Rehoboam’s Arrogance Alienates Israel (1 Kings 12:1-16).
The elders of Israel came together with a view to anointing Rehoboam as king on condition that he would guarantee them a somewhat easier lifestyle, but he was too arrogant to take advantage of the offer, and instead listened to the advice of younger hotheads like himself. The result was, that under the influence of Jeroboam, Israel asserted its independence and decided to choose its own king for itself.
However, what is of the greatest interest to the writer is not the to-ing and fro-ing between Rehoboam on the one hand and Jeroboam and the elders of Israel on the other, which as far as he is concerned is simply part of the by-play, but on the fact that ‘it was a thing brought about by YHWH, that He might establish His word which YHWH spoke by the hand of Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat’ (1 Kings 12:15). It was that history was moving forward in accordance with the word of YHWH.
a And Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king (1 Kings 12:1).
b And it came about, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was yet in Egypt, where 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 assembly of Israel came, and spoke to Rehoboam, saying (1 Kings 12:2-3).
c “Your father made our yoke grievous. Now therefore you make the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, lighter, and we will serve you” (1 Kings 12:4).
d And he said to them, “Depart yet for three days, then come to me again.” And the people departed (1 Kings 12:5).
e And king Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, saying, “What counsel do you give me so as to return answer to this people?” And they spoke to him, saying, “If you will be a servant to this people this day, and will serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants for ever” (1 Kings 12:6-7).
f But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and took counsel with the young men who were grown up with him, who stood before him (1 Kings 12:8).
e And he said to them, “What counsel do you give, that we may return answer to this people, who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Make the yoke that your father put on us lighter?’ ” And the young men who had grown up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus shall you say to this people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but do you make it lighter to us’, thus shall you speak to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. And now whereas my father burdened you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:9-11).
d So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had bidden saying, “Come to me again the third day” (1 Kings 12:12).
c And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and spoke 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” (1 Kings 12:13-14).
b So the king did not listen to the people, for it was something brought about of YHWH, that he might establish his word, which YHWH spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat (1 Kings 12:15).
a And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to 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 your own house, David.” So Israel departed to their tents (1 Kings 12:16).
Note that in ‘a’ all Israel came to make Rehoboam king in Shechem and in the parallel they rejected him and returned home. In ‘b’ Jeroboam returned from exile in Egypt to support the pleas of the men of Israel, and in the parallel the king did not listen because of His plan to make Jeroboam king. In ‘c’ the people demanded that their load might be made lighter, and in the parallel Rehoboam said that he would make it heavier. In ‘d’ Rehoboam called on the people to give him three days in which to make his decision, and in the parallel they returned to him on the third day. In ‘e’ Rehoboam sought the advice of the old men and received their reply, and in the parallel Rehoboam sought the advice of the young men and received their reply. Centrally in ‘f’ Rehoboam turned from the counsel of the old men to receive the counsel of the young men who had grown up with him.
1 Kings 12:1
‘And Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king.’
As a result of the death of Solomon all Israel gathered at the Israelite sanctuary at Shechem in order to determine who should rule them. They had a sense of independence that was unfortunately unrecognised by Rehoboam. But they also seemingly had no other idea in their minds but to submit to Rehoboam as long as it was on the right terms. That was their intention in gathering at Shechem.
Shechem was the place to which Israel had first gathered under Joshua for the reading of the Law and the renewal of the covenant (Joshua 8:30-35), and the place where Joshua had renewed the covenant after the initial stages of the invasion were over and Israel were settled in the land (Joshua 24:1-28). It was a recognised place at which YHWH had recorded His Name (suggested by Joshua 8:30-31 with Exodus 20:24). It was the place where the stone of witness had been set up (Joshua 24:26) and it may well be that the regular reading of the covenant required by the Law of Moses took place at Shechem whose two local mountains Ebal and Gerizim, together with the valley that lay between them, formed a natural amphitheatre (see Deuteronomy 27:1-26). Its very sacredness gave a sense of solidity and assurance to Israel. Here at Shechem they would surely find YHWH’s will.
This is a reminder to us that while Jerusalem had finally been established as the Central Sanctuary, (even though the existence of the Tabernacle was still within living memory), there were other sanctuaries at which YHWH could be legally worshipped. Later we learn of an altar on Mount Carmel that was declared to be an altar of YHWH usable by Elijah (1 Kings 18:30-32). And Elijah mentions other such acknowledged altars of YHWH (1 Kings 19:10).
1 Kings 12:2-3
‘And it came about, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was yet in Egypt, where 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 assembly of Israel came, and spoke to Rehoboam, saying,’
But Israel had not forgotten Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who had fought their corner with Solomon, and they recognised that he was just the man to negotiate on their behalf in this situation. So they sent to Egypt where he was a refugee, calling on him to come and be their negotiator and mediator. And once he had arrived he and the elders of Israel went to negotiate with Rehoboam. Jeroboam was seemingly from one of Israel’s leading families (he was a ‘mighty man of valour/wealth/property’), so that his worth and authority was recognised by all.
The Kingdom In Crisis And The Collapse Of An Empire (1 Kings 12:1 to 1 Kings 14:31).
The death of Solomon, as always with the death of a king who had ruled powerfully for a long time and had been somewhat autocratic, resulted in hopes being raised among the people that things might now be made better for them. Indeed they appear to have been quite satisfied with the thought of Rehoboam being their king, as long as he would meet them halfway, and they actually gathered at Shechem to negotiate with him for that purpose. It was a real opportunity. Had Rehoboam made concessions, and retained the loyalty of Israel, the combined kingdom would have remained a power, and the tributaries watching in expectation might have hesitated about making trouble. But let Israel and Judah once become divided into two nations, and the driving force and the power base would be lost, and men like Hadad in Edom and Rezon in Damascus (1 Kings 11:14-25) would soon ensure the collapse of the empire. And ever waiting in the wings for the collapse of the empire was the powerful Shishak of Egypt in a revived Egypt, just waiting for his opportunity to break up the trade monopoly which Solomon had built up.
On the death of Solomon Israel were ready to accept Rehoboam as their king, and they assembled at Shechem, which they clearly saw as the local Sanctuary of the northern tribes when it came to such matters. The very choice of Shechem indicated that they were calling on the king to recognise his obligations under the Law of Moses. Shechem was the place to which Israel had first gathered under Joshua for the reading of the Law and the renewal of the covenant (Joshua 8:30-35), in obedience to the command of YHWH through Moses (Deuteronomy 11:29-32; Deuteronomy 27:1-26), and was the place where Joshua himself had renewed the covenant after the initial stages of the invasion were over and Israel were settled in the land (Joshua 24:1-28). It was a recognised place at which YHWH had recorded His Name (suggested by Joshua 8:30-31 with Exodus 20:24). It was the place where the stone of witness had been set up (Joshua 24:26) and it may well be that the regular reading of the covenant required by the Law of Moses took place at Shechem whose two local mountains Ebal and Gerizim, together with the narrow valley that lay between them, formed a natural amphitheatre (see Deuteronomy 27:1-26).
Rehoboam should, of course have recognised that the very choice of this site for their gathering emphasised that Israel saw themselves as separate from Judah when it came to crowning a new king, and were calling on him to renew his obedience to the Law of Moses, and to walking in the ways of YHWH, something which Solomon had signally failed to do. Solomon had previously slipped into the joint kingship so easily, because he had done it while David was still alive, and when the kingdom was at peace. It had thus been easy to forget this independent feeling in Israel, and the fact that kingship in Israel had always been by popular acclamation. It had been so for Saul (1 Samuel 10:24; 1 Samuel 11:12-13), for David (2 Samuel 5:1-3) and indeed for Solomon (1 Chronicles 29:22). And we should not forget how delicate had been the situation after Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 19:9-15; 2 Samuel 19:41 to 2 Samuel 20:2). Israel did not see themselves as Judah’s lapdog.
But sadly Rehoboam had been brought up in Solomon’s court, and he had been bred with a sense of arrogance and with the feeling that all Israel and Judah were there to do his bidding. He saw himself as ‘a king like the kings of the nations’. In his view the people were simply there to be whipped into line. And while when he took advice from his father’s older counsellors they gave him good advice as to the need to meet the people half way, he preferred the advice of the younger arrogant aristocrats like himself who assured him that what was needed was to show them who was in charge. So what brought about Rehoboam’s rejection was the arrogance that had become so much a part of Solomon’s lifestyle, and which he had passed on to his son. In contrast, in the case of Jeroboam, his downfall would come about through his turning his back on the covenant and diluting Yahwism, in order, as he saw it, to protect his kingdom. This would result in his destroying the religious heart of Israel, something which would affect all the kings who followed him. Thus both aspects of Solomon’s failures came out in his successors.
Overall Analysis (1 Kings 12:1 to 1 Kings 14:31).
a Rehoboam’s Intransigence Alienates Israel (1 Kings 12:1-16).
b Rehoboam Is Rejected By Israel And Jeroboam Becomes King of Israel In Accordance With YHWH’s Covenant (1 Kings 12:17-24).
c In Disobedience Jeroboam Sets Up The Golden Calves, Appoints Alien Priests And Establishes Alien High Places (1 Kings 12:25-32).
d The Alien Altar Is Condemned By A Man Of God (1 Kings 12:33 to 1 Kings 13:10).
c In Disobedience The Man Of God Eats And Drink In Israel And Is Slain (1 Kings 13:11-32).
b Jeroboam’s House Loses The Kingship Because Of The Sins of Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:33 to 1 Kings 14:20).
a The Unhappy Reign Of Rehoboam Which Is The Consequence Of His Intransigence (1 Kings 14:21-31).
Note that in ‘a’ Rehoboam’s reign commenced unhappily and in the parallel it continued unhappily. In ‘b’ Jeroboam received the Kingship through YHWH’s covenant, and in the parallel his house loses the kingship because of his sin. In ‘c’ Jeroboam acts in disobedience against YHWH and in the parallel the man of God acts in disobedience against YHWH. Central in ‘d’ is the condemnation of the alien altar by the man of God.
“Your father made our yoke grievous. Now therefore you make the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, lighter, and we will serve you.”
The Israelites then sent a deputation to put their requirements to Rehoboam, which no doubt included Jeroboam. Their terms were very simple. They were prepared to acknowledge Rehoboam as their king on condition that he could assure them that he would lighten the yoke that his father had put on them with his building schemes and constant demands. They wanted a relaxation of the pressure on them so that they could concentrate more on their own welfare and their families.
1 Kings 12:5
‘And he said to them, “Depart yet for three days, then come to me again.” And the people departed.’
Rehoboam then asked for three days in which he could consider the matter before he gave his reply. This was not unreasonable as they would want him to come forward with some concrete proposals. They saw kingship in Israel as something resulting from a covenant between the king and the people. Even in the case of Solomon he had been made king while the Hebron covenant with David had still been active, and his kingship was later renewed and acknowledged by Israel (1 Chronicles 29:22). So they went away feeling quite hopeful. Concessions on taxes and on labour levies were often a regular feature on the accession of a new ruler, something evidenced in inscriptions.
1 Kings 12:6
‘And king Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, saying, “What counsel do you give me so as to return answer to this people?” ’
Rehoboam then called together his father’s old counsellors, men of wide experience and politically astute, and asked them how, in their view, he should reply.
1 Kings 12:7
‘And they spoke to him, saying, “If you will be a servant to this people this day, and will serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants for ever.” ’
Their reply was that in their view if he was willing to meet the men of Israel half way, with a little humility, and consider Israel’s genuine grievances, recognising at the same time that one of his duties as king was to serve his people, he would win them over and they would become his loyal subjects permanently. They recognised the goodwill and sense of loyalty that Israel had towards Solomon’s son, and that Israel had a genuine grievance.
1 Kings 12:8
‘But he forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and took counsel with the young men who were grown up with him, who stood before him.’
But Rehoboam was not happy with their advice. His ‘wise’ father had not brought him up to consider the good of the people. Rather he had brought him up with an overbearing attitude of arrogance and self-interest. An arrogant and despotic father rarely produces a considerate son. So Rehoboam did not feel that what his counsellor’s were advising was a good idea. He felt that it was too humiliating, and giving too much away. Thus he then turned to the younger men who had grown up with him at court, and who were constantly in his presence.
1 Kings 12:9
‘And he said to them, “What counsel do you give, that we may return answer to this people, who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Make the yoke that your father put on us lighter?’ ”
He asked them how they felt that he should reply to Israel’s request for their yoke to be made lighter. The answer was really a foregone conclusion, for to a man they were as arrogant and despotic as Rehoboam himself. They were the younger aristocrats of the court who saw themselves as being God’s gift to the world in the wrong sense, and they had grown up under Solomon’s despotic rule.
1 Kings 12:10-11
‘And the young men who had grown up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus shall you say to this people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but do you make it lighter to us’, thus shall you speak to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. And now whereas my father burdened you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.”
These younger men (men of military age and therefore young in contrast with the aged counsellors, but probably mature in age, for Rehoboam himself was 41 years of age (1 Kings 14:21) and had eighteen wives, sixty concubines, twenty eight sons and sixty daughters - 2 Chronicles 11:21) had grown up with him at court, and they gave him the answer that fitted in with his own attitude. Let him show the men of Israel who was in charge, and let them know that he was even more of a man, and even stronger, than his father and that he would do precisely as he liked. Let him inform the rebellious people that his little finger was thicker than his father’s thighs. In other words that he was tougher than his father and would do precisely as he liked. So whereas his father had simply beaten them with whips, he would beat them with scorpions. The intention was to frighten them into submission. And if they would not submit, so much the worse for them.
By this he was, of course, negating God’s covenant with David which had been based on his walking in YHWH’s ways and doing what was right in his eyes. He was basically declaring that did not intend to walk by that covenant. He was going to walk in his own ways.
1 Kings 12:12
‘So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had bidden saying, “Come to me again the third day.” ’
Thus when Jeroboam and all the elders of Israel came on the third day to receive Rehoboam’s reply he was in no mood for compromise.
1 Kings 12:13-14
‘And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and spoke 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.” ’
And he answered the people roughly, ignoring the advice of the wiser old men, and relying on the counsel of his contemporaries. Let Israel recognise that they were not dealing with any soft option. If his father had made their yoke heavy, he would add to it and make it heavier. His father may have chastened them with whips, but he would beat them with scorpions, the creatures whose painful sting was almost beyond bearing. They would be made to pay for their insubordination.
Some see ‘scorpions’ as referring to a special kind of whip into which were woven sharp pieces of bone or metal which increased the potency of the whip. But there is really no need to destroy the typically vivid metaphor.
1 Kings 12:15
‘So the king did not listen to the people, for it was something brought about of YHWH, that he might establish his word, which YHWH spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.’
The reply was so foolish that the prophetic author knew that there could only be one explanation for it. It was of YHWH, so as to bring about His purposes. It was in order that He might establish the word that He had spoken to Ahijah the Shilonite, to be passed on to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:35-39). That did not, of course, excuse Rehoboam, whose behaviour was simply that of a spoiled and very arrogant person. He had behaved as he had been brought up to behave, following the example of his father. But the prophetic author points out that YHWH takes up such folly and uses it to bring about His purposes.
1 Kings 12:16
‘And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to 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 your own house, David.” So Israel departed to their tents.’
The people of Israel, however, were in a determined mood. They had been prepared to cooperate, but their lives had become so unbearable that what Rehoboam threatened could only take them over the edge. So when they saw that he had not listened to them, they boldly declared that they no longer ‘had any portion in David’. They no longer saw themselves as being in the Davidic covenant, or saw the Davidic house as having authority over them. They no longer saw the son of Jesse as their inheritance. From now on ‘David’ (Rehoboam) could look after his own house. They would return to the freedom of their own homes no longer under ‘David’s’ yoke. It was a total rejection of any covenant that they had had with David or his house.
“What portion have we in David? Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel.” For this compare 2 Samuel 20:1. This was seemingly a regular way of indicating a withdrawal from negotiations and from any covenant which might be seen as binding them. It also indicates that they did not see their relationship with the house of David as having been too binding. It was dependent on mutual response. Covenants were two-sided.
We have a clear indication here that the representative of the Davidic house could be spoken of as ‘David’, something to be borne in mind whenever ‘David’ is mentioned in the future. (Thus ‘for David’ in the Psalms may sometimes simply refer to the current member of the Davidic house, while the mention of ‘David’ in the prophets looked forward to the future king).
The consequence of all this was that Israel returned to their homes (‘departed to their tents’, i.e. their places of abode, a phrase carried over from their wilderness days). They would choose their own king. Considering the forces that were at Rehoboam’s disposal it was a decision that required some bravery. But they clearly felt that they had had enough, come what may. Such had been the wisdom that Solomon had inculcated in his son.
Rehoboam Seeks To Whip Israel Into Line But Is Prevented By YHWH Whilst Jeroboam Is Made King Over All Israel (1 Kings 12:17-24).
Rehoboam still had total control over all who dwelt in the cities of Judah, including Jerusalem, and, we learn, also part of Benjamin. These had never been as much affected by the continual labour levies as the remainder.
Arrogantly assuming that Israel could be ‘whipped into line’ he therefore sent Adoram who had total overall control over the labour levies, one of the leading men in the kingdom, to overawe the rebels and bring them to heel. In his folly he still thought that the authority of the king would be sufficient to subdue the rebels, and that the sight of Adoram would cause them to climb down. It was a foolish move, for it blatantly declared his intention to treat them all as bond-men, and that he had no intention of listening to them. But Adoram was so hated that as soon as the men of Israel recognised who was among them they stoned him to death. Hearing the news, and realising almost too late the danger of the situation Rehoboam then hurriedly mounted his chariot and fled with his bodyguard to Jerusalem.
As far as Israel were concerned that was the end of the rule of the Davidic house, and so they appointed their champion Jeroboam as their king, a man with whom YHWH had made a covenant similar to the one that He had made with David (1 Kings 11:37-38). From now on only those who acknowledged the authority of the elders of Judah would follow Rehoboam. But Rehoboam was not taking this lying down, and he assembled all the armed might that was still under his control in order to bring the rebels into line. It could only result in a vicious civil war. It is noticeable that there is no mention of foreign mercenaries. It may be that in the security of Solomon’s kingdom they had been disbanded.
The host that he gathered was a formidable one. However, God then spoke through a prophet and forbade him to move forward. While the account is truncated it seems very probable that Rehoboam initially consulted with the prophets in order to determine the mind of God, as David had done and kings of Judah would do later (compare Jehoshaphat in 2 Kings 3:11, and how David had constantly sought answers through the ephod before going to war - e.g. 1 Samuel 30:7-8). Thus when Rehoboam received the news that YHWH was against the enterprise he did not move forward. It was as well. It could only have resulted in a huge bloodbath, for the kingdom was divided against itself. But it meant that at one stroke, without any fighting, the kingdom of Solomon was divided up into two, while the remainder of the empire would necessarily disintegrate around them. It had only been held together by armed might and tight control. From seemingly being destined to rule an empire, Rehoboam, through his own folly, had become merely a petty king, although it would not be obvious immediately.
a But as for the children of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them (1 Kings 12:17).
b 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 (1 Kings 12:18).
c So Israel rebelled against the house of David to this day (1 Kings 12:19).
d And it came about that, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the congregation, and made him king over all Israel (1 Kings 12:20 a).
c There were none who followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only (1 Kings 12:20 b).
b 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, who were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon (1 Kings 12:21).
a But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, “Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, saying, ‘Thus says YHWH, You shall not go up, nor fight against your brothers the children of Israel. Return every man to his house, for this thing is of me.’ ” So they listened to the word of YHWH, and returned and went their way, according to the word of YHWH (1 Kings 12:22-24).
Note that in ‘a’ those over whom Rehoboam reigned from all Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah remained under his rule, and in the parallel it was they who were forbidden by the prophet Shemaiah, to fight against their brothers, because what had happened was YHWH’s will. In ‘b’ Rehoboam sent Adoram to bring the rebels into line, and subsequently fled to Jerusalem, and in the parallel when he arrived at Jerusalem he gathered his army in order to bring the rebels into line. In ‘c’ Israel rebelled against the house of David, and in the parallel none followed the house of David but Judah. In ‘d’ and centrally Jeroboam was made king over ‘all Israel (apart from Judah)’.
1 Kings 12:17
‘But as for the children of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them.’
This is a summary of the situation as it applied practically. Jerusalem had become the centre of the empire, and this had naturally resulted in a considerable movement of peoples from all tribes to live in and around Jerusalem. We must remember here that we are dealing with a complicated situation that was not easy to describe in simple terms, for the old distinctions were now blurred. Israel was no longer a confederation of twelve separate tribes, living apart and only coming together at the main feasts, or at ‘the call to arms’. Indeed it had never really been quite as simple as that as Judges 1 demonstrates with its picture of the tribes broken up by Canaanite conclaves. Furthermore there would have been continual movements between the tribes since those days, and a good deal of integration, especially as large cities grew up. And it would include fraternisation with the peoples of the land (note the picture described in Judges 1:27-36, and the pressures exerted by invasions as described throughout the book of Judges). The process would have been going on since the time of Joshua, as various pressures caused movements of large numbers of people throughout Israel/Judah (consider the movement of part of the tribe of Dan to Laish (Judges 18) and the displacement of the families who had followed David), and this was especially so as many lost connection with the land, while from the time when under David the kingdom became one whole, and the centre of a mighty empire, and on through the days of the united kingdom under Solomon when the tribal boundaries had been virtually replaced by administrative districts, continual inter-change and consolidation would have taken place. While agriculture remained central to the economy, other ways of living opened up in the cities. This would especially have happened through the widespread use of the forced levy, which would have uprooted many people from the land, and through the centring in Jerusalem of political power and religious worship (augmented by the establishment of the Temple as the Central Sanctuary) which would have drawn people to it from all parts of Palestine, and meant that all who had ambitions tended to focus on Jerusalem.
Thus many of ‘the children of Israel’ from all tribes must have become established within the territory of Judah/Benjamin. And as these would be people mainly untouched by the labour levies, being rather the administrators of the empire and the entrepreneurs, there would be no discontent among them. The consequence was that those who remained loyal to Rehoboam came from all tribes, although founded on the tribe of Judah as the base, for the ancient loyalties of the tribe of Judah had always been towards the house of David, and they had always, as a result, had special treatment. Many trades would also have built up which left people unconnected to the old roots, and they too would often have felt partly ‘emancipated’ from the tribal system. They looked to the civic authorities rather than to the tribal leaders.
Over against all this there would still be fierce tribal loyalties among large numbers, especially in the countryside, and much of the wider justice system would still be founded on the rule of the people by the aristocracies of the tribes. Similarly those who had been deeply involved in land-ownership and agriculture from time immemorial, would still feel wedded to the tribal system which ensured their ownership of the land, and gave them a recognised position in Israel. These were ‘the people of the land’. Indeed this tension between the old roots in the land and in the tribes, and the new administrators, traders, politicians and others connected with the large cities, would remain throughout the period of the monarchy.
1 Kings 12:18
‘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 hurriedly got him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem.’
However, the current situation had to be dealt with, and Rehoboam, still encamped at Shechem with his officials and his bodyguard, had lost patience, and assuming in his folly that all that was required was a show of determination in order to quell a rebellious people who were nobodies, sent Adoram, the high official who had overall control over the labour levies, a man who would be known and feared among the people, in order to bring them into line.
Whether Rehoboam’s aim had been for Adoram to negotiate with Jeroboam, who had once been his subordinate, or whether the hope had been that before his authority Israel would withdraw in fear, we do not know, for the sight of the hated Adoram simply inflamed the people, with the result that they stoned him with stones. This was enough to bring home to Rehoboam the seriousness of the situation, and the consequence was that he hurriedly mounted his chariot, and together with his retinue, returned to Jerusalem. The proposed coronation had not gone quite as planned.
1 Kings 12:19
‘So Israel rebelled against the house of David to this day.’
The result of all this was that a final break had been made by Israel from the rulership of the house of David which continued until the writer’s day. It was necessarily the end of the glory days and of the empire, and they now had to look for a new beginning. The united kingdom of David and Solomon was no more.
1 Kings 12:20
‘And it came about that, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the congregation, and made him king over all Israel: there were none who followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.’
The news of the break with Rehoboam was naturally hurriedly disseminated by the elders gathered at Shechem to the whole of Israel, and when the people who had not been present learned that Jeroboam, the man who had championed their cause against Solomon was back among them, they hurriedly assembled in larger numbers and called him before their assembly, where they made him king over all Israel.
Consequently the only tribe which in its entirety followed the house of David was Judah, and from now on the southern kingdom would be known as ‘Judah’. It did, however, include within it a large minority of Israelites, which would include Simeonites who had been absorbed into Judah, and was clearly supported by large parts of Benjamin whose fate had become tied up with Judah because of their joint ownership of wider Jerusalem (Judges 1:8; Judges 1:21). It was not the whole of Benjamin, for the parts around Jericho, for example, remained with Israel. Rehoboam would also have the support of the majority of the priests and Levites. We can see therefore why Ahijah could metaphorically depict it as ‘two tribes’.
1 Kings 12:21
‘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, who were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.’
On his return to Jerusalem the infuriated Rehoboam brought together all the armed forces at his disposal with the aim of bringing Israel into line. This consisted of a large force gathered from Judah and Benjamin which consisted of one hundred and eighty fighting units of picked fighting men, and his aim was to bring the house of Israel back under his control by force of arms.
“To bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.” His attitude is brought out by the writer here. How dared these Israelites defy ‘Rehoboam, the son of Solomon’! They would soon learn that they were not dealing with a nonentity. But then he was given pause for thought, because a greater power intervened.
We are not told whether Rehoboam actually consulted with Shemaiah the prophet, or whether the prophecy simply came independently, but the probability from past experience must be that Rehoboam would consult the prophets in Jerusalem about such a major initiative. Such consultation of YHWH before proposed large-scale military activity had been, and continued to be, a recognised principle with the Davidic house (1 Samuel 30:7-8; 2 Samuel 2:1; 2 Samuel 5:19; 2 Samuel 5:23; 2 Kings 3:11).
1 Kings 12:22
‘But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying,
Whichever way it was ‘the word of God came to Shemaiah, the man of God’. God was not prepared to stand back and watch Israel/Judah tear itself apart in civil war. The term ‘man of God’ always indicates in Kings a prophet who was true to YHWH, independently minded because he only listened to YHWH, and mainly non-political. It would appear that Shemaiah was a prophet connected with Jerusalem in contrast with Ahijah who seems to have been a prophet connected with Shiloh. Thus it would appear that God had His true prophets operating throughout Judah and Israel in different places, unknown and unsung until the time came for them to speak openly in the name of YHWH. But we need not doubt that they were constantly proclaiming the word of YHWH to all who would hear it, and especially to those who came to them to be taught. This was what kept the faith of Israel alive. Amidst all that happened YHWH was continually at work maintaining a true remnant in Israel. (For that reason ‘the book of kings’ could equally have been called ‘the book of the prophets’, for their activities play a large part in the book).
1 Kings 12:23
‘Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, saying, “Thus says YHWH, You shall not go up, nor fight against your brothers the children of Israel. Return every man to his house, for this thing is of me.” So they listened to the word of YHWH, and returned and went their way, according to the word of YHWH.’
The word of YHWH was simple. It was to the effect that they were not to fight against their brothers the children of Israel, because what had happened had been YHWH’s doing. They were therefore to accept it as the will of YHWH.
Note the reference to Rehoboam as ‘king of Judah’. This was now what he was in YHWH’s eyes. He was no longer king over Israel. The overall constitution of the new kingdom is then recognised in the further description, ‘all the house of Judah, and Benjamin, and the rest of the people’ tying in with what we have seen above.
It would have been a brave and foolhardy man indeed who would have gone out to fight in direct defiance of the word of YHWH, for all knew from their history what YHWH, the Lord of Hosts, could do to those who acted in disobedience to His command. It was writ large in their tradition (compare for example Numbers 14:40-45). And he was probably also aware through his spies that Shishak in Egypt was considering the possibility of a military expedition in Palestine, something which would only be encouraged by a civil war (it came anyway five years later). The arrogant king was therefore forced to cower before the word of the prophet. YHWH’s was a power that he could not fight against. And he probably knew that once the prophet’s word was known, few would have wanted to obey him anyway. For they still saw YHWH as their supreme Overlord.
Instead Of Choosing Wholly To Follow YHWH On The Basis Of The Covenant Made With Him, Jeroboam The New King Of Israel Chooses The Way Of Disaster (1 Kings 12:25-32).
But things were not going well in Israel, for sadly, on coming to the throne of Israel as YHWH had promised him through Ahijah, Jeroboam immediately forgot the covenant that YHWH had made with him promising him the establishment of his house (1 Kings 11:35-38), and he did it in view of what he saw as the greatest threat to his kingship. For while there were a number of sanctuaries in Israel where true worship of YHWH could be carried out (1 Kings 18:30; 1 Kings 19:14), and we need not doubt that there were true priests and prophets who were ready to maintain them, that did not alter the fact that the Central Sanctuary to which the tribes had to gather three times a year for worship together was in Jerusalem, and that many of his people had got into the habit of looking to Jerusalem as the central place of worship. This concerned him so much that he set about establishing a new cult. It was based on old recognised but bastardised sanctuaries, which were the bain of Israel, but it was his hope that they would turn his people away from Jerusalem. Thus instead of seeking YHWH’s guidance through the prophets as to what he should do, he used the popular syncretistic sanctuaries which had grown up as the basis of a new approach to Yahwism.
We can understand the problem. Worship at Jerusalem as the Central Sanctuary which was intended to bind all Yahwists together, even though there were two nations, would depend on a peace treaty made with Rehoboam, and this, along with the loyalty of the current priesthood towards the Jerusalem Sanctuary, made him recognise that Israel could never fully be a separate nation while they acknowledged Jerusalem as the Central Sanctuary. Indeed his fear was that his people would be wooed back to serving Rehoboam. We do not know what would have resulted had the attempt been made, which was clearly YHWH’s intention, but Jeroboam was not up to taking the risk, and consequently he made himself the standard of what was seen as evil in the northern kingdom, by carrying out ‘the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat’.
This sin consisted of setting up twin central sanctuaries in Bethel and Dan, two ancient and well recognised, but syncretistic sanctuaries, at which images of bulls were erected, and establishing a non-levitical priesthood made up of people of his own choosing. At these sanctuaries he established temples, in which the images could be placed, which contained ‘high places’ at which the people could worship. True sanctuaries of YHWH were apparently at some stage torn down (1 Kings 19:14), although we do not know how soon this happened. This undoubtedly pandered to the people, many of whom found syncretistic worship very acceptable, and its purpose was to stop them looking to Jerusalem.
The bulls were not intended to be seen as images of God, but were rather probably intended to replace the Ark as the place where YHWH would invisibly meet with His people, stood, as it were, on the back of the bull, for elsewhere gods were regularly depicted as standing on the backs of bulls. Theoretically it still recognised the invisibility of YHWH, but dangerously the images were also reminiscent of Baal worship, for Baal was regularly depicted by means of the image of a bull. It was thus a compromise, possibly partly with the hope of placating his Canaanite subjects and integrating them into Israel, and definitely with a view to turning his people’s thoughts away from Jerusalem. He also altered the timing of the popular Autumn festival, the time when all the harvests of the year were celebrated, which occurred prior to the coming of the rain in October/November. The result could only be a Yahwism that lost its purity, and became diluted and syncretised with Canaanite worship, bringing YHWH down to the level of other ‘gods’. This was ‘the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat’.
a Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill-country of Ephraim, and dwelt in it. And he went out from there, and built Penuel (1 Kings 12:25).
b 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 YHWH at Jerusalem, then will the heart of this people turn again to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me, and return to Rehoboam king of Judah” (1 Kings 12:26-27).
c Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt”. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other he placed in Dan (1 Kings 12:28-29).
d And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one, even to Dan (1 Kings 12:30).
c And he made houses of high places, and made priests from among all the people, who were not of the sons of Levi (1 Kings 12:31).
b And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast that is in Judah, and he went up to the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves which he had made.
a And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made (1 Kings 12:32 b).
Note that in ‘a’ he fortified two fortresses in Israel, one on each side of the Jordan, probably with the aim of the focus of his people’s political thought being on them, and in the parallel he ‘fortified’ Bethel as a religious centre by providing it with a priesthood, hoping that it would become the central focus of their religious thought. In ‘b’ he was afraid that the people would observe the feasts and go and sacrifice in Jerusalem, and in the parallel he ordained a counter-feast, and himself went up to the altar and sacrificed in Bethel. In ‘c’ he established two main sanctuaries to rival the Central Sanctuary, setting up images within them, and in the parallel he established temples including high places in Bethel and Dan, and set up false priests within them. Centrally in ‘d’ what he did became a sin to the people.
1 Kings 12:25
‘Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill-country of Ephraim, and dwelt in it. And he went out from there, and built Penuel.’
Taking advantage of the short peace which had been granted as a result of YHWH’s intervention in Jerusalem, Jeroboam set up two political centres, one on each side of Jordan, the one in Shechem which had been at the very heart of the rebellion, and the other in Penuel. Both were seemingly fortified in order to act as political centres in their areas. He would, however, eventually establish his capital city at Tirzah (1 Kings 14:17), but he knew that he would have to guard against the possibility of Rehoboam wooing the Israelites in Transjordan if they felt themselves cut off from any political influence.
Shechem, which was in the territory of Manasseh, but was geographically in ‘the hill country of Ephraim’, guarded the pass from east to west, and commanded the road through the hills of Manasseh to Bethshean. It was a crucial centre. Its refortification at this time is evidenced archaeologically. Penuel was in the east of Jordan, guarding a ford of the Jabbok, and possibly straddling the main trade route. It was no doubt established as a political centre in order to cement Israel’s unity with the Transjordanian tribes, and especially with Gilead. Within five years it would be listed by Shishak of Egypt as paying tribute on his expedition through Judah and Israel to interfere with the trade routes which had been so profitable for Solomon, and to obtain plunder and tribute throughout Judah and Israel, something which is evidenced by a relief in the temple of Amun in Thebes which names many Palestinian towns which were forced to pay tribute, and by a broken stele of his from Megiddo. It was an expedition which would have severely dented the military capacity of both nations, but only feasible because the empire had broken up.
The statement that there was continual war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam in 1 Kings 14:30 is clearly only a general one indicating the state of belligerence that constantly existed between the two nations. It was something which would result in hostilities at various points in time. They were unable to become reconciled. It does not, however, prevent there having been a period of uneasy peace at the beginning of his reign, not be it noted as a result of any friendly intention by Rehoboam, but arising out of YHWH’s intervention and no doubt the fear that Rehoboam may well have had on reflection of what the result of such a civil war might be, especially with Egypt making threatening noises. Israel could after all call on a large number of conscripts. The invasion of Shishak of Egypt in Rehoboam’s fifth year (1 Kings 14:25), reducing a number of the cities of Judah commencing with Gezer, and enforcing heavy tribute on Rehoboam, would undoubtedly later reduce his effective military capability, and would mean that he always had to be watching his back from then on. His folly at Shechem was reaping a bitter reward.
1 Kings 12:26-27
‘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 YHWH at Jerusalem, then will the heart of this people turn again to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me, and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” ’
Along with his attempt to strengthen Israel’s ability to resist invasion, Jeroboam turned his thoughts to the religious position. He recognised the great danger that if Israelites continued their visits to the Temple in Jerusalem at one or other of the three great feasts (1 Kings 9:25), and went up to offer sacrifices there, their hearts might be turned back to Rehoboam, who would no doubt be on the lookout for the opportunity. And the consequence would be that they would then kill him at Rehoboam’s request and return to the service of Rehoboam. He felt that it was something that he could not risk.
It is very possible that had he consulted Ahijah the prophet he might have found a satisfactory solution to his dilemma, especially as any Israelite would certainly have been hesitant about visiting Jerusalem with no guarantee of safe conduct. In the time of David it had been solved by having two central sanctuaries for a time, neither of which had contained the Ark. And there were a number of genuine sites in Israel where YHWH had recorded His Name where this might have been arranged. But instead he determined to take matters into his own hands.
1 Kings 12:28-29
‘Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set the one in Bethel, and the other he placed in Dan.’
Ignoring the prophets, and taking advice from his political advisers, Jeroboam set up two ‘calves of gold’, one in Bethel and the other in Dan, and called on Israel not to go up to Jerusalem but rather to worship at one of these two sanctuaries. ‘Calves’ was probably a derogatory description by the author of what were actually bulls, the description being based on the incident of Aaron and the molten calf. (Exodus 32:4). The idea of the bulls was probably that they be seen as bases on which the invisible YHWH would be visualised, thus replacing the Ark. Gods like Hadad, perched on the backs of bulls, were a common feature of local nature religions. The words cited are mainly taken from Exodus 32:4, indicating that that incident had suggested the idea to Jeroboam, but with ‘gods’ being in the plural because there were bull two bases, a plural which was no doubt also intended to be seen as a plural of intensity. Jeroboam, and the people, knew that there was only one YHWH, even though they were as it were, dividing Him into two on the two bases, a dangerous precedent.
Bethel and Dan had both been sanctuaries in the past, although the one in Dan very much had a reputation for unorthodoxy (Judges 18:30-31). It had clearly then ceased for a period, but had probably been later revived out of local enthusiasm. It was thus a convenient site for Jeroboam to seize on, both because of its ancient respectability in northern Israel, and in its readiness not to stick to the norm. Bethel was an even more ancient sanctuary (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3-4; Genesis 28:19; Genesis 35:1-7), and was also a place where YHWH had recorded His Name. It catered for the south of Israel. But the probability is that the genuine priests of Bethel would not cooperate with Jeroboam, especially once the golden bull had been placed there. To them it would smack of Baalism (Baal was depicted in the form of a bull) and of setting up a graven image. That no doubt was why in the end he had to appoint his own priests. He may well have intended by his bulls to also lure the many Canaanites in his country to participate in the worship, thus uniting the country, even if it did produce a watered down Yahwism.
1 Kings 12:30
‘And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one, even to Dan.’
The people began to flock to Dan, with its unorthodox and doubtful background, as their ‘central sanctuary’, something which ‘became a sin’ to them because it meant that they had turned away from orthodox Yahwism. This may well have been because there was already a regular annual pilgrimage to Dan which took place year by year around this time, which all now took advantage of, delighted to be freed from the old ties. Dan made no awkward demands on them. It must indeed be seen as probable that, with its syncretistic form of Yahwism, things went on in Dan that were very pleasing to the flesh, but not to YHWH. Dan had in fact been an alternative, but unorthodox, ‘central sanctuary’ in the days of the Judges (Judges 18:30-31). It thus enjoyed a distinction that Bethel did not have. And as suggested, it may well be that a well established procession and pilgrimage, which had long taken place yearly, brought about this situation (encouraged by Jeroboam because it took them as far from Jerusalem as possible). Excavations in Dan have in fact revealed there a high place and enclosure erected in the time of Jeroboam.
1 Kings 12:31
‘And he made houses of high places, and made priests from among all the people, who were not of the sons of Levi.’
In Bethel and Dan Jeroboam also set up ‘temples’ to house the bulls (houses of high places), which also contained ‘high places’ where the people could worship, reminiscent of Baal worship. And, presumably because he could not persuade orthodox priests to serve in them, he set up his own priesthood of non-Levites because the Levitical priests would not cooperate. (What he should have done, of course, was find something in which they would cooperate. But Solomon had encouraged diverse ‘high places’ and they had become popular with the people - 1 Kings 3:2-3).
1 Kings 12:32
‘And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast that is in Judah, and he went up to the altar; so did he in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves which he had made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.’
In his thoroughgoing attempt to turn the people away from Jerusalem worship Jeroboam replaced the three great feasts of YHWH with a feast established in the eighth month, to celebrate the end of the harvests. This was aping the Feast of Tabernacles, which was, however, in the seventh month. He was aware that the only way in which he could achieve success was by weaning the people completely away from orthodox Yahwism. The people of Israel lived so far from Jerusalem that they had in the main probably only attended one great feast a year (compare 1 Samuel 1:3), and this was thus the alternative that he now gave them which he hoped would take their minds off the regular feasts. And he supported this by himself ‘going up’ to the altar in Bethel and offering the same kind of sacrifices (presumably through his new-fangled priests) as would be offered during the feast of Tabernacles, no doubt at the same time arranging for many other freewill offerings which would result in great feasting and celebration. He may well by this have been intending to make Bethel more popular, and it is possible that he arranged the festival fairly quickly in order to celebrate the establishment of his kingship at ‘a feast of YHWH’. (If the gathering at Shechem had been for the seven year reading of the Law, that assembly would have been in the seventh month - Deuteronomy 31:9-11).
But Jeroboam could not have accomplished all this unless the hearts of the people had been with him. It was clearly only possible because Solomon’s own behaviour had encouraged a diluted Yahwism. Loyalty to pure Yahwism had long grown dim, except among those who heeded the prophets.
We may end the passage by summing up ‘the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat which will have such prominence throughout Kings.
1). He set up two separate sanctuaries at which the people could worship, thus breaking their sense of unity. They no longer had a central sanctuary at which to gather, and seemingly no focus on the covenant (no Ark). Moreover both sanctuaries were syncretistic and included Canaanite features such as ‘high places’.
2). He set up two visible graven images that the people could look on in two separate places as they worshipped, each of which was supposed to be bearing the invisible God. Such graven images were contrary to God’s Law, and to have two figures which indicated the presence of God in two different places destroyed the idea of His essential unity, as the reference to ‘these are your gods’ emphasises. He was virtually making God like the gods of the nations.
3). He established a non-Levitical priesthood consisting of men of his own choosing, instead of those chosen and set apart by God.
4). He himself acted as king-priest by offering incense.
5). He instituted a feast of his own devising to replace the three feasts of YHWH which had commemorated the deliverance from Egypt.
He was thus basically rejecting the revealed religion of YHWH and shaping a pale copy of it to his own choosing. As a result he was misrepresenting the God of the Covenant of Sinai, and rejecting all His revealed requirements. He was turning the God of Sinai into a god like any other god, and removing the sense of awe and holiness that the Tabernacle had been designed to inculcate. Although he possibly did not realise it, it was an act of open rebellion against YHWH and His revelation of Himself.
We, too, can be in danger of the sin of Jeroboam, for whenever we fail to recognise our own responsibilities towards Jesus Christ as our Lord, and begin to shape our worship of God around things which are simply pleasing to ourselves, rather than around what encourages true worship, and begin to fit our ‘heavenly service’ into the shape of men’s earthly ideas instead of according to the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures, we become as guilty as Jeroboam. The sin of Jeroboam is responsible for much of the ‘worldliness’ which is in the church today.
Jeroboam, The False Altar, The Man Of God And The Old Prophet (1 Kings 12:33 to 1 Kings 13:34).
What follows may appear to be strange story with which to commence the reign of Jeroboam, but we must not take it out of context, and in context it is a cameo of the future of Israel. It is a story of contrasts and warnings against disobedience. On the one hand we have the downrightly disobedient Jeroboam who has basically turned away from true Yahwism, and received ample warning of what YHWH would do unless he repented. On the other, standing out in stark contrast, we have the fearless man of God, who came from Judah in total obedience, only for him also to turn out to be disobedient because he allowed himself to be persuaded by lies to go against YHWH’s word. He was a warning to the godly in Israel that they must stand firmly by the truth, and not be persuaded to waver by smooth tongues. And in the middle we have the wavering, and backslidden prophet who was unsure of both himself and the current situation. Unwilling to accept the man of God’s genuineness because of his readiness to compromise, he brought about his disobedience by subtlety, only to recognise too late that he was dealing with a true man of God, and that what he had brought was the truth. He was a warning to the compromisers in Israel, who were not happy with what Jeroboam was doing, but were not prepared to do anything about it, and as a consequence were in danger of also dragging down the true believers. It is thus a story of the unbelieving, the true believer and the doubter, a picture in miniature of the situation in Israel as it fought to cope with the new situation.
It is a remarkable story also in that it introduces a new period in which God will manifest Himself in a series of miracles, a series which will come to its head in Elijah and Elisha, as God encourages the faithful in the midst of apostasy. God was acting positively in the new situation as, humanly speaking, He fought to keep the believing in Israel faithful to Himself. It will be noted as we continue that most of what we know about Jeroboam revolves around, not his achievements, but his apostasy and his contact with men of God who pass judgment on him and seek to bring him to repentance. This was the story that the prophetic author wanted us to be aware of. How God dealt with the erring nation.
One of the problems that many find puzzling is as to why God allowed the faithful man of God to be deceived with the result that, having faithfully fulfilled his mission, he was struck down for disobedience. And we ask ourselves, ‘what got into the old prophet?’ But what happened to the man of God came as a stark and permanent warning to the believing in Israel to beware of itself being led into disobedience by false words. Like Samson who was similarly guilty of disobedience the man of God probably accomplished more in his death than he did in his life. And the behaviour of the false prophet is the all too familiar story of the path of compromise that often not only renders useless the ministry of those caught up in its ways, but can also undermine the faithful who are seeking to remain true to God. This is the story of Israel, and of the church.
We should recognise that while to us the man of God’s sin was not very heinous, it was not only an act of gross disobedience, but was also in Israel’s eyes a declaration that YHWH was at peace with Israel because the man of God accepted Israelite hospitality. The only thing that could annul that declaration was the death of the one who had made it. (Had the man of God still been alive he would have been the first to agree).
The first and last verses in the passage form an inclusio, with 1 Kings 12:33 defining the crowning sin that brought the wrath of God down on Jeroboam, and 1 Kings 13:33-34 indicating that in spite of that he did not turn from his sin, but continued in it so that his sin became sin to the whole house of Jeroboam resulting in it being cut off from the earth.
Within the inclusio are three subsections: the judgment of the man of God on the altar of Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:33 to 1 Kings 13:10), the dealings of the old prophet with the man of God (1 Kings 13:11-32), the final conclusion about the house of Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:33-34).
But first we must bring out the overall chiasmus which binds the passage as a unity. The passage can be analysed as follows:
a And he went up to 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 (1 Kings 12:33 a).
b And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and went up to the altar, to burn incense (1 Kings 12:33 b).
c And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of YHWH to Bethel, and Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar by the word of YHWH, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says YHWH, Behold, a son will be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and on you will he sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men’s bones will they burn on you.” And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign which YHWH has spoken, Behold, the altar shall be torn apart, and the ashes that are on it will be poured out.” And it came about, when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, that Jeroboam put forth his hand from the altar, saying, “Lay hold on him.” And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back again to him. The altar also was torn apart, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of YHWH. And the king answered and said unto the man of God, “Entreat now the favour of YHWH your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again.” And the man of God entreated YHWH, and the king’s hand was restored to him again, and became as it was before. And the king said to the man of God, “Come home with me, and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.” And the man of God said to the king, “If you will give me half your house, I will not go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place, for so it was charged me by the word of YHWH, saying, You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, neither return by the way that you came.” So he went another way, and did not return by the way that he came to Bethel (1 Kings 13:1-10).
d Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el, and one of his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Beth-el. The words which he had spoken to the king, them also they told to their father (1 Kings 13:11).
e And their father said to them, “What way did he go?” Now his sons had seen what way the man of God went, who came from Judah (1 Kings 13:12).
f And he said to his sons, “Saddle for me the ass.” So they saddled the ass for him, and he rode on it (1 Kings 13:13).
g And he went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak, and he said to him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?” And he said, “I am.” Then he said to him, “Come home with me, and eat bread” (1 Kings 13:14-15).
h And he said, “I may not return with you, nor go in with you, nor will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, for it was said to me by the word of YHWH, “You shall eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way in which you came” (1 Kings 13:16-17).
i And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of YHWH, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’ ” But he lied to him (1 Kings 13:18).
j So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water (1 Kings 13:19).
i And it came about, as they sat at the table, that the word of YHWH came to the prophet who brought him back, and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, “Thus says YHWH, Forasmuch as you have been disobedient to the mouth of YHWH, and have not kept the commandment which YHWH your God commanded you, but came back, and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, ‘Eat no bread, and drink no water,’ your body will not come to the sepulchre of your fathers’ ” (1 Kings 13:20-22).
h And it came about, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, to wit, for the prophet whom he had brought back, and when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him, and his body was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it. The lion also stood by the body (1 Kings 13:23-24).
g And, behold, men passed by, and saw the body cast in the way, and the lion standing by the body, and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt. And when the prophet who brought him back from the way heard of it, he said, “It is the man of God, who was disobedient to the mouth of YHWH, therefore YHWH has delivered him to the lion, which has torn him, and slain him, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke to him (1 Kings 13:25-26).
f And he spoke to his sons, saying, “Saddle me the ass.” And they saddled it (1 Kings 13:27).
e And he went and found his body cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the body. The lion had not eaten the body, nor torn the ass. And the prophet took up the body of the man of God, and laid it on the ass, and brought it back, and he came to the city of the old prophet, to mourn, and to bury him. And he laid his body in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, “Alas, my brother!” (1 Kings 13:28-30).
d And it came about, after he had buried him, that he spoke to his sons, saying, “When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre in which the man of God is buried. Lay my bones beside his bones” (1 Kings 13:31).
c “For the saying which he cried by the word of YHWH against the altar in Beth-el, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, will surely come about” (1 Kings 13:32).
b After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again from among all the people priests of the high places, whoever would, he consecrated him, that there might be priests of the high places (1 Kings 13:33).
a And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth (1 Kings 13:34).
Note that in ‘a’ Jeroboam goes to celebrate his self-appointed feast at Bethel, the false sanctuary that he has set up, and in the parallel ‘this thing’ became a sin to the house of Jeroboam, and resulted in it being cut off. In ‘b’ Jeroboam offered incense on the false altar, and in the parallel he did not return from his evil way but consecrated as priests whom he would. In ‘c’ the man of God cried against the altar and demonstrated its condemnation, prophesying its future defilement, and in the parallel the old prophet confirmed that the words of the man of God were true and that they would surely come about. In ‘d’ the old prophet learned what the man of God had said and done, and in the parallel, having sought him out, he buried him because he had accordingly led him astray. In ‘e’ the old prophet discovered the way that the man of God had taken, and in the parallel he went and found the man of God’s body cast in the way. In ‘f’ he called on his sons to saddle his ass, and in the parallel he did the same. In ‘g’ the old prophet found the man of God and invited him to eat with him, and in the parallel he declared that he was dead because he had done so. In ‘h’ the man of God declared that he must not eat or drink in Israel, and in the parallel he ate and drank, and died. In ‘i’ the old prophet declared a false prophecy to the man of God, and in the parallel he declared a true prophecy. Centrally in ‘j’ the man of God was disobedient to YHWH and ate and drank water in Israel.
Jeroboam Is Challenged By A Man Of God (1 Kings 12:33 to 1 Kings 13:10).
Jeroboam appears not only to have appointed his own priests, but also to have exalted himself by taking the position of king-priest, for he offered incense at the altar, thus making himself the centre of the cult, something for which in future days Uzziah would be struck with leprosy. But his enjoyment of his new position was somewhat tarnished by the arrival of a man of God from Judah at the very moment when he was offering incense, who, with all eyes upon him, denounced the altar at Bethel as a false altar, declared that it would one day be desecrated by the sacrificing on it of the very priests of the high places whom Jeroboam had appointed, and warned that as a sign that this would be so YHWH would that day tear the altar apart and spill out its ashes.
An infuriated Jeroboam then sought to have the interloper arrested, but to his horror, on stretching out it became withered, and it was only due to the compassionate intercession of the man of God that his hand was restored. Immediately thereafter the altar was duly torn apart and the ashes spilled out. YHWH was revealing His view of things in no uncertain terms. When Jeroboam then tried to persuade the man of God to partake of food with him, the man of God refused on the grounds that YHWH had forbidden him to either eat or drink until he had returned to Judah. This was a further sign of YHWH’s enmity towards Jeroboam because he had spurned the covenant of YHWH. He could no longer ‘eat before YHWH’ (Exodus 24:11).
That the man of God came from Judah is itself significant. We know, for example that the prophet Ahijah lived at Shiloh, and we will soon discover that there was an old prophet who lived at Bethel. Why then did YHWH not send them to denounce Jeroboam? We can only assume that thereby it was YHWH’s purpose to emphasise that while the countries were operating separately they were to see themselves as still united in YHWH. Judah and Israel were still to be united by the covenant, and Judah therefore had an interest in Israel’s religious purity. (We must remember that the tribes of Israel had been able to maintain such a unity even when they had been divided up into separate groups under different Judges in the book of Judges, for it was a religious unity rather than a political one).
We should note that by this exhibition of His power and anger YHWH was actually giving Jeroboam an opportunity to repent (1 Kings 13:33), but sadly the cry fell on deaf ears. Jeroboam had set himself on a path from which he would not turn aside.
And he went up to 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 (1 Kings 12:33 a).
And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and went up to the altar, to burn incense (1 Kings 12:33).
And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of YHWH to Bethel, and Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar by the word of YHWH, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says YHWH, Behold, a son will be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and on you will he sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men’s bones will they burn on you” (1 Kings 13:1-2).
And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign which YHWH has spoken, Behold, the altar shall be torn apart, and the ashes that are on it will be poured out” (1 Kings 13:3).
And it came about, when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, that Jeroboam put forth his hand from the altar, saying, “Lay hold on him.” And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back again to him (1 Kings 13:4).
The altar also was torn apart, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of YHWH (1 Kings 13:5).
And the king answered and said unto the man of God, “Entreat now the favour of YHWH your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again.” And the man of God entreated YHWH, and the king’s hand was restored to him again, and became as it was before (1 Kings 13:6).
And the king said to the man of God, “Come home with me, and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.” And the man of God said to the king, “If you will give me half your house, I will not go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place, for so it was charged me by the word of YHWH, saying, You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, neither return by the way that you came” (1 Kings 13:7-9)
So he went another way, and did not return by the way that he came to Bethel (1 Kings 13:10).
Note that in ‘a’ Jeroboam went up to Bethel for a feast that he himself had devised, and in the parallel the man of God left Bethel using a new way, and not the previous way that he had used. In ‘b’ Jeroboam ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and in the parallel the man of God refused to partake of Jeroboam’s food and water. In ‘c’ the man of God cried out against Jeroboam’s altar declaring it to be unfit, and that it would never be restored, and in the parallel Jeroboam had been rendered unfit by a withered hand, and the man of God restored it. In ‘d’ the man of God declared that the altar would be torn open and the ashes spilled out, and in the parallel that is what happened. Centrally in ‘e’ Jeroboam sought to have the man of God arrested and finished up with a withered hand which like the withered altar was unfit for use.
1 Kings 12:33
‘And he went up to 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 to the altar, to burn incense.’
Note the prophetic author’s emphasis on the fact that Jeroboam went up to the altar of his own devising (‘the altar which he had made’) in the month which ‘he had devised of his own heart’, and ordained a strange ‘feast for the children of Israel’, with himself acting as king-priest by offering incense. In other words he was seeking to rid Israel of all that God had required at Sinai, and replacing it with devices and ideas of his own. He had basically rejected the revelation at Sinai in favour of his own innovations. It was the grossest of sins.
1 Kings 13:1
‘And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of YHWH to Bethel, and Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense.’
But as he stood at the altar ready to burn incense a man of God from Judah strode into the sanctuary in response to ‘the word of YHWH’ (compare Isaiah 9:8; Isaiah 55:11) and caught him in his act of sacrilege (compare 2 Kings 15:5 along with 2 Chronicles 26:19). It is probable that the man of God would have been distinctively dressed so that all knew that he was a prophet of YHWH.
1 Kings 13:2
‘And he cried against the altar by the word of YHWH, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says YHWH, Behold, a son will be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and on you will he sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men’s bones will they burn on you.”
Before all the gathered people the man of God denounced the altar ‘by the word of YHWH’. ‘By the word of YHWH’ indicates that it was as a result of the word of YHWH being at work within him, in other words, he was under inspiration of the Spirit of God. He declared that a king named Josiah would arise in the house of David who would one day sacrifice on that very altar the priests of the high places who burned incense on it, and would burn dead men’s bones on it. (For the fulfilment of this see 2 Kings 23:20).
It will be noted that he did not attack Jeroboam directly, only by implication. Instead he directly attacked the altar. He could not therefore be accused of insulting the king. The prophesying of a name belonging to someone who would arise in the future was unusual, and can be compared with Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming of Coresh (Cyrus) in Isaiah 44:28 to Isaiah 45:1. But the name Josiah means ‘YHWH has given.’ It was indicating that a future king would be ‘given by YHWH’ who would bring all this about. And if we compare this with 2 Samuel 12:25 we can see that the name may originally simply have been seen as declared by YHWH as a God-given name indicating His personal choice of that person without it necessarily being intended to be the person’s given name which was used of him (just as YHWH had given the name of Jedidiah to Solomon, a name which was not used of him but indicated that he was God’s chosen one). Thus the prophecy did not strictly require that a Josiah should be born under that name, only that one would be born whom God could call ‘Josiah’. In the event, however, as so often happens with God, it later turned out that the prophecy was fulfilled to the letter.
The importance of this is that we must not see this as simply a kind of ‘forecast ‘ that would then wonderfully happen so that we could say, ‘how wonderful’. It was a declaration of what God would give to His people in the future in His God-given chosen king. That God chose to combine the two and granted both adds to its wonder.
While some have suggested that the name slipped in later as a marginal note made by someone who knew who it was who had acted like this, and wanted to draw attention to it, there are no real grounds for denying its genuineness in context. After all if YHWH could not forecast the name of someone in the future He would not be the God of Scripture, and certainly not the God Who has already recorded the names of all His elect in the Lamb’s Book of Life from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8).
1 Kings 13:3
‘And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign which YHWH has spoken, Behold, the altar shall be torn apart, and the ashes that are on it will be poured out” ’
The man of God then gave a sign which would take place on ‘the same day’. He declared that that very day the altar would be torn apart and its ashes would pour out onto the ground. The ashes of the genuine altar were looked on as sacred and had normally to be disposed of in a ‘clean place’ (Leviticus 6:10-11). Thus the idea here was that these ashes would be defiled, and revealed as ‘common’ and not sacred, by being tossed on the ground, an indication that YHWH had rejected the altar and its contents. The tearing apart of the altar would further indicate that it too was rejected by YHWH. The covenant that it was supposed to represent had been ‘torn up’.
1 Kings 13:4
‘And it came about, when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, that Jeroboam put forth his hand from the altar, saying, “Lay hold on him.” And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back again to him.’
Hearing what the man of Good had declared, and rapidly recovering from his surprise, the king ‘put forth his hand from the altar’ and called on his men to arrest the man of God, because of the words that he had spoken against the altar. But then to his horror he realised that the hand that he had put forth had become withered and dried up so that it was useless (it was thus not just nervous paralysis). Moreover he discovered that he could not draw it back again. He realised that he had reached out his hand against the servant of YHWH and had been smitten. In those times a dried up ‘hand’ would be seen as excluding him from any future participation in the priesthood and the cult. He would be seen as disfigured (compare Leviticus 21:16-21). It would also, of course, mean that he was maimed for life.
1 Kings 13:5
‘The altar also was torn apart, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of YHWH.
And then as all watched in horror the altar itself burst open, and its ashes poured out onto the ground, fulfilling the sign given by the man of God. The bursting open of the altar may have been caused by excessive heat within it, or even by an earth tremor, but the miracle was that it had happened just as the man of God had prophesied, and at the right time. It confirmed to all YHWH’s rejection of the altar.
1 Kings 13:6
‘And the king answered and said unto the man of God, “Entreat now the favour of YHWH your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again.” And the man of God entreated YHWH, and the king’s hand was restored to him again, and became as it was before.’
Meanwhile the king was conscious of his own troubles. His hand was withered and useless. And recognising that this really must be a man of God who was before him, he called on him to have compassion on him and plead his case before YHWH. The man of God responded and entreated YHWH on his behalf, and his arm was restored to what it had been before
“Entreat now the favour of YHWH.” This literally means ‘soften the face of YHWH’. He was acknowledging his sin and recognising the need for propitiation.
1 Kings 13:7
‘And the king said to the man of God, “Come home with me, and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.” ’
No doubt very shaken and relieved the king now called on the man of God to come home with him and refresh himself after which he would give him a reward. He was hoping that, as a result of the man of God eating with him he would be able to know that he was no longer seen as YHWH’s enemy, and that he was forgiven. The laws of hospitality were such that to eat with someone was to declare goodwill towards them and indicate no evil intentions against them. And this would equally apply in the case of an official representative. Thus he was seeking to curry the man of God’s favour, and the favour of YHWH Himself.
1 Kings 13:8-9
‘And the man of God said to the king, “If you will give me half your house, I will not go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place, for so it was charged me by the word of YHWH, saying, You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, neither return by the way that you came.”
But the man of God rejected both his offer of food, and of reward. Indeed, he declared, if Jeroboam were to offer him half his house he would not accept his hospitality, or eat or drink with him. For YHWH had strictly charged him not to eat or drink, or to return in the same way in which he had come.
This last was a further indication of YHWH’s firm judgment on the house of Jeroboam, and on Israel, for ‘not returning by the same way’ indicated that this was not a friendly visit. There was to be no peace between them and YHWH. Someone avoided taking the same way back when they suspected possible reprisals. Thus this was a further act of rejection and an indication of open hostility between Israel and YHWH.
1 Kings 13:10
‘So he went another way, and did not return not by the way that he came to Bethel.’
So the man of God left Bethel and took another way back to Judah, not returning by the way that he had come, thus openly confirming Jeroboam’s rejection by YHWH. Indeed the whole scene had been prophetically acted out for that purpose, as a final plea to Jeroboam to consider his ways (1 Kings 13:33).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent