1 Kings 12: A Sermon on White Privilege (Part Two)

Preface: This is a sermon I delivered at Echo Church on July 10, 2016 (you can listen to it here). I’m publishing my manuscript here as it could prove useful to Christians investigating this subject. I never intend my sermon notes for publication, so there is no citation of the research provided here. All of the factual claims here are the result of research and, to the best of my knowledge, all of this material can be easily cited; I haven’t yet taken the time to provide it here. Part One is available here. 

Last week, in our examination of the first part of 1 Kings 12, we noted that the son of Solomon, a forty-something king named Rehoboam, was petulant when the majority of his followers asked for relief from the harshness of his father. Instead of mercy, he spoke of his manliness and uttered threats that led to the division of a nation. This map shows what became of the land of Israel about 1,000 before Jesus was born; the northern tribes of Israel split, leaving the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin remaining. Immediately after this incident, the northern tribes appointed their own king, a man we briefly mentioned last week. His name was Jeroboam. And it’s the plight of this young ruler that will give us the basis for our teaching this morning.

You need to understand that the Lord, in his omniscience, knew exactly how things would progress—that Rehoboam would prove pig-headed and the kingdom would split. So before this even happened, he spoke to Jeroboam through a prophet to tell him that he would soon become a king himself. Most importantly, Jeroboam received a personal promise from the Lord that would secure his future.

1 Kings 11:38
If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. 

This is the IF/THEN scenario we described when starting this study that typifies the Old Testament expectations of God for his people. The Lord asks for our obedience and promises that we will experience blessings if we do. This is not to say that we’ll gain temporal glory—that our worldly lives will be perfect—but that our eternity will be altered. His words to his people, as well to us, are simple: JUST TRUST ME AND I WILL GET YOU THROUGH.

Again, this promise is given even before Jeroboam is given the monarchy of the northern kingdom. So he is given what is biblically known as a fleece, or an opportunity to test to see if the Lord is to be trusted. Sure enough, Solomon’s son Rehoboam practices poor judgment and the kingdom splits as a result. Jeroboam now knows that the Lord is behind him, that his Word is good, and that if he merely follows the Lord, he will be blessed.

While the promise from the Lord was clear, it never sees fulfillment. It is rendered useless when the young man’s faith fails.

1 Kings 12:26,27
Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”

The imagination of Jeroboam runs away from him, and he’s already concerned that his newly formed kingdom is destined for dissolution. Verse 26 contains a statement of pure speculation: “will now likely.” It’s concern over something that hasn’t even happened that moves Jeroboam to make a critical mistake. Even though the God of the Universe promised him that he would have an eternal dynasty, he essential fears the masses maintaining a relationship with the Lord. If you look at a map, you could see the source of his paranoia. The southern portion of his kingdom was very close to the capital of Jerusalem. If the people worshipped at the southern capital, they might eventually turn their allegiance away from Jeroboam.

What we witness here is the abandonment of the king’s trust in the Lord. Rather than believe the promise of the one who gave him the keys of a kingdom, Jeroboam opened up his mind to what COULD LIKELY happen, and this was the emotion that carried the day. In short, it was his insecurity, his hesitancy about his position in God’s plan that led to his fear. And because he was afraid, he reacted in a cowardly manner.

1 Kings 12:28-30
After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.

Last week, we noted that Rehoboam took poor advice, and Jeroboam makes a similar mistake. Instead of trusting that the people could worship the Lord in Judah’s capital while he remained on the throne, the king sought to retain human control by altering their religion. He looked at the map and chose a city to the northern edge of his kingdom (Dan), at the foot of a mountain, where the most separated residents, could easily access an altar. The second location was even more strategic. Bethel was the most ancient location of worship for Israel, a place honored by the patriarch Abraham. This would have been a location along the route to Jerusalem, perhaps even enticing some of the people from Judah to worship there.

The verbiage Jeroboam used is patterned along another famous call to worship to his ancestors, found in the incident when Moses was on Mt Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God and the Israelites lost all patience and created a golden calf. The pagan leaders stated in Exodus 32:4,

 “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

 The young king, rather than following the Lord’s decrees, decided to walk in the ways of the rebellious Israelites in the wilderness who worshipped an idol.

The progression, friends, is what I’d like for us to notice. It went from INSECURITY to FEAR. Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. A few weeks ago we noted the verse that reminds us that, “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 15:1). But if we allow that fear to ferment outside of the confines of the kingdom, the results can be tragic. Here, it FEAR led to SIN.

Church, if this is the lesson of Scripture, we must head its guidance. This, I believe, can perhaps provide us some clarity and understanding our nation’s tension. How does the Bible help us synthesize these senseless deaths and our country’s issues with race and law?

In order to explain this, I need to speak to a segment with which you may or may not identify. I need to make this about white, middle-class Christians. Why? I need to set up a conversation about White Privilege.