The May issue of the SBL Forum published an article by Robin Gallaher Branch, “A Case for Domestic Abuse in 1 Kings 14? A Look at the Marriage of Jeroboam I.” In her article, Branch argues “that the marriage of Jeroboam and his wife shows ‘a family likeness’ to abuse.” According to Branch, “the text provides strong hints that she is an abused wife and that Jeroboam is her abuser.” (Read my notice about this article by clicking here).
Branch offers five reasons why she believes Jeroboam’s wife was an abused woman. Jeroboam’s wife was an abused woman because of “her isolation, her passivity, her instant obedience, her coming back, [and] her lack of response to Jeroboam and Ahijah.” Branch also offers several reasons why she believes Jeroboam was an abuser.
In this post I want to show that Jeroboam’s wife was not an abused woman and that the situation in 1 Kings 14 does not present a case of domestic violence. By demonstrating that Jeroboam’s wife was not an abused woman, it will become clear that Jeroboam was not an abuser.
Branch’s view that Jeroboam’s wife was an abused woman and Jeroboam was an abuser is based on conjectures about Jeroboam’s relationship with his wife. It is also based on arguments drawn from a biased reading of the text.
The problem with her view is that Branch employs sociological and psychological data used to analyze cases of domestic abuse in present day society to study the relationship between Jeroboam and his wife. She reads the traits of battering, codependency, and spouse abuse back into the text. The result of this rereading of 1 Kings 14 helps Branch find situations that are not present in the text.
For instance, Branch wrote: “Society looked on Jeroboam and his wife as married, but their marriage ended much earlier.” However, nothing in the text itself gives any hint that “their marriage ended much earlier.” She wrote that “their marriage is over.” She also wrote that “they had no personal relationship.” Again, a closer reading of the text does not provide any hint that these statements are true.
A reading of 1 Kings 14 reveals that the narrative begins with the statement that Abijah, Jeroboam’s son, was gravely ill. The text tells the story of a father and a mother who are desperate and conflicted because of their son’s illness.
Jeroboam’s wife probably was more than just an oppressed woman. A variant account of the narrative, found in the Septuagint but not in the Masoretic text, says that Jeroboam’s wife was Ano, the eldest sister of Thekemina, Shishak’s wife. The text in the Septuagint says that Ano was the mother of Abijah.
Since the condition of his son was critical, Jeroboam acted with urgency to deal with his illness. Out of desperation, Jeroboam sent his wife to the prophet who had prophesied that he would be king over the ten tribes of Israel. The reason Jeroboam sent his wife as a messenger was because he probably did not want anyone to know that he was asking Ahijah for help and because he trusted her to communicate the grave condition of the child better than a servant could. She was the most appropriate person to carry out this secret and confidential visit to Ahijah.
So, afraid to confront the prophet personally because of his religious innovations, Jeroboam sent his wife to Ahijah. He asked her to disguise her identity so that no one would know she was the queen. The disguise may have been necessary because the prophet probably knew the queen. Her mission was to ascertain from the prophet whether the child would live or die.
When the queen arrived at the prophet’s house she was dressed as a commoner and brought the kind of gifts a commoner would offer to a man of God. But the queen was never able to ask her question. Warned by Yahweh, Ahijah anticipated her coming pretending to be another woman.
Although she was disguised as a commoner, the prophet identified her as the queen the moment she entered the house. As soon as she entered the prophet’s house, Ahijah greeted her as Jeroboam’s wife. Her pretense was met with a revelation of divine judgment upon Jeroboam’s family and words that her sick son would die: “Go on home—the minute you step foot in town, the boy will die” (1 Kings 14:12).
The words of the prophet increased the pain and the agony of Jeroboam’s wife. She came to the prophet looking for a word of hope and returned with a message of judgment. She came as a messenger of the king and returned as a messenger of the prophet. She came to the prophet to find out about her son’s situation and returned with a message of judgment upon her family.
Burke O. Long, in his book 1 Kings with an Introduction to Historical Literature (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), pp. 154-55 wrote: “The old prophet’s speech is ironic: the queen, sent as the king’s messenger, is faced about to become the prophet’s messenger. She it is who is to be the bearer of ‘heavy tiding’ for King Jeroboam.”
According to Branch, Jeroboam wife’s silence before the prophet is evidence that she was an abused wife. However, her silence before the prophet came because she had nothing to say. Her silence was an acknowledgment that Ahijah’s message came from Yahweh.
The prophet told the queen to return to the palace where she would be met by the death of her son. Branch believes that the woman’s return home was another evidence she was an abused woman. She asks: “Why does the wife of Jeroboam return home?” In response to her question, Branch quotes modern research to emphasize that the reason abused women remain in a relationship is because of fear. Thus, Jeroboam’s wife returned to her home because she was afraid of her abusive husband.
However, the probable reason Jeroboam’s wife returned home was that her heart was broken because of her motherly love toward her dying son. The reader can only imagine the grief the queen had to endure because she knew that every step she took toward home would bring her son closer to his death.
She did not have to return home. If she had not returned to the palace, her son would have lived. But her motherly love led her back home, to her sick child. She was anxious to see him before he died. As she traveled the twelve miles from Shiloh to Tirzah, she did so with a heavy heart because she was aware that every step toward her house, brought her closer to her beloved son’s death.
And as Ahijah had predicted, so it happened. The moment she stepped through the door of her house, her son died. The death of the child brought to an end the desperate effort of a father and a mother to help their dying son.
The child was buried and all Israel mourned him (v. 13). This statement indicates that Abijah was apparently Jeroboam’s oldest son and the heir apparent to his throne.
Thus, the story of the death of Abijah and the desperate situation faced by Jeroboam and his queen is not a case of domestic abuse. Rather, the text is the story of two parents and the agony they faced seeing their child seriously ill and facing death. This is the story of a father and a mother who were willing to do everything they could do to help their dying son, even going to the extreme of consulting a prophet in secret in hope that something good could come out of that visit.
Jeroboam’s desire to help his son is not a case of domestic abuse.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary