the Lord aimed to ensure Ephraim’s ascendancy over all other tribes and solidify their political power. To lay hold of such a prize only required that Jeroboam and his heirs remain loyal to their covenant Lord.
Once word spread concerning Ahijah's revelation concerning Solomon’s loss of the Ten Tribes of Israel to an Ephraimite upstart, Jeroboam’s life became endangered forcing him to leave Jerusalem and find refuge in Egypt. But with the rise of Rehoboam, Jeroboam’s time had come, and the people had sent for him in Egypt to attend the assembly at which Rehoboam would address the people.19 What’s interesting about the assembly was the location. To address all of Israel placed the assembly at Shechem, a city residing in Ephraimite territory and symbolic of this tribe’s power discussed in a previous post.20 It was here that Rehoboam made known his plans to continue on with his father’s practices but with an iron fist, to which the Ten Tribes of Israel withdrew their consent from Rehoboam. And just like that, this prince’s power withered like flowers. The people turned to Jeroboam and invested him with political authority by anointing him king over what would become called the Northern Kingdom of Israel.21
And thus the narratives pertaining to the Eli, the Prophet Samuel, Solomon, Rehoboam, and Jeroboam impresses upon the reader’s mind the true nature of politics: anyone who claims authority to rule must be sanctioned by the common consent of the people. Any institution that claims to have power without such consent has built its authority on mud. To think that a political leader or a prophet is immune to justice simply by virtue of the office and position they hold represents fallacious thinking to the nth degree.
Robert Alter, ed., The David Story: A Translation With Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel (New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Inc., 1999): 1 Samuel 10:23-24.
Ibid.: 1 Samuel 13:14.
1 Kings 11:3-7 JST
1 Kings 11:9-10 JST
1 Kings 11:11-13 JST
Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, 8.7.5
1 Kings 12:4 JST
1 Kings 12:5 JST
1 Kings 13:7 JST
1 Kings 13:10-11 JST
1 Kings 11:11 JST
1 Kings 11:27-28 JST
1 Kings 11:31 JST
1 Kings 11:33 JST
1 Kings 11:38 cf. 2 Samuel 7:10-17 JST
1 Kings 12:2-3 JST
1 Kings 12:1 JST
1 Kings 12:20 JST