If Chronicles is written for the people returning from exile, then it makes sense that the Northern Kingdom of Israel gets less attention than the southern one of Judah, unlike in the books of Kings. By the time the exiles returned, Israel was long since scattered and gone. But it’s interesting that when Israel does appear, it’s for contrast.
The passage that struck me was 11:13-17. Rehoboam in general gets a better write-up here than he did in Kings. But the passage that stood out was this, which tells of how the priests and Levites came to Rehoboam, having been deposed by Jereboam in the North, in favour of ‘his own priests for the high places, and for the goat-demons, and for the calves that he had made.’
The presence of faithful priests and Levites is important to the story – by reinforcing Judah’s worship, they keep disaster and decline at bay for a few months. There have been many times through history when persecution has refined and shaped God’s people. But on the specifics it’s again interesting to look at how things have changed. The high places and (golden) calves of Jeroboam I recognise, but it’s the first I’ve heard of the worship of goat-demons.
Perhaps we’re seeing the repeated human tendency to paint our enemies (or those we think of as our enemies) as blacker than they are. I don’t think Jeroboam meant people to worship demons – he just had a different view of how they should worship the LORD. Too many times we have interpreted others’ different attempts to worship the LORD as deliberate distortions of faith, or worship of ‘other gods’ altogether. I suspect that we still do so in the controversies even within our churches.
If nothing else, it’s valuable to have two accounts of the same history to make sure that we don’t forget that there’s more than one way to understand events, and especially to understand the actions and intentions of others. Perhaps it’s time to stop looking for goat-headed demons when we’re actually looking at different places and ways to worship the same LORD.