A Kingdom Torn in Two
1 Kings 12:1-11
First United Methodist Church, July 23, 2017
Pastor Toni L. Carmer
My maiden name is McCoy, but I don't think that I'm related to the clan down south that had a feud with the Hatfield's for 38 years, beginning in 1863.
The families lived on opposite sides of the Big Sandy River, which separates West Virginia and Kentucky. The Hatfield's lived on the W. Virginia side, while the McCoy's lived on the Kentucky side.
Apparently the first violence broke out over the death of Mr. Asa McCoy after he returned home from the war (The McCoy's served the Union army while the Hatfield's were Confederates). Mr. Devil Hatfield was the suspect in his murder, though it was later confirmed that he was home sick in bed when it happened. It seems that one of his uncles actually orchestrated the killing, but no one really knows for sure.
The next recorded incident was a dispute over the ownership of a hog.
The whole thing was a mess.
This week's reading from the story is a mess, too: A Kingdom Torn in Two. We can read about in chapter 14 of The Story, and in 1 Kings chapters 12-16.
Jeroboam had initially impressed King Solomon with his work ethic, and was placed in charge of a crew working on the wall that surrounded Jerusalem. Possibly because of the intensity of the labor that Solomon forced upon his workers, along with the high taxes he set to pay for all that he was doing—Jeroboam rebelled. At some point during this time, the prophet Ahijah told Jeroboam that he would one day become King. Solomon responded to all this by trying to kill Jeroboam, so he fled to Egypt and remained there until he heard of Solomon's death. He returns to Israel to see if Rehoboam might be less harsh than his father.
Rehoboam is Solomon's son. He now sits upon his father's throne.
He does what looks—at first glance—to be a wise thing. He asks for time to consider Jeroboam's request, and seeks advice from others: first, from the elders who served his dad—older and more experienced guys. They give him good advice: Lighten their load and they'll serve you forever.
But he decides to ask some young men who grew up with him: they're not near so conciliatory. He follows the advice of his friends, and this is when the nation of Israel divides. Of the 12 tribes of Israel, only those living in the towns of Judah stay with Rehoboam. The rest rally behind Jeroboam and make him their king.
Ten of the 12 tribes form the Nation of Israel to the north. The tribe of Simeon is melded into the tribe of Judah and they form the Nation of Judah to the south.
This division happens in 930 BC and remains that way throughout the rest of the Old Testament—530 years.
Division is a nasty place to live. It churns our stomachs, keeps us awake at night, and makes holiday planning a real challenge.
Jesus would later say, "A house divided against itself cannot stand" (Luke 11:17). A "house" can be a family, an individual, a church, a business, or in this case—an entire nation. There are so many outside forces that threaten our unity, but they can be overcome with unity on the inside. But once a house turns against itself from the inside, it's just a matter of time before that house falls.
So, what can we do about avoiding division in our lives? Let's talk just a bit about what we can learn from Israel:
First of all, be careful who you listen to.
It's pretty easy to see the mistake that Rehoboam made. He rejected the advice of his elders and embraced the advice of the guys he grew up with. It seems that if we always listen to people who are just like we are, who grew up where we did, who cheer for the same teams that we do—then there's a good chance that they'll rubber stamp what we think.
Besides, Rehoboam is king now; do we really think that these guys are going to disagree with him? If one of them tells him something that he doesn't like, then the cost might be too high.
We talked about this a bit before, when Nathan confronted David about Bathsheba. We need to have friends who are willing to tell us the truth, who are willing to tell us something that we may not want to hear. At the time, what is said can feel like a wound, but in the end, it can save us and help to make us stronger.
If you're a friend who is approached to give counsel to another friend about a relationship conflict with someone—another friend, a spouse, a co-worker, a neighbor—here a couple of things to consider:
- Ask for permission upfront to tell them what they don't necessarily want to hear;
- Don't ever give hard counsel without listening to the other side of the story. We can't help but see things from our own perspective. If only one person controls the narrative, then you're not going to be able to give the best advice. Listen to the other side. Which leads to the second point:
Division is seldom one-sided. Own your part.
At first it appears as though Rehoboam is the one completely wrong. But when you get the whole story you see that Jeroboam played a part. First, before Rehoboam is even in the story, Jeroboam is told by a prophet that he would be king. That makes for bad relations between Jeroboam and Rehoboam's father. That's outside of Rehoboam's control. It may be that Jeroboam is ambitious…he wants the job.
After he gets what he wants, we learn that to keep the people from going back to Jerusalem and worshipping God there, he makes two golden calves for them to worship. "Here are your gods," he says to the people of Israel. Sound familiar?
God sends a prophet to Jeroboam to confront him. And even after this, we're told, that "Jeroboam did not change his evil ways."
What I've learned over the years, is that when there's a division—very rarely is it completely one-sided. No one person is completely guilty, and no one person is completely innocent. Both sides contribute in some way.
You can't control the other person but you can own your own part. This posture of humility seems to create the best environment for healing.
Something else we can see with this division of Israel is that it has a generational effect.
The squabble between Rehoboam and Jeroboam rippled through their family for generations. Look at these passages:
- There was continual warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam (pg 199, 1 Kings 14:30).
- There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam through Abijah's lifetime (pg. 199, 1 Kings 15:6).
- There was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel throughout their reigns (pg. 200, 1 Kings 15:16).
The division took place in 930 BC and it continued from that day forward. Remember when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well? The Samaritans are the remnant of Jews still living there from the northern kingdom established under Jeroboam. The Jews from the south, from Rehomboam's kingdom of Judah despised the Samaritans so much they would go out of their way to walk around Samaria rather than have contact with them.
Division can ruin families for generations. Like the Hatfield's and the McCoy's. When you decide to sever a relationship, remember it often will impact the next generations…
Which takes us back to the point: Rehoboam and Jeroboam aren't the ones who began the division. It was Reoboam's dad, King Solomon.
In our last chapter, King Solomon is doing great. He is filled with God's wisdom and is reaping benefits galore. But little by little he stops applying that wisdom to his own life and kingdom. Like the frog in the pan of water, as the heat turned up underneath him, he didn't seem to notice. By the time he figured it out, it was pretty late.
And you know what? We can blame Solomon's missteps, his decision to start worshipping pagan gods on his 700 wives who turned him astray. But who was in charge there? Who married all those women? Did he get strong-armed into doing something he was unwilling to do? Again, I'd like to say to Solomon—own your part. Take some responsibility. As David said to Solomon when he stepped down from the throne: Be a man. Be who you are. Because turning away will not only negatively impact you, but it will hurt those who follow you…your children and their children, and for Solomon, a whole nation.
Our task, our responsibility as Christians, is to stay close to God. That's my task and responsibility as your pastor, as a wife, as a mother, as a grandmother…staying close to God, walking humbly before God…that's the most important thing I can do. The same is true for you.
So here's something you might not know: On June 14, 2003, Bo and Ron McCoy partnered up with Reo Hatfield to declare an official truce between the families, 140 years after the first fight broke out. The document was signed by 60 descendents from both families. Governor Paul E. Patton of Kentucky and Governor Bob Wise of West Virginia signed proclamations declaring June 14 Hatfield and McCoy Reconciliation Day.
Reo Hatfield said that he wanted to show that if the two families could reach an agreement, others could, too. He went on to say, "The Hatfield's and McCoy's symbolize violence and feuding and fighting, but by signing this, hopefully people will realize that's not the final chapter."
It's not the final chapter here, either. Jesus said "A house divided against itself cannot stand," but it seems the opposite is also true: "A house united from within can stand strong." May that be our prayer for our lives, our church, our community, and our nation.