Summary: She got the message that when she came back home, her son would die. What mother wanted to hear that kind of message? The wife of Jeroboam, first king of the Ten Tribes of Israel, experienced this very thing.
Introduction: many Mother’s Day messages focus on the positive. Some sermons focus on any number of good mothers, those like Eunice (Timothy’s mother) who is only mentioned once in Scripture by name, but the deeds of her son speak volumes. Other good mothers come to mind, like Hannah, Leah, Samson’s (unnamed) mother, and many more could be listed. Each one of these mothers was born a sinner, but we’re sure they became believers in God and went to be with the LORD when their lives were completed.
But not every mother was a believer. Some were wicked beyond description; others seemed to do little if anything to stand against the evil which affected and infected Israel time and again. We would do well to balance the good with a reminder of the bad. There were, and are, a growing number of mothers who did not and will not raise their children for the True and the Living God.
The wife of Jeroboam was one such mother. Her faith and standing before God are not known to us, but there is no record she protested or did anything to keep her husband from placing the pair of golden calves in Bethel and Dan shortly after Jeroboam was made king of the ten northernmost tribes of Israel (1 Kings 12:26-33).
Things seemed to be going relatively well for Jeroboam, but there was one singular event that had to make him think about what he had done since becoming king. His son, probably the oldest, and therefore the crown prince, fell sick. Jeroboam sent his wife on a mission to discover the boy’s future. But as we’ll see, she got a message that she didn’t want to hear.
I She probably didn’t want to see the prophet
[1Kings 14:1-4, KJV] 1 At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick. 2 And Jeroboam said to his wife, Arise, I pray thee, and disguise thyself, that thou be not known to be the wife of Jeroboam; and get thee to Shiloh: behold, there [is] Ahijah the prophet, which told me that [I should be] king over this people. 3 And take with thee ten loaves, and cracknels, and a cruse of honey, and go to him: he shall tell thee what shall become of the child. 4 And Jeroboam's wife did so, and arose, and went to Shiloh, and came to the house of Ahijah. But Ahijah could not see; for his eyes were set by reason of his age.
Note that the first thing Jeroboam did, once he realized Abijah, his son, became sick was to send his wife to find the prophet Ahijah! This prophet had informed Jeroboam that he was God’s choice to lead the Ten Tribes if he would follow the LORD, God of Israel. The golden calves and other means of “worship” prove Jeroboam had no intention of following the LORD at all. But instead of praying (did he pray to the calves he had made?) or repenting, he instead sent his wife on what may have been a very dangerous mission.
Jeroboam was living Tirzah, most likely in the central part of Ephraim’s territory, at the time. The distance between Tirzah and Shiloh, Ahijah’s home, is not certain but a guess would be about a complete day’s journey between the pair. Some maps of the area also give a suggestion of a rugged or hilly type of terrain which might have made travel even more difficult.
Regardless of how difficult the journey might be, Jeroboam sent his wife—in a disguise!—along with some gifts of food for the prophet. She was told to take 10 loaves of bread and a “cruse” or jar of honey. “Cracknels” is not easily defined but was different from bread itself. Why Jeroboam was sending food to the prophet is nowhere revealed. Perhaps Jeroboam remembered stories in the Old Testament (admittedly, there was not much besides the Law and maybe some of the Psalms available at the time) when Abraham prepared a meal for the Three Visitors in Genesis 18, or Jacob’s offering of various things when he sent his ten sons back to Egypt in order to buy food during the famine (Genesis 43). Or, did Jeroboam think that an offering of food would change the outcome or fortune?
Even so, Jeroboam seems to have counted on a few things that he may have hoped would put things in his favor. First, he asked (commanded?) his wife to disguise herself. The text does not give us the reason why he wanted her to do this. Maybe he was afraid that Ahijah the prophet would recognize her as, of course, Jeroboam’s wife and thus give her a pleasant message. If Jeroboam knew of Ahijah’s vision problems, the text does not say, but Jeroboam was taking no chances. Another idea is that since she was traveling, maybe, an entire day’s journey, Jeroboam was protecting his wife’s identity. Was he afraid she might be kidnapped or even worse?