It took me many years to realize that the Old Testament is one of the great treasures of the standard works. Yes, it is more difficult to understand, initially, than the others, but as we prayerfully read our assignments each week the Spirit can reveal to us those things which we can apply to our daily and ‘modern’ lives. This week’s lesson has great application to our world today.
Sadly I have found through years of teaching institute and gospel doctrine classes, most of my students don’t read the assigned material for each lesson. The Old Testament is a “must-read” in order to come to any semblance of understanding of the messages for our time. It’s not something that we can just glance down at the student reading schedule on the way into the chapel for gospel doctrine class and say to ourselves, “Let’s see, oh yea, this week’s lesson comes from First Kings and Second Chronicles, that’s a snap.” Some may be able to do that with the first seven chapters of First Nephi, or Section 76 or 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Joseph Smith story or even some of the chapters in the Gospels, but not the Old Testament. So, the first message of the lesson this week is this:
For heaven’s sake (literally), take the 30 minutes or so that it will require to read the five chapters covered in this week’s lesson. As you do so prayerfully, it will make all the difference in the impact this lesson will have upon your own life.
Getting to Know the Characters in our Lesson
There are at least three people you need to get to know in order to understand this week’s lesson. It won’t take long. It will be interesting. It will help you understand the material. Here they are.
Rehoboam—(surprisingly, his name is properly pronounced rekh-ab-awm’ and means “who enlarges the people”). Let’s talk genealogy for a moment here. You remember Ruth who, with her mother-in-law Naomi was working in the fields of Boaz? She found favor with Boaz and married him. Together they had a son, Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse who was the father of David. David was the father of Solomon and this Rehoboam was the son of Solomon. So, Rehoboam is the grandson of King David, and the three-greats grandson of Ruth and Boaz. Rehoboam’s mother was an Ammonite princess Naamah. It was during the reign of Rehoboam, because of his unrighteousness (which we will look at), that the division of the Kingdom took place between north and south. He would rule the south, or the Kingdom of Judah, from 975-958 B.C.
Jeroboam—(pronounced from the Hebrew yaw-rob-awm’ meaning “whose people are many”). This man Jeroboam was the son of Nebat. His mother was Zeruah. He was of the tribe of Joseph through the loins of Ephraim. He was a ‘mighty man of valour’ and was a servant in the household of Solomon. Because Solomon could see that Jeroboam “was industrious, he made him ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph.” (see 1 Kings 11: 26-28) Jeroboam would lead the revolt that would cause the division in the great Kingdom that David had set up. The Ten Tribes would follow Jeroboam in the north and the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin would follow Rehoboam in the south. He would rule the northern kingdom, or Kingdom of Israel, from 975-954 B.C.
Jehoshaphat—(pronounced yeh-ho-shaw-fawt’ and means “whom Jehovah judges”). Jehoshaphat was the son of Asa, and was the great-grandson of Rehoboam. He ruled righteously as the king of Judah from 914-889 B.C. He was a true follower of Jehovah (Jesus Christ) and a religious reformer of the kingdom. He took it upon himself to “cleanse the inner vessel” of the kingdom, by destroying the false altars and groves for Baal worship throughout the kingdom.
There are some other characters in this week’s reading to pay attention to: an unnamed prophet who is referred to as “a man of God;” an “old prophet in Beth-el;” the prophet Ahijah; and one Jahaziel upon whom the Spirit of the Lord came in the midst of a large congregation.
Background and Overview
The pivotal part of the lesson material this week is the story of Rehoboam (it’s against our better English judgment to pronounce his name rekh-ab-awm’) and his turning against wise counsel. His decision to go against good and righteous counsel would lead to the great division in the Kingdom that David had set up. Rehoboam reminds me of a potential righteous King Benjamin from the Book of Mormon gone bad.
It seems there was a moment when Rehoboam could have chosen righteousness. It was kind of like the moment wicked King Noah in the Book of Mormon almost let Abinadi be freed and then, because of pressure from his wicked priests, he caused him to be burned at the stake. Rehoboam basically does the same thing to the kingdom. Look briefly at the story with me.
Rehoboam went to Shechem because all of the people had gathered there to make him king. Jeroboam had earlier fled from the presence of Solomon and had been in Egypt for some time waiting for Solomon’s death. Jeroboam arrives on the scene with a large company of the house of Israel and wants to know how the new king will rule over this people. On the occasion, if you will, of the coronation of this new king, Rehoboam wanted to take counsel on how he should rule this kingdom. He told Jeroboam and his hosts to give him three days to figure things out. Here is the scene from the scriptures:
“And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men [there was great wisdom in this], that stood before Solomon his father, while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?
“And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day [sounds like these were King Benjamin’s kin], and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants forever.” (1 Kings 12: 6,7—[bracketed words added for emphasis])
Rehoboam soundly rejected this sage counsel. Here he made a grave mistake. Not only did he reject the wise counsel he turned to his friends he had grown up with (young men) and wanted to see what they would counsel. Follow along:
“And he said unto them, What counsel give ye that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter?
“And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins. And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” (1 Kings 12: 9-11)
It seems like anyone that had ever taken a class from Stephen R. Covey or read one of his books or even had a lick of sense at all would say, “this is definitely not the creation of a win-win situation.” Well, Rehoboam fell for the counsel of his peers and told the people his new approach as king. This would prove disastrous for Rehoboam.
Enter one Jeroboam. He is there with his people listening to what the new king has to say about his approach to leadership. Of course it is totally unacceptable.
“So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents.” (1 Kings 12: 16)
This is a subtle but powerful scripture that is the marking point of the division of David’s kingdom. Essentially the people said to the king, “We want nothing to do with such leadership. Come on everyone, let’s leave. We are no more a part of David’s house and our inheritance is gone. Let’s go.” Jeroboam leads them away. These are the Ten Tribes that will form the Kingdom of the North or the House of Israel. The two tribes who remain under the leadership of Rehoboam are Judah and Benjamin and will form the the Kingdom of the South or the House of Judah.
A Chance for Great Leadership
Jeroboam set up this new kingdom in the north at Shechem in Mount Ephraim and has the great opportunity to lead the people in righteousness. But because of fears of losing power over the people he makes a series of mistakes.
“And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David.” (1 Kings 12: 26)
In other words, Jeroboam was concerned that if the people returned to worship at Jerusalem they would turn their loyalties to King Rehoboam.
To grab their attention and draw upon some powerful false traditions of their forefathers he quickly devises a stupid plan:
“Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Beth-el, and the other he put in Dan…
“And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Beth-el, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made…” (1 Kings 12: 28-29, 32)
Jeroboam turned the hearts of the people to idol worship. He even set up a false holy day that appears to be like unto the Feast of the Tabernacles or of Ingathering, the most joyous of all the feasts of the Jews. Sadly, he would continue to lead them astray through the whole of his reign (read the lesson material to find out more details).
As we look at these two unrighteous leaders from ancient times, doesn’t it remind you of what the Prophet Joseph Smith gave us in counsel from the Liberty Jail:
“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (D&C 121: 39)
If you haven’t already, it’s certainly worth committing that scripture to memory. It’s like having a special template by which to study leadership.
Lest we are weighted down with sorrow and feeling a little low about both Rehoboam and Jeroboam’s poor leadership, let’s conclude by talking about one of the heroes of the Old Testament Jehoshaphat. If you read above in our little “getting to know the characters” section you will know that we are jumping ahead in the history a ways and focusing on this great-grandson of Rehoboam. He comes on the scene forty-four years after the unrighteous King Rehoboam. Jehoshaphat does great things for the Kingdom of Judah during his twenty-five years of leadership.
We shan’t have time for much but let us look at one scene from this righteous king’s life. This scene sounds like the makings for a great Hollywood picture, except Hollywood would never produce this one because God plays such a critical role.
The scene is one of a gathering for war. The Moabites and the Ammonites came in a great company of warriors to wage a battle against Jehoshaphat. Things looked grim because of the overwhelming odds. Watch closely to see from whom this righteous King takes counsel. Here is where we see great leadership:
“And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 20: 3, 4)
Don’t you love that? Here is a whole nation that joins in a fast for this grave situation in which they feel vulnerable and extremely threatened. They sought the Lord and His power.
“And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court,
“And said, O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?
This sounds like our Prophet, President Hinckley at one of the Temple dedications. Here, indeed is a Prophet of God, speaking for the people to the Lord God of Hosts. Continue to follow this amazing scene of faith:
“Art not thou our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever?
“And they dwelt therein, and have built thee a sanctuary therein for thy name, saying,
“If, when evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in thy presence, (for thy name is in this house,) and cry unto thee in our affliction then thou wilt hear and help.”
Don’t miss the significance of this scene. The king and the people are standing before the temple of the Lord and crying unto Him for help, for temporal salvation, for deliverance from their enemies.
And they know He will intervene and help them. This is their faith and the faith of this righteous king.
“O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee.
“And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.”
Isn’t this a beautiful moment? They are standing as king and fathers, mothers and childen—families—before the Lord God of Hosts, acknowledging their vulnerabilities and fears (“neither know we what to do”) but they stand their steadfast and full of faith—“our eyes are upon thee.” Then the Spirit of the Lord falls upon one Jahaziel in the midst of the multitude:
“Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the LORD in the midst of the congregation;
”And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s.
“To morrow go ye down against them: behold, they come up by the cliff of Ziz; and ye shall find them at the end of the brook, before the wilderness of Jeruel.
“Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; to morrow go out against them: for the LORD will be with you.”
What the Spirit told Jahaziel is that they should go out against this great host but that they wouldn’t have to fight. They should not fear or be dismayed, “for the LORD will be with you.”
“And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the LORD, worshipping the LORD.”
”And the Levites, of the children of the Kohathites, and of the children of the Korhites, stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel with a loud voice on high.”
So, the people rejoiced together and were full of gratitude and joy. They fell down before God and praised him and worshipped him. Let’s see now the results:
“And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper.”
Now watch what the king does. He does not appoint warriors and mighty men of valor to step to the battle lines. He gathers a great choir to sing praises to the Lord, knowing that this battle was His, and their part would be to praise Him.
“And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever.
“And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten.
“For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another.
“And when Judah came toward the watch tower in the wilderness, they looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none escaped.
“And when Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away the spoil of them, they found among them in abundance both riches with the dead bodies, and precious jewels, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away: and they were three days in gathering of the spoil, it was so much.” (See 2 Chronicles 20: 5-25)
What a lesson for our time! What faith! What power in turning to the Lord God of Hosts, who is Jesus Christ! What a scene for us never to forget.
And lest we forget, let us commit to memory, from this lesson, at least this one verse:
“Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper.
Is it not so, truly?