The Prophet Ahijah gave future king Jeroboam a prophecy about his future kingdom. There is an apparent math error in that story. In that often overlooked detail, Ahijah is telling us something very important about the tribe of Benjamin.
In a previous article I explained how the stories in the last 3 chapters of Judges show how the Tribe of Benjamin was reduced to 600 fighting men.
Benjamin had lost all other fighting men. They had also lost all of their families including their children. Replacement wives were secured for those men, but it would take generations before they could rebuild their number to match the other tribes. That story begs another question.
Was the Tribe of Benjamin considered lost?
Those replaced wives were selected so Benjamin would not completely die out. So in some sense the answer is no. Benjamin could regrow.
Outside of that Gibeah story, there are clues that suggest Benjamin was now very different. Those 600 men did not have enough members for them to be considered a landed tribe.
This is a very subtle distinction. There are subtle clues that suggest this distinction was how Benjamin was considered after Gibeah.
One of those clues is a math error in a passage in 1 Kings that suggests that Benjamin really was lost to the count of landed tribes.
Solomon was the last king over all the tribes of ancient Israel. The kingdom at the time is usually called the 'unified kingdom.' Saul had been the first king. After a fight with Saul's son Ish Bosheth, David became the king. In David's time there were promises made to David about his dynasty. Finally David's son Solomon took over rule of the unified kingdom.
Solomon, though, was trouble. He is most well known for his Egyptian wife. His temple building project was importing the ways of Egypt which supplanted the 'Tent of David'(2 Sam 6:17; Amos 9:11; Acts 7:45, 15:16) that had been running since Joshua son of Nun's time.
In effect, Solomon had rejected the ways of his father David. Though in respect to the promises to David, Solomon was allowed to remain ruling until the end of Solomon's life.
Predictions of Split Kingdom
Towards the end of Solomon's time, the prophet Ahijah was sent to a commander in Solomon's army. That commander was told that he would be given rule over the northern tribes. Here is the opening of that story.
Note this establishes the encounter, and it focuses on a piece of cloth that is torn into 12 pieces.
Those pieces represent the 12 tribes that Solomon was ruling at the time.
As a point of review, lists of 12 are always referencing the tribes. Actual tribe counts are 13 long, and the missing, extra, 13th tribe must usually be explained by context. In this particular story, instead of hinting at the 13th tribe, the actual count is going to come up to 11.
Promises to Jeroboam
Here is the full promise made to Jeroboam. Most of the land will be under Jeroboam's rule, but part will remain under the rule of David's heirs. The reasons are given, that by serving foreign gods they have forsaken the ways of David..
As review, it is important to remember that David was from Bethlehem. Bethlehem is in the territory of the tribe of Judah. Bethlehem is mentioned in the Gibeah story linked above.
David himself was of mixed blood, partly from Judah and partly from Moab. So he is already a strange selection for king. 1 Samuel 8:6-7 indicates the reason for a king at all. In particular, the reason for a king was to be like all the other nations.
So having kings that are of foreign bloodlines may be a necessary reminder of the foreign nature of the request for a king.
David started to rule in Hebron, but eventually moved to and ruled from what is now Jerusalem. It was not named Jerusalem in David's day. The city name Jerusalem is built in part on shared root with Solomon's name.
But Jerusalem was a Jebusite city from the time of Joshua son of Nun. (Judg 19:10)
So the quote above is saying that David's heirs, so Solomon's heirs after Solomon's death, will retain their throne only over 1 remaining tribe. This would be the tribe of Judah, the origin of David himself.
All of this make sense. The following 2 verses explain this again, how David's heirs will rule over 1 tribe in Jerusalem, while Jeroboam will rule over 10.
Conditional to Jeroboam
This grant of the throne to Jeroboam is conditional. He heirs will hold the throne only if they are faithful to the ways of David. This is the condition that Solomon was then failing. This was why Solomon was about to loose his throne.
This condition is already serious trouble because Solomon had reigned 40 years. David's religion has long since been erased from the minds of Solomon's government officials. They had set up the temple and its systems in Jerusalem. As but 1 example of Solomon's trouble, he had conscripted an army to build the temple itself. In doing that, Solomon had returned to the slavery systems of his wife's Egypt.
Jeroboam probably knows little to nothing about the faith of David.
In some sense, Jeroboam only stands a chance if he pays careful long term attention to Ahijah himself. The fulfillment of the promise that Jeroboam would become king should have been enough to return to Ahijah to seek advice about the conditional nature of his control of the throne. This, of course, never happened.
The following is passage that expressly calls out the condition that Ahijah and his heirs must meet in order to retain their throne.
Jeroboam's Heirs, Solomon's Response
Jeroboam's heirs would not remain faithful, and would not hold the throne for very long. They held the throne for a total of 4 generations. But, that detail is still future. At the time of the promise, all was hopeful.
Once Solomon hears of this prophetic promise to Jeroboam, Solomon attempts to kill Jeroboam. Not only was Jeroboam a threat to Solomon's dynasty, any fulfillment of Ahijah's prophetic was a threat to Solomon's religion. The god that Solomon thinks he was pleasing when building the temple could not possibly be granting rule to another.
Jeroboam then safely flees for Egypt until after the death of Solomon. The prophecy will turn out to be true, Jeroboam became the first king over the northern kingdom of ancient Israel. The god of Ahijah was not happy with Solomon and his works.
Trouble in the Details
Everything I have explained so far is normal history. There is no controversy nor hidden details that matter to this general telling of history.
But, there is a problem with the story. The problem involves the math. Troubles like this always indicate that there is some detail that is important, but usually overlooked by casual readers. Indeed, I overlooked this detail for many years.
Mixed Up Count
Ahijah tore that new robe into 12 pieces. But the story only accounts for 11 of those pieces. 10 went to Jeroboam and his heirs. These represent 10 landed tribes over which Jeroboam will rule. Then 1 piece is assigned to David and his heirs ruling over 1 landed tribe, Judah.
What happened to the 12th piece?
I do not believe this was an oversight. Ahijah is reflecting facts on the ground in their day. Those 12 pieces represent landed tribes.
At this point in the history the 12 tribes have lost one of their landed members. Benjamin is gone.
In particular, there is no land of Benjamin to give away to either of these dynasties.
Where did the 600 fighting men of Benjamin actually go?
The short answer is Jebus, named in the Gibeah story at the end of Judges. They appear to have taken refuge inside Jubus where their members were protected. They were also, of course, now in foreign territory. (Josh 18:28; Judg 19:10; 1 Chr 11:4)
(To be fair, 1 Chronicles 11 tells the story of David removing Jebusites from that city. Presumably leaving Benjamin behind. Returning to the story.)
Ahijah has actually explained several more points that matter. Let me review them again and explain what we were just told.
Ahijah explains that the reason this is happening is because the kingdom has imported foreign gods. Here is that quote again.
This list is calling out 4 sources of those gods: Ashteroth from Sidon, Chemosh from Moab, and finally Molech from Amon.
This is, of course, since the start of the rule David from Bethlehem. David, importantly, did not start ruling in Jerusalem, he started in Hebron and later moved to Jerusalem.
David is said to have removed the Jebusites, but did he remove foreign gods and especially foreign practices from Benjamin? Probably not. In the story of Gibeah Benjamin was defending sexual predators. Had that changed? Had Benjamin returned to the ways of Moses and Joshua son of Nun? Not likely.
If we back up 1 more verse, we can see yet another detail.
This can be read different ways, of course.
What is the sake of Jerusalem?
The tribe of Judah is landed. David's heirs could conceivably rule from some other city. But what is special about Jerusalem?
Let me suggest the special quality of the city of Jerusalem that matters is that city was now the permanent home for the former full tribe of Benjamin.
If they were NOT to remain in a single city, by their small size they would disappear into the surrounding tribal lands. They would loose their tribal identity.
From this era forward, the City of Jerusalem is the tribe of Benjamin. This is a serious insight that explains the history of the city from Solomon's day to the NT era.
This also explains the origins of the religion that grows out of Jerusalem after Samuel's day. They were are always driven by revenge against the religion of Moses.
This is what Jesus ran into in NT times. This is the point in many future passages.
Just by their origin, they claim to be Jews, but the Tribe of Judah would migrate to the eastern reaches of the Roman world.
Benjamin would remain in control, but behind the scenes, of most royal cites throughout much of the world for 1000s of years.