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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 12

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

Verses 1-24

1 Kings 12:1-24 . The Revolt of the Northern Tribes.— It is doubtful whether this section is Judæ an or not. It bears some resemblance to 2 Samuel 9-20, and the parts of 1 K. which seem to be a continuation of that history. On the other hand it is not favourable to the house of David, The writer assumes, that Israel has a right to elect a king, and that Solomon could not, like David, have nominated his successor. This passage may be an extract from a northern source, perhaps the chronicles of the kings of Israel. Difficulty is occasioned by the LXX additions, and has to be discussed in connexion with 1 Kings 12, 14. Evidently Jeroboam’ s rebellion against Solomon was more serious than is implied in 11, and the prestige of his throne had suffered considerably.

Shechem.— At the end of Solomon’ s reign the prestige of the older scenes in Israel’ s history seems to have revived. Jerusalem is no longer the important centre, and Ahijah, the prophet of the ancient sanctuary of Shiloh, is the religious leader. Shechem (p. 30) was connected with the names of Abraham ( Genesis 12:6), Jacob ( Genesis 32:18), Joshua ( Joshua 24:1), Gideon, whose son Abimelech was the first Israelite to assume the title of king ( Judges 9:6). It was the site of Abraham’ s first altar, and of the joint worship of Baal-berith (Lord of the Covenant) by the Israelites and Canaanites ( Judges 8:33). Joseph was buried here ( Joshua 24:32), and it was one of the cities of refuge. It continued to be regarded as a holy place for many years, and on the neighbouring Mount Gerizim the Samaritans built their temple. Its political importance declined after the building of Samaria; but in the later days of the monarchy the Deuteronomist recognises it as the scene of the solemn recitation of the blessings and curses of the Law ( Deuteronomy 27:12, Joshua 8:33). According to 1 Kings 14:21, Rehoboam ascended the throne at the mature age of forty. The Vatican MS. of the LXX in 1 Kings 14:24 a says he was only sixteen. This is more probable. The old men advise the king to use crafty moderation ( 1 Kings 12:6). A few concessions and gracious words would win a people, and make a monarch able to do what he chose. The young men believed that a haughty and threatening demeanour would best become the heir of the great Solomon. They did not understand the intensity of the hatred felt by the Israelite people for forced labour. The war cry of Israel, “ What portion have we, etc.,” was uttered when Sheba the son of Bichri raised a revolt against David ( 2 Samuel 20:1). The revolt of the ten tribes was remembered two centuries later as the worst misfortune which had ever fallen upon the house of David ( Isaiah 7:17). In the additional account of Jeroboam in the LXX ( 1 Kings 12:24) it is Shemaiah ( 1 Kings 12:22) “ the Enlamite,” and not Ahijah who gives the pieces of the garment to Jeroboam.

Verses 25-33

1 Kings 12:25 to 1 Kings 13:34 . The Sin of Jeroboam. The Prophet at Bethel.— The sources cannot be exactly determined. Some (see Cent.B) may belong to the annals of the northern kingdom, but the tone is decidedly Deuteronomic. The prophet’ s message to Jeroboam is certainly late.

Jeroboam’ s first act as recorded was to build or fortify Shechem ( 1 Kings 12:25). Then for some reason he transferred his seat of government to the E. of Jordan to Penuel. Possibly he was hard pressed by his former patron Shishak, who invaded Israel in his reign ( 1 Kings 14:25-28). There is no proof of this; but Abner after Saul’ s death set up Ishbosheth as king of Israel in the same district at Mahanaim ( 2 Samuel 2:8 f.). Jeroboam may have established himself at Penuel in anticipation of a Syrian invasion. 2 Samuel 2:26 f. tells of his apostasy. Fearing lest the Israelites would return to the house of David if they continued to visit Jerusalem, he built two sanctuaries, at Bethel in the S. and Dan in the N.

As Kings attributes Israel’ s spiritual ruin to his sin we must state what is here said to have been its features. ( a) Dissuading the people from going up to Jerusalem; ( b) setting up Bethel and Dan as sanctuaries; ( c) making “ houses of high places” ; ( d) ordaining priests who were not Levites; ( e) keeping a feast in the eighth instead of the seventh month. The question is whether any of those offences could have been considered acts of apostasy in the days of Jeroboam, as they were undoubtedly in the reign of Josiah three centuries later. ( f) The “ calf” worship.

( a) Jerusalem was certainly not considered to be the one legal sanctuary. In the days of the Judges it was regarded as a heathen town to be avoided by Israelites ( Judges 19:11 f.). Even the prophets shortly before the fall of Samaria never reproach the people for the sin of schism in deserting Yahweh’ s Judæ an Temple. ( b) Bethel, connected with Jacob, was an ancient and honoured holy place ( Genesis 28:19, 1 Samuel 10:3), and Dan was served by a priesthood which was descended perhaps from a descendant of Moses himself ( Judges 18:30). ( c) The high places or local sanctuaries had existed from the days of the patriarchs, and were part of the worship of ancient Israel ( 2 Kings 3:3 *). Gideon, Samuel, Elijah, made use of them for solemn sacrifices. ( d) The Levitical priesthood was preferred to any other ( Judges 17:9-13); but in early Israel the priestly office was certainly not confined to a tribe. In 2 Chronicles 11:13, the Levites are said to have deserted Jeroboam’ s kingdom and settled in Judah, but this is a very late view of the affair. ( e) The feast in the eighth month is said to be the vintage festival or Feast of Tabernacles. In Nehemiah 8:17, it is said to have been kept in accordance with the Law, but that it had never been kept since the days of Joshua. ( f) The only point remaining for discussion is the “ calves.” The following points must be borne in mind: (i.) the second commandment was not at this time strictly interpreted, or cherubim, lions, and bulls would not have been allowed in Solomon’ s Temple and palace; (ii.) the bull— for “ calf” is not used in a contemptuous sense— was the special symbol of the Joseph tribes ( Deuteronomy 33:17), and even of Yahweh ( Exodus 32:5); (iii.) calf-worship had existed even in the wilderness, and in Exodus 32, when Aaron made the golden calf, he proclaimed a feast to Yahweh. Indeed the whole story in Exodus has a remarkable affinity to that here related. (iv.) As Jeroboam was not an innovator in setting up altars at Bethel and Dan, he may here not have introduced a new worship, but one which was already common in Israel. He may have imitated an Egyptian form of worship; but this is highly improbable. The ceremony of kissing the calves is alluded to just before the fall of Samaria ( Hosea 13:2). Calf-worship apparently never infected Judah.

The story of the prophet’ s visit to Jeroboam has been called “ one of the strangest in the OT” (Cent.B). The prophet, who is not named, predicts the destruction of the altar of Bethel by a king of Judah named Josiah. The definiteness of this prediction would not necessarily render it impossible, any more than the mention of Cyrus, nearly two centuries before his birth, attributed to Isaiah ( Isaiah 44:26). But the whole tone of this story, as of that of Isaiah 40 ff., forbids us to accept it as contemporary. To take but one instance, the allusion to the cities of Samaria” ( 1 Kings 13:32) is a patent anachronism ( 1 Kings 16:24). That the tradition of a prophet’ s visit to Jeroboam was current may be witnessed to by 2 Kings 23:16. The prophet or “ man of God,” as he is consistently called (except in 1 Kings 13:23, where the reference to the prophet is an obvious interpolation), in contrast with the old prophet, does not denounce Jeroboam but curses the altar. Apparently the punishment of the man of God, who was very excusably deceived, is intended to emphasize the extreme wickedness of rebellion against God. The story throughout is intentionally miraculous; the withering of the king’ s hand, the death of the prophet by a lion who refused to touch the corpse or to injure the ass, cannot be explained by any attempt to rationalise the story.

1 Kings 13:33 . consecrated: lit. “ filled the hand” (Leviticus 8*, Numbers 3:3 *, 1 Chronicles 29:5 *) of each new priest. This term (found also in Assyrian) is used of regular consecration, e.g. Aaron’ s ( Exodus 28:41), and irregular, e.g. Micah’ s Levite ( Judges 17:5). It probably means to put him in possession of the office.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/1-kings-12.html. 1919.
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