Bible Text: 1 Kings 11–12; 2 Chronicles 33; Amos 6:1–7
Lesson Focus: When the kings and tribes of Israel were unfaithful to God, their internal conflict split the nation in two.
Big Question: Why does God let us all fight so much?
Key Words: CONFLICT, JUDAH, ISRAEL
• Solomon’s faithfulness to God, rather than his political prowess, was the measure of his success according to 1 Kings. As his reign matured, his faithfulness to God was compromised when he worshipped the idols he constructed in order to please his many foreign wives.
• The kings who followed Solomon continued the pattern of unfaithfulness to God. When some repented of their evil ways and good things resulted, the faithfulness to God did not last.
• The political stress of being a nation versus an extended family erupted in a schism between the northern and southern tribes.
• These stories reflect the chosen people’s theological struggle to make sense of the exile; written during or after the exile, these stories prefigure the exile chronologically.
• The prescientific worldview of these stories is quite different from ours. While we may identify God’s redeeming influence in retrospect, we do not generally ascribe God’s causal action to the events of our daily lives like these stories do.
• The violence and judgment in these stories are a consequence of a different worldview and the author’s agenda to emphasize the importance of faithfulness to the well-being of God’s chosen people.
There is a reason the story of God’s chosen people goes back again and again to King David as the paradigm for how a monarchy should function. After his reign, the monarchy became more and more compromised. The early theological wariness about rule by kings, eased by David temporarily, is borne out in this story of family feud and schism.
God’s chosen people were once clustered in small family groupings named after Jacob’s sons. Now they have become a nation, complete with rival tribes. Even in David’s day, the tribes who had settled in the north lived in uneasy alliance with the tribes who had settled in the south (2 Samuel 20:1–22). The family dis-ease festered during Solomon’s reign, heightened by his conscription of the northern tribes as forced labor to build the temple (1 Kings 5:13–17), but united by the vision of the Jerusalem temple. Once Solomon’s uniting presence fades, the northern tribes secede.
The text does not focus on the politics or historical markers of this event. Instead, the author focuses on the theological meaning and significance. With the hindsight of one who is charged with the task of making theological sense of the devastation of the exile, the author weaves the interpretive thread of unfaithfulness into the fabric of the story. Solomon, for so long a promising and blessed leader, drifts away from the demand to worship only Yahweh, seduced by the charms of his thousand-plus wives, who worshipped many gods.
Rehoboam, Solomon’s son and logical heir of his throne, demonstrates a stunning immaturity in his dealings with the rebellious but enslaved north. As a consequence, he is soundly rejected by the north and is relegated to rule the Southern Kingdom only. Jeroboam, originally praised by God’s prophet as the rising star of the north, ends up making idols to represent God and encouraging the people of the Northern Kingdom not to go to Jerusalem to worship. He is bitterly discarded by the story’s end. Future kings of Judah, Manasseh and Amon (2 Chronicles 33), also do much evil, and despite Manasseh’s late return to God, the nation is desperately in need of reform.
In each case, the kings fail to honor their relationship with God. Though the story is difficult to follow and God seems to direct the action to further God’s plan, it is this issue of unfaithfulness that is the common denominator in the story. If we look ahead to the events to which these stories point, the same unfaithfulness will continue to be the fundamental cause of God’s seeming abandonment of God’s people in the exile. These stories pointedly say that God’s people, by their unfaithfulness, abandoned God first. Amos, the shepherd farmer and prophet from Judah, preached that message to both the northern and southern tribes. They will be punished because the rich and powerful people took advantage of the poor and worshipped foreign gods.
These stories present some interesting issues for contemporary hearers. The author presents a God who is profoundly active in the life of God’s chosen people. Unlike our typical understanding of God as primarily personal, the God we see in this story is God of a nation and even the whole world. This God works through people other than the chosen ones, and this God readily intervenes and punishes. Though this kind of God certainly appears in the public conversation in our world, most 21st-century Lutherans do not imagine God to be so punitive or manipulative. It is important to remember that the author has an agenda: to call the people back into faithfulness to the one God of their ancestors so as to preserve their identity and recapture the favor of that God.
The violence and cut-and-dried pronouncements of these stories can be disturbing. This does not seem to be the God of justice and mercy we see in Jesus. Instead, we see a taskmaster who has very little patience with human limitations, who manipulates national tides to suit God’s purposes, and who orchestrates death and shame for those who have sought to serve their own purposes. We need to remember that the author’s purpose was not journalistic or even historic in nature. The author writes from a very different worldview from the one we hold. In a prescientific era, every turn of fate, every natural event, was seen as coming from God’s hand and intention. This is not how we interpret our world. We know about the moral indifference of natural disaster, for example. It is not divine punishment for the sins of the people. We understand that history unfolds as a collision of circumstance and human power. We may look back and see God’s redeeming hand at work, but we do not generally say that God’s will has been done because this or that leader died or a certain candidate won or lost.
Yet the confession of these stories is that God is deeply invested in God’s people. What happens in our national life together, how we manage our relationships with each other, both personal and civic, makes a difference to God. We are called to faithfulness, to focus our perspective, energy, and time on God’s will and way.
Why does God let us all fight so much?
When adolescents put their needs and wants before what God needs and wants for them, there is inevitably conflict. In today’s world, young people can seldom understand delayed gratification. Asking your students to come up with concrete and familiar examples of this concept will help anchor their understanding of the possible perils of placing their needs and wants first. They often don’t consider the effects and consequences of their actions before they act. They live in the “now” and find it difficult to project any cause and effect into the future. Students may say that if it feels good now, then it must be good, and besides, who knows what tomorrow holds anyway. Help them see that their behavior reflects their choices; for example, giving in to peer pressure may lead to turning their backs on what they know is right. The desire to be like others can lead to unfaithfulness to God, as the people of Israel discovered in their desire to be like other nations.
Help kids dive into the Key Words by asking for definitions and/or providing these definitions:
CONFLICT: a disagreement between opposing sides; fight; competitive action. The tribes of Israel in the north had conflicts with those in the south, which led to a divided nation.
JUDAH: the southern part of the kingdom after Israel’s twelve tribes split in two. The first king of Judah was Rehoboam.
ISRAEL: the northern part of the kingdom after Israel’s twelve tribes split in two. The first king of Israel was Jeroboam.
Choose one of the following three options to introduce the lesson. Then lead students in the Opening Prayer.
Option 3: Object Lesson Option: A Tribal Puzzle
To help students visualize what it meant for the kingdom to divide in two, use this object lesson. Use 12 similar-looking items from around the church. These could be pencils, books, pieces of candy, pebbles, or sheets of paper. Set these objects on a table so everyone can see them. Talk through a brief progression of historical events that led up to the split of the kingdom.
At one point, God’s people were grouped in 12 tribes, named for the 12 sons of Jacob. (Spread the objects out on the table.) You can see the names of the 12 tribes on the map on page 2102 of the Lutheran Study Bible.
Because the people wanted a king (other than God) and because of his popularity and leadership abilities, David was recognized as the ruler of all 12 tribes—the 10 northern tribes of Israel and the 2 southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. (Move the objects closer together.)
With growing conflict among the 12 tribes, the idolatry of Solomon, and the pride of Rehoboam, the united kingdom split into two—Israel in the north (move 10 objects to one end of the table) and Judah and Benjamin in the south (move 2 objects to the other end of the table).
Debrief the object lesson with these questions:
• If you were a member of either the Northern or Southern Kingdom, would you wonder what was going on?
• If everyone believed in the same God, why would they be unable to be unified as God’s people?
• What causes conflict to grow to a level where there is no good solution?
Have the students focus for a few minutes in silent reflection on recent conflict they have experienced at school, home, or other places. Then lead the group in the following litany prayer. Provide handouts or project the litany for all to see.
Leader: Lord God, you have called us to be in community with other believers;
Group: Help us be caring and patient.
Leader: God, you have given us commandments to show us how to treat others;
Group: Help us follow your commands.
Leader: God, sometimes we forget and stray from what you want us to do;
Group: Help us accept the consequences of our actions.
Leader: God, when we are selfish in what we say and do,
Group: Forgive us and help us think of others first.
Leader: Open our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds as we learn more about how you work in the lives of your faithful people.
My Faith Story
Ask kids to respond to the Big Question: Why does God let us all fight so much?
Then share a part of your own faith story using the suggestion below or another way to share about conflict and conflict resolution.
Share a time in your life when you found yourself in disagreement with someone you cared about. Maybe it was a family member or a friend or a member of the congregation. What issue or topic did you disagree about? What was at stake for you in the conflict? How long did you and this other person disagree? Was it painful for you to be at odds with someone you cared about? Were you able to resolve the conflict? If so, how did the resolution come about? Did you find an agreeable compromise?
Open the Bible
Have students turn in their Bibles to 1 Kings 11. Select one person to read verses 1–4 to set the scene for what was about to happen, another person to read verses 9–10, and another person to read verses 11–13 to discover God’s response to Solomon. Because of Solomon’s unfaithfulness to God and the unfaithfulness of the people, God warned that the once-united kingdom of Israel would split apart and come to an end. When Solomon died, most of his kingdom was ruled by someone other than his son, as God had said would happen if Solomon did not stop worshipping idols.
• What did Solomon do to upset God, and what was God’s response to Solomon?
• Why do you think God chose to remove the kingdom not from Solomon, but from his son Rehoboam?
• Why do you think Rehoboam was punished for the sin of his father?
• Even though God punished Solomon and Rehoboam, what was the promise God made to them? Why did God offer this silver lining?
• Would you say that Solomon was a good king or a bad king?
Have students read 1 Kings 12:1–14. Solomon had imposed high taxes and slave labor on the people of Israel. After Solomon died, Jeroboam asked King Rehoboam to “lighten the yoke” placed on his people. Rehoboam refused. This strategy was perhaps the last straw. The ten northern tribes split off and formed their own kingdom. They chose Jeroboam as king of the Northern Kingdom, Israel. Rehoboam was left with the Southern Kingdom, Judah. Once Israel had established a worship center in the Northern Kingdom, there was no longer a need for the people to travel to Judah for worship in Jerusalem.
The kings who followed often refused to obey God’s law and were unfaithful to God. We have an example of two kings of Judah in 2 Chronicles 33. For almost all of his reign, Manasseh was one of the least God-fearing kings. Read 2 Chronicles 33:1–20. Manasseh desecrated the temple and practiced human sacrifice. The people he ruled were more evil than ever before. But at one point, the king had a change of heart; perhaps he was sincere or perhaps he feared for his life. Despite what he had done before, God was willing to forgive him and restore him to the throne in Jerusalem. What does this tell you about God and God’s grace? While God punishes evil and unfaithfulness, God also forgives and restores. The prophets of the Old Testament warned the people that their punishment for unfaithfulness would be to be captured and exiled by their enemies. But God would forgive them and lead them back to Jerusalem where they could once again be a shining light to other nations.
Open the Catechism
Reflecting on today’s Bible story, what were the Israelites and their kings, the people of God, tempted to do? What evil resulted? Make a list. What tempts you? Get some concrete examples from the students. Why doesn’t God just take away all temptation from us?
Here We Stand Student Book page 304: Invite students to read together the seventh petition of the Lord’s Prayer. In their own words, have students tell you what we ask for in this petition. We are asking God to watch over us so that we don’t get lured into temptations that can result in our being unfaithful to God. God doesn’t remove temptations from our lives, but God gives us what we need when we are tempted—grace. God takes us as we are, sinners who don’t always resist temptation, and forgives us, time and time again. That grace of God we receive in God’s word and the sacraments. When we are weak, God’s word makes us strong and able to overcome all the temptations we face.
Host a quick quiz show to review what you’ve covered in the lesson so far. Project the PowerPoint slides where your contestants and other students can easily view the questions and answers. Form the class into two teams. Take turns asking the true or false questions to each team. Team members can briefly discuss a question before presenting their answer. If the answer is false, the team has to say why it is false. If the answer is correct, they earn a point; if they give the correct reason a statement is false, they earn a second point. If a team’s answer is incorrect, no points are awarded and the other team is asked a new question. The team with the most points at the end is the winner.
1. Solomon was the only king of the kingdom when it was united. (False; David and Saul both ruled over Israel and Judah prior to Solomon.)
2. Solomon only had one wife. (False; he had more than 1,000 wives.)
3. God removed Solomon from power once Solomon built statues for other gods. (False; Solomon died while still king.
4. God allowed Jeroboam to be king of both Judah and Israel. (False; Jeroboam ruled the 10 tribes of Israel. Rehoboam ruled in Judah.)
5. Rehoboam was allowed to be king of Israel because of the faithfulness of his grandfather Abraham. (False; his grandfather was King David.
6. In the Bible, God never punishes people for wrongdoing. (False; one example of God’s punishment is the punishment of Solomon and his family for Solomon’s idolatry.)
7. Because God always forgives us, we should not worry about being accountable for our actions. (False; our actions matter to God because God’s people matter to God; being faithful means trying to avoid sin.)
8. We should never question leaders because we know that they are always doing God’s will. (False; Solomon’s actions displeased God. There are many instances in history when leaders have made mistakes.)
Take a Break
Select one of the options below to explore in your small group. Then finish with the Best/Worst activity and prayer.
Option 1: Song Option: Come Out and Play [Keep ‘Em Separated]
Play the song “Come Out and Play [Keep ‘Em Separated]” by the Offspring from The Offspring: Greatest Hits (Epitaph, Columbia, 2005). Please preview this content to determine its appropriateness for your setting.
Like the Israelites, we are not strangers to conflict in our society. Nations are split over important issues, churches have divisions over important issues, friends have disagreements, and even families have life-changing conflicts. “Come Out and Play [Keep ‘Em Separated]” by the Offspring talks about the violence and tragedy that these divisions can lead to if no solution is reached?
After listening to the song, relate it to today’s lesson with these questions:
• What are the most divisive issues in your school right now?
• How do you deal with conflict among friends?
• How do you handle it when someone treats you like the enemy?
Option 2: Guest Speaker Option: Conflict Resolution
Invite a member of your local community to talk to your group about how they work to resolve disagreements and conflict while on the job. This could be someone on the town or city council, a police officer, a member of the school board, a therapist, or a counselor. Without breaking confidentialities, encourage the speaker to use real-life examples and the process used to solve the conflict. Ideally, your guest will be able to offer tips to help the students handle conflict in their own lives.
Debrief the guest speaker’s talk with these questions:
• When a conflict arises in your life, what steps can you take to work through it to get to a solution?
• Does prayer have a place in conflict resolution?
• At what point do you need to bring an adult or a professional (counselor, parent, other) into the picture to resolve a conflict?
Option 3: Current Events Option: In the News
Have students name conflicts that are happening right now in the community, country, and world. If at a lost for what to name, open a current newspaper and you will quickly have a number of conflicts to talk about. Choose one conflict to discuss in more detail and use these questions to focus discussion:
• What do you think has led up to, or caused, the conflict?
• Do both sides of the conflict believe strongly in the cause they represent and are fighting for?
• What do think should be the resolution to the problem?
• How is the splitting of God’s chosen nation similar to modern conflicts today?
Best/Worst and Prayer
Go around the group and have each student share the best and worst thing from his or her week. Remind them to pay special attention to (for example) the person on their right, as they will be praying for that person in a moment. Alternate prayer partners from week to week.
Though we may not like to admit it, conflict is part of every friendship, whether a casual or very close friendship. We allow petty differences to interfere with our relationships with people we know and care about. When we lose focus of what we have in common and focus instead on our own desires and wants, we risk creating conflict. One way to mend the damaged relationship is to support each other in prayer. Today pray that you and your prayer partner will be able to mend relationships that are broken and maintain others that you enjoy as friends and people of God.
Oh God, help each of us to be faithful to you. When we hurt someone with our words or our actions, forgive us and help us to be more aware of our relationships with others. We now pray for those relationships and friendships that may need healing. (Invite students to pray for their partners either silently or aloud.) Lord, we bring all of our concerns to you and trust that you will help us grow positive relationships with others. Amen.
Pass out pencils and Student Sheets. Look at the front of the Student Sheet together. Pick a volunteer to read each bullet point aloud for the group. Talk about the points with students.
• How did the kingdom, when it was united, become a kingdom divided?
• What are ways that others influence you?
• Do you ever make a decision you know is wrong, but do it anyway to please the group?
• When have you put what you wanted ahead of what someone else wanted? Did it result in a disagreement?
Turn to this week’s activity called “A Split Kingdom Word Scramble.” Let your kids pair up to work through the activity page together. After a few minutes, discuss the answers as a group.
Use the cartoon and questions on the Student Sheet to kick off a conversation.
• Do you think both the northern tribes and the southern tribes thought they had God on their side?
It has happened throughout history—two groups are both convinced that they are right and the other group is wrong. Each group is sure that God is on their side and they will succeed in the fight to prove themselves. You can draw a parallel to America’s Civil War, the fall of the Soviet Union, Iraq’s fight against the Kurds, and many other battles of the past and present. In the case of the tribes of Israel, they were both wrong and both right. God was on their side, if only they would have remained faithful to God.
• Do you ever think you have a better idea than God’s plan?
Being absolutely positive that you know the right way probably indicates an unwillingness to trust God’s plan. It’s okay to have a little doubt in your own ability and to rely heavily on discerning God’s plan. We can certainly use our brains, abilities, and other available resources (including parents and other adults) to work through situations and discover God’s plan. Just sitting around and waiting for God to speak directly to us probably isn’t going to do it.
• Is it ever good to question authority?
Invite students to share experiences of questioning authority. There is value, at times, in doubting and questioning—not for the sake of defying authority, but for the sake of promoting justice and peace. When leaders and others are not open to what we understand as God’s plan, we have an obligation to try to help them see how God’s plan can be successful.
Student Book Connection
Here We Stand Student Book page 220: Select a different person to read each of the seven tips of “How to Resolve Interpersonal Conflict.” Conflict is an unavoidable part of being in a relationship with other people. Conflict affected the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and it continues to affect God’s people today. Encourage students to take an active role in resolving conflict in their own lives as a way of living out their faith in God.
Here We Stand Student Book page 216: Talking about others or saying things that are not for you to say is destructive to relationships. Read to the class the four points under number 1 in “How to Avoid Gossip.” Ask the class to read numbers 2–5 silently. Certainly the students are aware of how frequently gossip occurs among teens. Pose this question: What harm is there in a little gossip? Share with them that gossip and the spreading of rumors lead to conflict and hurt feelings. These are things that we are called to avoid as people of God.
Talk about last week’s Life Connection. Ask your group what they did this week to live out last week’s lesson. What did they learn? What might they do in the future to keep living out that Life Connection?
To make conflict resolution something you do as opposed to just talking about it, encourage your students to take seriously the Life Connection comments on the Student Sheet. Read the section together. Help students find a comfortable way to improve a relationship that may be hurting, doing it in a sincere and helpful way. It may be helpful to offer to talk privately with students about how to approach a sensitive situation.
Kids this age have lots of questions about right and wrong, stories in the Bible, and faith and life. Provide time for them to ask questions. Remember, there isn’t always a right answer, but encouraging discussion is great! Questions help kids explore their faith. Help them explore on their path to confirmation.
After their questions, ask one or more of the following questions to connect your conversations with the Lesson Focus:
• Is it all right for Christians to disagree sometimes? What keeps disagreement on a “Christian” level?
• What happens when God’s people don’t agree? Whose side is God on?
• What are ways that you can work to resolve conflict in your life?
Sit in a circle and place a lighted candle in the center. Ask the students to each think about one person who has been a positive influence in their lives, in whatever situation. They can think about family, friends, faith formers, teachers, heroes, young people, or old people. Ask the students to keep the name of their chosen person in mind so they can name this individual in the Closing Prayer.
God of grace, thank you for being with us as we grow and for surrounding us with people who support us. Today we especially thank you for the people who have had a positive influence on us. (Invite students to name out loud the persons they have selected. All can speak at once.) Help us to act with patience and to speak with love to all people. May we always be faithful to you as we look for your guidance. Amen.
Remain in a circle after the Closing Prayer and offer the following blessing to the group
May God bless you this week to be a peacemaker and a faithful follower of God. May you know that God is with you as you do God’s work in the world. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.