The Reign of Rehoboam
The Kingdom is Divided
(1 Kings 11:26-13:10)
When we look at the history of Israel before this event, we see that everything was not all that unified. Although Saul had united all 12 tribes into one kingdom, David was able to find refuge in his own tribe of Judah when Saul pursued him. After Saul’s death it took 7 years for the 10 northern tribes to acknowledge David as king. Even during David’s reign Sheba had led the 10 northern tribes in a rebellion against David. Although nothing is said about unrest in Solomon’s reign, you do see where some trouble could be brewing. For example, first, Solomon executed Shimei who had supported the claim of the house of Saul to the throne. Second, when Solomon divided up his kingdom into 12 administrative districts for the purpose of taxation, the author of 1 Kings does not mention Judah being made such a district. It is quite possible that Solomon did NOT tax his own tribe of Judah, thereby creating resentment among the other tribes against Judah and her son Solomon. Finally, we see that Solomon had drafted forcibly members of the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) in order to do forced labor led by Jeroboam himself. All the northern tribes needed was a catalyst to break away from Judah; they found such a catalyst in Rehoboam.
[Although Solomon and Rehoboam may have given them a pretext for rebelling, the truth is that God had promised Judah that the scepter would not be removed from her (Gen. 49:10). God merely used the rebellious nature of the 10 northern tribes to discipline the house of David. This rebellion ultimately was not against Judah but against God who had elevated Judah to that role in the nation. Yes, God disciplined the house of David for Solomon’s lapse into idolatry; however, the root cause of this was the rejection of the 10 northern tribes against God’s rule. This will be evidenced even more whenever they easily and willingly lapse into idolatry.]
THE FIRST KINGS ACCOUNT (1 Kings 11:26-13:10)
The Rupture at Shechem (12:1-24)
Rehoboam, Solomon’s eldest son, ascends the throne at the age of 41. Where does Rehoboam go in order to be anointed king over the 10 northern tribes (12:1)?
On the surface nothing seems amiss. A closer look though reveals that something is wrong here. Why did not the 10 northern tribes ascend to Jerusalem to anoint Rehoboam king over all Israel? They had anointed David king at Hebron whence David was reigning at the time, while Solomon’s anointing occurred in Jerusalem the capital of the empire. Jerusalem, not Shechem, was the capital of the nation. Although Shechem had historical ties with the patriarchs (especially Jacob who had lived at Shechem and had given a well there to his favorite son Joseph), it had no significant ties with the kingdom. By insisting that Rehoboam descend to Shechem which was located in the midst of the 10 northern tribes, the 10 tribes were communicating to Rehoboam that a rupture was imminent. Moreover, whenever this meeting occurred, Jeroboam did not come to Shechem on his own initiative. According to 12:3 why did Jeroboam come to Shechem?
Remember that Jeroboam was the man who had publicly led a rebellion against Solomon, Rehoboam's father. By inviting Jeroboam, the northern tribes are showing their hand. They want to secede from the union. Rehoboam merely provides them with a pretext for seceding.
Before the 10 northern tribes agree to anoint Rehoboam as king over the 10 northern tribes, their elders approach Rehoboam and inform him that they will anoint him only on a certain condition. What was that condition (12:4)?
(Much has been made about the heavy burden Solomon levied on the Israelites; that simply has not been validated. The idea of the so-called “heavy burden” really comes from this passage in which disgruntled Israelites are trying to break away from Rehoboam’s reign. It is quite likely that they made this up in order to break away from the Davidic dynasty.) Note also the problem with the request of the 10 northern tribes. David’s reign (and that of his house) over Israel was not conditional. David and his house were the anointed dynasty. By Rehoboam agreeing to negotiate with the 10 northern tribes, he was making his reign a conditional one. If he had accepted their terms, he would have found himself negotiating constantly with the 10 northern tribes up to the point at which they would have ruled him and not vice versa.
Rehoboam consults with both the elders who counseled his father and the younger men of his age regarding the conditions laid upon him by the 10 northern tribes. What is the advice of the elders (12:6-7)?
Rehoboam rejects the advice of the elders but accepts the advice of his peers. What is that advice (12:10-11)?
After a 3-day lapse, the elders of the 10 northern tribes along with Jeroboam approach Rehoboam for his answer. He informs them that his little finger is stronger than the loins of his father, that whereas his father scourged them with ordinary whips, he would have them scourged with “scorpions,” that is, whips laced with sharp metal and stones. That was all the 10 northern tribes needed. Quoting Sheba (thereby showing that rebellion had been brewing all along), Jeroboam shouts: “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; To your tents, O Israel! Now look after your own house, David!"
Rehoboam, the optimist, has miscalculated the situation. He sends Adoram (who is in charge of the forced labor--the worst possible candidate) to the leaders of the 10 northern tribes in order to negotiate a settlement. What do the 10 northern tribes do when Adoram comes to negotiate with them (12:18)?
When Rehoboam now correctly perceives the danger he is in, what does he do (12:18)?
Upon returning to Jerusalem for safety, he assembles an armed force of 180,000 soldiers to force the northern tribes back into submission. He is confronted, however, by a prophet named Shemaiah. What does Shemaiah inform him (12:22-24)?
From henceforth the 10 northern tribes form a separate kingdom called Israel, while the southern tribes (Levi, Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon) form the southern kingdom called Judah.
JEROBOAM’S REIGN (12:25-14:20)
Fortifying Israel (12:25-33)
In order to secure his kingdom, Jeroboam initiates both a military strategy and a religious strategy. First, he fortifies Shechem the new capital of Israel and Penuel which was located to the east of the Jordan River. Penuel would serve to protect the eastern boundary of his kingdom, while Shechem would protect the western boundary.
Second, he reasons that as long as the Israelites ascended to Jerusalem to worship God, there would always be the danger that their political allegiance would return to the house of David. Out of political expediency and out of what would seem to be the wisest course of action, what does Jeroboam do next (13:28)?
Most likely these bulls represent either Yahweh’s strength or else transportation for Yahweh. In either case these bulls themselves became the object of worship. The first was at Bethel located on the road to Jerusalem at the southern tip of his kingdom, while the second was at Dan in the north of the kingdom. This provided convenient access to the Israelites. No longer would they have to make the long trek each year to Jerusalem for the festivals. This was religion made easy. In addition to this Jeroboam replaces the most popular feast of the Jews Tabernacles with his own version of the feast; it is just that he keeps this new festival on the 15th of the 8th month instead of on the 15th of the 7th month.
Notice that Jeroboam absolutely has no excuse for his actions. What did the prophet Ahijah inform Jeroboam when he told him that God was going to make him king over the 10 northern tribes (1 Kings 11:32, 36)? Specifically, what was to be the one place God was to be worshiped?
Although on paper these courses of action looked wise and necessary, they proved to be the downfall of both Israel and the house of Jeroboam. God had insured Jeroboam that his dynasty would be permanent if he followed the Lord; however, instead of trusting God’s word, he trusted what in the eyes of most people seemed wise and necessary. By introducing idolatry to the northern tribes, he starts them down the spiral which leads to the destruction of Israel in 721 BC. They never recovered from this fall into idolatry.
God’s Judgment upon Jeroboam (13:1-34)
While Jeroboam was leading the 10 northern tribes in worship at Bethel, he was approached by an unnamed prophet from Judah. The prophet informs Jeroboam that because of his sin, first his dynasty would be destroyed and second the priesthood which he established would be destroyed. In fact approximately 300 years later the bones of his priests would be burned by Josiah upon the very altar he built thereby desecrating permanently the altar (2 Kings 23:15, 18). As a token of this eventual destruction, God was going to split the altar in two so that the ashes upon the altar would be spilt out upon the ground. Jeroboam stretches out his hand and orders the guards to arrest the prophet. What happens whenever Jeroboam stretches out his hand (13:4)?
What happens to the altar (13:5)?
In spite of this Jeroboam refuses to repent of his sin.
REHOBOAM’S REIGN (1 Kings 14:21-31; 2 Chronicles 11:13-17; 12:1-16)
Unlike Jeroboam, Rehoboam actually began to reign out of a fear and reverence for God. Many of those living in Israel who still wanted to follow God actually left the 10 northern tribes and migrated to Judah to remain faithful to God. In fact after Jeroboam instituted a whole new order of priests, the Levites who had been appointed by God to serve as the priests flee their cities in the north and head for Jerusalem to support both the worship at the Temple and the Davidic dynasty (2 Chron. 11:13-17). For three years Rehoboam walked in the ways of David. After 3 years had passed though, Rehoboam like Jeroboam lapsed into idolatry. This lapse was most likely due to the influence of his mother, the queen mother, who was an Ammonite. (She most likely was the influence behind all of this because whenever Rehoboam’s reign is mentioned, her named is normally mentioned.)
This lapse into idolatry results in disaster for Judah and for Israel. What happens during the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign (14:25-26)?
Although 1 Kings mentions only Shishak’s attack upon Judah, from Egyptian records we discover that he attacked both kingdoms, plundering both nations as he swept through them. (It is quite likely now we see the reason Shishak harbored Jeroboam when he fled to Egypt. This should be a vivid reminder for us not to place our ultimate trust in those who are not God's people. Shishak had harbored Jeroboam in order to weaken the Israelite empire so that he could strike and take control of the trade routes which passed through Israel.)
Shishak’s attack upon the 2 nations is devastating. Judah now becomes a mere shadow of what she once was—a great nation. In order to maintain the illusion of splendor and glory, what does Rehoboam do (14:27)?
Although these simulate the 10 golden shields, they really serve as constant reminders of the glory Judah once had but has now lost because of her apostasy.
THROUGH THE EYES OF THE APOSTLES
Although the apostles do not directly address these episodes in the NT, Paul does focus on an important principle which does address these episodes. Out of political expediency and political wisdom, Jeroboam erects the 2 bulls in Bethel and Dan to save his kingdom. Why? Because he did not trust the clear teaching of the Lord concerning this matter. He believed that he was wiser than God. Yet according to Paul how much wiser is God than us (1 Cor. 1:25)?
The greatest example of human folly and divine wisdom though is the cross of Jesus. The Jews could have easily stoned Jesus; yet they wanted Jesus crucified. Yes, they wanted the Romans to kill Jesus because only they could crucify a person, but more is involved here. Jesus had claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. The Jews believed that this Messiah was to be a glorious person, coming in power and victory. Yet what did the OT claim about the person who hung on a tree (Deut. 21:13)?
They believed that if they could get Jesus hung on a tree, then they could have proved once and for all that Jesus was a fraud, that He was neither the Messiah nor the Son of God. Yet by being cursed, what was Jesus able to do for you and me (Gal. 3:13)?
To put it another way Jesus became sin for us that we might become what (2 Cor. 5:21)?
The Jews knew that Jesus claimed that He was going to receive glory. By having Jesus crucified on the tree, beaten half to death and stripped of all human dignity, they felt that they had so humiliated Him that they had proven once and for all that Jesus was NOT God the Son. Yet Jesus' glory is RESURRECTION glory. What has to happen before a person can have resurrection glory?
Even though the OT taught that this Messiah would receive glory by means of suffering, the Jews were not counting on resurrection glory.
We too have no excuse in rejecting God's wisdom in our own lives. Look at the universe; look at life on this earth. Scientists claim that if the earth was just a little farther away from the sun or even nearer the sun, it would not be able to sustain life on earth. All of life hangs on a delicate balance. It does not topple over into chaos and annihilation because a WISE, loving, and all-powerful God controls the universe. If He is strong enough, loving enough, and WISE ENOUGH go run the universe, don't you think He's strong enough, loving enough, and WISE ENOUGH to run your life? (If you have no idea at all what Jesus is wanting you to do, it is because you have no desire to do what He wants you to do. Obedience precedes knowledge.)
Here's where we make the vital mistake. We look at the whole situation and believe that in no way is God's wisdom relevant. We just don't see how it will work. The problem though is that we can't see the whole situation. There are elements in our situation beyond our grasp. On the other hand, Jesus sees completely our situation and is wise enough to guide us through it. We just have to trust Him and obey Him.