The twelve tribes of Israel had settled in the land of Canaan by 1445 BC. In 1095 Saul became their first king. Then David ruled from 1055 to 1015 and his son Solomon from 1015 to 975. So, for 120 years, all twelve tribes of Israel were governed by one king.
Solomon’s son Rehoboam ended that. Solomon had worked his people hard in constructing palaces and cities for storage, chariots, and cavalry. His people longed for a break and, following his death, asked his son Rehoboam to give it to them. Instead Rehoboam told them, “My father made your yolk heavy, but I will add to it; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions” (2 Chronicles 10:14). Understandably, ten tribes rebelled and established their own independent kingdom. That left Rehoboam with only Judah and tiny Benjamin centered in Jerusalem.
Rehoboam responded to this catastrophe in a typically Olympian way: he built cities and had sons. First: He made the fortresses strong, and put commanders in them, and stores of food, oil, and wine. He also put large shields and spears in all the cities, and made them very strong…(2 Chronicles 11:11-12). Second: he took eighteen wives and sixty concubines, and became the father of twenty-eight sons and sixty daughters (11:21). Then he put cities and sons, the works of his devotion to Vulcan and Venus, together: He dealt wisely, and distributed some of his sons through all the districts of Judah and Benjamin, in all the fortified cities; he gave them abundant provisions, and found many wives for them (11:23).
The only problem? Rehoboam is king of a people called, chosen, and elected by Yahweh—the one odd god of truth, freedom, love, and vitality—to be his own. He is not free to be as Olympian as he likes. But that’s exactly what he attempts: When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he grew strong, he abandoned the law of [Yahweh], he and all Israel with him (2 Chronicles 12:1). And all Israel with him.
The one odd god’s response? He allows Shishak, king of Egypt, to lead a vast army against Rehoboam’s fortified cities and well-fed sons. The result? Shishak and his army capture every single one of them (12:4). Worse, King Shishak of Egypt came up against Jerusalem; he took away the treasures of the house of [Yahweh] and the treasures of the king’s house; he took everything. He also took away the shields of gold that Solomon had made…(12:9). All that slave labor to build fortified cities bristling with weapons, all that smug devotion to false gods of power, all of it came to nothing.
Why? As Yahweh, the one odd god of freedom and love, explained through his prophet Shemaiah: “Thus says [Yahweh]: You abandoned me, so I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak…[You] shall be his servants, so that you may know the difference between serving me and serving the kingdoms of other lands” (12:5, 8).
The end of it? Rehoboam did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek [Yahweh]…[Then he] slept with his ancestors and was buried in the city of David…” (12:14, 16).
(Today we continued to follow the reflections of Jacques Ellul in his book The Meaning of the City [pp. 33-36]).
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