I Kings 12
A couple of months ago my husband mentioned that his eyes probably needed to be reevaluated for new glasses and contacts. He was having trouble focusing on the books he needed to study, newspaper, signs in the distance, etc. Obviously some changes were occurring within the focusing mechanisms of both his eyes - one more so than the other. He made a few more references to the need, and late in September he called me at home to have me put it on the family calendar that he had an appointment October 15 to get his eyes checked. Great.
In the meantime, he was getting crankier and crankier. Initially I had chalked it up to the fact that Angelique had left home for college and empty nest syndrome. But it really lasted too long for that. Eventually I made the connection that it was his struggle with the eyes focusing that was the underlying cause for his crankiness. It was a great strain for him to study, perform necessary tasks for his patients, read the newspaper, sing from song books in church, etc. (He never complained about working on the computer.) The strain was taking its toll. To interrupt him while he was straining to focus was taking a chance that you would get emotionally bitten. The crankiness even bled over to when he was not having to strain to focus. I began counting the days until that appointment on October 15. Sure enough, since his contacts and glasses have been changed, he is his usual self again. We no longer have to walk around on pins and needles when he is around.
Losing focus can be a scarey thing. It is frightening to face a world that is blurred. Edges that were once as clear as black and white, become multiple shades of gray. The edge is lost. Uncertainties abound. Self doubt sets in. Judgement is impaired. What once seemed sure and solid now is only as solid as quicksand. Meaning and understanding is lost. When reminded that a decision has to be made, the unfocused become agitated as they strive to make sense out of the senseless. And as they are straining to focus on what is in front of them, what is approaching from the blind side?
Leaders can lose focus as well as individuals. Issues become blurred. Things that earlier had a straight, well-defined edge now need to be considered and debated. Heated arguments become the norm. In trying to make sense out of a mess in front of him, the leader loses sight of the main issue. It happened to Solomon. Leading his people and the kingdom in their dedication to God got lost, as he tried to focus on wisdom and wealth that he did so well. The edges of his dedication to God became blurred as he tried to do the politically correct things with the neighboring countries, marrying foreign princesses and honoring their religions. As Solomon had more and more eyes for the women in his life, he had less and less eyes for God.
The price of that loss of sight was the United Kingdom. The unity of the kingdom of Judah had always been shaky. The tribes grumbled and complained about each other 400 years earlier in their wanderings in the wilderness. Moses struggled to keep them focused on the Lord. Joshua faced the same problem as they took possession of the Promised Land. He managed to divide up the land among the tribes even while they were complaining about each other. During the next 300 years of judges no one even attempted to keep the tribes united. The tribes usually fended for themselves. King Saul and King David kept the tribes united with their military might. The building program that Solomon initiated greatly benefitted the tribe of Judah, where the temple and palace were located, at the expense of the other tribes.
Rehoboam makes the fatal mistake of trying to follow in his dad's footsteps and taxes the people more than they can withstand. The ten northern tribes will not give any more to the glory of Jerusalem and this new king from the tribe of Judah. King David has been dead for forty years and the new generation of tribal leaders saw no reason to pay homage and money to the South. Just put the blinders on and don't look at the fact that God chose Jerusalem and the lineage of David to lead his people and ultimately bless the whole world. They want to focus on their own needs to their own glory, and Jeroboam is happy to lead them. Unfortunately, he will lead them straight into apostasy, all the while claiming to clearly see what they need - their own place and manner to worship, their own priests, their own gods.
Satan is happy. In his eyes, he has won a major battle. He has managed to avert the leaders' attention away from God. With the nation divided, the two smaller nations are now vulnerable to the surrounding nations. From now on, both nations will harass each other and be harassed by others. The subsequent leaders will struggle to keep their kingdoms intact. The leadership of the northern kingdom of Israel will never try to focus on the God who led them out of Egyptian slavery and gave them their promised land. Of no use to Him now, in about 200 years God will eventually allow these people to be carried off into Assyrian slavery. As a nation, they will not recover.
A handful of kings from the southern kingdom of Judah will manage to shift the country's focus back to God from time to time. A remnant of this tribe will always remain faithful to God even when they become captives in the foreign land of Babylonia. God will preserve the Abraham/Davidic lineage that He has promised will bless the world with a new King and Kingdom for all time. This remnant will return and rebuild the nation and the worship of Jehovah God.
Where are the heros in this story? Not Rehoboam. God granted him leadership of Judah for David's sake, not his own. Not Jeroboam. Northern Israel chose a leader that would antagonize the new king and the exiled leader Jeroboam was just the man for that job.
The heros in this story are the obscure. While the writers of the books of Kings and the books of Chronicles focus on the two kings and the kingdoms, it is easy to overlook those Israelites from northern Israel who left their precious inherited land, their job, and their income to move to the southern kingdom of Judah. While their neighbors are trying to function in an out-of-focus kingdom, they journey to where they can keep their focus. Where right and wrong are still black and white. They flee from the evil of Satan, not to a paradise, but to imperfect Judah where they could keep their lives in focus on God and His will. In the coming lessons we will learn of some other heros - the faithful who at this time remain in the North attempting to influence the leaders of that rebellious nation. The prophets Elijah and Elisha will shine like beacons to us and to the weary while the leaders and their neighbors will see them as out of focus in the real world.
A clear focus is a blessing. We appreciate all of our senses, but it is likely that the last sense you would wish to lose would be your sight. We rely heavily on the information that we receive from our eyes. There is much to fear in what we cannot see. Distortions can be just as devastating. Would you want to ride in a car with a driver to whom the edge of the road or the center line is distorted?
When putting other things before God, the cares of the world can distort a Christian's vision just as it did Solomon's and Rehoboam's. And refusing to look to God can blind a person to God's blessings, as it did Jeroboam who did what was right in his own eyes. And just like the gods that he was worshiping, he had eyes, but he sees not (Psalm 135:16). He became spiritually blind.
Does one always know when one is spiritually blind or cranky because they are straining to keep focused? Jesus told the Revelator, "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see." (Revelation 3:17-18.)
We must take care of our eyesight. In Matthew 6:22 and 23, Jesus says,"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness."
How do we keep the eye sound, full of light and maintaining the right focus?
"To thee I lift up my eyes." Psalm 123:1. Look to God and His word for His guidance. Be ever alert to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life that tend to distort the focus and change the focus. We are even instructed to pluck out the eye if it leads us astray (Matthew 18:9). We are to identify and avoid destructive distractions and destructive instructions. The only way to know if instructions are destructive is to look to God and His word.
Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight." Solomon said we must acknowledge God in all our ways, turning every area of life over to Him. Jesus emphasized this truth in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness." Turn to God first for help, to fill your thoughts with His desires, His character for your pattern. Turn your eyes to Him and focus on His omnipotence, His love, mercy, and grace and His word for guidance. It is the only way we can truly follow Him on the straight path.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR