1 Kings 12

1 KINGS CHAPTER 12

The Early Divided Kingdom (12:1-16:14)

The Division of the Nation (12:1-24)

The Northern Tribes Revolt

      • Rehoboam went to Shechem because all of Israel had gathered there to make him king. Nebat’s son Jeroboam returned from Egypt when he heard the news. He had been living in Egypt ever since he fled from King Solomon. They summoned him, and Jeroboam and the entire Israelite assembly went and said to Rehoboam: “Your father made our yoke a heavy burden. If you will lighten the hard labor and heavy yoke he put on us, we will serve you.” He answered, “Go away for 3 days and then come back to me.” So they left.

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “Shechem is a place of covenant renewal (Josh 24:1-27), and the place also where kingship first briefly intruded itself into the tribal life of Israel (Judges 9). It is the ideal place for a prospective king to be invited and confronted with the question of how he is going to exercise his kingship.”

        • HCSB notes, “There is strong evidence that Solomon, while not starting out enslaving Israelites, ending up doing so.”

        • On the heavy yoke, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “Refers to the corvee labor noted in 9:15. The Akkadian expression for yoke implies ‘rule’ or ‘service.’”

        • The complaint was probably twofold. The Israelites no doubt complained in part of the heavy weight of taxation laid upon them for the maintenance of the monarch and his court 1 Kings 4:19-23. But their chief grievance was the forced labor to which they had been subjected 1 Kings 5:13-14; 1 Kings 11:28. Forced labor has been among the causes leading to insurrection in many ages and countries. It helped to bring about the French Revolution, and it was for many years one of the principal grievances of the Russian serfs. Jeroboam’s position as superintendent of the forced labors of the tribe of Ephraim 1 Kings 11:28 revealed to him the large amount of dissatisfaction which Solomon’s system had produced, and his contemplated rebellion in Solomon’s reign may have been connected with this standing grievance.” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)

        • Guzik mentions, “Rehoboam was the only son of Solomon that we know by name. Solomon had 1,000 wives and concubines, yet we read of one son he had to bear up his name, and he was a fool. This demonstrates that sin is a bad way of building up a family.” He also cites Knapp, “It is difficult to believe that he had no other sons; yet it is a fact that Rehoboam is the only one mentioned (1 Chronicles 3:10).”

      • Then Rehoboam consulted with the elders who had advised his father Solomon during his lifetime, asking, “How do you advise me to answer these people?” They replied, “If you will be a servant to these people today, give them a favorable answer, and speak kindly to them, they will be your servants forever.” But he rejected the elders’ advice and consulted with the young men he had grown up with that were now his advisers, asking them, “How do you advise me to respond to these people who have said to me, “Lighten the yoke that your father put on us.’?” The men who had grown up with him answered, “This is what you should say to those people: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! My father laid a heavy yoke upon you; I will make it even heavier. My father disciplined you with whips; I will discipline you with barbed whips that sting like scorpions.’”

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes explain a couple of difficult sections of text here:

        • The word “finger” is not actually present in Rehoboam’s statement that his “little finger is thicker than…” NET Bible’s text critical notes say, “The referent of ‘my little one’ is not clear. The traditional view is that it refers to the little finger. As the following statement makes clear, Rehoboam’s point is that he is more harsh and demanding than his father.”

        • Regarding Rehoboam’s whip comparison, “’Scorpions’ might allude to some type of torture using poisonous insects, but more likely it refers to a type of whip that inflicts an especially biting, painful wound. Cf. CEV ‘whips with pieces of sharp metal.’”

      • I believe Guzik makes an important point here, “Before Rehoboam ever consulted with the younger men, he rejected the advice of the elders…This is a common phenomenon today – what some call advice shopping. The idea is that you keep asking different people for advice until you find someone who will tell you what you want to hear. This is an unwise and ungodly way to get counsel. It is better to have a few trusted counselors you will listen to even when they tell you what you don’t want to hear…These men were much more likely to tell Rehoboam what he already thought. By turning to those likely to think just as he did, it shows that Rehoboam only asked for advice for the sake of appearances.”

      • On the third day, Jeroboam and all the people reported back to Rehoboam, just as the king had instructed. The king rejected the elders’ advice, following the advice of the young men instead. He answered the people harshly, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will make it even heavier. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with barbed whips that sting like scorpions.” The king didn’t listen to the people, because it was a turn of events brought about by Yahweh to fulfill the word that Yahweh had spoken to Nebat’s son, Jeroboam, through Ahijah from Shiloh.

        • Does verse 15 mean that Rehoboam wouldn’t listen to the people because God had preordained that he would not? Many commentaries compare this situation to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus. In that case, Pharaoh is said to have hardened his own heart initially, after which God also hardens his heart- a strengthening of his resolve, so to speak. The point Guzik makes above creates a parallel in this instance. The following sources comment:

          • ESV Study Bible: “Amid all the human decisions, God’s decision is being carried through, as was the case with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 4:21; 7:3-4, 13).”

        • Pulpit Commentary: “God did not inspire Rehoboam’s proud and despotic reply, but used it for the accomplishment of His purpose, the partition of the kingdom (cf. Exodus 14:4; Matthew 26:24). God makes the wrath of man to praise Him], that [Heb. in order that] he might perform his saying, which the Lord spake by [Heb. in the hand of; cf. 1 Kings 14:18; 1 Kings 2:25, note] Ahijah the Shilonite [see on 1 Kings 11:11] unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”

        • Barnes’ Notes on the Bible: “The cause was from the Lord – i. e., ‘the turn of events was from the Lord.’ Human passions, anger, pride, and insolence, worked out the accomplishment of the divine designs. Without interfering with man’s free will, God guides the course of events, and accomplishes His purposes.”

        • Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary: “Never was man more blinded by pride, and desire of arbitrary power, than which nothing is more fatal. God’s counsels were hereby fulfilled. He left Rehoboam to his own folly, and hid from his eyes the things which belonged to his peace, that the kingdom might be rent from him. God serves his own wise and righteous purposes by the imprudences and sins of men. Those that lose the kingdom of heaven, throw it away, as Rehoboam, by wilfulness and folly.”

      • When all of Israel saw that the king didn’t listen to them, the people said to him, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in Jesse’s son. Go back to your homes, Israel! Look after your own house now, David!” So the Israelites went back home, but Rehoboam still ruled over the Israelites who lived in the cities of Judah. Then King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of the forced labor, but all of Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam, however, managed to hurriedly get into his chariot, and escape to Jerusalem. So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this very day. When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they summoned him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. No one followed the house of David except for the tribe of Judah.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “The scene is almost a repeat of prior revolts in Israel (cf 2 Sa 20:1). The division of the monarchy is commonly referred to as the ‘schism,’ but in reality the division into northern and southern kingdoms was a return to the natural state of affairs based on geographic realities and long-held tribal associations. The tensions of the tribal league discussed in Judges will now manifest themselves in military conflict between neighboring polities…”

        • NET Bible says, “We have no portion in David; no share in the son of Jesse. Their point seems to be that they have no familial relationship with David that brings them any benefits or places upon them any obligations. They are being treated like outsiders.”

        • I have sided with the versions that opt for the rendering “Adoniram.” NET Bible text critical notes explain, “The MT has ‘Adoram’ here, but the Old Greek translation and Syriac Peshitta have ‘Adoniram.’ Cf. 1 Kgs 4:6.”

        • HCSB notes, “Rehoboam insulted ‘all Israel’ by sending the man in charge of the Canaanite slave work force. By sending Adoram, Rehoboam implied that Israel was to be dealt with the same way.”

        • Guzik notes, “From this point on in the history of Israel, the name ‘Israel’ referred to the ten northern tribes and the name ‘Judah’ referred to the southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah.”

Shemaiah’s Prophecy

      • When Rehoboam arrived in Jerusalem, he summoned 180,000 chosen warriors from all of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin to fight against Israel and restore the kingdom to himself. But the word of God came to Shemaiah, the man of God, saying: “Tell Solomon’s son Rehoboam, the king of Judah, tell all of Judah and Benjamin, and the rest of the people, ‘This is what Yahweh says: ‘Do not go up and fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Every one of you must go home, because what has happened is My doing.’” So they listened to the word of Yahweh, and went back home as Yahweh had instructed.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Rehoboam resolved to restore the kingdom to himself by force, but he turned back when confronted with the message of the Lord through Shemaiah. The term man of God emphasizes a prophet’s relationship to the Lord as his messenger. God’s prophets played a leading role in the history of the divided kingdom. Shemaiah apparently authored a history of Rehoboam’s reign (2 Chr 12:15).”

Jeroboam’s Reign in Israel (12:25-14:20)

Jeroboam’s Golden Calves

      • Jeroboam built up Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. From there, he went out and built up Penuel. Then Jeroboam thought to himself, “The way things are going now, the kingdom might return to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at Yahweh’s house in Jerusalem, their hearts will return to their lord, Rehoboam, the king of Judah. They’ll kill me and go back to King Rehoboam.” After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. Then he said to the people, “It’s too difficult for you to go to Jerusalem. Look Israel, here are your gods who brought you up out of Egypt.” He set one up in Bethel and the other in Dan. Then this thing became a sin because the people went to worship before the one at Bethel and before the other as far as Dan.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible has two very interesting entries regarding this passage:

          • Traces of Jeroboam’s building activities have been unearthed, though they are unimpressive when compared to the massive walls, gates, and public buildings of the second-millennium Middle Bronze Age city. Jeroboam’s royal initiatives at other strategic centers are attested in a beautiful seal that bears his name. Found at Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley, it bears the name of ‘Shema, servant of Jeroboam.’ Recent analysis of the seal’s original context in the gate of Megiddo indicates that it may well have belonged to this tenth-century BC king…”

        • Ancient Near Eastern religious tradition reinforced the power and virility of key deities through association with the bull or calf…In the Canaanite tradition, e.g., both the patron god El and the warrior-god of fertility, Baal, were often referred to as ‘bull’ or ‘calf.’…It is important to note that these creatures represented not the gods themselves but only their attributes. Whether they were cast in metal or incorporated into architecture or incense stands, the bovines were the pedestal or footstool on which the deity was thought to stand…In seeking to replace traditional worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem, Jeroboam initiated a syncretistic pattern that culminated in national Baal worship under the reign of Ahab and Jezebel…Given the range of bovine imagery in the ancient Near East, Jeroboam’s calves (like those of Aaron in Ex 32) may not be intended as deity (in violation of the first commandment). Rather, they may reflect growing syncretism with neighboring religious systems (likely Egyptian or Canaanite influence) or may reflect the human tendency to make an image of Israel’s God in line with a common means of representing deity in the ancient Near East (in violation of the second commandment).”

        • Guzik writes, “The fact of the divided kingdom did not mean that the northern tribes were exempt from their covenant obligations. They were under the Law of Moses as much as the southern tribes, but Jeroboam feared the political implications of yearly trips down to the capital city of the southern kingdom of Judah…Jeroboam seems to forget or ignore the promise God made to him through the prophet Ahijah recorded in 1 Kings 11. Jeroboam could best secure his throne by radical obedience to God, not by leading the ten northern tribes into idolatry…Jeroboam appealed to their natural desire for convenience. Men will usually take the easy way out when they can; therefore, it was thought to be good if an idol in Bethel or Dan could replace the trip all the way to Jerusalem…Jeroboam repeated the same words of Aaron about 500 years before his time (Exodus 32:4).”

      • He also built houses on the high places and he appointed priests from all sorts of people who weren’t Levites. Jeroboam instituted a festival on the 15th day of the 8th month and offered sacrifices on the altar, like the festival that was in Judah. He did this in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. He also stationed priests in Bethel for the high places he had made. So on the 15th day of the 8th month, a day that he himself had devised, Jeroboam offered sacrifices on the altar at Bethel. He instituted a festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings.

          • ESV Study Bible comments, “…This represents the proliferation of ‘high places’ about which the authors of 1-2 Kings are so deeply concerned (see 1 Kgs 3:2). The sanctuary at Bethel is the more important of the two for these authors, for it is here that Jeroboam invests the major part of his effort to set up his new worship arrangements. He builds a temple at this high place, appoints priests to serve it who had not been set apart by God for such service, and invents a central feast to celebrate in it- a version of the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles), celebrated in Jerusalem in the seventh month (cf 8:2; Lev 23:33-43), but now in northern Israel in the eighth month. Aaron, too, having made his golden calf, built an altar an announced a festival on a date devised from his own heart (cf Ex 32:5); and on that occasion, too, the Levites were not involved in the celebrations (Ex 32:26). It is false worship, and Jeroboam’s action in leading the people into it will constantly be referred to in the rest of 1-2 Kings…This worship is Israel’s characteristic sin that eventually leads the people to exile in a foreign land (2 Kgs 17:20-23).”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “…The imitation observance one month later during the eighth month may have coincided with the end of the Canaanite agricultural year…”

        • Guzik notes, “Jeroboam rejected the commandments of God regarding the priesthood of Israel, and established a priesthood of his own liking…The legitimate priests and Levites who lived in the northern ten tribes did not like this. They, along with others who set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel, moved from the northern kingdom of Israel to the southern kingdom of Judah during this period (2 Chronicles 11:13-16). Spiritually speaking, Israel was struck twice – by the ungodly religion of Jeroboam and by the departure of the godly and faithful. There were few godly people left in the northern kingdom.”

Click here to go to chapter 13