1 Kings 12:1 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone there to make him king.
After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam ruled in his place. His father’s success was financed through heavy taxation, and the people were feeling oppressed. They hoped the installation of a new king would be an opportunity to negotiate something more agreeable.
1 Kings 12:2 When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard this . . . he returned from Egypt.
Jeroboam was an important leader in Solomon’s labor force (1 Kings 11:28). He received word from the prophet Ahijah that he would rule over most of Israel (1 Kings 11:29-39). Solomon did not like this prophecy so he tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt (1 Kings 11:40). When Solomon died, Jeroboam returned to fulfill his destiny. He was a serious threat to Solomon’s son, King Rehoboam.
1 Kings 12:4 [The people said to Rehoboam] Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten [it] and we will serve you.
Rehoboam promised to respond within three days, giving him time to consult with his advisors. Those who served his father encouraged the king to answer the people favorably. If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants (1 Kings 12:7), they said.
These men understood that the purpose of power is to serve. [W]hoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave (Matthew 20:26-27), said Jesus. Rehoboam needed to serve his people in order to be successful. But that is not what he had in mind.
1 Kings 12:8 Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him.
These young men were not familiar with the daily pain of ordinary Israelites. They were children of privilege who wanted to live in the manner to which they had grown accustomed. Solomon was the greatest king they had ever known, and his authority was absolute. If Rehoboam appeared weak he might never recover. Instead of giving into the people, he should be stronger than his father.
1 Kings 12:13 The king answered the people harshly. . . . My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.
Rehoboam’s policies would be harsher than his father’s, and the punishment for breaking them would also be worse. Rehoboam was not the kind of king who was willing to negotiate, and this would divide the nation.
1 Kings 12:16 When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king: What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? . . . So the Israelites went home.
This was nothing short of disastrous for Rehoboam and the nation. The glorious kingdom was now divided north and south. Instead of one powerful nation, they became two weaker nations, each less able to defend itself. It was a breach that would never be healed.
Rehoboam was an inexperienced leader, and apparently insecure. He viewed the challenge to his leadership as a threat, which caused him to overreact. If he had listened to the people, and made a few concessions, the nation would have been saved. Instead of a weakness, his loving concern would have been a strength.
1 Kings 12:20 When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.
The prophecy given to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29-39) was coming true, but it also had conditions. If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you (1 Kings 11:38). But Jeroboam would not be faithful to God, and things would turn out badly.
1 Kings 12:26 Jeroboam thought to himself, The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David.
The southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel were politically distinct, but they shared a common religion. Since the temple was in Judah, faithful Israelites would go there at least three times a year, as the law of God required (Exodus 23:17).
This should not have been a problem, but Jeroboam was convinced that a common religion would cause the Israelites to give their allegiance back to Judah, and that he would be killed for treason. So instead of trusting God, he changed the nation’s religion.
1 Kings 12:28-29 [Jeroboam] made two golden calves. He said to the people, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.
Bethel and Dan were at the southern and northern ends of Israel, so the people would not have to go all the way to Jerusalem to worship. Jeroboam also appointed a priesthood, and planned a yearly festival. His religion was similar to the Jewish religion, but it was not biblical. It was idolatry.
Most of the northern kingdom followed Jeroboam, but not everyone. Some abandoned their property and went to live in Judah, so they could worship God according to his word (2 Chronicles 11:13-16). They are like Christians who leave a church because the church has left the word of God. We are not free to worship God any way we please, but only according to his word. The further we stray from God’s word, the further we stray from God.
Reflection and Review
How did Rehoboam misunderstand leadership?
Should leaders try to be popular?
Why did Jeroboam change Israel’s religion?