Scripture reading – Proverbs 31, 1 Kings 12

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Three men had reigned as king in Israel. The first was Saul, who was of the tribe of Benjamin. After Saul, the LORD chose David to reign. He was the son of Jesse and of the tribe of Judah. Because he was a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22), the LORD established a lasting covenant with David and his lineage, one that will ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus Christ returns to reign as the “King of kings and LORD of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16).

 

The Tumultuous Reign of Rehoboam (1 Kings 11:42-43)

King Solomon died (1 Kings 11:43), and “Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead” (1 Kings 11:43b). So began a new and tragic phase in Israel’s history. Rehoboam succeeded in the role his father served for forty years (1 Kings 11:42), and the young king was soon tested. Tragically, rather than humble himself and seek the LORD for wisdom, Rehoboam’s heart was lifted with pride, and thus, he failed to take the opportunity to solidify his reign as king in Israel.

King Rehoboam

1 Kings 12

Rehoboam was crowned king in Shechem, a city that held a significant place in Israel’s history. Shechem was the first place Abraham camped in the Promised Land (Genesis 12:6-7). It was where Joshua addressed Israel before his death (Joshua 24:1-15) and where the bones of Joseph were interred after the tribes of Israel returned to their homeland (Joshua 24:32).

Jeroboam, Solomon’s Enemy, Returned to Israel (1 Kings 12:2-4)

Jeroboam fled to Egypt during Solomon’s reign, for the king recognized he was a threat to his crown and the peace of Israel (1 Kings 11:26-40). Soon after Solomon died (1 Kings 12:2), the men in Israel “sent and called Jeroboam” to return to Israel (1 Kings 12:3).

Jeroboam, emboldened by Solomon’s death, became the opposing voice of the northern ten tribes in Israel (1 Kings 12:3). Speaking on behalf of the people, he challenged Rehoboam and demanded the burdens Solomon placed on the people be decreased (probably taxes and forced labor on the king’s construction projects, 1 Kings 12:4).

The Counsel of Rehoboam’s Advisors (1 Kings 12:5-14)

Rehoboam requested three days to consider his response to Jeroboam’s demands (1 Kings 12:5). The young king first appealed to the men who served as his father’s advisors. They were older and experienced, so they counseled the young king to approach the people like a servant (1 Kings 12:6-7). They advised him to speak kindly to the people, and they would become his “servants for ever” (1 Kings 12:7).

The young king, however, rejected the counsel of his elders (1 Kings 12:8). Instead, he turned to his peers, “young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him” (1 Kings 12:8). Revealing their youthful zeal, and courting the king’s favor, Rehoboam’s peers mocked the people’s request for lighter burdens, and urged him to approach the people with pride and disdain (1 Kings 12:9-10). They urged the king to deny the people’s demands and thus set the stage for fulfilling the proverb: Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

On the third day, Jeroboam and the people came before the king at the appointed time (12:12). Rehoboam followed the advice of his peers. He boasted and spoke harshly to the people and provoked the children of Israel to rebel (12:13-14).

A Foolish King, and a Lesson in God’s Sovereignty (1 Kings 12:15)

We read, “Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (12:15). [Note – 1 Kings 11:29-33]

King Rehoboam’s words and actions, though contrary to the counsel of his elders, accomplished the LORD’s purpose. The LORD foretold how Solomon’s sins would cause Israel to become a divided nation during his son’s reign (1 Kings 11:34-40). Thus, the prophecy and purpose were fulfilled (1 Kings 12:15).

Israel and Judah Divided

The Rebellion of Israel’s Northern Ten Tribes (1 Kings 12:16-24)

The children of Israel rejected Rehoboam as king (1 Kings 12:16, 19), and when the king sent a tax collector to demand tribute, they killed him. After hearing what was done, Rehoboam fled to Jerusalem for safety (1 Kings 12:18-19). The children of Israel (the northern ten tribes) then “made [Jeroboam] king over all Israel: there was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only…with the tribe of Benjamin” (1 Kings 12:20-21).

Rehoboam then raised an army of 180,000 men from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (1 Kings 12:21) and planned to go to war against his brethren in the north.  God, however, sent a prophet and demanded no war in Israel (1 Kings 12:22-24).

 

Jeroboam: The First King of the Northern Ten Tribes (1 Kings 12:25-33)

Jeroboam knew the people made annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Temple to worship the LORD, which might cause the people to seek to reunite the nation (1 Kings 12:25-27). Taking counsel from those who had joined his rebellion (1 Kings 12:28), Jeroboam determined to establish a religion with his gods (1 Kings 12:25-27).

Fashioning his idols after the likeness of heathen gods, Jeroboam “made two calves of gold, and said unto them, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt’” (1 Kings 12:28).

Jeroboam never confessed his motive for establishing idolatry in Israel and excused his wickedness, reasoning that Jerusalem was “too much” or too far away for the people (1 Kings 12:28). He lied, altered Israel’s history, and attributed his golden calves as the gods that had delivered the Hebrew children out of Egypt (1 Kings 12:28). Rather than Jerusalem and the Temple, Jeroboam ordained two cities to serve as places of worship, Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:29-30).

Understanding the priests and Levites would refuse to participate in Israel’s idolatry; Jeroboam chose men to be priests who were “of the lowest of the people” (1 Kings 12:31). He established feast days to replace those the LORD ordained (1 Kings 12:32-33). It appears Jeroboam ordained himself to sacrifice to his gods, for we read, “he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense” (1 Kings 12:33).

King Jeroboam of Israel

Closing thoughts –

Consider how quickly the children of Israel departed into idolatry. They rejected God, His Law, and Commandments. They accepted Jeroboam’s religious piety while rejecting the One True God, whose Temple was in Jerusalem. Finally, they ordained spiritual leaders like themselves, who were “of the lowest of the people” (1 Kings 12:31).

Lest you think we are not tempted to follow Israel’s failures, think about the people who are in leadership in your church, community, and nation. Too often, “the lowest [unqualified] of the people” are appointed and promoted to leadership (1 Kings 12:31).

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith 

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