Section 1: Opening Prayer
Most high and holy God, pour out upon us your one and unifying Spirit, and awaken in every confession of the whole church a holy hunger and thirst for unity in you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Section 2: A House Divided Cannot Stand
That quote famously came from Abraham Lincoln during a speech leading up to the U.S. Civil War. It’s wisdom is far more universal, and it applies to Israel as well.
Long before the United States split in two and fought a war over the (un)principals of slavery, Israel as a nation broke apart due to differing ideals and leadership. When one of Solmon’s sons, Jeroboam, set himself up as a king in competition with his father, that led to years of wars between families. Eventually, the tribes of Israel split into two nations, with Benjamin and Judah comprising the Kingdom of Judah in the south and the other ten tribes making up the Kingdom of Israel in the north.
And trust me, the breakup wasn’t nearly this cheery.
You can read about this in 1st and 2nd Kings, with the split beginning with Jeroboam’s rebellion in 1st Kings 11.
Section 3: A Brief History
But you see, the problem with splitting an already small nation is that they become susceptible to the influences of other, more powerful international forces. No king ruled with the same amount of influence that David and Solomon carried, so the countries continued to weaken and they looked for political alliances instead of the strength and wisdom from God that raised up David and Solomon. This isn’t just a political concern for Israel, however. It’s a religious problem, because more influence from other countries often includes more worship of other gods.
When you read through the books of 1st and 2nd Kings, you’ll see just this. Some kings are good (see Josiah in 2nd Kings 22, who is
particularly beloved by God) while some kings are evil (read about Ahab in 1st Kings 18 to find out just how bad this dude is). But as Israel and Judah make alliances with other nations, the citizens become more likely to abandon worship of the Lord for the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Moab, Ammon, Babylon, Assyria, and other ancient countries in that part of the world. The prophets (in your Bible from Isaiah to Malachi) forewarn the people that worship of other gods threatens their stability, and soon, those prophecies came true.
2 Kings 17-18 tells of Assyria’s conquering of Israel in the north. This happened around 722 BCE. Judah, the kingdom to the south, lasted for another 150 years as a state heavily reliant upon Egypt until, Nebuchadnezzar’s armies from Babylon conquered Jerusalem in 587 BCE. You can read about that in 2nd Kings 24.
Think about it this way. Saul arose as king just before 1000 BCE, and that kingdom remained united only under David and Solomon, who died about 930 BCE. For most of Israel’s history, it lived this split existence. They suffered under the pride of kings who didn’t seek God and so the people soon followed suit, until no one remembered that their strength came not from human armies or rulers, but from the Lord.
Section 4: What Does This Mean?
Answer these questions:
- What’s the big deal with idolatry?
- If they weren’t a united kingdom for all that long, why does it matter?
- What happens to the faith when the kingdoms are conquered?
In the Bible, idolatry is the treating anything other than God like it is, in fact, God. Looking to money to save us is idolatry. Looking to political rulers for divine wisdom is idolatry. Looking to military forces for strength is idolatry. And most certainly, worshiping anyone or anything other than God is idolatry. That’s a big deal because it reveals how far we are from God. It shows how little we understand or appreciate God as our creator, as our savior, and as our friend. Like any relationship, when we fail to give God credit for the wonderful, divine grace we experience in our lives and we instead attribute it to something else, we fall away from God.
While the united kingdom lasted only a little while, it reflected that connection Israel shared with the Lord. Only as Solomon began to worship other gods, which were brought into his life by his many wives, did the kingdom begin to fracture. Then, as later leaders in Israel and Judah looked to make strategic allies with other nations, they became even more enmeshed with idolatry, which led to further weakening of the kingdom. A united kingdom revealed the strength the people carried in the Lord. The separated kingdoms indicated that their trust had gone to others, and those others had betrayed them.
Fortunately, though, God remained faithful despite the disobedience of the people and their kings. In the exile, great leaders like Daniel appeared to help guide the people. God showed up to save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar when they refused to participate in his idolatry (see this fun story in Daniel 3). Prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah continued to write, reassuring the people of God’s care for them despite their circumstances. God strengthened the people around God’s written word, which was at that time taking shape as the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament). God didn’t abandon the Hebrews when they were taken away from their land and their temple. Instead, God showed up in new ways and encouraged them to remain faithful.
Section 5: Closing Prayer
Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself. We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to preach the gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.
Opening and Closing Prayers from Sundays and Seasons.com. Copyright 2017 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #25165.