Who can stand before jealousy?
1 Kings 12:1-19
Israel was defined by twelve tribes. The tribes in turn were defined by family relationships. A single family existed before there was a nation of Israel or twelve tribes. Several of the nation’s tribal jealousies had their origin in that family.
In this series of blogs we are exploring the underlying circumstances and events that gave cause to the division of the kingdom of Israel in to the Northern and Southern kingdoms under the rule of Rehoboam. The establishment of Israel as a kingdom was prophetically foretold and was part of God’s redemptive outreach to the nations of the world. In the last two blogs we investigated how the reasons behind Israel’s request for a king aggrieved God. They wanted to change their fortunes, but they blamed the governmental system instead of their own unfaithfulness. Where Israel was to be the model of God’s liberating rulership to other nations, they looked toward the pagan nations for solutions (1 Sam. 8:5). What Samuel foresaw (1 Sam. 8:17), occurred during the reign of Rehoboam: that having a king like the other nations would lead to the exploitation of the people. In the following two blogs we are going to look at how tribal jealousy and sectionalism contributed to the division of the kingdom. Tribal jealously and sectionalism are interrelated, yet slightly different[i]. Tribal jealousy is the destructive envy between the individual tribes where their own self-interests were strived for at the cost of national unity. Sectionalism accentuates how the national policies of the kingdom favoured the Southern tribes as a grouping over the Northern tribes. In this blog we will consider how familial jealously festered as a sickness amongst the tribes, while in the next blog we will examine how governmental policies divided the nation into two opposing Northern and Southern segments.
The Northern tribes responded to Rehoboam’s rejection by declaring: “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!” (1 Kings 12:16). The rebelling ten tribes questioned their hereditary portion within the house of Jesse’s son in an undignified manner. They chose to leave the house of David behind in order to look after their own tribal houses. Their rally cry echoed Sheba’s identical rally cry in his attempted revolt against David (2 Sam. 20:1). This similarity points towards a deeply entrenched resentment[ii]. The twelve tribes were jealous for their own self-interest and independence[iii]. The tribes were only a political unity during the rule of three kings and as tribal units there were plenty of self-regarding interests to cause division. Skilfulness and determination from an astute leader during times of combined prosperity created unity in the past[iv]. However Rehoboam’s unwise actions brought the long existed jealousies between the tribes to the surface. The unequal distribution of privilege and resources under Solomon revived old jealousies and rivalries. National unity and harmony broke down because the Northern tribes sensed that they were discriminated against by the tribe of Judah[v]. The Northern tribes were also jealous over the pre-eminence of the tribe of Judah[vi]. These inter-tribal jealousies were born out of the blood relations that formed the nation of Israel. The whole political system was built upon kinship.
The long genealogies found in the bible do not only describe long lists of blood relationships, but reflected the established economic, social, financial and power stations within the nation[vii]. Israel was defined as a nation through the constituting twelve tribes. The tribes in turn were defined by family relationships. The story of Israel is therefore rooted in the histories of these collective families[viii]. In order to understand tribal alliances and jealousies, one needs to understand the family relations that gave rise to it. A single family existed before there was a nation of Israel or twelve tribes[ix]. Several of the nation’s tribal jealousies had their origin in the family of Jacob. Some of the later tribal allegiances and outlooks found their cause in the competitive nature of the relationships between the children of Leah and Rachel. Judah whose offspring became Israel’s royal family was the son of Leah. Jeroboam the new king of the North was the offspring of Ephraim, who was the grandchild of Rachel. All of these rivalries were based upon actual past human behaviour. These foundational family conflicts were the seeds of the divided kingdom[x]. There was no unity among the children of Jacob. Twelve sons from four mothers competing for the attention of one father gave cause amongst the brothers for behaviour that promoted self-interest above family harmony[xi].
Genesis 29-30 records how Jacob loved the younger and attractive Rachel more than the older and less attractive Leah. Both wives’ competition for Jacob’s affection turned into a rivalry in fertility. They included their maidservants in their rivalry to produce children. It is a tale of envy, jealousy, selfishness, greed, manipulation and disappointment in the struggle for Jacob’s love. Jacob actively contributed to the family’s rivalry by favouring Rachel and her children above the other mothers and children. This can be seen when Jacob was in fear of retribution from Esau when he returned from Aram (Gen. 33:1-2). Fearing Esau and his four hundred men he used his other family members as a human shield before his beloved Rachel and Joseph. Jacob’s favouritism was apparent and entrenched simmering jealousies amongst family members. From the early age of seventeen Joseph was in a literal reading of the original Hebrew, tending or acting as shepherd over his brothers in the flock[xii]. Joseph was given authority as an overseer over his brothers and more particularly the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah (Gen. 37:2). The special coat Jacob gave Joseph was one that signified a position of authority and preference (Gen. 37:3)[xiii]. Reuben forfeited his right of the first-born due to his sin with Bilhah (Gen. 35:22), while Simeon and Levi brought dishonour to the family due to the slaughter of Shechem’s men (Gen. 34). Joseph as the firstborn of Jacob’s beloved Rachel was given Reuben’s birth right (1 Chron. 5:1-2). Jacob accepted Joseph’s two sons as his own (Gen. 48:5) and therefore gives Joseph a double portion of inheritance[xiv]. Jacob’s land in Shechem was also given to Joseph (Gen. 48:21-22). The toxicity of Jacob’s family relationship is revealed in the callousness with which Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and the apparent delight they took in reporting his loss to their father.
Jacob prophetically foresaw that Judah would be the future kingly tribe (Gen. 49). Three instances of bloody strife between the tribes during their wanderings in the wilderness (Ex. 32:26-29, Num. 16:1-4; 32-35; 17:6-15; 25) are recorded in the Bible. The tribes of Israel showed a proclivity for brotherly strife[xv]. An indication of the changing tribal ascendancy was that during the wilderness wanderings Judah fronted the tribal groupings while the tribes of Joseph’s two sons made up the rear (Num. 2). During the period of the judges there were two instances when the tribe of Ephraim complained that they were not invited by the other tribes to share in the potential territorial spoils of war (Jdg. 8:1-3; 12:1-6)[xvi]. Inter-tribal resentment became more violent (Jdg. 9:1-57; 10:1-12:7) and unity more instable (Jdg. 15:9-17) and the historical account ends with a bloody inter-tribal war (Jdg. 20:1-21:12)[xvii]. Before the time of the kingdom the tribe of Ephraim had control of the Ark of the Covenant (Jdg. 18:31; 1 Sam 1:3) and the last judge Samuel was an Ephraimite. Saul the first king was from the tribe of Benjamin, a tribe nearly annihilated in the last war between the tribes (Jdg. 20:1-21:12). Jealous rivalry between Judah and Ephraim worsened under the reigns of the Judahite kings of David and Solomon[xviii].
David attempted to induce trust amongst the Northern tribes after a long war between the Northern and Southern tribes (2 Sam. 3:1). He approached the men of Jabesh-Gilead (2 Sam. 2:5-7) to secure their support. He married Maachah (2 Sam. 3:3) in order to seal a political treaty which affected the North[xix]. David’s alliance with Abner (2 Sam. 3:20-21) and the very public humiliation of Ish-Bosheth’s killers (2 Sam. 4:12) secured the Northern tribes’ support of his reign. Solomon during his reign reawakened Northern jealousies. He gave Judah tax-free status (1 Kings 4) and appointed Judahites or people sympathetic to their cause as district administrators (1 Kings 4:11-16). Solomon conscripted forced labour from the North, but concentrated all of his building projects in the South[xx]. Jeroboam an Ephraimite represented the flare-up of the Northern jealousies against an unsympathetic Judahite king Rehoboam (1 Kings 12). The writer of Proverbs wonders, “…who can stand before jealousy?”(Prov. 27:4). From our discussion of Israel’s tribal jealousies, it is clear that a kingdom of Israel could not stand against jealousy. The jealousies of the tribal forefathers lived amongst the tribes they birthed. These jealousies were foundational to the causes of the division of the Israel’s kingdom. It is therefore clear that jealousy is poisonous to the harmony, unity, prosperity and survival of God’s Kingdom community.
[i] (Brindle 1984:226)
[ii] (Nyirimana 210:257)
[iii] (McClain 1968:103)
[iv] (Keener 1993:na)
[v] (Nyirimana 210:257)
[vi] (Brindle 1984:232)
[vii] (Matthews 2003:291)
[viii] (Books 2005:967)
[ix] (Oden 1983:200)
[x] (Nyirimana 210:257)
[xi] (Fischer 2002:354)
[xii] (Bush 1979:220)
[xiii] (Keener 1993:na)
[xiv] (Fischer 2002:354)
[xv] (Birnbaum 2008:110)
[xvi] (Fischer 2002:354)
[xvii] (Hobbs 2005:972)
[xviii] (Brindle 1984:226)
[xix] (McKenzie 2005:213)
[xx] (Brindle 1984:226)
Birnbaum, A. 2008. “Fraternal strife in the Bible.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 36(2):108-117.
Books, Dictionary o. t. O. T. H. 2005. “Tribes of Israel and land allotments/borders.” in Hess, RS, edited by BT Arnold and HGM Williamson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Brindle, W. 1984. “The Causes of the Division of Israel’s Kingdom.” Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September):223-233.
Bush, G. 1979. Notes on Genesis. Minneapolis: James Family Christian Publishers.
Fischer, S. 2002. “The Division of Israel’s Monarchy and the Political Situation of Lesotho.” Verbum et ecclesia 23:353-366.
Hobbs, TR 2005. “War and peace.” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, edited by BT Arnold and HGM Williamson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Keener, Graig S. 1993. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Matthews, VH 2003. “Family Relationship.” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, edited by TD Alexander and DW Baker. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
McClain, AJ. 1968. The Greatness of the Kingdom. Chicago: Moody Press.
McKenzie, SL 2005. “David’s family.” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, edited by BT Arnold and HGM Williamson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Nyirimana, E. 210. “The tribal dimension in the division of the Kingdom of Israel: A contextual study of 1 Kings12:1-24 from the perspective of the struggle for national unity in Rwanda.” Doctor of Philosophy, School of religion and theology, University of KwaZulu-Natal , Pietermaritzburg.
Oden, RA. 1983. “Jacob as father, husband and a nephew: Kinship studies and the patriarchal narratives.” Journal of Biblical Literature 102(2):189-205.