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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 12

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king.

Rehoboam went to Shechem, [ Rªchab`aam (H7346), enlarger of the people; Septuagint, Roboam]. He was the oldest, if not the only, son of Solomon, and had been doubtless designated by his father heir to the throne, as Solomon had been by David. The incident here related took place after the funeral obsequies of the late king, and the period for public mourning had passed. When "all Israel came to make him king" - i:e., the public representatives of all Israel (cf. 1 Samuel 8:4; 1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Samuel 8:10; 1 Samuel 8:19; 1 Samuel 8:21; 1 Samuel 10:17; 1 Samuel 10:19; 1 Samuel 11:14; 1 Samuel 12:1; 2 Samuel 3:21; 2 Samuel 5:1; 2 Samuel 5:3; 2 Samuel 19:43; 2 Samuel 21:1, etc.) - it was not to exercise their old right of election (1 Samuel 10:19-21); because, after God's promise of the perpetual sovereignty to divide posterity, their duty was submission to the authority of the rightful heir; but their object was, when making him king, to renew the conditions and stipulations to which their constitutional kings were subject (1 Samuel 10:25), and to the omission of rehearsing, which, under the special circumstances in which Solomon was made king, they were disposed to ascribe the absolutism of his government. Shechem [Septuagint, Sikima] - an ancient, venerable, and central town-was the place of convocation; and it is evident, if not from the appointment of that place, at least from the tenor of their language, and the concerted presence of Jeroboam, that the people were determined on revolt.

Verses 2-3

And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it, (for he was fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt;)

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 4

Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.

Now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father and his heavy yoke lighter There are Now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke ... lighter. There are strong reasons for believing that the exactions of Solomon from his own people were heavy and severe, not only in regard to their contributions in produce (1 Kings 4:27), but to the compulsory levies of the able-bodied, married as well as unmarried, that were drafted periodically to work on the mountains, or in the subterranean quarries, at the public buildings and diversified undertakings, which fully justified the complaint made to his son. It was the voice of 'all Israel; but considering the remarkable fertility of Shechem and the whole surrounding region, the industrious inhabitants of that central district must have felt the government imposts as peculiarly burdensome. In that view, their language and demeanour in the statement of their grievances, and the demand for a diminution of the public burdens, is wonderfully moderate, demonstrating the presence and influence of those superior classes who were compelled, for the enjoyment of its religious advantages, to migrate to the kingdom of Judah (cf. Michaelis 'Commentary on the Laws of Moses,' 1:, p. 284-287). The splendour of Solomon's court and the magnitude of his undertakings being such that neither the tribute of dependent states, nor the presents of foreign princes, nor the profits of his commercial enterprises, were adequate to carry them on, he had been obliged, for obtaining the necessary revenue, to begin a system of heavy taxation. The people looked only to the burdens, not to the benefits they derived from Solomon's peaceful and prosperous reign; and the evils from which they demanded deliverance were civil oppressions, not idolatry to which they appear to have been indifferent, or approved of it.

Verse 5

And he said unto them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed.

He said ... Depart yet for three days. It was prudent to take the peoples demand into calm and deliberate consideration. Whether, had the advice of the sage and experienced counselors been adopted, any good result would have followed, it is impossible to say. It would at least have removed all pretext for the separation. But he preferred the counsel of his young companions (not in age, because they were all about forty-one, but in experience), who recommended prompt and decisive measures to quell the malcontents.

Verses 6-9

And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 10

And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins.

My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins - literally, my smallness [and hence, the Septuagint translates, hee mikrotees mou]. Gesenius and most of the commentators prefer "little finger." It seems to have been a proverbial phrase, denoting, I have greater power than my father.

Verse 11

And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

Whips ... scorpions. The latter, as contrasted with the former, are supposed to mean thongs thickly set with hard knots and sharp iron points, used in the castigation of slaves; sometimes in after-times inflicted on Christian martyrs [Septuagint, skorpiois]. Scourging was performed by prostrating the victim on the ground at full length; while his limbs were kept down by force, a person with a whip lashed him on the bare back. The whip having several lashes, accords with the account of the Jews, that theirs had 3 thongs, 13 strokes of which gave 39 lashes. It is thought by some that this was what was meant by "scorpions," inflicted usually on slaves: and if so, the taunt of Rehoboam implied that he would be a despot, and treat his subjects as serfs.

Verses 12-14

So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 15

Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the LORD, that he might perform his saying, which the LORD spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

The cause was from the Lord. That was the overruling cause. Rehoboam's weakness (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19) and inexperience in public affairs has given rise to the probable conjecture, that like many other princes in the East, he had been kept secluded in the harem until the period of his accession (Ecclesiastes 4:14), his father being either afraid of his aspiring to the sovereignty, like the two sons David or, which is more probable, afraid of prematurely exposing his imbecility. The king's haughty and violent answer to "the people" (1 Kings 12:13) -

i.e, the representatives of the people-a people already filled with a spirit of discontent and exasperation-indicated so great an incapacity to appreciate the gravity of the crisis, so utter a want of common-sense, as to create a belief that he was struck with judicial blindness. It was received with mingled scorn and derision. The prospective connection between the tribes of Israel and their youthful monarch ended before it had well been formed. The revolt was accomplished, and yet so quietly, that Rehoboam remained in Shechem, fancying himself the sovereign of a united kingdom, until his chief taxgatherer, who had been most imprudently sent to treat with the people, had been stoned to death. This opened has eyes, and he fled for security to Jerusalem. In such a fearful commotion of the political elements, it required a mind of no common prudence and energy to steer the helm on the agitated billows, and Rehoboam was not the pilot to weather the storm.

Verses 16-19

So 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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 20

And it came to pass, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again, 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.

When all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again. This verse closes the parenthetical narrative begun at 1 Kings 12:2, and 1 Kings 12:21-24 resume the history from 1 Kings 12:1.

They sent and called him unto the congregation, [ 'el (H413) haa`eedaah (H5712)] - the assembly of representatives.

And made him king over all Israel. There was no consultation of Yahweh in this national emergency, and Jeroboam was a stranger to the character or qualities of a ruler "raised up" by the Divine Head and King of Israel. The people, denationalized by the vitiating influences of Solomon's court alienated by the centralizing policy which had drawn the chief wealth and produce into the capital, and reduced themselves to the condition of serfs, or feudal villains, who were compelled to labour for the pleasure and aggrandizement of one man, were open to the agitation of a designing demagogue, like Jeroboam, who addressed their passions, and, comparing their actual condition to that of the servile caste in Egypt, from which he had newly arrived, stirred them up to secret discontent in the king's lifetime, and to open revolt at his death. Had he possessed the spirit of a true Israelite, he would have seen that the sure way of preserving the Hebrews from sinking into the oppressed and degraded state of the helots in Egypt, was to keep them from the ignorance and superstitions of that country.

But Jeroboam did not know the importance of restoring among the people a more devoted allegiance to their covenant God; and, looking upon religion merely as an engine of state, as a powerful instrument which could be used in the furtherance of his contemplated policy, he gave no promise of being a constitutional king under the theocracy. The elevation of this man to the throne, with the disruption of the tribal unity which was involved in it, was permitted in the divine anger to take, place as a judicial punishment of the nation's complicity in the innovations and the sins of Solomon; and yet, under the overruling providence of God, it was effected by the natural operation of human passions and human agency. "All Israel" must henceforth be understood in a restricted sense, as the title arrogantly assumed by the northern kingdom. It was often called 'Ephraim,' from its principal tribe, whose ambition was the moving cause of the secession, and whose great population and wealth, together with its central position, naturally placed it at the head of the associated tribes.

Verse 21

And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin, an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.

When Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah. Rehoboam determined to assert his authority by leading a large force into the disaffected provinces. But the revolt of the ten tribes was completed when the prophet Shemaiah ordered, in the Lord's name, an abandonment of any hostile measures against the revolutionists. This seasonable and gracious interposition was designed to prevent the miseries of civil war, in attempting to undo a schism which had originated in the divine decree, and been pre-intimated by His commissioned prophet (1 Kings 11:31). The army, overawed by the divine prohibition, dispersed, and the king was obliged to submit.

Verses 22-24

But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying,

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 25

Then Jeroboam built Shechem in mount Ephraim, and dwelt therein; and went out from thence, and built Penuel.

Jeroboam built Shechem - destroyed by Abimelech (Judges 9:1-49). It was rebuilt, and perhaps fortified by Jeroboam, as a royal residence.

Built Penuel - a ruined city with a tower (Judges 8:9), east of Jordan, on the north bank of the Jabbok. It was an object of importance to restore this fortress, as it lay on the caravan road from Gilead to Damascus and Palmyra, and secure his frontier on that quarter.

Verse 26

And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David:

Jeroboam said in his heart. Having received the kingdom from God, he should have relied on the divine protection. But he did not. With a view to withdraw the people from the temple, and destroy the sacred associations connected with Jerusalem, he made serious and unwarranted innovations on the religious observances of the country, on pretext of saving the people the trouble and expense of a distant journey.

First, He erected two golden calves [ `eegel (H5695) (see the notes at Exodus 32:4; Exodus 32:8); Septuagint, damaleis chrusas] - the young bulls Apis and Mnevis, as symbols, in the Egyptian fashion, of the true God. Monceau says Jeroboam made them the nearest, according to his fancy, to the figures of the cherubim. The one was placed at Dan [considered a sacred place from the time of Micah (Judges 17:1-13); and to this day the worship of the calf enters into the sacred rites of the Dress saints in that neighbourhood (Newbold, 'Journal of Asiatic Society,' vol. 16:, p. 27)], in the northern part of his kingdom; the other at Beth-el [also venerable for its hallowed associations (Genesis 28:1-22), and recommended from its proximity to the passes which both on the west and east, led into the central mountain chain of the country (see Michaelis, 'Commentary-on the Laws of Moses,' b. 5:, article 245; Hengstenberg's 'Christology'-Preliminary Observations on Hosea)], the southern extremity, in sight of Jerusalem, and in which place he probably thought God was as likely to manifest Himself as at Jerusalem (Genesis 32:1-32; 2 Kings 2:2). The latter place, called afterward Beth-aven, was the most frequented; because the words, 1 Kings 12:30, should be rendered, 'the people, even to Dan, went to worship before the one' (Jeremiah 48:13; Amos 4:4-5; Amos 5:5; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 10:8). This innovation was a sin; because through Jeroboam did not give any formal intimation of his purpose to renounce the worship of Yahweh, it was setting up the worship of God by symbols and images, and departing from the place which he had chosen to put His name there.

Secondly, He changed the feast of tabernacles from the 15th of the seventh month to the 15th of the eighth mouth. The ostensible reason might be, that the ingathering, or harvest, was later in the northern parts of the kingdom; but the real reason was to eradicate the old associations with this, the most welcome and joyous festival of the year.

Verses 27-30

If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 31

And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.

He made an house of high places, [ beeyt (H1004) baamowt (H1116)] - a chapel, or fane of heights; i:e., on a bill (cf. 1 Kings 13:32; 2 Kings 17:29), for worshipping Yahweh, including the appointment of priests to officiate in the celebration of the rites which were performed in these sanctuaries. Some of these, if not all of them, were tents or tabernacles, decorated wyth embroidered curtains (2 Kings 23:7).

Made priests of the lowest of the people, [ kohªniym (H3548) miqtsowt (H7098) haa`aam (H7971)] - from the extremities of the people; i:e., out of all the people, the Levites refusing to act (cf, Nun. 22:41 with Jeremiah 51:31). Jeroboam assumed to himself the functions of the high priest, at least at the great festival, probably from seeing the king of Egypt conjoin the royal and sacred offices, and deeming the offices of the high priest too great to be vested in a subject. This was the gravamen of his offence, which consisted, not like Ahab's at a later period, in changing the object of worship, but in altering the circumstantials. These two acts of Jeroboam-the establishment of a place of worship separate from the place which God had chosen (in Jerusalem) to put His name there, and his appointment of priests who were not Levites-were a violation of the express command of God, (see the notes at Deuteronomy 12:1-32.)

In short, Jeroboam, instead of putting, like David, implicit confidence in the divine promise, which guaranteed him the possession of his throne (1 Kings 11:38) on condition of his ruling as a theocratic king, endeavoured to strengthen his position by measures of worldly policy. Without either impugning the authority or discrediting the rites of the established worship (for he acknowledged the divine origin and obligation of the law, 1 Kings 12:28; 1 Kings 12:32), he deviated from its prescription as to the place of worship, as well as the persons who performed it (for he expelled the priests and Levites: see the notes at 2 Chronicles 11:14), regarding these as matters of minor importance, and admitting of being modified, for the sake of convenience, in the altered circumstances of the kingdom. Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 8:, ch. 8:, sec. 4) represents him as recommending the proposed innovations to the assembled representatives of Israel in an artful speech to the following effect: 'I suppose, my countrymen, you know this, that every place has God in it; nor is there any one determined plane in which He is, but He everywhere hears and sees those that worship: on which account I do not think it for you to go so long a journey to Jerusalem, which is an enemy's city, to worship Him. It was a man that built the temple. I have made two golden heifers dedicated to the same God-the one of them I have consecrated in the city Beth-el, and the other in Dan, to the end that those of you who dwell nearest those cities may go to them and worship there; and I will ordain for you certain priests and Levites from among yourselves, that you may have no want of the tribe of Levi, nor of the sons of Aaron; but let him among you that is desirous of being a priest bring to God a bullock and a ram, which, it is said, Aaron, the first priest, brought also.' By this coup d'etat he changed the form, the season, and other circumstances of the national worship.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-kings-12.html. 1871-8.
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