Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The first section of this chapter (1Kings 14:1-20) concludes the first division of the book, which gives in considerable detail the history of the reign of Solomon, and the revolution, political and religious, which marked the disruption of the kingdom, The second (1Kings 14:21-31) begins the short annalistic notices which make up the next division of the book, extending to the beginning of the reign of Ahab, and of the prophetic career of Elijah (1Kings 16:29).
At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick.(1) Abijah (“whose father is Jehovah”).—The coincidence of names in the sons of Jeroboam and Rehoboam is curious. Possibly it may be more than coincidence, if (as seems likely) the births of both took place about the same time, when Jeroboam was in favour with Solomon.
And Jeroboam said to his wife, Arise, I pray thee, and disguise thyself, that thou be not known to be the wife of Jeroboam; and get thee to Shiloh: behold, there is Ahijah the prophet, which told me that I should be king over this people.(2) Shiloh, the regular habitation of Ahijah, is hardly mentioned in Scripture after the time of Eli, and the destruction which then seems to have fallen upon it, probably after the great defeat by the Philistines (Jeremiah 7:12). It is evident that the old blind prophet still remained there, and exercised his prophetic office for the benefit of Israel, though he stood aloof from, and denounced, the new idolatry of Bethel. This idolatry is always described as pre-eminently the “sin of Jeroboam,” who by it “made Israel to sin.” Hence, while in consequence of it the royal house is condemned, the people are still regarded as God’s chosen people, to whom, even more than to the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah, the prophets ministered, and to whom—having no longer the Temple and the consecrated royalty of David, as perpetual witnesses for God—the prophetic ministrations were of pre-eminent importance. Accordingly, the wife of Jeroboam is bidden to approach the prophet disguised as a daughter of the people.
And take with thee ten loaves, and cracknels, and a cruse of honey, and go to him: he shall tell thee what shall become of the child.(3) And take.—The presentation of this offering, designedly simple and rustic in character, accords with the custom (1Samuel 9:7-8) of approaching the prophet at all times with some present, however trifling. In itself an act simply of homage, it would easily degenerate into the treatment of the prophetic function as a mere matter of merchandise. (See above, 1Kings 13:7.)
And Jeroboam's wife did so, and arose, and went to Shiloh, and came to the house of Ahijah. But Ahijah could not see; for his eyes were set by reason of his age.(4) Were set.—The same word is rendered “were dim” in 1Samuel 4:15. The metaphor is evidently drawn from the solid opaque look of the iris, when affected by cataract or some similar disease.
Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Forasmuch as I exalted thee from among the people, and made thee prince over my people Israel,(7, 8) I exalted thee.—There is throughout a close allusion to Ahijah’s prophecy (1Kings 11:31; 1Kings 11:37-38), which promised Jeroboam “a sure house, like that of David,” on condition of the obedience of David. The sin of Jeroboam lay in this—that he had had a full probation, with unlimited opportunities, and had deliberately thrown it away, in the vain hope of making surer the kingdom which God’s promise had already made sure. The lesson is, indeed, a general one. The resolution to succeed at all hazards, striking out new ways, with no respect for time-honoured laws and principles, is in all revolutions the secret of immediate success and ultimate disaster. But in the Scripture history, here as elsewhere, we are permitted to see the working of God’s moral government of the world, unveiled in the inspired declarations of His prophetic messenger.
But hast done evil above all that were before thee: for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and hast cast me behind thy back:(9) But hast done evil above all that were before thee.—The language is strong, in the face of the many instances of the worship of false gods in the days of the Judges, and the recent apostasy of Solomon—to say nothing of the idolatry of the golden calf in the wilderness, and the setting up of the idolatrous sanctuaries in olden times at Ophrah and at Dan (Judges 8:27; Judges 18:30-31). The guilt, indeed, of Jeroboam’s act was enhanced by the presumptuous contempt of the special promise of God, given on the sole condition of obedience. In respect of this, perhaps, he is said below—in an expression seldom used elsewhere—to have “cast God Himself behind his back.” But probably the reference is mainly to the unprecedented effect of the sin, coming at a critical point in the history of Israel, and from that time onward poisoning the springs of national faith and worship. Other idolatries came and passed away: this continued, and at all times “made Israel to sin.”
Other gods and molten images.—See in 1Kings 11:28 the repetition of the older declaration in the wilderness, “These be thy gods, O Israel.” Jeroboam would have justified the use of the calves as simply emblems of the true God; Ahijah rejects the plea, holding these molten images, expressly forbidden in the Law, to be really objects of worship—“other gods,”—as, indeed, all experience shows that such forbidden emblems eventually tend to become. Moreover, from 1Kings 14:15 it appears that the foul worship of the Asherah (“groves”) associated itself with the idolatry of Jeroboam.
Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.(10) Him . . . and him.—The first phrase is used also in 1Kings 21:21, 2Kings 9:8, to signify, “every male,” implying (possibly with a touch of contempt) that even the lowest should be destroyed. The words following have in the original no conjunction and between them. They are in antithesis to each other, signifying in some form two opposite divisions of males. The literal sense seems to be “him who is shut up, or bound, and him who is left loose;” and this phrase has been variously interpreted as “the bond and the free,” “the married and the unmarried,” “the child” who keeps at home, “and the man” who goes abroad. Perhaps the last of these best suits the context; it is like “the old and young” of Joshua 6:21, Esther 3:13, Ezekiel 9:6, &c.
As a man taketh away dung.—The same contemptuous tone runs on to the end of the verse. The house of Jeroboam is the filth which pollutes the sacred band of Israel; to its last relics it is to be swept away by the besom of destruction. (Comp. 2Kings 9:37; Psalm 83:10.)
Him that dieth of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat: for the LORD hath spoken it.(11) Him that dieth.—The same judgment is repeated in 1Kings 16:4; 1Kings 21:24. (Comp. also Jeremiah 36:30.) The “dogs” are the half-wild’ dogs, the scavengers of every Eastern city; the “fowls of the air” the vultures and other birds of prey. In ancient times the natural horror of insult to the remains of the dead was often intensified by the idea, that in some way the denial of the rites of burial would inflict suffering or privation on the departed soul. Whether such ideas may have lingered in the minds of the Israelites we have no means of knowing. But certainly their whole system of law and ritual was calculated to give due honour to the body in life, as consecrated to God; and this would naturally tend to teach them that the body was a part of the true man, and therefore to deepen the repugnance, with which all reverent feeling regards outrage on the dead.
And all Israel shall mourn for him, and bury him: for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found some good thing toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.(13) Because in him there is found some good thing.—There is something singularly pathetic in this declaration of early death, in peace and with due mourning, as the only reward which can be given to piety in the time of coming judgment. It is much like the prophetic declaration to Josiah at the time of the approaching fall of the kingdom of Judah (2Kings 22:18-20). But, at the same time, we find in the Old Testament little indication of that general view of the prevalent sorrow and burden of life, which makes Herodotus, in his celebrated story of Cleobis and Bito (Book 1:100:31), imply that at all times early death is Heaven’s choicest blessing. Such a view, indeed, is expressed in such passages as Job 3:11-22, Ecclesiastes 4:1-3; but these are clearly exceptional. Life is viewed—sometimes, as in Psalm 88:10-12, Isaiah 38:18-19, even in contrast with the unseen world—as a place of God’s favour and blessing, which nothing but man’s wilful sin can turn to sorrow. The presence and the penalty of sin are recognised from the day of the Fall onwards, yet as only impairing, and not destroying, man’s natural heritage of joy.
Moreover the LORD shall raise him up a king over Israel, who shall cut off the house of Jeroboam that day: but what? even now.(14) Shall raise him up a king.—Baasha. (See 1Kings 15:27-30.) For, like Jeroboam, he had (see 1Kings 16:2-4) a probation before God, in which he failed, drawing down doom on his house.
But what? even now.—The exact meaning of these words has been much disputed. The LXX. renders “and what? even now;” the Vulgate has “in this day and in this time;” the Chaldee Targum, “what is now, and what besides shall be.” Modern interpretations vary greatly. On the whole, perhaps, our version gives a not improbable rendering, and a simple and striking sense—“in that day; but what say I? the judgment is even now at hand.” (Comp. our Lord’s saying in Luke 12:49 : “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? “)
For the LORD shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and he shall root up Israel out of this good land, which he gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their groves, provoking the LORD to anger.(15) And he shall root up Israel.—The first prophecy of future captivity, and that “beyond the river” (Euphrates), is here pronounced against the kingdom of Israel, on account of their share in the idolatry of Jeroboam, and in the worse abominations of the “groves.” Of all such utterances we must remember the express declaration of Jeremiah 18:7-8 : “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation . . . to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy; if that nation . . . turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” The prophecy uttered does not foreclose the probation of future ages. This is, after all, only one illustration of the great truth that—however impossible it is for us to comprehend the mystery—the foreknowledge of God does not preclude the freedom and responsibility of man.
The metaphor is of the reed shaken to and fro in the river, till at last it is rooted up, swept down the stream, and cast up on some distant shore.
Their groves.—The word rendered “grove” is properly Asherah, an idol: apparently the straight stem of a tree, surmounted by an emblem of the goddess represented (whence, perhaps, the wrong translation which, from the LXX. and Vulgate, has made its way into our version). (See Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:2; Judges 3:7; Judges 6:25; Judges 6:28, &c.) It is thought to have been an image of some deity like Astarte; and Gesenius infers from the derivation of the name that it was dedicated to her, as the goddess of good fortune. But the worship dates from a far earlier time than the introduction of the worship of the Tyrian Astarte, and the word itself is etymologically distinct from Ashtoreth or Ashtaroth. It is notable that in 2Kings 23:15 Josiah is said not only to have destroyed the altar and high places at Bethel, but to have “burned the Asherah;” whence it may probably be concluded that (as is perhaps implied in this passage) the old worship of the Asherah, with all its superstitious and profligate accompaniments, grew up under the very shadow of the newer idolatry. From the worship of images as emblems to superstitious veneration of the images themselves, and thence to worship of many gods, the transition is unhappily only too easy.
And Jeroboam's wife arose, and departed, and came to Tirzah: and when she came to the threshold of the door, the child died;(17) Tirzah.—From this incidental notice it would seem that Jeroboam had removed his habitation, temporarily or permanently, to Tirzah, a place renowned for beauty (Song of Solomon 6:4), and farther from the hostile frontier than Shechem. It seems to have continued as the capital till the foundation of Samaria. Its site is generally identified with a spot now called Tellûzah, about nine miles north-east of Shechem, still in the high ground of Mount Ephraim.
And the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, how he warred, and how he reigned, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel.(19) And the rest.—The preceding verse closes the detailed record of Jeroboam’s reign. His exaltation and the promise to him, his idolatry and its punishment, are all that the historian cares to narrate. All else is summed up in the words “how he warred” (see below, 1Kings 14:30, and 1Kings 15:6) and “how he reigned.” It is probable that his reign was prosperous enough in peace and war, though his attempt to subdue Judah failed. (See 2 Chronicles 13) But all this the Scriptural record passes over, and only commemorates him as “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.”
And Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which the LORD did choose out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there. And his mother's name was Naamah an Ammonitess.(21) And Rehoboam.—Here begins the second series of the book—a series of brief annals, touching only the main points of the history of the kings of Israel and Judah, till the appearance of Elijah (1Kings 17:1). In respect of the kingdom of Judah, and of Israel so far as it is connected with Judah, it is largely supplemented by the fuller record of the Chronicles (2 Chronicles 11-17).
During this first epoch of the existence of the two kingdoms, including about sixty years, their relations appear to have been incessantly hostile, the aggression being on the side of the kingdom of Israel. In the reign of Rehoboam the invasion of Shishak was probably instigated, perhaps aided, by Jeroboam; subsequently the attack on Abijah, victoriously repelled, seems a direct attempt at subjugation; the same policy in substance is pursued by Baasha, and only checked by the desperate expedient of calling in the foreign power of Syria; till at last, wearied out by continual war against a superior force, Judah, even under such a king as Jehoshaphat, is forced to ally itself, apparently on a footing of something like dependence, with the kingdom of Israel. The city which the Lord did choose. Naamah an Ammonitess. (22) Judah did evil.—From the Chronicles (2Chronicles 11:17) we gather that, as might have been expected, the judgment which had fallen upon the house of David for idolatry, the rallying of the national feeling round the sacredness of the Temple, and the influx from Israel of the priests and Levites, produced a temporary reaction: “for three years they walked in the way of David and Solomon.” With, however, the excitement, and perhaps the sense of danger (2Chronicles 12:1), this wholesome reaction passed by, and gave way to an extraordinarily reckless plunge into abominations of the worst kind. These are ascribed not, as in the case of Solomon and most other kings, to the action of Rehoboam, but to that of the people at large; for the king himself seems to have been weak, unfit for taking the initiative either in good or evil. The apostasy of Judah was evidently the harvest of the deadly seed sown by the commanding influence of Solomon, under whose idolatry the young men had grown up. It is said to have gone beyond “all that their fathers had done,” even in the darkest periods of the age of the Judges: perhaps on the ground that the sins of a more advanced state of knowledge and civilisation are, both in their guilt and in their subtlety, worse than the sins of a semi-barbarous age.
The city which the Lord did choose.—This emphatic notice is, no doubt, intended to place Jerusalem and its worship in marked contrast with the new capitals and unauthorised sanctuaries which had sprung up. The possession of Jerusalem, with all that was associated with it, was the very life of the little kingdom of Judah, threatened by its more powerful rival and by the neighbouring nations. In Israel one capital succeeded another; Shechem, Tirzah, Samaria, Jezreel, became rival cities. In Judah no city could be for a moment placed on the level of the hallowed city of Jerusalem.
Naamah an Ammonitess.—The reference to the queen-mother is almost invariable in the annals of the kings, marking the importance always attaching to it in Eastern monarchies; but the mention (here and in 1Kings 14:31) of Naamah as an Ammonitess is perhaps significant in relation to the description of the manifold idolatries of Rehoboam. It is curious that the succession should pass without question to the son of another and an earlier wife than Solomon’s chief queen, the daughter of Pharaoh.
(22) Judah did evil.—From the Chronicles (2Chronicles 11:17) we gather that, as might have been expected, the judgment which had fallen upon the house of David for idolatry, the rallying of the national feeling round the sacredness of the Temple, and the influx from Israel of the priests and Levites, produced a temporary reaction: “for three years they walked in the way of David and Solomon.” With, however, the excitement, and perhaps the sense of danger (2Chronicles 12:1), this wholesome reaction passed by, and gave way to an extraordinarily reckless plunge into abominations of the worst kind. These are ascribed not, as in the case of Solomon and most other kings, to the action of Rehoboam, but to that of the people at large; for the king himself seems to have been weak, unfit for taking the initiative either in good or evil. The apostasy of Judah was evidently the harvest of the deadly seed sown by the commanding influence of Solomon, under whose idolatry the young men had grown up. It is said to have gone beyond “all that their fathers had done,” even in the darkest periods of the age of the Judges: perhaps on the ground that the sins of a more advanced state of knowledge and civilisation are, both in their guilt and in their subtlety, worse than the sins of a semi-barbarous age.