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The Great Divorce: The Kingdom Divided (1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 10)

1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 10

Introduction

A young man spends hours working on his car, laboring meticulously to make it a showpiece. He not only restores the car to its original condition, but he overhauls the engine, modifying it to obtain maximum performance. He invites a couple of friends to cruise around the streets of Dallas with him, showing off his handiwork. They stop at a local hangout for hamburgers and meet another young man, who also has a high performance automobile. Each begins to boast that his car is faster than that of his rival. Eventually, they race down a major street at high speed. One young man presses his car beyond its limits, and it careens out of control, striking other automobiles, and eventually killing a young mother and her child, standing in their front yard talking with friends.

The young man responsible for the death of these two innocent people did not set out that night to kill someone with his car. He did, however, want to show off. He wanted others to see how well he had transformed a tired old car into a beautiful muscle machine. He wanted to impress others with how fast his car was, and how skilled he was as a driver.

How many times in history has something like this happened? The unintentional consequences of a foolish action may be far greater than one would have ever imagined. This past April a cocky and over-zealous pilot maneuvered his fighter too close to the propellers of a U.S. intelligence plane. The events that followed triggered a growing rift in the relationship of the United States and China.

This is precisely what happens in 1 Kings 12 and its parallel text in 2 Chronicles 10. When Rehoboam and the Israelites met that fateful day in Shechem, everyone assumed that Rehoboam would become Israel’s king. The people made a simple and reasonable request of Rehoboam, and after consulting with others, this would-be king arrogantly rejected it. The people renounced him as their king and went their way. Reconciliation might have occurred had Rehoboam not acted foolishly. The result was a divided kingdom. This unintended consequence would shape the history of the nation to this very day.

This is one of the great “turning points” in the history of Israel, one that is crucial to our understanding the Bible. From this point on, the southern kingdom will be known as Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital and one of David’s descendants as their king. The northern kingdom, composed of ten tribes, will be known as Israel. Samaria will eventually become its capital and its dynasties will frequently change. At times, the two kingdoms will be at war with each other, and at other times they will make certain alliances. The glorious days of the united kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon are gone. The northern kingdom will consistently have evil kings and behave wickedly. They will be the first to be scattered in judgment. The southern kingdom will have its good kings and its wicked ones, and eventually Judah will be taken into captivity by the Babylonians.

There are many lessons to be learned from Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, and Jeroboam, Israel’s first king. Let us listen well to the words of the Scriptures and seek to learn the lessons from Israel’s history which God has for us:

For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope (Romans 15:4).247

Brief Review of Israel’s Kings

The united kingdom lasted the length of the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon. Saul, Israel’s first king, was a Benjamite who failed to obey God. He did not wait for Samuel at Gilgal but went ahead to offer sacrifices, fearing his soldiers would desert him (1 Samuel 13). Later, Saul failed to totally annihilate the Amalekites. He let King Agag live and kept some of the best of the Amalekites’ cattle (1 Samuel 15). After the death of Saul and his sons at the hand of the Philistines, David was anointed king, first over Judah and then later over all Israel. David was a man with a heart for God. His great failure came when he sinned with regard to Bathsheba and Uriah, her husband. While he repented and was forgiven, he, his family, and his kingdom suffered some very painful consequences. His daughter was raped by her brother Amnon; another of David’s sons – Absalom – had Amnon killed, and then fled. Eventually Absalom returned to Israel and later succeeded in overthrowing his father David. After David’s forces killed Absalom and defeated his army, David returned to claim his throne in Jerusalem.

An incident occurred in conjunction with David’s return to Jerusalem that reveals the already fragile state of the united kingdom’s unity:

41 Then all the men of Israel began coming to the king. They asked the king, “Why did our brothers, the men of Judah, sneak the king away and help the king and his household cross the Jordan—and not only him but all of David’s men as well?” 42 All the men of Judah replied to the men of Israel, “Because the king is our close relative. Why are you so upset about this? Have we eaten at the king’s expense? Or have we misappropriated anything for our own use?” 43 The men of Israel replied to the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king, and we have a greater claim on David than you do. Why do you want to curse us? Weren’t we the first to suggest bringing back our king?” But the comments of the men of Judah were more severe than those of the men of Israel (2 Samuel 19:41-43).

David’s son, Solomon, was the last of the kings of the united kingdom. His sin was the reason for the division of the united kingdom. In our next section, we will look more carefully at the role Solomon played in the division of the kingdom, along with Rehoboam and Jeroboam.

Solomon, Jeroboam, and Rehoboam

There are three major participants in the events which led to the division of the united kingdom: Solomon, Jeroboam, and Rehoboam. We will briefly look at the part each of these men played in the division of the kingdom.

Solomon

It was not until after David’s son Adonijah sought to seize the throne for himself that David publicly designated Solomon as his successor. God appeared to Solomon two times before his fall.248 The first appearance is found in 1 Kings 3 where God promised Solomon that He would grant his request. Solomon asked for wisdom. God granted him not only wisdom, but also fame, great power, and incredible wealth. He also made it clear that Solomon was to keep His instructions:

11 God said to him, “Because you asked for the ability to make wise judicial decisions, and not for long life, or riches, or vengeance on your enemies, 12 I grant your request, and give you a wise and discerning mind superior to that of anyone who has preceded or will succeed you. 13 Furthermore, I am giving you what you did not request— riches and honor so that you will be the greatest king of your generation. 14 If you follow my instructions by obeying my rules and regulations, just as your father David did, then I will grant you long life.” 15 Solomon then woke up and realized it was a dream. He went to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant, offered up burnt sacrifices, presented tokens of peace, and held a feast for all his servants (1 Kings 3:11-15).

The second appearance of God to Solomon came after the dedication of the temple. God promised that His presence would be with the nation Israel in the temple, but with these warnings:

1 After Solomon finished building the Lord’s temple, the royal palace, and all the other construction projects he had planned, 2 the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, in the same way he had appeared to him at Gibeon. 3 The Lord said to him, “I have answered your prayer and your request for help that you made to me. I have consecrated this temple you built by making it my permanent home; I will be constantly present there. 4 You must serve me with integrity and sincerity, just as your father David did. Do everything I commanded and obey my rules and regulations. 5 Then I will allow your dynasty to rule over Israel permanently, just as I promised your father David, ‘You will not fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ 6 “But if you or your sons ever turn away from me, fail to obey the regulations and rules I instructed you to keep, and decide to serve and worship other gods, 7 then I will remove Israel from the land I have given them, I will abandon this temple I have consecrated with my presence, and Israel will be mocked and ridiculed among all the nations. 8 This temple will become a heap of ruins; everyone who passes by it will be shocked and will hiss out their scorn, saying, ‘Why did the Lord do this to this land and this temple?’ 9 Others will then answer, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God, who led their ancestors out of Egypt. They embraced other gods whom they worshiped and served. That is why the Lord has brought all this disaster down on them’” (1 Kings 9:1-9).

In addition to these words of instruction and warning, addressed specifically to Solomon, there were the general instructions and warnings of the Law regarding Israel’s kings:

14 When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, “I will appoint a king over me like all the nations surrounding me,” 15 you must without fail select over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king—you may not designate a foreigner who is not one of your fellow Israelites. 16 Moreover, he must not accumulate horses for himself or allow the people to return to Egypt to do so, for the Lord has said you must never again return that way. 17 Furthermore, he must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside, and he must not accumulate much silver and gold. 18 When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this instruction on a scroll given to him by the levitical priests. 19 It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this instruction and these statutes in order to carry them out, 20 so that he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens and turn from the commandment right or left, and so that he and his descendants may enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

The high points of Solomon’s reign were no doubt the construction and dedication of the temple. His downfall came late in his life. Solomon married many foreign wives, and eventually his heart was turned to worship their pagan gods:

1 King Solomon fell in love with many foreign women (besides Pharaoh’s daughter), including Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites. 2 They came from nations about which the Lord had warned the Israelites, “You must not establish friendly relations with them! If you do, they will surely shift your allegiance to their gods.” But Solomon was irresistibly attracted to them. 3 He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines; his wives had a powerful influence over him. 4 When Solomon became old, his wives shifted his allegiance to other gods; he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God, as his father David had been. 5 Solomon worshiped the Sidonian goddess Astarte and the detestable Ammonite god Milcom. 6 Solomon did evil before the Lord; he did not remain loyal to the Lord, like his father David had. 7 Furthermore, on the hill east of Jerusalem Solomon built a high place for the detestable Moabite god Chemosh and for the detestable Ammonite god Milcom. 8 He built high places for all his foreign wives so they could burn incense and make sacrifices to their gods (1 Kings 11:1-8).

As a result of Solomon’s folly, God announced that he would lose his kingdom. Because of his father David, God would delay this judgment until after Solomon’s death:

9 The Lord was angry with Solomon because he had shifted his allegiance away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him on two occasions 10 and had warned him about this very thing so that he would not follow other gods. But he did not obey the Lord’s command. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you insist on doing these things and have not kept the covenantal rules I gave you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. 12 However, for your father David’s sake I will not do this while you are alive. I will tear it away from your son’s hand instead. 13 But I will not tear away the entire kingdom; I will leave your son one tribe for my servant David’s sake and for the sake of my chosen city Jerusalem” (1 Kings 11:9-13).

The saddest thing about Solomon’s failure is that in spite of God’s rebuke, he gives no evidence of repentance. God raised up men who opposed Solomon in his lifetime. The first of these opponents was Hadad the Edomite (1 Kings 11:14-22), a most interesting fellow. One wonders why so much detail is given about him, especially regarding his connection with Egypt. While David was king of Israel, Joab slaughtered every male in Edom, but somehow Hadad, who was a young lad at that time, escaped to Egypt. For some reason, Pharaoh had a special affection for Hadad and gave him the queen’s sister for his wife. The son born to Hadad and his Egyptian wife was raised in Pharaoh’s palace, along with Pharaoh’s sons. Nevertheless, when Hadad learned that David and Joab were dead, he asked to return to his homeland. Reluctantly, Pharaoh let him go.

I cannot help but sense a fairly strong element of de je vous here. The connection with Egypt sounds too much like Joseph and also a bit like Moses. Why are we given all these details? I am inclined to conclude that God wants us to see this connection. Egypt was one of the superpowers of ancient times. God “used” Egypt to protect His people, and then to release them (well-supplied at that). Now, it would seem, God was once again using Egypt to protect Hadad, so that he could be an instrument of divine discipline.

God also raised up Rezon, the son of a runaway slave of King Hadadezer of Zobah (1 Kings 11:23-25). Not nearly as much detail is given concerning Rezon. He organized a band of raiders, and when David sought to kill him, he fled to Damascus. He and his men gained control of the city, and they caused trouble for Israel throughout Solomon’s reign.

Jeroboam

The third “troubler of Israel” was Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, one of Solomon’s servants (1 Kings 11:26-40). One does not get the impression that Jeroboam was a troublemaker, out for trouble. It appears, rather, that Solomon himself created his own problems by the way he dealt with this fellow. Jeroboam was an Ephraimite, the son of a widow. He was a very talented and skillful worker. When Solomon commenced the construction of a terrace and was closing the gap in the wall surrounding his palace, Jeroboam was one of his workers. Solomon recognized his abilities and promoted him to leader of the work crew of the tribe of Joseph.

It was at this time that the prophet Ahijah privately took Jeroboam aside and informed him that he would be given ten of the tribes of Israel to lead as king. He underscored this prophecy by tearing his new robe into 12 pieces, and then giving Jeroboam 10 of them. He was told that God would leave one tribe, Judah, for Solomon’s descendants to rule. Ahijah made it clear that the division of the kingdom was the result of Solomon’s sin in worshipping the foreign gods of his many wives. He also indicated that at some time in the future the nation would once again be reunited (11:39). This would be some time in the more distant future, however. God promised Jeroboam great success as the first king of Israel (the ten northern tribes of Israel), but only on the condition that Jeroboam walked in the steps of David:

34 I will not take the whole kingdom from his hand. I will allow him to be ruler for the rest of his life for the sake of my chosen servant David who kept my commandments and rules. 35 I will take the kingdom from the hand of his son and give ten tribes to you. 36 I will leave his son one tribe so my servant David’s dynasty may continue to serve me in Jerusalem, the city I have chosen as my home. 37 I will select you; you will rule over all you desire to have and you will be king over Israel. 38 You must obey all I command you to do, follow my instructions, do what I approve, and keep my rules and commandments, like my servant David did. Then I will be with you and establish for you a lasting dynasty, as I did for David; I will give you Israel. 39 I will humiliate David’s descendants because of this, but not forever.” 40 Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam escaped to Egypt and found refuge with King Shishak of Egypt. He stayed in Egypt until Solomon died (1 Kings 11:34-40).

It is amazing that the prophet makes a promise very much like the Davidic Covenant. Time will reveal that Jeroboam is not like David, and his kingdom will not last. It would appear that Solomon somehow heard of the prophecy of Ahijah – either that or Solomon simply became jealous of Jeroboam. For one reason or another, Solomon sets out to kill Jeroboam, forcing him to flee to Egypt. There, Jeroboam finds refuge, not unlike Hadad, the Edomite. In time, Shishak, king of Egypt, will come to the aid of Jeroboam when he returns to Israel.

The tragedy is that Solomon’s heart is not softened by these adversaries. There is no indication of repentance on his part. He seems to stay the same wicked course until the day of his death. The scene is now set for the division of the kingdom, which occurs shortly after the death of Solomon.

Rehoboam

Rehoboam was Solomon’s son, and it seems that no one disputed the fact that he would be Israel’s next king. All Israel gathered at Shechem to make Rehoboam their next king. The people had sent word to Jeroboam in Egypt, asking him to return to Israel. He gathered with the Israelites at Shechem to make Rehoboam king. Whether Jeroboam served as their spokesman is not indicated, but we do know that he was present. The people had only one request to make of Rehoboam, and they seem to have made it in a respectful and submissive manner: they asked Rehoboam to “lighten up.”

The words of warning, spoken years before by the prophet Samuel, were now coming true:

10 So Samuel spoke all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “Here are the policies of the king who will rule over you: he will conscript your sons and put them in his chariot forces and in his cavalry; they will run in front of his chariot. 12 He will appoint for himself leaders of thousands and leaders of fifties, as well as those who plow his ground, reap his harvest, and make his weapons of war and his chariot equipment. 13 He will take your daughters to be ointment makers, cooks, and bakers. 14 He will take your best fields and vineyards and give them to his own servants. 15 He will demand a tenth of your seed and of the produce of your vineyards and give it to his administrators and his servants. 16 He will take both your male and female servants, as well as your best cattle and your donkeys, and assign them for his own use. 17 He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will be his servants. 18 In that day you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord won’t answer you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:10-18).

Solomon’s wealth and power had cost the people of Israel a great deal. Solomon had become heavy-handed with them. At the beginning of Rehoboam’s reign, his subjects asked him to consider the severity of his father and to make the proper adjustments.

Rehoboam had the presence of mind to ask for time to seek counsel. He promised to meet with the people and to convey his decision in three days. Rehoboam first inquired of his father’s counselors. One might expect them to reinforce the policy of Solomon, but they did not. (Had they been advising Solomon to “lighten up” as well?) Their counsel to Rehoboam was short, to the point, and wise:

Then they spoke to him, saying, “ If you will be a servant to this people today, will serve them, grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7, NASB, emphasis mine).

This was not the counsel that Rehoboam wanted, however, and so he turned to his “cronies,” the young men with whom he had grown up. Their advice was considerably different:

10 The young advisers with whom Rehoboam had grown up said to him, “Say this to these people who say to you, ‘Your father made us work hard, but now lighten our burden.’ Say this to them: ‘I am a lot tougher than my father. 11 My father imposed heavy demands on you; I will make them even heavier. My father punished you with regular whips; I will punish you with whips that really sting your flesh’” (1 Kings 12:10-11).

Rehoboam was foolish. No doubt his cronies had become used to the “good life,” enjoying the benefits of their association with the king’s son. If they counseled Rehoboam to lessen the demands his father Solomon had imposed on the people, it might mean that they would not live quite as well. Perhaps they had already been corrupted with a lust for power. Whatever the reason, their counsel was foolish. Was Rehoboam trying to impress his friends when he arrogantly promised tougher times for the people?

The brash young king turned a deaf ear to the requests of the people. I doubt that the nation gathered that day, intent on dividing it. I believe they fully intended to serve Rehoboam, as they had served the kings before him. But Rehoboam’s arrogance and highhandedness was just too much for the people to swallow. The seeds of division had been sown years before, as is evident during the reign of David:

41 Then all the men of Israel began coming to the king. They asked the king, “Why did our brothers, the men of Judah, sneak the king away and help the king and his household cross the Jordan—and not only him but all of David’s men as well?” 42 All the men of Judah replied to the men of Israel, “Because the king is our close relative. Why are you so upset about this? Have we eaten at the king’s expense? Or have we misappropriated anything for our own use?” 43 The men of Israel replied to the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king, and we have a greater claim on David than you do. Why do you want to curse us? Weren’t we the first to suggest bringing back our king?” But the comments of the men of Judah were more severe than those of the men of Israel (2 Samuel 19:41-43).

The ten northern tribes of Israel walk out on Rehoboam and on the united kingdom:

16 When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, the people answered the king, “We have no portion in David, no share in the son of Jesse. Return to your homes, O Israel! Now, look after your own dynasty, O David!” So Israel returned to their homes (1 Kings 12:16).

In my opinion, there was still time and opportunity for reconciliation. But it was God’s will that the kingdom be divided (1 Kings 12:15), and the heart of Rehoboam had been hardened; he refused to back off his strong statements. He went so far as to try to compel the ten tribes to return and to submit. He sent Adoniram, the supervisor of his work crews, after them, but the angry Israelites stoned him to death. They would have no more of Rehoboam’s heavy hand and no more of his royal work crews.

It is only at this point that Jeroboam begins to play a significant role in the rebellion, at least as far as the inspired account of Scripture goes. Jeroboam does not appear to assert himself; rather, the ten tribes seek him out, appointing him as their king:

When all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they summoned him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. No one except the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the Davidic dynasty249 (1 Kings 12:20).

It does not sound as though Jeroboam was vocal or public in his opposition to Rehoboam, or that he sought to be appointed as king over the ten northern tribes, even though he had been told this was his destiny. We will soon see that Jeroboam was not a godly man; perhaps he doubted Ahijah’s prophecy. Regardless, the text would seem to suggest that the division of the united kingdom was the result of Solomon’s sin and Rehoboam’s folly, rather than Jeroboam’s political intrigue.

Rehoboam makes one more very foolish effort to restore his rule over all Israel – he summoned the warriors of Judah and Benjamin to go to war with the ten tribes. In response, God sent the prophet Shemaiah to Rehoboam with this message:

23 “Say this to King Rehoboam son of Solomon of Judah, and to all Judah and Benjamin, as well as the rest of the people, 24 ‘The Lord says this: “Do not attack and make war with your brothers, the Israelites. Each of you go home, for I have caused this to happen.”’” They obeyed the Lord and went home as the Lord had ordered them to do (1 Kings 12:23-24).

At least Rehoboam heeded the word of God spoken through the prophet. He sent his warriors home, realizing that the division of the kingdom was ultimately God’s doing.

From Bad to Worse: Rehoboam and Jeroboam after the Division of the Kingdom

Rehoboam

The role of Rehoboam after the “great divorce” is summarized in 1 Kings 14:21-31:

21 Now Rehoboam son of Solomon ruled in Judah. He was forty-one years old when he became king and he ruled for seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city the Lord chose from all the tribes of Israel to be his home. His mother was an Ammonite named Naamah. 22 Judah did evil before the Lord. They made him more jealous by their sins than their ancestors had done. 23 They even built for themselves high places, sacred pillars, and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every green tree. 24 There were also male cultic prostitutes in the land. They committed the same horrible sins as the nations that the Lord had driven out from before the Israelites.

25 In King Rehoboam’s fifth year, King Shishak of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. 26 He took away the treasures of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace; he took everything, including all the golden shields that Solomon had made. 27 King Rehoboam made bronze shields to replace them and assigned them to the officers of the royal guard who protected the entrance to the royal palace. 28 Whenever the king visited the Lord’s temple, the royal guard carried them and then brought them back to the guardroom. 29 The rest of the events of Rehoboam’s reign, including his accomplishments, are recorded in the scroll called the Annals of the Kings of Judah. 30 Rehoboam and Jeroboam were continually at war with each other. 31 Rehoboam passed away and was buried with his ancestors in the city of David. His mother was an Ammonite named Naamah. His son Abijah replaced him as king (1 Kings 14:21-31, emphasis mine).

There are various points of interest in this summation of the rule of Rehoboam. The first is the twice-mentioned fact that Rehoboam’s mother was an Ammonite named Naamah (12:21, 31). Once would seem to have been enough. Twice would indicate that the author wants us to take special note of this fact. The Ammonites were descendants of Lot (Genesis 19:38), and yet their relationship with the Israelites was not particularly friendly or beneficial. It would seem that the author is suggesting that a part of the explanation for Rehoboam’s folly was related to his ancestry.

The second thing that catches our attention in the description of Rehoboam’s reign is the emphasis on the wickedness of the people. Often we are told that the king caused the people to sin. This is certainly the case with Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 12:25-32). But under the rule of Rehoboam, it is Judah who seems to take the initiative in the nation’s sins. The impression given is that the people of Judah wanted to sin, and that Rehoboam did little or nothing to resist their sinful ways. It was not that Rehoboam imposed his wickedness on the people, but that the people imposed their wickedness on Rehoboam. Is it possible that because Rehoboam lost most of his kingdom by being too rigid he completely reversed his approach and was now lax in his dealings with the Israelite’s because of their sins? At least we can see that the people of Judah were pursuing wicked ways.

The third observation about the reign of Rehoboam is that God used Egypt as His chastening rod against Judah. We see this in verses 25-28. You may recall that when Hadad the Edomite and Jeroboam fled from Israel, they both fled to Egypt (1 Kings 11:17-22, 40). Shishak was the king of Egypt who gave sanctuary to Jeroboam (11:40). Is it any great wonder that Shishak would attack Rehoboam in Jerusalem (14:25ff.)? He did Jeroboam the favor of weakening and humiliating his rival, Rehoboam. At the same time, he helped himself to much of the wealth Solomon had accumulated. He was God’s chastening rod against Judah and their king, for all of their sins. How humbling it must have been for Rehoboam to replace the gold shields of the royal guard with bronze shields. One could almost say, Ichabod – gone is the glory of Solomon’s empire (see 1 Samuel 4:21).

Jeroboam

Jeroboam played a much more active role in the spiritual decline of the northern kingdom of Israel:

25 Jeroboam built up Shechem in the Ephraimite hill country and lived there. From there he went out and built up Penuel. 26 Jeroboam then thought to himself: “Now the Davidic dynasty could regain the kingdom. 27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem, their loyalty could shift to their former master, King Rehoboam of Judah. They might kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah.” 28 After the king had consulted with his advisers, he made two golden calves. Then he said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to go up to Jerusalem. Look, Israel, here are your gods who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 29 He put one in Bethel and the other in Dan. 30 This caused Israel to sin; the people went to Bethel and Dan to worship the calves. 31 He built temples on the high places and appointed as priests people who were not Levites. 32 Jeroboam inaugurated a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival celebrated in Judah. On the altar in Bethel he offered sacrifices to the calves he had made. In Bethel he also appointed priests for the high places he had made (1 Kings 12:25-32).

There is something very ironic about Jeroboam’s reign. God had promised Jeroboam that his kingdom would last and that he would be very successful, if he only obeyed His commandments:

38 You must obey all I command you to do, follow my instructions, do what I approve, and keep my rules and commandments, like my servant David did. Then I will be with you and establish for you a lasting dynasty, as I did for David; I will give you Israel. 39 I will humiliate David’s descendants because of this, but not forever” (1 Kings 11:38-39).

Jeroboam listened to his advisors rather than to God (1 Kings 12:28). Jeroboam was afraid that he would lose his kingdom, and even his life. He feared that the divided kingdom would re-unite. In order to protect himself and his kingdom, he established a counterfeit religion for the northern kingdom of Israel.

Everything Jeroboam did flew in the face of Israel’s history and of God’s law. His great fear was that the people of Israel would worship in Jerusalem, as God had instructed. If they did, Jeroboam reasoned, the people of Israel would shift their loyalty to Rehoboam, king of Judah. The solution Jeroboam and his advisors reached was to establish a counterfeit religion – a religion very much like the worship God had ordained for His people, but one which kept the people of Israel from returning to Jerusalem, and worse yet, turned them to idolatry.

Jeroboam made two golden calves, one located in Bethel at the southern part of his kingdom, and the other located in Dan in the northern portion of Israel. His words at the presentation of these idols are all too familiar:

After the king had consulted with his advisers, he made two golden calves. Then he said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to go up to Jerusalem. Look, Israel, here are your gods who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28, emphasis mine).

Jeroboam’s words should be familiar to the reader of the Old Testament:

7 And the Lord spoke to Moses: “Go, descend, because your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly. 8 They have turned aside quickly from the way that I commanded them—they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘ These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt’” (Exodus 32:7-8, emphasis mine).

Is it possible that these words are merely coincidental, or is Jeroboam exceedingly wicked? Is he saying, in effect, “You think that Aaron led Israel in worship; just watch me!”? It seems virtually impossible for Jeroboam not to have known that he was leading Israel to disobey God by his worshipper-friendly religion.

His religious revisions were not limited to golden calves. Jeroboam built temples on the high places. He appointed men to serve as priests who were not Levites. He instituted feasts that were designed to replace the divinely appointed Jewish feasts (especially those which required the Israelites to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem). All-in-all, Jeroboam created a counterfeit religion. It was one that imitated the Canaanite religions. It was one that appealed to the people of Israel. It was one that turned the Israelites away from the worship of the one true God. Jeroboam therefore becomes the standard by which other evil kings are measured:

33 In the third year of Asa’s reign over Judah, Baasha son of Ahijah became king over all Israel in Tirzah; he ruled for twenty-four years. 34 He did evil before the Lord; he followed in Jeroboam’s footsteps and encouraged Israel to sin (1 Kings 15:33-34; see also 16:2, 19; 22:52).

Jeroboam did this, supposing that it would preserve and promote his reign as king over the northern kingdom. In reality, it did just the opposite. Even after being rebuked for his sins, Jeroboam persisted in his evil ways, which prompted divine judgment:

7 Go, tell Jeroboam, ‘This is what the Lord God of Israel says: “I raised you up from among the people and made you ruler over my people Israel. 8 I tore the kingdom away from the Davidic dynasty and gave it to you. But you are not like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me wholeheartedly by doing only what I approve. 9 You have sinned more than all who came before you. You went and angered me by making other gods, formed out of metal; you have completely disregarded me. 10 So I am ready to bring disaster on the dynasty of Jeroboam. I will cut off every last male belonging to Jeroboam in Israel, including even the weak and incapacitated. I will burn up the dynasty of Jeroboam, just as one burns manure until it is completely consumed. 11 Dogs will eat the ones who die in the city, and the birds of the sky will eat the ones who die in the country.”’ Indeed the Lord has announced it (1 Kings 14:7-11).

With the division of the kingdom, the Israelites reached a new level of sin and rebellion against God. Jeroboam led the northern kingdom into what was virtually a variation of Canaanite worship. Under Rehoboam’s leadership, the people of Judah fell to a new level of sin as well:

22 Judah did evil before the Lord. They made him more jealous by their sins than their ancestors had done. 23 They even built for themselves high places, sacred pillars, and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every green tree. 24 There were also male cultic prostitutes in the land. They committed the same horrible sins as the nations that the Lord had driven out from before the Israelites (1 Kings 14:22-24).

Conclusion

The division of the united kingdom is a very significant turning point in the history of the nation Israel. If the reader did not know “the end of the story,” he would probably conclude that it was all over for the nation Israel. The adage, “divide and conquer” would surely seem to apply. The promised blessings that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all applied to the 12 tribes of Israel (see, for example, Genesis 49:1-28). The promised Messiah was to sit on the throne of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16). At this moment, the kingdom is divided into two nations, with two kings. Worse yet, these two nations are frequently in conflict with one another. How can God’s promises to the patriarchs possibly be fulfilled now? Once again, the purposes and promises of God seem in peril. It is a situation that only God can resolve, and resolve it, He will. It will be many, many years, however, until this happens.

The once united and powerful kingdom of Israel is now greatly weakened by division. Both the northern and the southern kingdoms will be more vulnerable to foreign powers. Both will be tempted to make alliances with Gentile nations. Both will be exposed to the idolatry of heathen religions. The division of the kingdom is, in one sense, the beginning of the end for both the northern and the southern kingdoms. The northern kingdom of Israel will be ruled by various kings and various dynasties – all evil. The southern kingdom of Judah will have a somewhat checkered history. The Davidic dynasty will produce some good kings and more wicked kings. The northern kingdom of Israel will be defeated and scattered abroad by the Assyrians. The southern kingdom of Judah will be carried off to captivity by the Babylonians. The division of the two kingdoms will only intensify. The animosity of the Jews of Jesus’ day for the Samaritans is the fruit of the divided kingdom. It will take a spectacular intervention on the part of God to put this nation back together.

From this point on, it is a downhill and very slippery slope that Israel and Judah will walk. God’s dealings with Israel will serve as a warning to Judah, a warning which the southern kingdom will not heed. Things will quickly deteriorate from bad to worse, with only a few bright spots for Judah. The prophecies of Deuteronomy 28-31 are quickly beginning to find their fulfillment in this history of Israel, now a divided kingdom.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from our text and from this turning point in Israel’s history. Let me point out just a few.

Our text is a vivid illustration of the way divisions occur. The division of the united kingdom occurred in a way that is classic for all divisions. Churches have split and marriages have ended in divorce in precisely the same manner. Let me point out some of the key elements. The first element is pride (or arrogance). Rehoboam was too proud to heed the petition of the people and to lighten the load his father had placed on them. The second element, closely related, is power. Rehoboam wanted to be in control, to be “in charge.” He viewed mercy, kindness, and humility as weakness, and he would have none of this. The third element is “godly counsel.” Rehoboam refused to heed the wise counsel of his father’s counselors; instead, he listened to his peers. I don’t know how many divorces have been facilitated by the “advice” of good friends. The fourth element is that of leadership. Rehoboam abused his position of leadership. He viewed his position as the opportunity to force others to serve him, rather than as his opportunity to serve others. Humility and servanthood would have saved his kingdom. Finally, there is the element of time. There was a window of opportunity for healing and reconciliation, and Rehoboam did not seize it. The longer the division lasted, the more intense it became. We would do well to ponder the failures of Rehoboam, for divisions are still very much a part of the fallen world in which we live.

Our text is also a great illustration of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. From one perspective, the division of the kingdom was the result of the arrogance and the foolishness of Rehoboam. One could look at the entire sequence of events from a totally human perspective. And yet we must take into account the words of 1 Kings 11:9-13. And lest we forget them, in the midst of the account of the division, we are reminded that the division of the kingdom was ultimately God’s will:

The king refused to listen to the people, because the Lord was instigating this turn of events so that he might bring to pass the prophetic announcement he had made through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat (1 Kings 12:15).

The major problem that most people face in dealing with the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man is that they assume it must be all one way or the other. They assume that if God is sovereign, then man must not be free to make choices. The only other option for many is that men are free agents, causing God not to be in complete control of human history. How, they reason, can God hold any man accountable for choices that he was predestined to make? The fact is that God gives men the freedom to make choices, but He is always in complete control of human history.

When I seek to be in control of my children, I must do so by restricting their freedoms and by limiting their choices. I cannot let them out of my sight, or I lose control. God’s sovereignty is far greater in nature and scope. God is so great that He can give men the freedom to make choices, yet these “free choices” can never contradict, hinder, nor thwart God’s purposes or promises. The relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is never an “either/or” issue; it is a “both/and” matter. We see this very clearly in the division of the nation Israel.

A friend of mine reminded me of the “principle of unintended consequences.” To be honest, I’m not sure that I fully grasp it, but I do think that our text demonstrates the fact that our actions often can have very profound “unintended consequences.” At the moment Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, I am convinced that she had no idea where her sin would lead. Actions that may seem trivial at the time have profound consequences, for good or evil. Rehoboam did not set out to divide his kingdom or to set the nation on a path of disaster. But the fact is that his foolish decision did have these consequences. Rehoboam should have known better. He followed the example of Solomon his father (at a very foolish time in his life) and the advice of his friends, rather than the Word of God and the words of wise men.

18 When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this instruction on a scroll given to him by the levitical priests. 19 It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this instruction and these statutes in order to carry them out, 20 so that he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens and turn from the commandment right or left, and so that he and his descendants may enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:18-20, emphasis mine).

This whole matter of servanthood and leadership is prominent in the Bible, and especially in the New Testament. Jesus’ disciples hoped for a kingdom in which they would have power and authority, so that others would serve them. This is the way the scribes and Pharisees exercised their power:

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples, 2 “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’ 8 But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. 9 And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:1-12).

The disciples were tempted to follow this path, but Jesus taught them otherwise:

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 They said to him, “Permit one of us to sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?” 39 They said to him, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience, 40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give. It is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John. 42 Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 43 But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:35-45).

The church at Corinth was plagued with divisions and strife, and it had everything to do with pride, power, and arrogance (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-12). It was fostered by those who sought to lead in a “Gentile” sort of way:

19 For since you are so wise, you put up with fools gladly. 20 For you put up with it if someone makes slaves of you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone behaves arrogantly toward you, if someone strikes you in the face (2 Corinthians 11:19-20).

The source of division is frequently pride and arrogance and a seeking for power. The key to unity is humility, manifested in true servanthood:

1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. 5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,

6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!
9 As a result God exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow
—in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess
to the glory of God the Father
that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:1-11).

The cross of Jesus Christ is a constant source of wonder and amazement to me. Think of it. Our Lord was God incarnate. He created the heavens and the earth (see John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:16). He, above any other person to set foot on this earth, was, and is, sovereign. I know of no better definition of sovereignty than that given by Nebuchadnezzar:

34 “But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar,
looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me.
I blessed the Most High,
and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his rule is an everlasting rule,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand
and says to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35).

Think of it! The sovereign God of the universe humbled Himself by taking on sinless humanity. He who had the power to call thousands of angels to His side humbled Himself by His death on the cross of Calvary. He bore the sinner’s guilt and punishment, so that all who believe in Him could have the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. If the all-powerful, almighty God could humble Himself and submit Himself to the agony of the cross, what does that mean for us? First, it means that we can be saved by trusting in Him. Secondly, it means that we should follow in His steps, for the glory of God, and the good of others:

19 For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. 21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may leave sin behind and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:19-25).

Let us follow in the steps of the Savior. Let us first receive the gift of salvation, by faith in His death, burial, and resurrection in our place. Then, let us seek to walk in humility and obedience, setting aside our selfish interests, so that we are free to serve others.


246 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on May 20, 2001.

247 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

248 It is interesting to note that of the three kings of the united kingdom, David had the most intimate relationship with God, and yet we never read that David was overcome by the Holy Spirit, as Saul was. Neither do we read that God ever appeared to David, as He did to Solomon.

249 We know from 1 Kings 12:21, 23 that the tribe of Benjamin also remained loyal to Rehoboam. Apparently they were such a small and insignificant tribe that they hardly even counted in the mind of the writer. Thus it is that he speaks of the ten tribes and Judah.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)