Fractured Faith and Broken Kingdom
|Fractured Faith and Broken Kingdom||Type: Oil |
Dimensions: Width/Height (in inches) X/Y
Shortly after the United Kingdom of Israel reached its magisterial apogee during Solomon’s righteous reign (c. 970 BCE), it plummeted to its nadir at the twilight of his teetering sovereignty (c. 927 BCE), and was then violently split asunder by the birth pangs of his son’s, Rehoboam’s, monarchy. The subject of this painting, the rupture of the Kingdom into two separate warring nations, Judah and Israel (aka Joseph/Ephraim) can only be understood in the context of nine centuries of antecedent history.
Tribal leaders from the House of Joseph were the predominant (but not exclusive) rulers of Israel for the first 400 years of its national disjointed existence from the moment they first stepped foot on the land, after crossing the Jordan under Joshua, throughout the period of Judges , up until Samuel’s sequential anointments of Saul, then David as King.
For four prior centuries while in Egypt, whether in freedom or slavery, Israel lived under the giant shadow cast by the illustrious Joseph who saved them from starvation and initially sustained them. So grateful were they to Joseph that each subsequent generation (approximately twenty) after his demise, safe guarded his bones, holding them in awe, until they could fulfill his dying request of being buried in Israel, the land of his forefathers. The Midrash marvels at this unique biblical homage and states: “there has not been born another man like Joseph, yea, his remains were taken care of” (Sirach 49:15).
According to additional Midrashic sources, Moses stood on the Nile bank pleading with Joseph’s spirit to intercede with God to hasten the Egyptian Exodus, whereupon Joseph’s sarcophagus mystically breaks through the waters of the Nile rising to the surface.(Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:7, Sotah 13a).
Joshua, the first leader of the national entity Israel who conquered the Promised Land enabling the final resting of Joseph’s bones was an Ephraimite, Joseph’s direct descendant. Joshua himself was buried in Timnath-Serah in the hill country of Ephraim (Joshua 24:30) approximately five miles from Shechem where Joseph’s bones were interred. Shechem was purchased by Jacob from its eponymous owner for 100 pieces of keshita, and remained the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants (Joshua 24:32). This town many centuries later still retained Joseph’s aura of leadership and authority as evidenced by it being the location where Rehoboam (of Judah) was appointed King by all Israel (I Kings 12:1).
Joshua’s burial in Joseph tribal territory symbolized the passing of the leadership baton to the descendants of Joseph four centuries later. This reaffirmed the tribal genealogical right to govern Israel, thereby fulfilling Jacob’s deathbed blessing and bestowal of the title Prince (of Israel) upon Joseph: “Your father’s blessings are mightier than the blessings of my ancestors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting mountains. Let all these be upon the head of Joseph, on the crown of the Prince among his brothers” (Genesis 49:26).
The princely status of Joseph appears to have been uncontested in Israel for four centuries based on the biblical attestation that the majority of Judges descended from Ephraim and Menasha (Joseph). During this time, Joseph, not Judah, reigned supreme despite Jacob’s parallel blessing to Judah that “the scepter shall not depart from Judah nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet “ (Genesis 49:50).
The last judge, Samuel, an Ephraimite, single- handedly applied his will and moral authority to unify all the tribes thereby creating a United Monarchy , shifting supreme power from his own tribe to Benjamin (King Saul) , and then to Judah (David). These tribal power shifts left deep jagged painful scars and long-lasting resentment which in retrospect made the temporary unification of Israel (Joseph) and Judah radioactively unstable, and its ultimate explosive disruption, all but inevitable. These unintended consequences should have been entirely predictable.
The unified Monarchy lasted for a mere eighty seven years spanning the kingdoms of Saul, David, Solomon, and very briefly Rehoboam. For the first four centuries of Israel’s national existence, God and sanctuary resided in Shiloh, in the hill country of Ephraim (Joseph). It was David’s idea, and Solomon’s execution to build a stone and mortar Temple in Jerusalem, their newly conquered tribal capital, officially transplanting God’s formal earthly abode from Ephraimaic Shiloh to Judaic Jerusalem.
With the death of Solomon, and the ascension of Rehoboam, the monarchy splits in two (details below). The kingdom of Judah is severely diminished to a mere two tribes, retaining only its eponymous tribe and that of Benjamin (a neighboring numerically small tribe), whereas the kingdom of Israel retains all the other ten tribes, collectively now referred to as Israel/Ephraim, with its first king, Jeroboam, predictably and logically an Ephraimite from the House of Joseph. Rehoboam is the regal figure standing at the forefront on the far left of the painting, and Jeroboam is the seated regal figure on the right.
The reversion of dominant leadership from the House of Judah back to the House of Joseph, after an eighty year hiatus, under the monarchal rule of Jeroboam was a historical correction waiting to happen harkening back to the beginning of Israel’s national existence. It also echoes back to the original and primal competitive fraternal relationship between Joseph and Judah. As will be detailed below, under Solomon’s and Rehoboam’s rule, Judah (the tribe) enslaves (more accurately enserfs) Joseph (the tribe) as Temple builders, mirroring Judah’s sale of Joseph into slavery for twenty pieces of silver (Genesis 37:28). Jeroboam, the chief representative of Joseph escapes to Egypt during Solomon’s lifetime, and returns to capture the monarchy governing the majority (ten tribes) of Israel, recapitulating the life and geographic trajectories of his progenitor, Joseph (more details below).
Thus after the conquest of the land of Israel, power sequentially shifted from Joseph to Benjamin, to Judah, and back again to Joseph and a tribally much diminished Judah. Each time there was a power shift from one tribe to the next, pent up layers of resentment and competition simmered beneath the surface waiting to burst forth. Thus when David the Judahite wrested the monarchy from Saul the Benjamite, the latter’s tribe gravely resented this usurpation of power, and only begrudgingly ultimately acknowledged David’s rule. Some never did.
When Absalom rebelled against David’s rule, Shimei son of Gera of the House of Saul cursed David in the city of Bahurim and proclaimed: “leave, leave man of blood, you base man. God returned upon you all the blood of the House of Saul, in whose stead you reigned, and God gave the kingdom in the hands of Absalom your son, and here you are in your evil because you are a man of blood” (II Samuel 16:5-9) .
David understood and acknowledged this resentment, correctly perceiving it as a threat to his rule, and therefore conveniently disposed of every single one of Saul’s descendants except the disabled Mephibosheth, thereby eliminating any viable challenge of a Benjamite rebellion enabling him to solidify his grasp of power (II Samuel 21:6).
Likewise, when Samuel anointed Saul, the first King of Israel, a Benjamite, the tribes of Joseph must have been equally livid with Benjamin’s usurpation of power, as Benjamin was with Judah’s later usurpation. Therefore the tribes of Joseph likely viewed the leadership of both Benjamin and Judah, both tribal leadership neophytes, with equal disdain and suspicion. Thus the fault lines were drawn between Judah and Benjamin, the two official (belatedly contested) neo- tribal southern leaders of United Israel, on one side, and the original northern Ephraimite paleo (Shofet/Judge) -leaders, on the other side, who twice were denied the unified monarchy, and were now ready to exact revenge and take it back with a vengeance to become the neo-paleo tribal monarchal sovereigns.
This painting is essentially a split screen illustrating the parallel lives of the first Kings of Judah and Israel during and immediately following the dissolution of the United Kingdom of Israel. Rehoboam, son of Solomon and Naama the Ammonite, is the first King of Judah illustrated on the left. Jeroboam, ex-servant of Solomon, and son of Nevat, is the first King of Israel, and is illustrated on the right.
During the reign of Solomon, in particular during the lengthy twenty year Temple construction project (I Kings 9:10), not only was Joseph no longer the leader of the nation, they were now subservient to Judah, wherein Solomon engaged them as second class citizens building the temple of God in Judah, outside of Ephraim territory, not in Shiloh, the original Ephraimite site of the sanctuary. They were servants, and heavily taxed.
There was a rigid caste system under Solomon and Rehoboam as stated: “All the people that remained of Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites he (Solomon) raised a levy (tax) of bondservants (In Hebrew “mas ovade”). However, the children of Israel (non- Judahites) Solomon didn’t make bondservants, but they were the soldiers, his servants (In Hebrew “avadov”), his captains and rulers of his chariots and horsemen (9:22). The term children of Israel might be interpreted as all of Israel including Judah, but that is unlikely because when the monarchy split, the people of Judah would not have supported Rehoboam out of pure tribal loyalty unless it was in their interests to do so i.e. that they remained the privileged class. Most likely the phrase ‘children of Israel’ means exactly that, the tribes other than Judah.
We are introduced to Jeroboam, the future King of Israel, at the end of Solomon’s reign. He begins life as Solomon’s servant, and ultimately becomes his thorn. Jeroboam is “the son of Nevat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, and the name of his mother is Zeruah a widow, eved (servant or slave) of Solomon” (I Kings 11:26). It is textually unclear if it is he or his mother who is the servant (eved). Most likely the text is referring to his mother because the text continues to narrate that Jeroboam is a strong soldier, and Solomon saw that the young man was an “osay melach” (performer of work, presumably a skilled worker/craftsman) and he appointed him over all the labor (seyvel, in Hebrew, which is defined as burden, load or drudgery) of the house of Joseph.
The text is therefore recording the multi-generational servant status of the House of Joseph under Solomon’s rule. The House of Israel (Joseph) under Solomon’s caste system was one notch above the conquered Canaanites and other tribes who were relegated to bondservant status. When Israel splits from Judah and Benjamin, the only reason these two tribes stay loyal to Solomon, must be because both considered themselves elites (Kingly tribes) and therefore exempt from servitude and exorbitant taxes, whereas the other ten subservient tribes constituted the labor engine that built the Temple and all the other Solomonic grandiose building projects . In the face of a rebellion against the House of Judah, they had absolutely nothing to lose, and could only hope for a better life apart from them. This was emphatically corroborated by Rehoboam who promised to make their lives exponentially more miserable then under his father Solomon (details later).
Solomon handpicked Jeroboam to be the chief labor supervisor over Joseph because of his obvious charisma, technical and leadership skills, and insatiable ambition which eclipsed everyone else’s. Ironically, these same traits enabled his flowering rebelliousness which could easily be channeled into threatening Solomon’s own leadership. Solomon wasn’t paranoid; he need only look at his own charismatic father David, who was similarly recruited by King Saul into his own home. This humble sheepherder boy from a little backwater town, once having a foot in Saul’s door, craftily and patiently appropriated the throne.
Jeroboam, paralleling David’s history, likewise, was ironically enabled by his patron, in this case, Solomon. Jeroboam did, after all, hold sway over the over-worked, over-taxed masses. The Jeroboam-Solomon relationship continued to parallel the Saul-David relationship. Saul upon figuring out David’s not so covert coup d'état ideations sought to assassinate him. Solomon upon figuring out Jeroboam’s true intentions sought to assassinate him. Both David and Jeroboam had to flee to save their lives knowing that their attempted assassinators were the heads of state with a strong military who were going to hunt them down, and therefore they both had to find safe refuge in enemy i.e. safe territory.
Jeroboam fled to Egypt, and was protected by King Sishak, Solomon’s adversary, and remained there until Solomon’s death. When Solomon’s son Rehoboam assumed the throne, Jeroboam returned from exile retaining the mantle of leadership officially representing Joseph (Israel), and sought to mediate with Rehoboam a more equitable relationship for his people, seeking improvement of their basic living conditions. As stated: “And Jeroboam and the entire congregation of Israel came and they spoke to Rehoboam saying: Your father hardened our yoke, now lighten the hard labor and the heavy burden he placed upon us, and we will serve you” (I Kings 12: 3-4).
Rehoboam had it in his power to compromise, but did not, probably because he suspected that this would mean a diminution of his personal profit margin by increasing the cost of labor. It would also dilute his power by sharing with Ephraim, and would also probably establish a political foothold for Jeroboam, who in a matter of time would wrest the entire monarchy from him, as David did from Saul, and as had likewise occurred in countless of coups in neighboring monarchies from the beginning of time. Thus Rehoboam dug in his heels, and asserted his power, and despite having the ability to assassinate Jeroboam right there and then, he held back, only because, unlike his father, he vastly underestimated Jeroboam’s intentions and influence at that particular point in time.
Also because of his poor judgment, obviously lacking the Wisdom of Solomon, he neglected the sagacious counseling of his father’s well-seasoned advisors who advocated granting the people some grace by throwing them a bone, even a small one, which would have quenched their resentment and prevented or delayed their massive revolt. But instead he took the impetuous advice of his young counselors who advised him to address the people of Israel with the following statement:
“My little pinky finger is thicker than my father’s loins. And now whereas my father burdened you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions” (I Kings 12:10-12).
When actually confronting the crowd, Rehoboam repeats the above advice word for word, but apparently doesn’t quite have the guts to use the pinkie finger- groin analogy, and omits the first sentence of his advisers’ diatribe. (I Kings 12:14). Even though he never actually mouthed the words “My little pinky finger is thicker than my father’s loins “, these words succinctly summarize the tenor of his response, and he may just as well have said it. Therefore Rehoboam appears on the left side of this painting brandishing his huge little pinky finger metaphorically signaling that he will be a cruel leader which he mistakenly believes is a sign of strength, just like all Pharaohs and tyrants throughout history, announcing that he has every intention of making his Israelite subjects even more miserable, if they can possibly imagine that.
Thus, nearly half a millennium after Israel is freed from Egyptian bondage, Solomon and his son, Rehoboam, gradually reinstitute it, not for the sake of building pyramids, but for the sake of building a divine Temple, in addition to many other grandiose earthly architectural projects. Rehoboam’s words echo Pharaoh’s response to Moses after he requested the lightening of the Israelite’s work load: “And the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their officers saying: You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks as before. Let them go and gather the straw for themselves. And the quota of bricks as before shall be placed on them, and do not diminish them, because they are lazy… “(Exodus 5:6-9).
Thus Solomon/ Rehoboam become the new Pharaohs enslaving their people. Jeroboam becomes the new Moses, pleading with the Judaic neo-Pharaohs for the rights of his people, Israel, ultimately liberating them from Pharaoh’s yoke. Not only does Jeroboam’s life parallel Joseph’s and David’s lives, as mentioned above, it also parallels Moses’ life.
It is therefore not surprising that the prophet Ahiya takes notice of these parallels, and sees within Jeroboam the combined glimmers of arguably three of the most prominent figures in Jewish history, and looks upon him as the emerging new savior of Israel. Ahiya’s prophetic vision unfortunately was a touch near-sighted, wherein he could not see into the more distant future, when Jeroboam failed to live up to his earlier promise (details below). This failure in far-sighted vision is metaphorically symbolized by the development of Ahiya’s total physical blindness in old age (details below).
The United monarchy may have split apart, but its two weakened fragmented pieces, even though going off in different directions, still retain a strong mirror image parallelism. Their kings and their first-born sons share homologous names, and both monarchs take on characteristics of an Egyptian Pharaoh being heavily influenced by the neighboring dominant Egyptian culture. Both are theologically more immersed in practicing paganism than worshipping the God of Abraham, Joseph, David and Moses. In a sense the splitting of the United Kingdom, is a huge step backwards, journeying from the promised land back to Egypt (culturally) representing a theological re-crossing of the Red Sea in slow-motion reverse, like a documentary film clip of “escape from Egypt” played backwards. In another parallel inversion, the splitting of the monarchy undoes the entire significance of the splitting of the Red Sea from half a millennium ago.
The Hebrew names Rehoboam (RChB AyM) and Jeroboam (YRB AyM) are homologous encapsulating the histories of Judah and Israel, respectively, during the reign of these two individuals. Rehoboam in Hebrew can be broken up into it two constituent roots: Rehob (RHV) which means wide/spacious, and AM (AYM) which means nation. Thus his name which was bestowed upon him by Solomon encapsulated the description of his United Monarchy, a spacious nation, which was then at its geopolitical and territorial height (and width).
The name Jeraboam in Hebrew is a combination of its two constituent roots: Yerav (YRV) and AM (AYM). Yerav has two possible Hebrew definitions: 1) enlarge and/or 2) quarrel. AM (AYM) means nation. Thus the name Jeroboam (Yerav + AM) means an enlarging nation or alternatively/additionally, a quarrelsome/ war-like nation. Both these definitions are true of Israel under Jeroboam’s tenure.
Jeroboam, in fact, leads a much larger nation, after the kingdom is split, commandeering ten versus two tribes. Israel is indeed a quarrelsome nation, the driving force of the breakup. The homologous names of these two monarchs imply that even though they were not genetic brothers, they still remain united in blood descending from brothers of their common Jacobean patriarchal line.
This brother-esqe mirror-imaging recapitulates the parallel fraternal association and enmity between both their ancient twin ancestors, Jacob and Esau, who likewise part ways despite sharing a common home (womb), upbringing and gene pool. Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam each have first-born sons with near identical names: Aviyam (ABYM) and Aviya (ABYH), respectively. This phenomenon is akin to identical twin brothers who despite being raised apart, unknowledgeable of the other’s existence, when they finally meet many years later discover that they both have children and pets with identical names.
The constituent Hebrew roots of the name Aviam is AV and Yam(YM) which can be translated either as father(AV) of the seas (YM) implying God of the infinite or literally God of the Seas. The latter would imply a possible influence of the Philistines whose god Dagan, is the fish god of the seas. The constituent Hebrew roots of the name Aviya are AV (father) and Ya (God) meaning God is my father. Judging from Jeroboam’s future behavior, he may have meant his son’s name to be taken quite literally.
This Brother theme is further encapsulated by the name of the Prophet Ahijah which in Hebrew means brother (Ach) of God (YH), or God is my brother. Thus the brother of God who is the moral voice of his generation, who enunciates God’s (his brother’s) voice is the prophetic force who relays God’s will and facilitates the split of the United Monarchy as punishment for Solomon’s sins. In this painting Ahijah is the figure illustrated in the mid-bottom of the painting.
Ahijah the Shilonite (from Shiloh) is not only the tip of God’s spear driving the brotherly split between Judah and Joseph (Israel) but he himself can be considered a prophetic homologous twin brother of Samuel, who was the Ephraimite prophet from Shiloh of his antecedent era. Ahijah and Samuel, like Jacob and Esau, are mirror-image twin-like prophets. In a sense Ahijah is the anti-Samuel. Samuel the Ephraimite prophet transfers power from Ephraim to Benjamin (Saul) and Judah (David). Ahijah the Ephraimite prophet completely reverses and annuls this transfer of power.
This state of affairs recapitulates on a national level, the original cyclical sibling rivalries narrated at the beginning of the book of Genesis which happily ended with the unification of all of Jacob’s children; a historical biblical first for a patriarchal family. The biblical historical wheel now turns counter-clockwise, back to the beginning of time, back to Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau. Alas, human DNA and history are intertwined, destined to rhythmically and cyclically obey the entropic second law of thermodynamics.
The text narrates that the divine cause of the United Kingdom’s calamitous fracture is retribution for Solomon’s theologically deviant and insouciant behavior in the latter part of his reign.
“And God said to Solomon… Because you didn’t adhere to my covenant and laws that I commanded you, I will surely tear (in Hebrew karoah ekrah; tear is said twice for emphasis and certainty) the kingdom from you and give it to your servant (avadecha). But I won’t do it in your days for the sake of David your father, but I will tear it away from your son. I will not tear away the entire kingdom, I will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen” (I Kings 11:11-13).
Ahijah, the prophetic voice and instrument of God, upon exiting from Jerusalem bumps into Jeroboam when he is still a servant of Solomon, and finds himself alone with him in a field. Ahijah is clad in a new garment. Then “he laid hold of his new garment and tore it into twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam take ten pieces because thus spoke the God of Israel, I will tear the kingdom from Solomon and I will give you ten tribes. One tribe will be his…because they (meaning all of Judah, not just Solomon) left me and bowed to Ashtoreth the god of the Zidonians, to Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and to Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my path to do what is upright in my eyes and the statutes and judgements like his father David…and I will take the kingdom from his son, and I will give you ten tribes. And to his son I will give him one tribe that David my servant shall have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city I chose to place my name there. And you shall take, and you will rule over whatever you wish and you will be King of Israel” (I Kings 11:30-35). Ahijah keeps alternating between leaving Solomon with one or two tribes. Clearly God’s greatest anger is with the singular tribe of Judah. The historical reality is that Benjamin stayed with Judah as mentioned above.
In this painting Ahijah is illustrated at the mid-bottom of the painting with one hand holding up ten pieces of purple cloth offering them to Jeroboam on the left, and another hand holding up two pieces of orange cloth offering them to Rehoboam on the right. The lightening and thunderous words of God are emanating from his open mouth and extended hands, and converge with the lightening in the surrounding black sky. The ebony sky metaphorically illustrates this dark and ominous catastrophe. Does the lightening emanate from Ahijah which then spreads to the universe, or does it emanate from within the divine universe and then enters Ahijah? At this point, Ahiya, God, and the entirety of universal space-time, are metaphysically linked.
In this painting, earth’s globe is illustrated above Ahijah, with Israel featured prominently on its face. The surrounding lightening is splitting the country into two separate realms, causing earthquakes shaking the entire planet, restructuring and reconfiguring geography, and topography. Lightening also encompasses both Judah and Israel on both sides of the painting causing reverberations throughout world history.
Ahijah, an Ephraimite prophet, now chooses Jeroboam, an Ephraimite, to be King of Israel, restoring the kingdom to its rightful heir, the descendant of Joseph, like in the days of the Judges. Ahijah in the spirit of all powerful prophets anoints leaders and bestows greatness. Nevertheless there is an unwritten contractual contingency that Jeroboam must morally live up to the job:
“And I will take you and you will rule over whatever your soul desires and you shall be King of Israel. And it shall be if you listen to all that I tell you, and you will walk in my path, and you shall do what is right in my eyes, to adhere to my statutes and commandments, as David my servant did, then I will be with you, and will build you a faithful house as I built for David and I will give you Israel. And I will afflict the seed of David because of this, but not for eternity” (I Kings 11:37-39).
Despite the fact that Jeroboam is given this great gift, when he assumes power, it corrupts him more completely than it had Solomon, and for that he is held singularly and forever responsible for the death and destruction of Israel and for their banishment from the face of the earth (details below).
This conversation may have taken place in a private secure field between Jeroboam and Ahijah, but news like that has a habit of traveling faster than lightening. As a result in the very next sentence we are told “And Solomon desired to kill Jeroboam, and he (Jeroboam) got up and fled to Egypt to Shishak King of Egypt, and he was in Egypt until Solomon died” (I Kings 11:40).
Shishak is synonymous with Shoshenq I who left extensive hieroglyphic records of his military conquests. Jeroboam, the sworn enemy of Solomon, befriended Shishak, the sworn enemy of Solomon. They shared mutual interests in wanting to see the downfall of Judah, and developed an alliance based on the fundamental political rule that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Shishak later sacks Jerusalem in Rehoboam’s fifth year of rule (details later). The fact that Jeroboam worked closely on Solomon’s projects for many years, implies that he certainly knew the lay of the land, and the inner workings of Solomon’s government, and therefore it is not inconceivable to think that Shishak’s later successful attack on Judah, and his subsequent imposition of vassaldom, was in no small measure due to secrets revealed to him by Jeroboam, and an ongoing collaborative alliance involving the sharing of military intelligence.
Upon Jeroboam’s return, and subsequently upon Rehoboam’s rejection of reform, as mentioned above, Israel decides it has had enough: “And when all Israel saw that the king (Rehoboam) didn’t listen to them, the people answered the king saying: What portions have we in David? Neither have we an inheritance in the son of Jesse. Go to your tents Israel. See to your own house David. And Israel went to their tents. As for the children of Israel that dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam ruled over them” (I Kings 12: 16-17).
Rehoboam cannot take this sitting down, and he needs to show who is boss. So he sends Adoram, a tax collector to collect his dues. But Israel really means business, so they stone Adoram to death knowing exactly what the consequences are.
Rehoboam hears the message loud and clear, gets scared, and flees Jerusalem. As stated: “and so Israel rebelled against the house of David until this day” (I Kings 12:19).
At this point, all of Israel rallies behind Jeroboam and make him king over all of Israel, and “there was none that followed the house of David, with the exception of the tribe of Judah alone” (I Kings 12:20).
Upon Rehoboam’s return to Jerusalem he gathered an army of soldiers from Judah and Benjamin in order to retrieve his lost kingdom. Then a man of God, a prophet by the name of Shemaiah declared that Rehoboam should cease his campaign, and they should return home, otherwise they would be interfering with God’s desires. They listened and returned home (I Kings 12:22-24). Not coincidentally Shemaiah (in Hebrew spelled SMAyYH) is channeling the anti-Davidic curse uttered by Shimei (in Hebrew SMAyY) son of Gera of the House of Saul (2 Samuel 19:16). The name Shemaiah is merely the name Shimi with an added Hebrew letter “H” which means God. Adding the letter “H” to a name implies divine acknowledgment and approval similar to the adding of a “H” to the name Avram transforming it to Avraham, and to Sari transforming it to Sarah.
Most likely Rehoboam must have figured out that he was outnumbered, that he might be defeated, that he would lose whatever remained to him, and most likely would be assassinated as Solomon hoped to do to Jeroboam. Therefore he swallowed the bitter pill of secession proving that he probably had an iota of inherited wisdom from Solomon.
Jeroboam is now the King of Israel, and as soon as he assumes the monarchy, he hastens to secure it. He knows how finicky Israel is. Step number one: He builds up Shechem, in the hill country of Ephraim where he lives, and it essentially becomes his capital. As mentioned above Shechem, Joseph’s burial site is the unofficial capital of Israel because it retains Joseph’s aura and spirit of official leadership.
Jeroboam immediately upon his ascension calculates the theological-political importance of the Temple in Jerusalem, and its capacity to undermine his legitimacy by the natural pull of faith and ritual: “If this nation go up to offer sacrifices in the house of God then the heart of the nation will return to their lord, Rehoboam, King of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah” (I Kings 12:27).
Therefore, Jeroboam hypothesized, if the Temple of Jerusalem will draw them back to Rehoboam, then Israel must be forbidden from worshipping in Jerusalem. In order to replace their need to sacrifice and worship God, they must be given an alternative god and an alternative location on the other side of the border.
Should he build another Temple on par with the Jerusalem Temple? Well it took Solomon twenty years, and hundreds of thousands of slave laborers and massive taxes to build that Temple which caused so much resentment in the first place. Firstly, Jeroboam must have surmised, he didn’t have the luxury of waiting twenty years, secondly, he could never replicate its splendor, and thirdly he knew the political cost and social repercussions of instituting a massive building project. So that was a non-starter.
So he came up with a brainstorm. He made two golden calves. This involved minimal cost and based on the well know historical gullibility of Israel he paraphrased Aaron in the desert, when Moses was atop Mount Sinai : “You have gone up long enough to Jerusalem, here are your Gods (the two golden calves), Israel who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (I Kings 12:28). So as not to inconvenience people with unnecessary traveling throughout the domain, he placed one golden calf in the north, in Dan, and one in the south, Beth-el (ten miles north of Jerusalem).
But fashioning golden calves wasn’t enough. He had to deconstruct the entire religion and go back to early pagan, Egyptian roots. He constructed high places, he appointed Priests who were not of the sons of Levi, and he ordained a replacement feast on the fifteenth day of the eight month, replacing Passover, when he sacrificed to the golden calves, and he ordained a new holiday for the children of Israel and he went up unto the alter to offer a sacrifice (I Kings 12:31-33). This was a real slap in the face. By celebrating golden calves specifically on Passover, he negated the entire concept of God’s divine redemption from Egypt, and recapitulated his early ancestors’ post –liberation desert rebellion against God.
He essentially erased centuries of Jewish history by completely abrogating all the Mosaic laws in one fell swoop. He no longer worshipped the God of Israel and essentially outlawed it, but now worshipped the gods of Egypt. It is very likely that he was theologically influenced by Shishak as part of his continuing political alliance. When the text says he sought advice (Vayeatz) upon assuming leadership (I Kings 12:28) it is likely that this advice came from Shishak of Egypt.
The mirror image concept in this painting of Jeroboam’s and Rehoboam’s leadership style once again comes to the fore in the narrative. Just like Rehoboam (and Solomon) turned the Israelites into slaves , and behaved like a Pharaoh, Jeroboam similarly turns back the clock of time, theologically returning to Egyptian golden calf worship, abrogating every single precious law handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai, eliminating the Levitical priestly caste, and negating the concept of God’s providence and earthly sanctuary-abode.
Because of his total and theological immersion in Egyptian theology, and his alliance with Shishak he is illustrated in this painting on the right in Egyptian garb with Egyptian headdress, wielding a Pharoah’s crook and staff sitting on his throne with two golden calves (Dan and Beth-El) straddling both sides of his shoulders. His tribal affiliation, Ephraim, is written in blue Hebrew on the top of his headdress. His name Jeroboam is written vertically in Hebrew on the right side of his headdress abutting his face, and the remainder of his name, son of Nevat, is written vertically in Hebrew on the left side of his headdress abutting his face.
God did not overlook Solomon’s sins, and he was not about to overlook Jeroboam’s which outstripped Solomon’s by leaps and bounds. At first Jeroboam is warned by God via his medium referred to, not by name, but only as a man of God coming out of Judah. When Jeroboam is standing at the altar of the golden calf and about to offer a sacrifice, this man of God approaches him and proclaims:
“Oh altar, altar, thus says God: a son shall be born to the house of David by the name of Jesiahu, and he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places, and men’s bones shall burn upon you”. He is prophetically referring to King Josiah of Judah who banned idol worship in Israel.
Upon hearing these chilling words Jeroboam retracts his hand from the altar signaling to his accompanying staff to capture the man. At this point “his hand dried back so he could not return it. And the altar was torn, and the ashes poured out of the altar” (I Kings 13:1-5).
Jeroboam upon seeing his useless hand now asks the man of God to pray for its restoration. Of course he does, and his hand is immediately restored. Jeroboam, realizing he is dangerous to deal with, tries recruiting him with bribery, but fails (Kings I 13:7-10).
This narration paints a very strong analogy between Jeroboam and the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Jeroboam is asked by a man of God to change his sinning ways and was given a warning with a reversible physical punishment (plague). Likewise Pharaoh was warned by a man of God, Moses, with nine incrementally devastating physical plagues. He ignored each and every one of them until the final and most devastating tenth plague resulting in the death of all Egyptian first –born sons including his own. It was this irreversible punishment which led to Pharaoh’s relenting and subsequent liberation of the Israelites from Egypt.
Likewise, the man of God from Judah gave Jeroboam a reversible punishing warning, and an opportunity to mend his ways, revealing the power of God by returning his skeletal hands to health. But just like Pharaoh, once the plague was reversed, and the threat removed, Jeroboam hardens his heart as stated: “After this thing Jeroboam did not return from his evil ways, and he appointed as priests of high places, people from all walks of life, whoever wanted to become priests of high places. And it is by this thing that there was sin in the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth” (I Kings 13:33-34).
In this painting Jeroboam is portrayed with visible left arm and hand skeletal bones (right side of the painting) illustrating his temporarily dried up appendage. Because Jeroboam was as recalcitrant as the Pharaoh, his first born son Abijah falls ill, just like the Pharaoh’s first born son. Once again when the chips are down, Jeroboam relies on the God of Israel, and falls back on his original faith, if only temporarily. He tells his wife to go to Ahijah the prophet, and disguise herself, and ask him what will become of his child. Besides, Ahija is now completely blind. Therefore he tells her to bring him ten loaves, biscuits and a cruz of honey, and hopefully this will suffice to bribe him, and to prophesize favorably for the life and health of his son. Ironically, Jeroboam when he first met Ahiya was reenacting the position of Moses liberating his people. Now Jeroboam’s position is reversed, and he is the Pharaoh enslaving his people to idolatry.
Despite and because of Ahijah’s blindness God informs him of Jeroboam’s wife’s true identity. He then commences to deliver God’s stern and well deserved message. He tells her to tell Jeroboam of God’s supreme disappointment in him. How he elevated him, appointed him Prince of his nation of Israel, how he tore the kingdom from the house of David giving it to him, and how he is so unlike David who was a just and righteous man. On the contrary, Jeroboam became evil, more so than all who had preceded him, making other gods and molten images in order to provoke God, and cast him away behind his back like a pair of old shoes. Because of all this God pledged to bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, “and will cut off from Jeroboam every man child, and him that is shut up and him that is left at large in Israel, and I will utterly sweep away the house of Jeroboam, like a man who sweeps away dung until it is gone. Whosoever dies of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat, and whosoever dies in the field, shall the birds eat” (I Kings 14:8-11). Jeroboam because of his fetid malevolence is now reduced to a mere speck of dreck in the eyes of God.
Ahiyah continues channeling God, and instructs the nameless wife of Jeroboam to go home, informing her that as soon as she crosses the threshold her son will die, and because of Jeroboam, “God will smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and he will root up Israel out of this good land, which he gave to their fathers and will scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their Asherim provoking God, And He will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and which he made Israel sin. (I Kings 14:12-16).
As prophesized Aviyah dies, and shortly thereafter Jeroboam dies after him after having ruled for twenty two years. His other son Nadav succeeds him.
Jeroboam’s wife is seen in the far right of this painting caressing and mourning her dead son. Jeroboam has his arms sternly crossed looking into the horizon, with a hardened heart, with probable little remorse despite the death of his first born. Likewise Pharaoh chases the Israelites into the desert after liberating them with no remorse after the death of his son.
Alas the weight of Israel’s future destruction falls squarely on Jeroboam’s shoulders. In the beginning he was filled with so much promise, but was so easily corrupted by power, and by the sway of Egypt leading to the complete abandonment of his God, people and his prestigious lineage.
On the other side of the border, Rehoboam also continued his evil ways:
“For he too built high places, and pillars and Asherim on every hill, and under every leafy tree, and they did all the abominations of the nations which God drove out before the children of Israel” (I Kings 14:22-24).
He too gets justly punished. In the fifth year of his reign, Shishak invades Jerusalem and ransacks all the riches accumulated by Solomon. He took away the treasures from the Temple, and the palace. He took away all the gold shields of Solomon. They had to be replaced with brass shields. The first major blow to Rehoboam was when the majority of the tribes that Solomon inherited were taken away from him, then all the gold and riches Solomon accumulated over his long career were also taken away from him reducing him to a banana republic, a mere vassal state of Egypt. What goes around comes around. He acted like a new Pharaoh to Israel, and now he served the real Pharaoh of Egypt.
To highlight this point, on the left of this painting, behind Rehoboam and his son Abijam, looms an illustrated Cartouche of Pharaoh Shishak I which is an archeologically excavated fragment from a limestone stele at Megiddo dating back to about 925 B.C.E. Shishak’s hieroglyphic cartouche reads: “Hedj-kheper-Re”, “Bright is the form of (the sun-god) Re” “Amun’s beloved, Shoshenq (I)”. It is believed that this stele was erected by Shishak when he conquered Megiddo in 926 BCE.
Rehoboam was 41 years old when he began to rule. His combined length of ruler ship over first the United Kingdom (approximately 2-5 years) and subsequently of Judah totaled seventeen years (I Kings 14:21). He was buried in the city of David. His son Abijam who succeeded him is illustrated in this painting to the right of his father Rehoboam. He is pointing and waggling his index finger symbolizing that he followed in the evil ways of his finger waggling father tyrannically berating his subjects.
Located on the bottom left corner of this painting is an illustration of an asheira figurine that was worshipped by Judah. This is based on archeologically excavated clay house deity figurines dating back to the tenth through seventh centuries.
If we look on the left side of the painting we can see visual influences of Egyptian and Canaanite paganism. Fortunately, the presence of the Jewish Temple, illustrated in the background behind Rehoboam and Abijam, the constant reminder of the Jewish God, was the saving grace that inspired and preserved Judah. In contradistinction, its absence from Israel is what led to its ultimate downfall. It is quite ironic that building the Temple both smashed the United Monarchy in the short -run, yet preserved Judah in the long run.
Abijam, the son of Rehoboam, the grandson of Solomon ruled Judah for three years. His mother’s name was Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom (I Kings 15:1). He was as evil as his father, and after his father died he remained at war with Jeroboam, continuing the family tradition of enmity, the third in line to confront the long living/ruling Jeroboam. After Abijam died his son Asa reigned. Asa assumed power in the twentieth year of Jeroboam’s 22 year reign. Asa was the fourth royal generation of Judah to confront Jeroboam. Asa reigned for 41 years, the first to outlive Jeroboam, and is the subject of the next painting.
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