Whose Cloak Did Ahijah Tear?

The prophet Ahijah, a man from Shiloh, played an important role in the history of Israel. He appears only twice in the Old Testament and both times he speaks to Jeroboam, once to announce that he would become king of the northern tribes and the other to announce that his son would die.

In the present post I will briefly discuss Ahijah’s role in the division of the kingdom after Solomon’s death and the selection of Jeroboam to become the king of the Northern Kingdom. In a future post I will discuss the death of Jeroboam’s son, a touching story, a story filled with a woman’s pain and agony.

The division of the united monarchy occurred because of Solomon’s rejection of God and his promotion of pagan practices in Jerusalem. The book of Kings presents a very negative view of Solomon’s religious practices:

“For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not completely follow the LORD, as his father David had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem” (1 Kings 11:4-7).

The Bible says that “the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel” (1 Kings 11:9). As a result of Solomon’s sins, the Lord raised three “satans” against Solomon: Hadad the Edomite (1 Kings 11:14),  Rezon of Damascus (1 Kings 11:23), and  Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, an Ephraimite from Zeredah, a servant of Solomon (1 Kings 11:26).

The word “satan” is translated “adversary” in most English Bibles. The word “satan” refers to someone who becomes the adversary of another person.  In this case, the satans or the adversaries were individuals whom God used to punish Solomon for his unfaithfulness.

The announcement of the division of the kingdom of Israel came through Ahijah.  In his announcement, Ahijah told Jeroboam that the kingdom would be divided. However the house of David would  continue over two tribes as a fulfillment of God’s covenant with David. God had promised to David that he would not remove the kingdom from his son as he had removed the kingdom from Saul.

God’s covenant with David included a promise of continuity of his dynasty: “When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul . . . Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me” (2 Sam. 7:15-16).

Ahijah was a prophet from Shiloh. In the days of the judges, Shiloh was the place where the sanctuary of the Lord was located and the place where the Ark of the Covenant was housed. During the days of Eli and Samuel, the sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed and the Ark was captured by the Philistines.

It is possible that the religious leaders who were from Shiloh resented the many religious innovations introduced by Solomon into the religious life of the nation. They also opposed the building of places of worship for the foreign gods Solomon erected in Jerusalem. Ahijah’s sentiment reflects the general opposition the people of the North had for the Davidic monarchy (2 Sam 20:1). This is the reason Ahijah approached Jeroboam and told him about God’s decision.

Jeroboam was a supervisor in Solomon’s work force: “Jeroboam was very able, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious he gave him charge over all the forced labor of the house of Joseph” (1 Kings 11:28). While Jeroboam was preparing to inspect the work, Ahijah met him as he was leaving Jerusalem, probably after Jeroboam had a meeting with the king and after he was installed into his position as overseer of all the work given to the sons of Joseph.

During this meeting Ahijah told Jeroboam that he would lead a revolt against Solomon and that he would become the leader of the northern tribes. To dramatize his oracle, Ahijah took a cloak and tore it into twelve pieces.  Ahijah gave ten pieces to Jeroboam and said: “Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘See, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes’” (1 Kings 11:31).

The tearing of the cloak into twelve pieces was significant because it represented the twelve tribes, all the people of God. The tearing of the cloak also indicates that the kingdom would be divided into two kingdoms with their own political and religious traditions.  Ahijah’s symbolic action was an affirmation that Jeroboam was the individual chosen by God to humble Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.

The news of what Ahijah had done probably spread fast because Solomon was told of Ahijah’s words and the planned revolt. Because of this conspiracy against his kingdom, Solomon sought to kill Jeroboam: “Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam; but Jeroboam promptly fled to Egypt, to King Shishak of Egypt, and remained in Egypt until the death of Solomon” (1 Kings 11:40).

The events that led to the division of the kingdom are evident.  What is not evident is whose cloak did Ahijah tear?  Even the versions are ambivalent on this issue.  For instance, the NRSV translates 1 Kings 11:29 as follows: “About that time, when Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Ahijah had clothed himself with a new garment.”

On the other hand, the NIV translates the same verse as follows: “About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him on the way, wearing a new cloak.”

The NRSV says that Ahijah was wearing the cloak while the NIV does not say who was wearing the cloak.  The fact is that the name Ahijah as in “Ahijah had clothed himself with a new garment” is not in the Hebrew.  The Hebrew says “And he was wearing a new cloak,” without saying who “he” was.

In their commentary on 2 Kings, Cogan and Tadmor wrote: “Jeroboam was wearing the cloak. The wording of the succeeding clause, ‘took hold of, grabbed’ solves the ambiguousness of this clause, because this action is inappropriate on one’s own garment; rather the action was performed on a garment worn by a second party (cf. Gen 39:12).  Thus, Ahijah seized Jeroboam’s cloak” (p. 339).

Cogan and Tadmor said that the Hebrew word wayyitpos is also used in the story of Joseph when Potiphar’s wife seized Joseph’s garment.  Thus, the word is generally used when someone takes hold of something that belongs to another. In this case, it is Ahijah who takes hold of the cloak that belonged to Jeroboam.

The addition made by most versions of the name Ahijah into the clause is an attempt at solving the ambiguity of the text, but this attempt creates a false interpretation of what happened in the meeting between Ahijah and Jeroboam.

Jeroboam probably received his new garment during his meeting with Solomon.  Ahijah’s encounter with Jeroboam came immediately after Jeroboam left Jerusalem. It is possible that the cloak was his new official garment symbolizing his authority as the new officer over the house of Joseph (1 Kings 11:28).

It was for the sake of David that God allowed Solomon’s son to be king of Judah after his death. Solomon had not kept the terms of the covenant God had established with his father David. The garment that Solomon gave to Jeroboam, his officer, to signify his authority over the northern tribes, was used as a prophetic symbolism to announce the division of the kingdom and the punishment of Solomon for his unfaithfulness.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Bibliography

Mordechai Cogan and Hayim Tadmor. II Kings. The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.

This entry was posted in 1 Kings, Ahijah, Jeroboam, Solomon and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Whose Cloak Did Ahijah Tear?

  1. John says:

    Keep up the blogs… Don’t always reply, but I do always read.

    Like

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