The first step taken by the new king was a most judicious one. If anything could have removed the disaffection of the Ephraimites, and caused them to submit to the ascendancy of Judah, it would have been the honor done to their capital by its selection as the scene of the coronation. Shechem (now Nablous) lay on the flank of Mount Gerizim, directly opposite to Mount Ebal, in a position second to none in all Palestine. Though Abimelech had destroyed the place Judges 9:45, it had probably soon risen again, and was once more a chief city, or perhaps “the” chief city, of Ephraim. Its central position made it a convenient place for the general assembly of the tribes, as it had been in the days of Joshua Joshua 8:30-35; 24:1-28; and this would furnish an additional reason for its selection.
Heard of it - i. e., of the death of Solomon and accession of Rehoboam. This would be more clear without the division into chapters; which division, it must be remembered, is without authority.
Dwelt in Egypt - By a change of the pointing of one word, and of one letter in another, the Hebrew text here will read as in 2 Chronicles 10:2, “returned out of Egypt; and they sent and called him.”
In the Septuagint Version the story of Jeroboam is told in two different ways. The general narrative agrees closely with the Hebrew text; but an insertion into the body of 1 Kings 12 - remarkable for its minuteness and circumstantiality - at once deranges the order of the events, and gives to the history in many respects a new aspect and coloring. This section of the Septuagint, though regarded by some as thoroughly authentic, absolutely conflicts with the Hebrew text in many important particulars. In its general outline it is wholly irreconcileable with the other narrative; and, if both stood on the same footing, and we were free to choose between them, there could be no question about preferring the history as given in our Version.
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.
The old men, that stood before Solomon his father - Perhaps “the princes” of 1 Kings 4:2. Solomon placed great value upon good advisers Proverbs 11:14; Proverbs 15:22; Proverbs 24:6.
The advice was not that the king should permanently resign the office of ruler, but that he should “for once” be ruled by his people.
The age of Rehoboam at his accession is an interesting and difficult question. According to the formal statement of the present text of 1 Kings 14:21; 2 Chronicles 12:13, he had reached the mature age of 41 years, and would therefore be unable to plead youth as an excuse for his conduct. The general narrative, however, seems to assume that he was quite a young man (compare 2 Chronicles 13:7). Perhaps the best way of removing the whole difficulty would be to read in the above text “twenty-one” for “forty-one.” The corruption is one which might easily take place, if letters were used for numerals.
My little finger - i. e., “You shall find my hand heavier on you than my father‘s - as much heavier as if my little finger were thicker than his loins.”
Scorpions - By this word some understand whips having leaden balls at the ends of their lashes with hooks projecting from them; others the thorny stem of the eggplant, or “the scorpion plant.” But it seems best to regard the expression as a figure of speech.
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.
See the marginal reference. The words breathe unmistakeably the spirit of tribal jealousy and dislike (1 Kings 11:40 note).
Now see to thine own house, David - i. e., “Henceforth, house of David, look after thine own tribe, Judah, only.” It is not a threat of war, but a warning against interference.
Israel - The Israelites proper, or members of the other tribes, who happened to be settled within the limits of the land of Judah. These Israelites quietly submitted to Rehoboam. “Israel” through this chapter, and throughout the rest of Kings, designates ordinarily “the ten tribes,” and is antithetical to “Judah.”
Adoram has been identified with Adoniram (marginal references), and even with the Adoram of 2 Samuel 20:24. But it is highly improbable that the same person was chief superintendent of the forced labors during the whole of Solomon‘s long reign, and also during a part of David‘s and Rehoboam‘s. We may therefore conclude that the three names mark three distinct persons, perhaps of the same family, who were respectively contemporary with the three kings. Adoram was chosen, as best acquainted with the hardships whereof the rebels complained, to arrange some alleviation of their burthens.
Unto this day - This expression shows that the writer, who lived during the captivity, and consequently long after the rebellion of Israel had come to an end, is embodying in his history the exact words of an ancient document. His source, whatever it was, appears to have been also followed by the writer of Chronicles. (See 2 Chronicles 10:19.)
The first act of the Israelites, on learning what had occurred at Shechem, was to bring together the great “congregation” of the people (compare Judges 20:1), in order that, regularly and in solemn form, the crown might be declared vacant, and a king elected in the room of the monarch whose authority had been thrown off. The congregation selected Jeroboam. The rank, the talent, and the known energy of the late exile, his natural hostility to the house of Solomon, his Ephraimitic descent, his acquaintance with the art of fortification, and the friendly relations subsisting between him and the great Egyptian king, pointed him out as the most suitable man for the vacant post. If, according to the Septuagint, Shishak had not only protected him against Solomon, but also given him an Egyptian princess, sister to his own queen, in marriage, his position must have been such that no other Israelite could have borne comparison with him. Again, the prophecy of Ahijah would have been remembered by the more religious part of the nation, and would have secured to Jeroboam their adhesion; so that every motive, whether of policy or of religion, would have united to recommend the son of Nebat to the suffrages of his countrymen.
The adhesion of Benjamin to Judah at this time comes upon us as a surprise. By blood Benjamin was far more closely connected with Ephraim than with Judah. All the traditions of Benjamin were antagonistic to Judah, and hitherto the weak tribe had been accustomed to lean constantly on its strong northern neighhour. But it would seem that, in the half-century which had elapsed since the revolt of Sheba, the son of Bichri 2 Samuel 20:1, the feelings of the Benjamites had undergone a complete change. This is best accounted for by the establishment of the religious and political capital at Jerusalem, on the border line of the two tribes Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16, from where it resulted that the new metropolis stood partly within the territory of either, and was in a certain sense common to both. One of the gates of Jerusalem was “the high gate of Benjamin” Jeremiah 20:2; and probably Benjamites formed a considerable part of the population. The whole tribe also, we may well believe, was sincerely attached to the temple worship, in which they could participate far more freely and more constantly than the members of remoter tribes, and to which the habits of forty years had now accustomed them.
On the number of the Israelites, see Exodus 12:37, notes; and 2 Samuel 24:9, notes. The number mentioned here is moderate, compared with the numbers given both previously and subsequently 2 Chronicles 13:3; 2 Chronicles 17:14-18.
Shemaiah was the chief prophet in Judah during the reign of Rehoboam, as Ahijah was in Israel. See the marginal references.
The remnant - i. e., “the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah” (1 Kings 12:17 note).
Built Shechem - In the sense of “enlarged and fortified.” See Daniel 4:30. The first intention of Jeroboam seems to have been to make Shechem his capital, and therefore he immediately set about its fortification. So also he seems to have fortified Penuel for the better security of his Trans-Jordanic possessions (marginal reference).
Jeroboam‘s fear was lest a reaction should set in, and a desire for reunion manifest itself. He was not a man content to remain quiet, trusting simply to the promise made him 1 Kings 11:38. Hence, he gave way to the temptation of helping forward the plans of Providence by the crooked devices of a merely human policy. His measures, like all measures which involve a dereliction of principle, brought certain evils in their train, and drew down divine judgment on himself. But they fully secured the object at which he aimed. They prevented all healing of the breach between the two kingdoms. They made the separation final. They produced the result that not only no reunion took place, but no symptoms of an inclination to reunite ever manifested themselves during the whole period of the double kingdom.
Kill me - In case his subjects desired a reconciliation with Rehoboam, Jeroboam‘s death would at once facilitate the re-establishment of a single kingdom, and obtain favor with the legitimate monarch. (Compare 2 Samuel 4:7.)
The “calves of gold” were probably representations of the cherubic form, imitations of the two cherubim which guarded the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies. But being unauthorized copies, set up in places which God had not chosen, and without any divine sanction, the sacred writers call them “calves.” They were not mere human figures with wings, but had at any rate the head of a calf or ox. (Hence, some attribute this calf-worship entirely to Assyrian and Phoenician influence.) Jeroboam, in setting them up, was probably not so much influenced by the Apis-worship of Egypt, as:
(1) by a conviction that the Israelites could not be brought to attach themselves to any worship which did not present them with sensible objects to venerate;
(2) by the circumstance that he did not possess any of the old objects of reverence, which had been concentrated at Jerusalem; and
(3) by the fact that he could plead for his “calves” the authority of so great a name as Aaron (marginal reference).
In the first place, Jeroboam consulted the convenience of his subjects, who would thus in no case have very far to go in order to reach one or the other sanctuary. Further, he avoided the danger of reminding them continually that they had no ark - a danger which would have been imminent, had the two cherubs been placed together in one shrine.
He selected Bethel (in the south) for one of his seats of worship, on account of its pre-eminent sanctity. (See the marginal reference; Judges 20:26-28; 1 Samuel 7:16.)
The north of Palestine did not furnish a spot possessing an equally sacred character, but still Dan had to some extent the character of a “holy city” (marginal reference).
This thing became a sin - i. e., this act of Jeroboam‘s became an occasion of sin to the people. The author perhaps wrote the following words thus: “The people went to worship before the one to Bethel and before the other to Dan.”
He made an house of high places - i. e., “He built a temple, or sanctuary, at each of the two cities where the calves were set up.” The writer uses the expression “house of high places” in contempt, meaning that the buildings were not real temples, or houses of God, like that at Jerusalem, but only on a par with the temples upon high places which had long existed in various parts of the land.
Made priests of the lowest of the people - More correctly, “from all ranks of the people.” That the Levites did not accept Jeroboam‘s innovations, and transfer their services to his two sanctuaries, must have been the consequence of their faithful attachment to the true worship of Yahweh. In all probability Jeroboam confiscated the Levitical lands within his dominions for the benefit of the new priestly order 2 Chronicles 11:13-14.
A feast - Intended as a substitute for the Feast of tabernacles (marginal reference “c”). It may also have assumed the character of a feast of dedication, held at the same time, after the example of Solomon 1 Kings 8:2. His object in changing the month from the seventh to the eighth, and yet keeping the day of the month, is not clear. Perhaps it was on account of the later vintage of the more northern regions. It is remarkable that Josephus places the scene in the “seventh” month. He therefore, was not aware that the people of Israel kept the feast of tabernacles a month later than their brethren of Judah. The expression “he offered upon the altar” (see the margin and Exodus 20:26) shows that Jeroboam himself officiated as priest, and offered this sacrifice - at Bethel, not at Dan; where it is possible that the priests descended from Jonathan, the son of Gershom and grandson of Moses, undertook the services (Judges 18:30 note).
This verse belongs to 1 Kings 12:26 note.)
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany