Jeroboam, Rehoboam, and a Divided Israel

It’s been a while since we’ve done one of our people of the Bible lessons, where we’re studying the lives of people in the Bible as a method to walk us through the Bible. Last we left off, Solomon—the son of David—was king of Israel. And for a long time he was a wise and good king, whose wisdom made him famous and whose kingdom was so prosperous that he was able to build an amazing Temple to God. However, when Solomon became an old man, he started letting his foreign wives—who worshipped other gods—influence him and he started also worshiping those gods.

As you know, “Have no other gods before God” is literally the first commandment, so needless to say God wasn’t happy with Solomon. God told Solomon that he would not punish Solomon during his life—out of respect to his father David—but after Solomon died, God would divide Israel, so that most of Israel went to another royal line, and only one tribe would be left to the child of Solomon to rule.

Today we’re going to pick up right after Solomon’s sin but right before Solomon dies. So please open your Bibles to 1 Kings 11:26-28.

26 Jeroboam son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow, rebelled against the king. 27 The following was the reason he rebelled against the king. Solomon built the Millo, and closed up the gap in the wall[a] of the city of his father David. 28 The man Jeroboam was very able, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious he gave him charge over all the forced labor of the house of Joseph.

Here we are introduced to Jeroboam. We’re told several things here at our introduction to him. He’s an Ephraimite, which means he is an Israelite of the house of Ephraim—one of the landed twelve tribes of Israel. Ephraim’s name may not be familiar to you from the list of the names of Jacob’s sons, and that’s because Ephraim was a son of Joseph. Because Joseph as so awesome, his two sons basically each have a tribe named after them. Which is why later it says he’s put in charge of the house of Joseph. Ephraim and Joseph, for our purposes here are the same thing. We’re also told right off the bat that he rebelled against Solomon, and the following verses are going to be the story of that rebellion. However, in contrast to that rebellion we’re told that he was a capable and industrious young man, which is why Solomon trusted him and put him in charge of things, and I imagine what put him in such a good place to rebel. It takes a good leader to get a nearly successful rebellion off the ground—as we saw with David.

Alright so let’s read Jeroboam’s story and see how he rebelled. Someone please read 1 Kings 11:29-40.

29 About that time, when Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Ahijah had clothed himself with a new garment. The two of them were alone in the open country 30 when Ahijah laid hold of the new garment he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 He then said to Jeroboam: Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “See, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes. 32 One tribe will remain his, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. 33 This is because he has[a] forsaken me, worshiped Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and has[b] not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, as his father David did. 34 Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom away from him but will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of my servant David whom I chose and who did keep my commandments and my statutes; 35 but I will take the kingdom away from his son and give it to you—that is, the ten tribes. 36 Yet to his son I will give one tribe, so that my servant David may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name. 37 I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires; you shall be king over Israel. 38 If you will listen to all that I command you, walk in my ways, and do what is right in my sight by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you, and will build you an enduring house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39 For this reason I will punish the descendants of David, but not forever.” 40 Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam; but Jeroboam promptly fled to Egypt, to King Shishak of Egypt, and remained in Egypt until the death of Solomon.

There is a lot in here and some of it is repetitive of what we already know, but let’s break it down. Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem one day—probably minding his own business—when a prophet of the Lord tracked him down. This prophet is named Ahijad. They’re in the middle of nowhere when Ahijad tears off a part of his robe and tears it into twelve pieces. He gives ten to Jeroboam. And then for clarity, he tells Jeroboam exactly why he’s doing this and what it means.

God is taking the kingdom out of Solomon’s family’s hands. He is giving ten tribes to Jeroboam and leaving Solomon one as punishment for Solomon’s sin. Now a couple of things here: why are only eleven tribes being accounted for here? Jeroboam gets ten and Solomon gets one doesn’t add up to twelve. That’s because the tribe of Levi is not a landed tribe that any king rules. They are a tribe of priests and the priests would continue to serve both sides. The second thing is…why is God leaving Solomon anything after such a great sin? Well Ahijad explains it—God made a promise to David, a promise that his house would rule forever. If he takes away all the tribes from Solomon literally one generation after David’s death that makes it sort of seem like God is backing out of his promise. So because God made this promise to David, Solomon’s line would continue but it would continue in a weakened and less powerful state—ruling only one tribe of Israel. This is for David’s benefit—not Solomon’s.

Jeroboam will be king of the rest of Israel. And if he walks with God, his house will endure—not necessarily forever, this isn’t the same level of promise God gave David, but it will succeed.

Though God also makes it clear that this punishment for the descendants of David is not forever, so there is hope that Israel could be reunited under an heir of David.

In this section the author is writing things in way that would make a close reader of the text remember David and how very similar David and Jeroboam are in these situations. David was the rebel against the established king Saul. Jeroboam is the rebel against the established king Solomon. And in both cases, the established king wants to kill the new king.

What I find interesting is that the beginning of the section called this a Rebellion, and we don’t actually see Jeroboam inciting any rebellion in this section. However, claiming to be a new king would be viewed as rebellious and it’s no wonder that Solomon—the current king would want to kill him.

So Jeroboam flees to Egypt, where he remains until Solomon dies.

As we know Solomon does die. So what happens next? His son would expect to be king of everything after him right? But we know God has made this promise to Jeroboam. So how are things going to fall out? Is Jeroboam going to wage war against Solomon’s son—whose name happens to be Rehoboam? Are we going to have another civil war on our hands? Well let’s see. Someone please read 1 Kings 12:1-5.

12 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. 2 When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from[a] Egypt. 3 And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, 4 “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” 5 He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.

So Rehoboam is the son of Solomon and the person who should be king after Solomon. He goes to this city called Shechem to be made king, and like everyone from Israel comes there to see. Even Jeroboam, who had been living in Egypt up to this point, comes to Shechem. While this gathering is taking place, the people bring an issue to their new king. They say, “Hey, while Solomon was king, he put a lot of taxes on us. If you could lighten that, we would be so grateful and would serve you happily.”

This just goes to show that humans have been complaining about taxes for as long as their have been governments taxing people!

Anyway, Rehoboam is like, “Hmm, I need to think about this request. Can I have three days?”

And everyone is like, “That seems completely reasonable.” After all, it’s wise for a king to think on things before making a decision.

Now someone please read 1 Kings 12:6-11.

6 Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” 7 They answered him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” 8 But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted with the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. 9 He said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” 10 The young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us’; thus you should say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. 11 Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”

So Rehoboam goes back and asks two sets of advisors what he should. The first group he asks are some older men who advise his father, Solomon. They say to him that if he lightens the people’s taxes and burdens now, they will view him favorably and be loyal to him forever. Rehoboam then goes to a group of men his own age and asks and they’re like, “Dude, you’re king and they’re your subjects. They have to do what you say. You should be like, “You thought my father was tough! I’m tougher! I’m going to be the toughest guy you have ever known!”

Now a few things on this, as a king it is a good idea to get advise from multiple parties and take in many points of views. In a modern democracy, it’s good to get perspectives of all your constituents—old and young and way that make a decision, because everyone has equal rights under the law if you’re an adult—whether you’re 18 or 100. But as we’ve talked about before, the main difference between young people and older people is life experience and wisdom. These former advisors of Solomon had served under an incredibly wise king and had a lot of experience dealing with the Israelites. These new young advisors on the other hand were mostly concerned with seeming tough—for some reason that’s what they thought a king should be—tough.

Out of these two choices, which one do you think Rehoboam should have chosen? [Let them answer.]

Well let’s see what he picks. Someone please read 1 Kings 12:12-15.

12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had said, “Come to me again the third day.” 13 The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him 14 and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.

After three days everyone comes back to listen and hear what the king has decided. And Rehoboam decides to go with the advice of his young friends over the advice of the older and wiser advisors. Rehoboam tells the people he is going to be tougher and harder than his father before them.

And the writer of Kings foreshadows in the next section how the people are going to handle this—because he says that the reason Rehoboam chose poorly was so that God’s words could be fulfilled and Israel could be split so that Jeroboam could be king of ten tribes.

That seems to indicate things aren’t going to go well.

Someone please read 1 Kings 12:16-19.

16 When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king,

“What share do we have in David?
    We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.
To your tents, O Israel!
    Look now to your own house, O David.”

So Israel went away to their tents. 17 But Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah. 18 When King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labor, all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam then hurriedly mounted his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.

The people are distressed by Rehoboam’s refusal to listen to them. They feel like the house of David has betrayed them. So when Rehoboam sends out his tax collecter—well the people aren’t happen with him and they kill him.

A few things on this section—it says that Adoram was in charge of forced labor. Forced labor was one of the ways people paid taxes back then. Instead of paying money, you would have to come and work on basically national projects for a while. So if you were normally a carpenter who charged money for your work, every once in a while the king would come and basically say “You need to serve me for free for a while.”

This is basically how Solomon got the Temple and Palace built, which is why I imagine people thought things were really hard under him—because of all the work they had to do.

So when it came time for this guy Adoram to round the people up, the people said no, and they killed him by a method called stoning. Stoning is basically when you throw rocks at a person until they die. And I don’t mean little pebbles. I mean like big rocks. That was a pretty common communal method of killing someone back then.

Killing an agent of the king like this is basically full-on rebellion.

It’s a fine line kings and rulers walk, because sometimes you have to make people do things they don’t want to do for the common good, but if you push people too far they will fight back. We see this all over history. It’s one of the reasons why the French Revolution happened—common people were literally starving to death while the nobility were having lavish decadent parties. If a ruler pushes people to hard, they will revolt.

And that’s what happens to Rehoboam here.

Someone please read 1 Kings 12:20-24.

 20 When all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was no one who followed the house of David, except the tribe of Judah alone.

21 When Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, one hundred eighty thousand chosen troops to fight against the house of Israel, to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam son of Solomon. 22 But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God: 23 Say to King Rehoboam of Judah, son of Solomon, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, 24 “Thus says the Lord, You shall not go up or fight against your kindred the people of Israel. Let everyone go home, for this thing is from me.” So they heeded the word of the Lord and went home again, according to the word of the Lord.

So all these people are really dissatisfied and unhappy with Rehoboam. And when they hear Jeroboam is back in town, they basically all just say “To heck with Rehoboam, Jeroboam is our king now.”

Rehoboam is not happy about this. He gathers all of the men of Judah and Benjamin to go fight against Jeroboam—which is literally like the rest of Israel—way more men. But then God sends a messenger to Rehoboam and is like, “No. You’re not going to war with this guy. This was my decision. Israel will be split now. And that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

And Rehoboam listens and there is no war between the two leaders of this new split Israel.

From now going forward in the Bible there are going to be two kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom, often known as just Israel, and the Southern kingdom, often known as just Judah. Most of Israel is in the Northern Kingdom, and the Southern Kingdom is all of Judah and some of Benjamin. We will never see a united Israel, containing all of the tribes, that is self-ruled ever again.

Israel is split forever more, and the glory days of David and Solomon are gone. From this story forth these two kingdoms are separated, and at the mercy of some good kings and a lot of bad kings, and even further on we’ll see Israel wiped off the map by invaders, and the how Hebrew identity called into question as these people are exiled from the land they believe God promised them.

It’s a rough road ahead.