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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 12

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-5

Rehoboam’s dilemma 12:1-5

It is not clear why the northern tribes had invited Rehoboam to the northern town of Shechem. They may have done so for a coronation over Israel separate from his coronation over Judah. [Note: Jacob Myers, II Chronicles, p. 65; Bright, p. 210.] On the other hand, the northern tribes may have invited him to go there for his coronation over the entire nation. Jerusalem was the natural coronation site. Perhaps Rehoboam chose to hold the ceremony at Shechem to accommodate, and perhaps placate, the northern tribes. In any case, Shechem was an understandable site because of its historical significance and earlier covenant renewal ceremonies (cf. Genesis 12:6-7; Genesis 33:18-20; Joshua 8; Joshua 24).

The heavy yoke Solomon had imposed on the Israelites consisted of taxation, forced labor, and other burdens. If Solomon had exempted Judah from these, [Note: See my note on 4:7-19.] the spokesmen were probably speaking for the northern tribes rather than for all the Israelites and were demanding similar favors. [Note: Moshe Weinfeld, "The Counsel of the ’Elders’ to Rehoboam and Its Implications," MAARAV 3:1 (January 1982):27-53.]

Verses 1-24

1. The division of the kingdom 12:1-24

This section of text contains the account of the split of the United Kingdom into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

Verses 1-28

A. The First Period of Antagonism 12:1-16:28

After the division of the kingdom, their respective kings were hostile to one another for 57 years.

Verses 6-15

Rehoboam’s decision 12:6-15

Rehoboam’s choice was whether he would regard himself as the people’s servant under Yahweh’s authority, as David and Solomon had done, or as the supreme authority in Israel, as Saul had done. His pride led to his downfall. The "scorpion" (1 Kings 12:11) was a particularly cruel kind of whip that contained sharp pieces of metal (1 Maccabees 6:51).

"Rehoboam chooses slogans over wisdom, machismo over servanthood." [Note: R. D. Nelson, First and Second Kings, p. 79.]

Rehoboam’s decision resulted in what God had predicted to Solomon (1 Kings 11:11-13), Ahijah, and Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:31-39).

Verses 16-20

Israel’s secession 12:16-20

The dissatisfaction with the rule of David’s house that had been brewing for years (cf. 2 Samuel 20:1) finally boiled over. Perhaps Rehoboam sent Adoram to pacify the angry mob (1 Kings 12:18). Whatever his reason, this proved to be "the straw that broke the camel’s back."

Rehoboam lacked wisdom because he did not give God the place He deserved in his life. Because he revolted against God, the people revolted against him. In rebelling against Rehoboam, however, the Israelites were rebelling against God’s anointed king. That action could only bring divine discipline on them, and it did. This rebellion continued throughout the history of the divided kingdom and accounts for much of the misery that the nation experienced. [Note: On 1 Kings 12:19, see my comment at 8:8.] Rehoboam’s coronation turned into a bloody lynching and inspired the coronation of his rival (1 Kings 12:20).

Verses 21-24

Rehoboam’s reprisal 12:21-24

Rehoboam’s pride led him into further trouble. He wanted to start a civil war to recapture the throne. Benjamin joined with Judah at this time and remained allied from then on (cf. 2 Samuel 19:16-17). God had to intervene through a prophet to get Rehoboam to turn back (1 Kings 12:22-24). The term "man of God" is synonymous with prophet (cf. 1 Kings 13:18; 2 Kings 5:8; 2 Chronicles 12:5). [Note: See Wiseman, pp. 142-43, for a short note on the term as it appears in Scripture.] To his credit Rehoboam obeyed God.

"Shemaiah’s message goes against the perceived national interest, opposes a popular cause, and stifles the impulse to avenge wounded pride. But Shemaiah was a man of God before he was a man of Judah. His loyalty to God transcended that to king and country. His identity came from his relationship to God, not from society. He served God rather than the state. In short, he was a prophet." [Note: Rice, p. 103.]

"Rehoboam is harsh, despotic, and autocratic, but the worst part is that he is also stupid and incompetent." [Note: DeVries, p. 159.]

There were several reasons for the division of the kingdom. The primary one was Solomon’s apostasy. However, tribal jealousy, sectionalism, and Solomon’s exploitation of the people were contributing causes. [Note: Wayne Brindle, "The Causes of the Division of Israel’s Kingdom," Bibliotheca Sacra 141:563 (July-September 1984):223-33.]

2. Jeroboam’s evil reign in Israel 12:25-14:20

Jeroboam was the first of 20 kings who ruled the Northern Kingdom during its 209-year history. He reigned for 22 years (931-910 B.C.). Not one of the kings of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, turned the people to a serious recommitment to the Mosaic Covenant. Consequently the writer judged all of them evil.

Verses 25-33

Jeroboam’s idolatry 12:25-33

During its history the Northern Kingdom had three capitals: first Shechem (1 Kings 12:25), later Tirzah (1 Kings 14:17; 1 Kings 15:33), and finally Samaria (1 Kings 16:23-24). Perhaps the king strengthened Penuel in west-central Gilead as a transjordanian provincial center. Like Shechem, Penuel (Peniel) was an important site in patriarchal times (Genesis 32:30). By strengthening these sites, Jeroboam appears to have been trying to get the residents of his kingdom to view their nation as the continuation of what God had begun in patriarchal days. One writer suggested that Jeroboam may have abandoned Shechem and moved to Penuel because Shechem was a divided city. Levitical priests who would have opposed his religious reforms lived there. [Note: Nigel Allen, "Jeroboam and Shechem," Vetus Testamentum 24:3 (July 1974):353-57.] Jeroboam’s fears that his subjects would kill him and return to Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:27) were due to disbelief in God’s promises that the prophet Ahijah had announced to him (1 Kings 11:31; 1 Kings 11:37-38).

Jeroboam seems to have designed his substitute religious system (1 Kings 12:28-33) to offer the Israelites convenient "improvements" in the Mosaic system that tied in with certain events in their history. The golden calves, for instance, recall the golden calf in the wilderness. The apis bull was a common religious symbol in Egypt. The golden calf in the wilderness and these calves may have been similar symbols. There is some question among scholars whether the people regarded calves of this type as idols or as pedestals on which the gods stood. [Note: William Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, pp. 197-98; Stephen Von Wyrick, "Israel’s Golden Calves," Biblical Illustrator 13:1 (Fall 1986):3, 9-12.] One writer made a good case for their being idols (cf. 1 Kings 14:9). [Note: John Oswalt, "The Golden Calves and the Egyptian Concept of Deity," Evangelical Quarterly 45 (1973):13-20.] They certainly became idols to the Israelites in the North. However it seems more likely that Jeroboam conceived of them as the symbols and supporters of Yahweh. [Note: See Bright, p. 218; and Merrill, "1 Kings," p. 260.] Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a high place at Dan that they date from the time of Jeroboam I. [Note: See Wiseman, p. 144..]

"With the division of the kingdom, the chief symbol of God’s presence, the ark and the cherubim, was left to Judah. Needing a comparable symbol for his new state, Jeroboam chose the bull, universally admired for its strength and procreative power (Deuteronomy 33:17; Isaiah 10:13 [sic]; Isaiah 34:7; Psalms 68:30; 1 Kings 7:25). It is probable that Jeroboam meant the bull to serve the same function as the ark and cherubim, that is, as the throne or footstool of the invisibly present God.

"The adoption of the bull as a cult object may have been an effort to adapt the ark and cherubim to the culture of the northern tribes, especially since the bull was an indigenous symbol to the Canaanite element of the population. Archaeological finds in Palestine-Syria of statues depicting a god astride a bull point to a function for the bull similar to that of the ark and cherubim (ANEP [The Ancient Near East in Pictures, ed. James B. Pritchard], nos. 470-501, 522-538)." [Note: Rice, pp. 106, 107.]

After making the calves, Jeroboam said exactly the same thing Aaron had said (1 Kings 12:28; cf. Exodus 32:4). Jeroboam also followed up the making of the calves with a feast similar to the one at Sinai (1 Kings 12:32-33; cf. Exodus 32:5). Furthermore, Jeroboam followed Aaron’s example of setting himself up as covenant mediator, in Moses’ absence, and as head of the cult (formal worship). In this he was quite clearly identifying his cult with the Exodus. [Note: Baruch Halpern, "Levitic Participation in the Reform Cult of Jeroboam I," Journal of Biblical Literature 95:1 (1976):39-40.] Jeroboam also assumed the role of the Davidic monarch who was the Lord’s anointed and, as such, both the political and the religious leader of Israel. [Note: See Gray, pp. 315-18.]

How could Jeroboam have hoped to win the support of the Israelites since he revived the practice of worshipping a calf?

"I suggest that the motivation behind Jeroboam’s action may have been an intense animosity toward the Levites. It was the Levites who had taken sword in hand to slay the worshippers of Aaron’s golden calves. Jeroboam now bypassed the Levites by appointing his own priests and, in a supreme irony, manufactured his own golden calves as a symbol of his disdain for the Levitical priesthood. Had not Moses’ own grandson, Jonathan, anticipated Jeroboam by serving as the first priest of the competing shrine at Dan [Judges 17-18]? Besides according a measure of legitimacy to Dan, this story revealed that even within Moses’ family there was room for diversity in religious practice. How could Jeroboam be faulted for his golden calves when Moses’ own grandson had officiated over a cult at Dan which worshipped idols having no connection at all with the exodus?" [Note: Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., p. 328.]

This may also explain Jeroboam’s choice of Dan as one of his cultic centers. But why did he select Bethel? Jacob had met God at Bethel twice (Genesis 28:10-22; Genesis 35:1-7). Perhaps Jeroboam promoted it as the birthplace of Israel’s faith. Geographically, Bethel stood on the main highway that led into Judah just north of the border. It was a convenient gathering place for Israelites who lived in the southern and central parts of the Northern Kingdom. Since they would have had to pass through Bethel if they wanted to go south to worship in Jerusalem, Jeroboam’s priests could have discouraged them from doing so there.

The feast Jeroboam set up (1 Kings 12:32) took place one month later than the Day of Atonement when the Levitical priests offered sacrifice to atone for the sins of the nation for the past year (Leviticus 16). Thus it seems that Jeroboam had no regard for the will of God as expressed in the commands of the Mosaic Covenant. He viewed himself as a king like all the other kings of the ancient Near East. To establish himself and the Northern Kingdom as independent from Judah, he combined commonly accepted religious concepts that the surrounding pagan nations held with elements from Israel’s history. [Note: For further discussion, see Eva Danelius, "The Sins of Jeroboam Ben-Nebat," Jewish Quarterly Review 58 (1967-68):95-114 and 204-23.]

". . . Jeroboam’s sins are so far-reaching and repulsive that the author uses him as the example of how to define a morally deficient king (cf. 1 Kings 16:7; 1 Kings 16:9 [sic 19], 26)." [Note: House, p. 178.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-kings-12.html. 2012.
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