The Bearer of Bad News

1 At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick. And Jeroboam said to his wife, “Arise, and disguise yourself, that it not be known that you are the wife of Jeroboam, and go to Shiloh. Behold, Ahijah the prophet is there, who said of me that I should be king over this people. Take with you ten loaves, some cakes, and a jar of honey, and go to him. He will tell you what shall happen to the child.”

Jeroboam’s wife did so. She arose and went to Shiloh and came to the house of Ahijah. Now Ahijah could not see, for his eyes were dim because of his age. And the Lord said to Ahijah, “Behold, the wife of Jeroboam is coming to inquire of you concerning her son, for he is sick. Thus and thus shall you say to her.”

When she came, she pretended to be another woman. But when Ahijah heard the sound of her feet, as she came in at the door, he said, “Come in, wife of Jeroboam. Why do you pretend to be another? For I am charged with unbearable news for you. Go, tell Jeroboam, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: “Because I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over my people Israel and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, and yet you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes, but you have done evil above all who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back, 10 therefore behold, I will bring harm upon the house of Jeroboam and will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will burn up the house of Jeroboam, as a man burns up dung until it is all gone. 11 Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat, for the Lord has spoken it.”’ 12 Arise therefore, go to your house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die. 13 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 something pleasing to the Lord, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam. 14 Moreover, the Lord will raise up for himself a king over Israel who shall cut off the house of Jeroboam today. And henceforth, 15 the Lord will strike Israel as a reed is shaken in the water, and root up Israel out of this good land that he gave to their fathers and scatter them beyond the Euphrates, because they have made their Asherim, provoking the Lord to anger. 16 And he will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and made Israel to sin.”

17 Then Jeroboam’s wife arose and departed and came to Tirzah. And as she came to the threshold of the house, the child died. 18 And all Israel buried him and mourned for him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by his servant Ahijah the prophet. 1 Kings 14:1-18 ESV

God had spoken His word of judgment against the false gods of Israel, and He had used a young, unnamed prophet to deliver it. This unidentified servant of God had spoken his divine message directly to the altar itself. In the presence of King Jeroboam and the people of Israel, he had addressed the sacred site itself, the place they had set up to worship and seek the favor of their man-made god. This shrine was located in the city of Bethel, in the southern region of the land belonging to the ten tribes. And Jeroboam had constructed a second altar just like it in the northern city of Dan. In order to keep his people from returning to Judah to offer sacrifices to Yahweh at the temple in Jerusalem, he had provided them with two new and more convenient worship sites. But these alternate sites and the altars they contained were adorned with golden calves, the man-made symbols of Jeroboam’s made-up gods. So, God had His prophet deliver a stinging indictment against one of these pseudo-sacred sites.

“O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.” – 1 Kings 13:2 NLT

Even these inanimate places of worship would be judged by God for the role they played in Israel’s apostasy. These carefully constructed sites made of handcrafted stones would end up desecrated and dishonored. And the golden idols to which they were dedicated would be exposed for what they were: lifeless and powerless lumps of metal. The psalmist sardonically described the utter futility of these false gods.

Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

And because Jeroboam had been the one responsible for the creation of these altars and the gods they contained, he too would experience the judgment of God. While he had been forced to stand and watch as the prophet destroyed one of his sacred shrines, he had walked away unscathed. He was still the king and his life went on just as it had before. After ordering the reconstruction of the altar, Jeroboam went about his business and soon forgot all that had happened at Bethel. But God had not forgotten the sins of Jeroboam.

Somewhere along the way, Jeroboam’s wife gave birth to a son, ensuring that he would have an heir to his throne who would perpetuate his dynasty. But this joy was soon overshadowed by the news that Jeroboam’s son had become seriously ill. Concerned for his son’s health and his dynasty’s future, Jeroboam sent his wife to ask the prophet Ahijah for a divine prognosis. He wanted to know if his son would live or die.

Even though she had disguised herself to avoid being recognized as the king’s wife, the old and blind prophet knew who she was as soon as she walked in the door. Ahijah had been given a divine “heads-up,” informing him of her visit and its purpose.

“Jeroboam’s wife will come here, pretending to be someone else. She will ask you about her son, for he is very sick. Give her the answer I give you.” – 1 Kings 14:5 NLT

And as soon as this worried and grieving mother walked in the door, she was met with devastating news. Before she could speak a word, the prophet delivered a message of divine judgment against the house of Jeroboam. The woman who had delivered to Jeroboam an heir to his throne would now be charged with delivering to him a message of his dynasty’s destruction.

“Give your husband, Jeroboam, this message from the Lord, the God of Israel:…I will bring disaster on your dynasty and will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. I will burn up your royal dynasty as one burns up trash until it is all gone. – 1 Kings 14:7, 10 NLT

And the prophet made sure she understood that her husband’s reign had been a gift from God. It had been God who had “ripped the kingdom away from the family of David” and given it to Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:8 NLT). And Jeroboam had returned the favor by turning his back on God and causing the ten northern tribes to worship false gods. Just as God had predicted the future destruction of Jeroboam’s altars, He now decreed the destruction of Jeroboam’s heirs.

“The members of Jeroboam’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures. I, the Lord, have spoken.” – 1 Kings 14:11 NLT

And much to his wife’s dismay, it would all begin with the death of his son.

“Go on home, and when you enter the city, the child will die. – 1 Kings 14:12 NLT

It’s impossible to fathom the level of grief this woman felt upon hearing this devastating news. In just a matter of minutes, she had been informed that her entire world was about to collapse. Her husband’s kingdom was going to be destroyed and her young son was going to die. And the prophet had made it painfully clear that it was all her husband’s fault. The message she had been given to deliver to Jeroboam left no doubts as to his culpability and sole responsibility for all that was about to happen.

“…you have not been like my servant David, who obeyed my commands and followed me with all his heart and always did whatever I wanted. You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made other gods for yourself and have made me furious with your gold calves.” – 1 Kings 14:8-9 NLT

But while this poor woman was still trying to process all that she had heard, Ahijah continued to deliver more bad news.

“In addition, the Lord will raise up a king over Israel who will destroy the family of Jeroboam. This will happen today, even now! – 1 Kings 14:14 NLT

Jeroboam’s sin was going to have long-lasting consequences. His decision to lead the people of Israel into apostasy would be replicated by his successors, creating a lengthy lineage of spiritual adulterers among God’s chosen people. He had set the tone for their future rebellion, ensuring their eventual removal from the land of promise and their exile “beyond the Euphrates River” (1 Kings 14:15 NLT). Centuries later, God would use the nation of Assyria as His agents of judgment against the people of Israel. In 722 BC, this pagan nation conquered the northern kingdom and turned the chosen people of God into slaves. But it would be 210 years before this devastating event took place. In the meantime, the kings of Israel would follow the pattern established by Jeroboam, leading the people of God into increasing rebellion and wickedness.

But at this point in the story, Jeroboam remains on the throne of Israel. For the moment, God allows him to maintain his kingdom, but the die has been cast. The damage has been done and the judgment of God has been decreed.

And when Jeroboam’s poor wife returned home, the message of the prophet was confirmed.

“…as she came to the threshold of the house, the child died.” – 1 Kings 14:17 ESV

The judgment of God had begun.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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