IN histories written by men, events are always traced to human efforts and sagacity; but in the inspired history every thing is traced to God. We always find, even in things apparently most contingent, a secret over-ruling Agent, accomplishing his own purposes of mercy or of judgment, and operating with unerring wisdom to the production of his own ends. As “every good and perfect gift” is represented as “coming from above,” so the prophet asks respecting things most calamitous, “Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it [Note: Amo_3:6.]?” In the account given us of the revolt of the ten tribes, and their establishment as a separate kingdom under Jeroboam, the proceedings of all the different parties appeared to spring wholly from themselves: but God says of the whole together, “This thing is from me.” We will,
Confirm this assertion—
We will begin with stating what was “the thing” here referred to—
[After the death of Solomon, the different tribes assembled at Shechem, to acknowledge Rehoboam as his successor to the throne. But previous to their investing him with regal authority, they sought from him a promise that he would lighten their burthens, and redress their grievances. That they had been aggrieved and burthened in some degree, we may easily conceive; because the keeping of seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, together with the building of temples for them all, and maintaining of worship for so many idols, in addition to all the expenses of his own government, must have necessitated Solomon to lay heavy taxes upon his subjects. But still the taxes were not such an intolerable grievance, when it is considered how much wealth Solomon had brought into the kingdom, and what peace and prosperity they had enjoyed during the whole of his reign. Had they complained of the licentiousness and idolatry which Solomon had introduced, and sought the removal of those great abuses, they would have acted well: but it was not about God’s honour that they were concerned; they regarded nothing but their own interests: and, like the generality of discontented patriots, they overlooked all the blessings they had enjoyed under his government, and were unreasonably clamorous about the taxes levied for its support.
Rehoboam took three days to consider of the proposal; and by this delay he at once discovered his unwillingness to comply with their wishes, and gave them time to form and mature a conspiracy against him. He first consulted the old men, who had been his father’s counsellors; but, not relishing their sage advice, he consulted his own young companions; who recommended rather a system of intimidation: this was more congenial with his own pride; but it exasperated to the utmost those whom by conciliatory measures he might easily have won [Note: ver. 5–14.].
The event was such as might have been foreseen: the ten tribes would no longer acknowledge any allegiance to the house of David, but appointed a king of their own, even Jeroboam, whom they had sent for out of Egypt, to be an head, or centre of union to them, on the present emergency [Note: ver. 2, 3.]. The contemptuous way in which they spake of David was most ungrateful, seeing that his whole life had been spent in their service [Note: ver. 16.]: but past obligations weigh but little with men irritated by a sense of present injuries.
The mode adopted to appease their minds, was no less absurd than the measure by which they had been incensed. Rehpboam sent Adoram, his tax-gatherer, the most obnoxious of all persons, to confer with them: but him they immediately stoned to death [Note: ver. 18.].
Rehoboam then fled to Jerusalem, and raised a large army of a hundred and eighty thousand men from among the two remaining tribes, to reduce the rebels by force: but God sent a prophet to him, and to the whole army, forbidding them to proceed, and declaring that the whole matter had been ordered by God himself: “Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up nor fight against your brethren, the children of Israel: return every man to his own house; for this thing it from me.”]
That this thins was from God, we now proceed to shew—
[Hitherto nothing had appeared to be from God, except the sending of a prophet to declare his will respecting the prosecution of the war: but the whole was really of God, in its rise, its progress, and its termination.
From God it took its rise. On account of Solomon’s transgressions, God declared to Solomon himself that he would rend the ten tribes out of the hand of his son, and give them to his servant [Note: 1Ki_11:11-13.]. He sent also a prophet to Jeroboam, to announce to him, by a very expressive emblem, that ten of the tribes should be taken from Solomon on account of his iniquities, and be given to him [Note: 1Ki_11:26-35.]. These matters were well known to all Israel; for Solomon had on this account sought to kill Jeroboam [Note: 1Ki_11:40.]; and constrained him to flee to Egypt for protection: and from thence had the ten tribes sent for him as soon as Solomon was dead. Jeroboam was indeed of an ambitious turn of mind, particularly after he had been raised by Solomon from a low station to a place of great honour and authority [Note: 1Ki_11:37.]; but it was the declaration of God’s purpose that called it forth into activity, and directed all the ten tribes to look to him as their future head.
Every step of its progress must also be traced to the same source. The complaints of the tribes, and the infatuation of the young monarch, might be supposed to originate wholly with themselves, and to spring entirely from the discontent of the one, and from the other’s pride: and it is true, that God did not infuse these evil dispositions into their minds: but it is also true that he suffered these dispositions to rage, and the collision to arise, on purpose that he might accomplish his own purposes by them. This is expressly asserted in the history before us: “The king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform hit saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat [Note: ver. 15.]”
That its termination was from him is plainly declared in the words of our text; “This thing (from first to last) is from me:” and, that it was from him, he shewed, by constraining Rehoboam, and the whole army that he had raised, to acquiesce immediately in the loss they had sustained, and to rest satisfied with having all the other tribes for rivals and enemies, whom hitherto they had had for friends and brethren.
Now this kind of statement is by no means uncommon in the Holy Scriptures. God is often represented as overruling both men and devils for the accomplishment of his own purposes. God had determined to deliver the Amorites into the hand of Israel, though he would not deliver into their hand either Moab or Edom. Hence he influenced the minds of both the Moabites and Edomites to supply his people with food for money, that they might be spared; and equally influenced the minds of the Amorites to refuse that succour, that they might be destroyed [Note: Deu_2:28-30.]. In like manner he left king Amaziah to disregard the warnings of the prophet, whom he had sent to remonstrate with him about his idolatries; “because God had determined to destroy him [Note: 2Ch_25:14-16.].” The agency of evil spirits is also sometimes called in for the same end. In the case of Ahab, a whole host of them were permitted of God to stimulate the false prophets to give such counsel to Ahab as should infallibly terminate in his ruin [Note: 1Ki_22:22-23.]. In a word, the whole conspiracy of Jews and Gentiles against our blessed Lord, under the same infallible direction, accomplished in every particular, “what God’s hand and his counsel had determined before to be done [Note: Act_4:27-28.].” The doctrine of our text therefore, though strange at first sight, is no other than what the Scriptures plainly and universally assert.]
Let us then proceed to,
Make some reflections upon it—
In contemplating Jehovah as he is represented in this place, we must of necessity observe,
How sovereign his power!
[God gave the kingdom to Saul; then rent it from him, and gave it to David and Solomon; then reduced it to two tribes only, in the hands of Rehoboam, giving the other ten to Jeroboam. In all this he acted sovereignly, disposing of it according to the counsel of his own will. And thus he does in all the kingdoms upon earth [Note: Dan_2:21.]: “He doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou [Note: Dan_4:17; Dan_4:35.]?” Nor is this true in reference to kingdoms only: he disposes equally of families and individuals; “He is the judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another [Note: Psa_75:7.].”
How effectually does this consideration cut off all occasion for pride in those who are elevated, and for complaint in those that are debased! for as, on the one hand, “they who have received a gift can never reasonably boast as if they had not received it,” so, on the other hand, every sufferer must say, “I was still and opened not my mouth, because them didst it.” Seeing then of what practical use this reflection is, let us recur to it on all occasions, for the humbling of our minds in prosperity, and the quieting of them in adversity.]
How mysterious his influence!
[In all the circumstances before mentioned, the different persons acted freely; and yet, as we have seen, were overruled by God in every step they took. How incomprehensible is this to our finite understandings! We know not how spirit acts upon matter; how then can we expect to know in what manner the Spirit of God acts upon our spirits! Yet if we know from experience that our own spirit does assuredly act upon our material body, we may be equally assured, upon the testimony of God, that there is a spiritual influence exercised by him upon the mind of his people. There is indeed a considerable difference between the mode in which that is exercised towards the godly, and the ungodly: in influencing the ungodly, he merely gives scope for the exercise of dispositions which already exist in their own minds; but, in influencing the godly, he first infuses holy dispositions into their minds, and then calls forth those dispositions into exercise by the operation of his own grace, exciting and strengthening the soul for the duties to which it is called.
Do we not then see, that God only is to be feared? that, if we secure his favour, not all the universe can hurt us? Let a Laban, or an Esau, come forth against us, God can restrain his rage [Note: Gen_31:29; Gen_33:1; Gen_33:4.], and make “the wrath of man to praise him:” or let an enraged army determine to destroy us, he can by a single word assuage their malice, and avert the storm. “The hearts of kings are in his hand as the rivers of water, and he turneth them whithersoever he will [Note: Pro_21:1. If this were a subject for the Fifth of November, it might here be shewn in what a mysterious way God preserved our nation from the plot that had been formed for its destruction.].” “If therefore God be for us, we may be sure that none can be against us.”]
How sure his word!
[In the instance before us it was fulfilled, notwithstanding all the parties strove to counteract it. The ten tribes would have submitted to Rehoboam’s yoke, if only he had spoken kindly to them at first: they had no design in the first instance to separate from him. The advice of the young men was given with a view to keep the people in subjection by fear: and the determination of the army was to reduce them by force. Thus all endeavoured to preserve the kingdom entire; yet all were accessory to the division of it. Thus shall every word of God be fulfilled in its season. If that did not fail which depended, so to speak, on the voluntary actions of men, much less shall that which shall be executed by God alone. He has told us that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven;” but that “the wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the people that forget God:” and shall either of those declarations fall to the ground? No; not a jot or tittle of them shall ever fail. O that we may be wise, and learn to “tremble at the word of God,” whilst yet we may escape his threatenings, and secure the possession of his promised inheritance!]