Friday of Week 5 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 11:29-32; 12:19

The prophecy made in the time of Solomon is now being carried out. Solomon has died and his son Rehoboam wants to take over the throne. But, as we saw, God was greatly displeased with the idolatrous behaviour of Solomon and would deny the kingdom to his son.

Instead, Jeroboam, a former servant in Solomon’s court, will become the ruler and Rehoboam will be rejected by the people. Jeroboam was from Ephraim and, as a resourceful and rich young man who impressed Solomon, he had been put in charge of the whole labour force of the tribe of Joseph.

In today’s reading, as Jeroboam is leaving Jerusalem, he meets with the prophet Ahijah. There are just the two of them present and the prophet is wearing a new cloak. Then, in a highly symbolic gesture, he indicates what is going to happen (it is not unusual in the Old Testament for prophets to make statements by symbolic actions which are not only meaningful, but produce actual results – see Jeremiah 18:11).

Ahijah takes his new cloak and cuts it into twelve pieces. At the same time, he tells Jeroboam that the kingdom is being taken from Solomon and ten of the tribes of Israel (each one was named after one of the 12 sons of Jacob) and will be given to Jeroboam. They will form what will be known as the Northern Kingdom (called Israel or Ephraim).

The two remaining pieces represent just one tribe left for Solomon’s successor, namely, Judah which had absorbed Simeon. They would become the Southern Kingdom (or Judah). In fact, his division goes back to the time of the Judges, but under David and Solomon the two territories had become temporarily united. Now they were splitting again – and for good.

The reason that part of Solomon’s kingdom will remain within his family is because of God’s loyalty to David and also for the sake of Jerusalem, which was in the territory of Judah. It was God’s chosen city, the city of David and the place where his earthly presence was symbolised in the Temple.

It is not in our reading but Ahijah goes on to give the reasons why most of Solomon’s kingdom is being taken from his family and his immediate successor. It was because of Solomon’s worshipping of false gods and departing from the statutes that had been so faithfully observed by his father, David. Nevertheless, Solomon would be allowed to keep his throne up to his death and then one tribe would be given to his son to rule over. And, if Jeroboam is faithful in his service of Yahweh, God will be with him. He will have a lasting dynasty and it will be the kingdom of Israel.

When Solomon heard about this, he regarded Jeroboam as a rebel and a threat to his rule. Jeroboam was forced to flee in exile to the royal court of Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Solomon.

This spelt the end of David’s kingdom, but it will be resurrected – in a very different way – with the coming of Jesus.

Today we have to acknowledge that, in a way, the kingdom of Jesus is divided into many factions, both within the Catholic Church and between many Christian denominations. It is surely not his will as expressed in Jesus’ prayer to his Father at the Last Supper:

I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that…they may be one, as we are one…that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
(John 17:20-23)

Let none of us be a source of division in our own church or parish, or in our relations with Christians of other denominations. Let there be for all of us, one Lord and one Shepherd.

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