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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 12

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



“The history of the divided kingdom has three phases:

(1) From Jeroboam to Omri in the north and from Rehoboam to Asa in the south - a time of mutual hostility.

(2) Under Ahab, Ahaziah, and Joram in Israel, and Jehoshaphat, Joram, and Ahaziah in the south - a time of friendship due to marital alliances.

(3) From Jehu of Israel and Joash of Judah to the fall of Samaria (722 B.C.) - another period of hostility.”(F1)

The mutual jealousy and mistrust between Israel and Judah had always existed, from the times of Jacob’s polygamous union with Leah and Rachel. Ephraim, the strongest of the northern tribes was descended from Rachel, whereas Judah the strongest of the southern tribes came from Leah. This mutual hatred and distrust surfaced in the times both of Gideon and of Jephthah as related in Judges. Saul, Israel’s first king, was from a small tribe located between Ephraim and Judah, and was thus enabled to rule over all Israel. David reigned only in Judah for the first seven and one half years; and, after being king over all Israel, he suffered two rebellions, one under Absalom, and the other by Sheba of Northern Israel.

Furthermore, when David finally became king over all Israel, it was by a covenant arrangement with Northern Israel. Solomon had indeed reigned over all Israel, but as the result of a Davidic decree, and not by reason of any covenant with the whole people. The ten tribes of the north were not willing to submit to Solomon’s successor on the basis of Rehoboam’s being a son of Solomon. They had in mind an initial period of negotiations before they submitted. Rehoboam wisely submitted to their invitation and went to Shethem.

Shethem was a place of great historical interest to Israel. “The names of Abraham (Genesis 12:6), Jacob (Genesis 32:18), Joshua (Joshua 24:1), Gideon and Abimelech (Israel’s first experience with a king) (Judges 9:6), and Joseph who was buried there (Joshua 24:32) are all associated with Shechem. It was here that the reading of the Law of Moses was staged at the twin mountains during the conquest (Joshua 8:33).”(F2)

Verses 1-5


“And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king. And it came to pass when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was yet in Egypt whither he had fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt, and they sent and called him), that Jeroboam and all the children of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying, Thy father made our yoke grievous: therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee. And he said unto them, Depart ye for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed.”

“Rehoboam” The last verse of the preceding chapter recorded the fact of his having been made king in the place of Solomon, but northern Israel called a general assembly of the ten northern tribes at Shechem, to which they invited Rehoboam, with a view to negotiating with him for a reduction in the heavy burdens of taxation and forced labor so long imposed upon them during the reign of Solomon.

“Solomon had a thousand wives and concubines; and yet we read of only one son he had to bear his name, and he was a fool.”(F3)

The age of this prince at the time he became king is disputed. He is said to be “forty-one” (1 Kings 14:21); but that translation is questionable. “The Vatican manuscript and the Septuagint (LXX) in 1 Kings 14:24 a state that he was only sixteen.”(F4) However, Snaith warns us that, “The Septuagint (LXX) is not nearly as satisfactory as the Masoretic text.”(F5) Of course, some scholars do their usual magic on O.T. numbers and read it as “twenty-one” instead of “forty-one.” If indeed Rehoboam was forty-one years of age when he came to the throne, Solomon must have married Rehoboam’s Ammonite mother at quite an early age and before his father David died.

“Therefore make thou the grievous service of our father… lighter” It is amazing to this writer that respected and honored scholars complain that these objections were not justified. “The complaint was groundless and unjust. Never did the people live more at ease than did Israel, nor in greater plenty.”(F6) Even Keil called these complaints, “a pretext.”(F7) Much as we respect the opinions of such learned men, we nevertheless find that the advice of the old counselors who had spoken with Solomon, and who advised Rehoboam to ease the peoples’ burdens indicates that there must have been some basis for the dissatisfaction of the people, who soon demonstrated their hatred of forced labor by stoning Adoram to death.

Verses 6-11


“And king Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, that had stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, saying, “What counsel give ye me to return answer to this people? And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants forever. But he forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and took counsel with the young men that were grown up with him, that stood before him. And he said unto them, What counsel give ye, that we may return answer to this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke that thy father did put upon us lighter? And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou say unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou speak unto them, My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.”

Nobody but a fool would have ignored the solemn advice of the wise counselors of Solomon, but Rehoboam - the spoiled, ignorant, foolish, conceited and arrogant child of Solomon’s godless harem - was intrigued and captivated by the senseless advice of his equally irresponsible peers. He swallowed all of it - hook, line and sinker!

“Rehoboam was the son of one of the wisest men in history, but wisdom is not inherited. It does not run in the blood”!(F8)

Verses 12-15


“So Jeroboam and all of the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king bade, saying, Come to me again the third day. And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. So the king hearkened not unto the people; for it was a thing brought about of Jehovah, that he might establish his word, which Jehovah spake by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”

“I will chastise you with scorpions” “Scorpions here may refer to a particularly sadistic spiked lash,”(F9) or to leather lashes with bits of metal or small stones fixed in them to make the punishment more brutal.

This arrogant and conceited reply of Rehoboam is its own sufficient comment.

Verses 16-17


“And when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents. But as for the children of Israel that dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them.”

Here in 1 Kings 12:17 is established a permanent separation of the northern Israel from the southern Israel, the former to be known as Israel, and the latter as Judah; and this usage is found extensively in the rest of the O.T.

“As for the children of Israel that dwelt in the cities of Judah” “A number of pious Israelites emigrated to Judah in order to remain under the rule of the Davidic king, and thus worship the true God in the true way at Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 11:16).”(F10)

Rehoboam did not have to wait long to find out how stupid his young advisers were. He lost the greater part of his kingdom in one day with one foolish and irresponsible answer! But even then, Rehoboam did not realize his mistake.

Verses 18-20


“Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the men subject to taskwork; and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And king Rehoboam made speed, to get him up to his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day. And it came to pass when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was returned, that they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel: there was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.”

“Adoram” “This was probably the same officer as the Adoniram of 1 Kings 4:6(F11) Some believe that he might have been either a son or grandson of David’s Adoniram.

“Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram” (the slave-driver) Rehoboam was still following the advice of his crazy young advisors, or he could never have made another mistake of this magnitude. All Israel had one big belly full of slave drivers with their whips and rods; and there was absolutely nothing that Rehoboam could have done that was any more calculated to bring the rebellion to a climax than his sending this hated emissary to be his representative with the people. They promptly stoned him to death and would doubtless have done the same thing for Rehoboam, if he had not managed to escape to his chariot and beat a hasty retreat to Jerusalem.

“Unto this day” “These words show that the author of Kings was using in his history the exact words of an ancient document written prior to the fall of Smaria in 722 B.C.”(F12)

Verses 21-24


“And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, and the tribe of Benjamin, a hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, that were warriors to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon. But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, Speak unto Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and unto all the house of Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel; return every man to his house; for this thing is of me. So they hearkened unto the word of Jehovah, and returned and went their way, according to the word of Jehovah.”

This rash move by Rehoboam toward an all-out war with Israel indicates that he was still following those crazy young advisers. One cannot imagine anything any more dramatic than the appearance of the magnificent prophet of God suddenly confronting the king and 180,000 soldiers mobilized for war and SENDING THEM ALL HOME!

“This thing is of me” (the Lord) At the time this disastrous division of the kingdom of Israel took place, nothing could have seemed any more contrary to the will of God. It looked like an omen of the complete extinction of the glory of the house of the patriarchs; it wiped out the vast majority of Abraham’s descendants and reduced the remainder to the status of second-rate states in the ancient world. “But we, in the light of later history can now see that the destruction of Israel’s unity worked out results of eternal advantage to mankind.”(F13) The idolatry of the northern Israel was incompatible with the purpose of God; and their separation from Judah was absolutely necessary to the promotion and preservation of the Messianic hope, which, in the last analysis, was the unique value of the Abrahamic posterity.

Verses 25-33


“Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and dwelt therein; and he went out from thence and built Penuel. And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now will the kingdom return to the house of David: if this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of Jehovah at Jerusalem, then will the heart of this people turn again to their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold; and he 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. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin; for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan. And he made houses of high places, and made priests from among all the people, that were not of the sons of Levi. And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he went up unto the altar; so did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. And he went up unto the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart: and he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and went up unto the altar to burn incense.”

“Jeroboam built Shechem” This was one of the two capitals that Jeroboam established for his kingdom. It was not only rich in the traditions and history of Israel, but it was a control point on the trade routes to the East. The other capital was Penuel, a “Trans-jordanic city on the bank of the Jabbok river.”(F14) It has been supposed that Jeroboam built this capital east of Jordan as a protection in case of an attack from Egypt.

However, Jeroboam was worried about the religious situation more than any thing else, and he decided to switch Israel to outright idolatry. Thus, Solomon lost the kingdom by idolatry, and Jeroboam sought to establish his on idolatry. It is a mark of Jeroboam’s cleverness that he recognized the widespread tolerance already existing in Northern Israel, especially at Dan, where a syncretism with paganism had already existed ever since the time of the Judges.

This writer rejects as absolutely untenable the dictum of some scholars to the effect that the calves which Jeroboam made, “Were not intended as substitutes for the Lord but as traditional symbols of him.”(F15) There is absolutely nothing in all the Bible that supports any such notion. The comment that, “The bull images set up by Jeroboam were traditional symbols of Yahweh’s strength,”(F16) cannot possibly be correct.

“W. F. Albright has built an excellent case on archaeological grounds showing that bull images were not images of Jehovah, but pedestals upon which the invisible God of Israel stood,”(F17) as Gates noted; but he added that, “Even that use of images was a throwback to the idolatry of the Canaanites; and it was not only specifically condemned by Moses, but also by the prophets Hosea (Hosea 8:5-6; Hosea 13:2-3) and Amos.”(F18) That Jeroboam himself recognized those bull images as mere idols instead of anything pertaining to Almighty God is proved by his use of the plural, “O Israel, these are the gods that brought you up out of Egypt.” Some have even tried to render this place God instead of gods; but that is impossible because both here and in Exodus 32:4, both the verb and the noun are plural.(F19)

“Jeroboam’s bulls were pagan images after the pattern of the Egyptian idols Apis and Mnevis.”(F20) When Jeroboam offered sacrifices, he offered them “to the calves” not to God, “sacrificing unto the calves” (1 Kings 12:32). Christian commentators need to rethink their false conclusions about the permissibility of anything on the order of Jeroboam’s pagan bull images. The excuse that Solomon had them in the Temple is not applicable, because that was also a sin against God even when Solomon did it. It was idolatry, for which he lost his kingdom. Another excuse is that those bull calves had wings resembling the cherubim over the Mercy Seat, but we cannot find any authority that identifies Jeroboam’s bulls as having wings; and, even if they did have wings, they were still pagan bull images, condemned in the Decalogue, by all the prophets, and denominated in this very passage as “sin.” Hosea wrote that, “Israel became a trafficker (a Canaanite)” (Hosea 12:7); and right here is where it started with Jeroboam’s reintroduction into Canaan of the very paganism for which God had replaced the inhabitants with Israel. Of course, Jeroboam knew exactly what he was doing!

“Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” Here Jeroboam quoted verbatim, the words of Aaron following his making the golden calf at Sinai (Exodus 32:4; Exodus 32:8). In both instances of this idolatry, the word “gods” forbids any notion that either Aaron or Jeroboam was thinking of Jehovah. God struck three thousand Israelites with death for that lapse into idolatry, and it is impossible to suppose that God was pleased with it here.

To paraphrase what seems to be a conviction among many of the present-day scholars, here is what they say:

Jeroboam was not turning Israel to Idolatry, he was merely saying, “Look, these calves are the gods that brought you up out of Egypt, just as Aaron said in the wilderness.” This is no new religion, at all, we are merely returning to some old symbols that our people used long before David and Jerusalem!

We do not accept that viewpoint at all. We appreciate the opinion of Hammond who said that, “Jeroboam could not have claimed to be reintroducing calf-worship, unless he had designed an open defiance of the Most High.”(F21)

Hammond’s argument was that Jeroboam could not possibly have done anything like that, but this writer believes that, HE DID EXACTLY THAT, INTRODUCING INTO CANAAN THE VERY SAME PAGANISM THAT WAS THERE WHEN GOD THREW OUT THE OLD CANAANITES AND REPLACED THEM WITH ISRAEL.

“And Jeroboam made priests from among all the people” All the people, that is, except Levites. The law of God specifically limited many religious activities to the Levites alone, and here Jeroboam violated that law with impunity. What we cannot understand is why some commentators feel that Jeroboam could not also have reintroduced the pagan idolatrous calf-worship. Any man who could have done either of these sinful things Could have done both, exactly as did Jeroboam! This passage shows that Jeroboam himself even officiated as a priest.

“And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month” The feast of Tabernacles was held in the seventh month; and Jeroboam designed this one to compete with the true Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:24 ff). It would be difficult indeed to find another example of an Israelite who had any less regard either for God or for his word than did Jeroboam.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-kings-12.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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