THE TEN TRIBES REBEL
Rehoboam went to Shechem for his inauguration as king of Israel (v.1). Jereboam, in Egypt, received word quickly of Solomon's death, and his friends in Israel sent to have him recalled from Egypt. Thus they had a capable leader to represent the cause of the majority in Israel before Rehoboam.
Jereboam and the other representatives of Israel came to Rehoboam as soon as he had been made king. They had a serious request. They said Solomon had made their yoke heavy. How sad a comment on the character of Solomon! He was a king of great wealth, but wealthy rulers will nearly always use strong means to increase their wealth instead of using it for the alleviation of the hardships of the people. Solomon records that his mother told him to "open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:9). But he not only ignored his mother's counsel: he went so far as to oppress the poor and needy.
Jereboam and others with him requested that Rehoboam would lighten the burdensome service of Solomon, and if so they would willingly serve Rehoboam (v.4). This was certainly a reasonable request and at the time Rehoboam wisely asked that they come back again in three days to receive an answer (v.5). It was right that he should discus this suggestion with his council.
Rehoboam received good counsel from the elders who were in Solomon's court, telling him that if he would be considerate of this request of the people and would speak good words to them, they would be his servants forever (v.6). This was only sensible and he ought to have immediately accepted their advice. But he made the fatal blunder of seeking advice from young men with whom he had grown up.
These young men, having some authority in government, wanted to exert that authority as cruel overlords of the people. They counseled Rehoboam to tell the people he would be more demanding than his father, and though admitting that his father had chastised the people with whips, Rehoboam would chastise them with scourges, for his little finger would be thicker than his father's waist.
Though Solomon had been demanding, he was wiser than to speak in this cruel way to the people. But Rehoboam did not have the wisdom of his father. He and the young men ought to have realized they could not get away with such arrogant treatment of the people. Rehoboam carried out the advice of the young men when Jereboam and the people returned for his answer. He haughtily told them that he would add to the heavy yoke that Solomon had imposed on them and would chastise them with scourges (vs.14-15).
Thus the king refused to even consider the needs of the people. But we know that God in His great wisdom was directing matters in this way in order to carry out the truth of His word to Jereboam (v.15). Certainly it was not pleasing to God that Rehoboam should answer the people in the cruel way he did, but God was sovereignly working for His own glory.
Since God had told Jereboam that he would be given ten tribes, Jereboam and his followers had no difficulty in boldly answering Rehoboam by telling him, "What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents. 0 Israel! Now, see to your own house, 0 David" (v.16). They immediately announced a division among brothers. This division was accomplished with no delay, but it has continued throughout the centuries until now, and will not be healed until the Lord Jesus comes in power and glory at the end of the Great Tribulation. In the counsels of God Israel is one nation, indivisible, but in practice the nation has been totally inconsistent with God's plan for her. Such has been sadly true in the history of the Church of God on earth also. Though there is only "one body" (Ephesians 4:4), yet in practical testimony there are many bodies of professing Christians, which is a shameful contradiction to our perfect unity "in Christ."
Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites in Judah, and, considering it his right to exact taxes from the rest of Israel, he sent Adoram who was over the department of revenue to collect these taxes. But Israel stoned him to death. When Rehoboam heard this, he left Shechem and fled to Jerusalem (v.18).
The condition of all Israel had greatly deteriorated during the days of Solomon, which was to be expected when Solomon sunk down to the level of worshiping idols. God knew Israel's desire for a king of ability, though they were not concerned to have a man of integrity who would put the Lord first in his thoughts, such as David was. Therefore God gave Israel the kind of king they wanted, and they inaugurated Jereboam king over all Israel (v.20). Just as Israel had to learn by experience the folly of wanting a king such as Saul (1 Samuel 8:11-20), so in having a king such as Jereboam they would learn by sad experience that they ought to trust the Lord rather than demand their own rights.
Rehoboam, in returning to Jerusalem, thought he could force Israel into submission, and gathered 180,000 chosen warriors with the object of attacking Israel (v.21). But the Lord directly intervened by sending the prophet Shemaiah to forbid Rehoboam to carry out this attack, telling him and the people of Judah and Benjamin not to go to fight their brethren, "For," God said, "This things is from Me" (vs.22-24). It was mercy on God's part to send this message, for otherwise there might have been a terrible slaughter with no problem resolved at all. Later than this Amaziah, a king of Judah, launched a battle against Joash king of Israel, but was badly defeated (2 Kings 14:8-12). At least Rehoboam had sense enough to listen to Shemaiah and to obey the Word of the Lord (v.24).
Jereboam had accepted the message of Ahijah the prophet that Jereboam would be ruler over ten tribes, but he ignored God's message at the same time that if Jereboam would obey the commandments of the Lord then his kingdom would be established (ch.11:38). Solomon had disobeyed, which is the reason that Jereboam was given the ten tribes.
However, Jereboam was apprehensive that, if the Israelites went to Jerusalem (God's center) to offer sacrifices, they might be inclined to return and accept the rule of Rehoboam. Because Jereboam had no real faith in the living God, he decided with the advice of his officers, to follow the dictates of human expediency, not only to establish one center for Israel's worship, but two, and both of these in opposition to God's one center. To accomplish this plan, he had two golden calves made, one set in Bethel (in the south of the land) and the other in Dan (in the north). Was he ignorant of God's judgment against Israel for making a golden calf when Moses was receiving the law in Mount Sinai? (Exodus 32:19-20; Exodus 32:35). But no voice was evidently raised to warn Jereboam of the evil of his action or the danger of its consequences.
He did not tell the people that these calves were simply to remind them of God, as is usually claimed by image makers, but flatly declared, "Here are your gods, 0 Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt" (v.18). Any image made to represent God in any way will soon take the place of God in people's minds.
Thus Jereboam forsook the worship of the true God of Israel. As many religious leaders do today, he led the people to worship idols, apparently assuming that as long as one is religious he is worshiping God, though in a little different way than do others. Jereboam also made shrines in high places and made priests of any of the people he wanted, ignoring God's order of the priesthood only of the sons of Aaron (v.31).
It seems he was determined to make Israel totally separate from Judah in every way, so that he ordained a feast on the 15th day of the 8th month (v.32), a day he had devised in his own heart (v.33), ordering sacrifices to be made to the golden calves, employing the priests Jereboam had ordained for the high places. This was brazenly insulting to God, but in Christendom today similar idolatry is adopted as being quite acceptable.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent