Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility (Calvinism in the OT Part 2)

A few months ago I wrote a post that got some attention entitled “An Example of Where I See “Calvinism” in the Bible“. In that post I outlined the story of the priest Eli and his unruly sons Phinehas and Hophni in 1 Samuel 2. In short, Eli confronts his sons, Phinehas and Hophni, and admonishes them to stop their wicked ways and repent. The author of 1 Samuel then writes that Phinehas and Hophni refused to listen to their father Eli because it was the will of God to put them to death. I expounded in that post how the reason for Phinehas and Hophni’s refusal to repent was ultimately the will of God. Today, I thought I would share another example in the Old Testament of where I see God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility play out; this time from 1 Kings 12.

In 1 Kings 12 the history of Israel is moving from the rule of Solomon to Rehoboam. Moreover, God is bringing about civil strife in Israel in order to split the kingdom in two. For those of you who are familiar with this portion of Israel’s history you will know that the ensuing division of the kingdom brings about two different kingdoms: “Israel” to the North with Samaria being its capital & “Judah” to the south with its capital in Jerusalem.

Before getting into the particular incident in 1 Kings 12 there is a small bit of back story that the reader needs to be familiar with in 1 Kings 11. Solomon has not been faithful to God and has begun to allow the worship of other God’s in the kingdom. During this time a man by the name of “Jeroboam” arises as a skillful and industrious worker and Solomon promotes him and places him in charge of the House of Joseph (Interesting side note to story is that Jeroboam at this point has many similarities to Joseph). We are told in the story that Jeroboam was met by a prophet, Ahijah, who told him that God was going to take the kingdom from Solomon. Ahijah tells Jeroboam that the kingdom will be divided and that God plans to set him (Jeroboam) in charge of all the tribes of Israel except the tribe of Judah (A son of David will remain over Judah and Jerusalem because of God’s promise to David). Apparently news of this reaches Solomon and that causes Jeroboam to flee to Egypt to avoid being killed by Solomon (another similarity to Joseph).

With that back story in place we can now move on to the particular incident God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in 1 Kings 12.

As I stated above, 1 Kings 12 speaks of the beginning of the reign of Rehoboam after Solomon’s death. Having heard of the death of Solomon, Jeroboam returns from Egypt and stirs up the people of Israel to ask the new king (Rehoboam) to lighten their load of service. The people complain to Rehoboam that Solomon had made them work too hard in the building of the temple and they want a reprieve from their hard labor and ask Rehoboam to oblige. Rehoboam seeks counsel from his father’s (Solomon’s) counselors. They counsel him that if he listens to the people then they will serve him. Rehoboam then asks his own (younger) counselors for counsel and they counsel him to not listen to the people but instead to make the people do more work.

Jeroboam (who is now a leader of the people’s movement) returns with the people to hear whether Rehoboam has decided to lighten their work at all. Rehoboam decided to scorn the counsel of his father’s counselors and tells the people that he plans to make their work load even heavier than what his father (Solomon) had made them do. The people respond to this news by exclaiming, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” (1 Kings 12:16). In other words, the people of Israel (other than those of the tribe of Judah) proclaim that they no longer want anything to do with the house of David (Jerusalem and the king Rehoboam)  and are now dispersing to their own houses and lands and will refuse to submit to the new king.

There is so much going on in this story and there are many things that could be said. To exhaust all that is going on here we would have to get into all the political intrigue taking place, the consequence of the sins of Solomon, the parallels of the story of Jeroboam and Joseph (and even Joseph, Jesus’ father), and many other things. For this post I simply want to note one detail.

The detail that I would like to draw attention to is what the author of 1 Kings writes about the decision making process of Rehoboam when he is deciding whether or not he is going to lighten the load of the people or not. The author writes that the people return to hear Rehoboam’s decision and Rehoboam “answered the people harshly” (v. 13). The author then writes:

So the king (Rehoboam) did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (v. 15) (Emphasis mine)

We are told that the reason Rehoboam answered the people in the manner he did was brought about by the LORD in order to fulfill what he had told Jeroboam through Ahijah in 1 Kings 11 which we looked at above.

Rehoboam makes a decision, he really does, yet we are told the story from a prophetic perspective which reveals the reason behind Rehoboam’s willing, namely the will of the LORD. Proverbs 21:1:

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD: he turns it wherever he will.

God is moving history in a certain direction and he often uses the wickedness of man to bring about his glorious decrees (Acts 4:27-28). The particulars of God’s decrees are hidden from us (Deuteronomy 29:29). The people of Rehoboam’s day knew not how God was planning to use the wickedness of Rehoboam. Likewise, until the resurrection, the disciples of Christ where perplexed by the wickedness of Herod and Pontius Pilate. Yet God is sovereign and is guiding all things to a glorious resurrection in Jesus!

Food for thought!

Michael

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