The kingdom divides

Chapter 12

The kingdom divides

v1 Rehoboam went to Shechem. All the *Israelites had gone there to make him king. v2 Jeroboam the son of Nebat was still in Egypt. He had gone there to escape from King Solomon. Jeroboam heard what had happened. So he returned from Egypt. v3 The *Israelites sent for Jeroboam. He and they went to Rehoboam. This is what they said to him. v4 ‘Your father Solomon was cruel towards us. Now make these heavy *burdens lighter. Make our work easier and we will serve you.’

v5 Rehoboam replied, ‘Go away for three days. Then come back.’ So they went away.

v6 King Rehoboam asked the older men who had advised his father this question. ‘What answer shall I give to these people?’

v7 This is what they replied. ‘If you want to serve these people well, give them a kind answer. Then they will serve you loyally.’

v8 But he did not listen to what the older men said. Instead, he went to the young men who had grown up with him. The young men were serving him. v9 ‘What is your advice?’ he asked. ‘What shall I say to those people who want me to make their *burdens lighter?’

v10 The young men who had grown up with him said, ‘Say to the people who want you to make their *burdens lighter, “My little finger is stronger and thicker than my father’s thigh (the thickest and strongest muscle in the leg). v11 My father placed heavy *burdens on you. I will make them even heavier. He punished you with a whip. I will punish you with *scorpions.” ’

v12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam as he had told them. v13 The king did not listen to the advice of the older men. Instead, he answered the people in a severe manner v14 as the younger men had advised. ‘My father placed heavy loads on you. I will make them even heavier. He punished you with a whip. I will punish you with *scorpions.’

v15 So the king did not listen to the people. God wanted this to happen. So the message that the *Lord gave to Jeroboam, son of Nebat came true. Ahijah from Shiloh gave this message.

These verses tell us how the *kingdom divided after the death of Solomon. Rehoboam was the son of the wisest of men. But he was not wise. The northern *tribes of *Israel had gone to Shechem to make Rehoboam their king. So Rehoboam went there too.

Rehoboam probably thought that Shechem would be a good place to become king. It was the place where God promised the country called Canaan to Abraham (Genesis 12:6-7). It was in the centre of *Israel. It was not in *Judah, where Rehoboam’s family came from. And Shechem was between two mountains called Ebal and Gerizim. Here, the *Israelites gathered to make their promises to God (Deuteronomy chapter 27; Joshua chapter 24).

If the *Israelites appointed Rehoboam king at Shechem, they would always be loyal to him. However, Shechem was the wrong place for Rehoboam to become king. God had told Solomon that Rehoboam would not rule all *Israel. Rehoboam would only rule one *tribe, that is, *Judah. By his decision to go to Shechem, Rehoboam was trying to make himself more powerful than God intended. And Rehoboam was opposing God’s plans. God had chosen Jerusalem to be his *holy city. God’s *temple was there. Jerusalem was the capital city for David’s family to rule. Rehoboam should have become king there.

When the *Israelites met at Shechem, they were not ready to appoint Rehoboam king. Instead, they started to complain about the government. They did not like Solomon’s high taxes. They did not like the fact that they had to work for the king.

Jeroboam also came to Shechem. The *Israelites respected Jeroboam, although he had opposed Solomon. It seems that they asked Jeroboam to speak on their behalf. The people were willing to make Rehoboam king. They wanted the *kingdom to remain united. But the people would not continue to work so hard for the king. So Rehoboam would have to be a weaker king than his father was.

Rehoboam was foolish. He did not want God’s advice. Rehoboam did not pray. He did not even ask a *prophet or priest to advise him. He did not care that God did not want him to rule the northern *tribes. Rehoboam only cared about his own power.

So instead, Rehoboam chose political advisers. But he did not even choose the best advice that was available to him. He did not take the advice of those who advised his father. Instead, he took the advice of men of his own age. (He was 41 at this time.)

The men who had advised Solomon were very capable men. They had gained much experience in Solomon’s government. And they knew something that Rehoboam did not realise. The people did not respect Solomon just because he was their master and king. First, they saw that God had given wisdom to Solomon. They saw that Solomon’s judgements were fair. They realised that Solomon would be a great king (1 Kings 3:28). And so they were pleased to serve him. But Rehoboam did not have these benefits. Rehoboam would be unable to rule the people unless they supported him. So these older advisers told Rehoboam to agree with the people’s demands.

But the younger men were not wise advisers. They were just Rehoboam’s friends. They had grown up with him. So they had benefited from the luxury in the palace. Perhaps they never had to work hard. It is clear that they did not understand the real situation. They thought that they could control the *Israelites by strong words. These young men clearly did not expect the *Israelites’ strong reaction. But Rehoboam liked his friends’ advice. They were telling him what he wanted to hear.

Rehoboam did not do what the king should have done. Deuteronomy chapter 17 said that the king must follow God’s laws. But Solomon refused to obey God’s law. And then Rehoboam made a foolish decision. The writer here in 1 Kings says that God wanted this to happen. This means that it was part of God’s punishment. Solomon had not obeyed God.

v16 All *Israel saw that the king would not listen to them. So they shouted, ‘We have no share in David’s family. We have no part in the son of Jesse. Let us go home. David’s family can look after itself.’ So the *Israelites (from the north) went home. v17 Rehoboam still ruled over the people in the towns of *Judah.

v18 King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram. He controlled the people who had to work for the king. The people threw stones at him and they killed him. King Rehoboam managed to get into his *chariot and to escape to Jerusalem. v19 Ever since then the people in northern *Israel have *rebelled against the family of David.

v20 The *Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned. So they made him king. Only the *tribe of *Judah remained loyal to the family of David.

v21 Rehoboam arrived in Jerusalem. He called together 180 000 of the best soldiers from the *tribes of *Judah and Benjamin. He wanted to fight against *Israel and to get the *kingdom back.

v22 But God spoke to Shemaiah the *prophet. v23 ‘Give this message to Rehoboam, son of Solomon, king of *Judah. Give it also to all the people in *Judah and Benjamin. v24 The *Lord says, “Do not fight against your relatives, the *Israelites. You should all go home. I have brought about these events.” ’ So they obeyed the *Lord’s command and they went home.

These verses describe how the northern *tribes *rebelled against David’s family. The northern *Israelites protested against Rehoboam. Then he sent Adoniram to force them to obey him. Adoniram had been a very powerful man when Solomon was alive. But the situation had changed. People used to be afraid of Adoniram. But they were not still afraid. So they murdered him. Rehoboam’s action was foolish, as people already disliked Adoniram. Rehoboam had to escape to Jerusalem.

Then the northern *Israelites made Jeroboam their king. Probably they chose him because they considered him a good leader. But, of course, God had already chosen Jeroboam to be *Israel’s king. And so God carried out what he had promised in chapter 11.

Rehoboam made plans to fight in order to get the *kingdom back. God told him not to fight against the other *Israelites. This time he listened to God’s *prophet and he obeyed. He and his armies went home. He realised that God would allow him to rule *Judah only. If Rehoboam fought the *Israelites, he would be opposing God’s plan.

By means of these events, the *kingdom had separated permanently. The Book of 1 Kings continues with reports of events in both parts of the country. The northern *kingdom is often called *Israel. The southern *kingdom is called *Judah.

v25 Then Jeroboam made the defences of Shechem strong. This city was in the hill country of Ephraim. He lived there. Then he went out and built up the defences of Peniel. v26 He thought, ‘The *kingdom is likely to go back to the family of David. v27 People will go to the *temple of the *Lord in Jerusalem in order to offer *sacrifices there. If they do, they will support King Rehoboam again. Then they will kill me and return to him.’ v28 So King Jeroboam asked for advice. Then he made two young *bulls out of gold. This is what he told the people. ‘It is too difficult for you to go up to Jerusalem. People in *Israel, here are your gods that brought you out of Egypt.’ v29 He put one of the *bulls in Dan. He put the other *bull in Bethel. v30 So the people *sinned. They went as far as Dan to *worship there.

v31 Jeroboam built places for people to *worship on the tops of the hills. He chose priests from families who were not from the *tribe of Levi. v32 He also established a *festival on the 15th day of the 8th month. This was like the *festival in *Judah. He offered *sacrifices to the gold *bulls that he had made. He also established priests in Bethel. They served at the places of *worship that he had built. v33 On the 15th day of the 8th month, he went to Bethel. He had chosen this day himself. There he offered *sacrifices on the *altar that he had built. So he established a *festival for the *Israelites. He went up to the *altar in order to make *offerings.

Jeroboam made Shechem his first capital city. Abraham had camped there. He had also built an *altar there. Later the *Canaanites had a place of *worship there. There the people had *rejected Rehoboam as king. Peniel was an important city for defence against *Israel’s enemies.

It was God who appointed Jeroboam to be king. But Jeroboam was not loyal to God. Instead, he set up his own religion.

This was a clever political decision. People would not still go to Jerusalem to offer *sacrifices. So the relationship between *Israel and *Judah would become even weaker. And Jeroboam would become a more powerful king. Jeroboam’s religion was like the religion that Aaron set up in Exodus chapter 32. Jeroboam tried to combine the *worship of the *bull with the *worship of the *Lord. Of course, this was against God’s law. Jeroboam did not obey the second *commandment when he did this. Dan was in the far north of northern *Israel. Bethel was near the border with Benjamin and *Judah. The idea was that people would have a place of *worship near them. Then they would not want to go all the way to Jerusalem.

Also, Jeroboam set up other places of *worship on the hills. This is where the *Canaanites had given honour to their gods. He made his own *festival on the 15th day of the 8th month. This would be like the *Festival of Shelters which the people in *Judah *celebrated. They did this on the 15th day of the 7th month. Jeroboam also made priests from families who did not belong to the *tribe of Levi. He also acted as a priest himself. When Jeroboam did these things, he was *rebelling against God. We must give honour to God in the way that he has told us. If we do not, he will not accept our *worship.

In 1 Kings 11:28, God made a wonderful promise to Jeroboam. Jeroboam’s family would always rule *Israel, if only they obeyed God. But Jeroboam did not obey God. Instead, Jeroboam chose his own false gods, and he taught the people in *Israel to serve them.