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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 12

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

1. To Shechem A central place for the northern tribes to meet, and consecrated by many hallowed associations. Compare Genesis 12:6; Genesis 33:18; Genesis 37:12; Deuteronomy 11:29; Deuteronomy 27:12-13; Joshua 8:33; Joshua 20:7; Joshua 24:1-25.

For all Israel were come… to make him king The verb בא , were come, should here be rendered by the pluperfect had come. It seems that this coming together of the ten tribes was an action preconcerted among themselves. They had their demands all ready, and their plans and purposes fixed for revolt in case the king would not yield to them. The for ( כי ) introduces the reason of Rehoboam’s going to Shechem. He went thither to receive the oath of allegiance from the representatives of the northern tribes, who had already assembled there ostensibly for the purpose of acknowledging him king.

Verses 1-19

REVOLT OF THE TEN TRIBES, 1 Kings 12:1-19.

Feelings of jealous rivalry had long prevailed between the tribe of Judah and the rest of Israel. The unwise action of the tribe of Judah in making David king without the concurrent action of the other tribes (2 Samuel 2:4, note) was perhaps still remembered, and the fierce contention between Judah and the ten tribes about bringing David back to Jerusalem, (2 Samuel 19:41-43,) and the rebellion of Sheba that sprang from that feud, all intensified the previous bitterness. The strong governments of David and Solomon made it impossible for sedition or revolt to be successful in their day; but the old feeling of bitterness and jealousy was only slumbering, and ready at any moment of fair opportunity to burst out, and in defiance of the throne assert its power. The continual levies of men which Solomon demanded for his public works, and the burdens imposed on them, seemed to grow more oppressive as he advanced in years; and his adversaries Hadad, Rezon, and Jeroboam, who so greatly troubled his last days, received, probably, no small encouragement and support from the large number of disaffected Israelites among the northern tribes. So when Rehoboam succeeded to the throne the opportune moment had come for the disaffected tribes to make their demands and seek redress. It is likely, too, that Ahijah’s prophecy that Jeroboam should become king of ten tribes (1 Kings 11:29-39) had not been kept a secret thing, but had rather led the elders of the people to take some measures for its accomplishment.

The prominence of Ephraim, too, in this revolt, deserves particular notice. “To the house of Joseph that is, to Ephraim and Manasseh, with its adjacent tribe of Benjamin had belonged, down to the time of David, all the chief rulers of Israel; Joshua the conqueror; Deborah, the one prophetic, Gideon, the one regal, spirit of the judges; Abimelech and Saul, the first kings; Samuel, the restorer of the state after the fall of Shiloh. It was natural that, with such an inheritance of glory, Ephraim always chafed under any rival supremacy. Even against the impartial sway of its own Joshua, or of its kindred heroes, Gideon or Jephthah, its proud spirit was always in revolt; how much more when the blessing of Joseph seemed to be altogether merged in the blessing of the rival Judah; when the Lord ‘ refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah, the Mount Zion which he loved.’ Psalms 78:67. All these embers of disaffection, which had well nigh burst into a general conflagration in the revolt of Sheba, were still glowing; it needed but a breath to blow them into a flame.” Stanley.

Verse 2

2. When Jeroboam… heard Heard that Solomon was dead, and that Rehoboam had begun to reign in Jerusalem.

For he was fled The parenthesis which begins here should take in, according to Schmidt, De Wette, and others, the first sentences in the next verse, but this is unnecessary. The whole passage, (1 Kings 12:2-3,) however, should be translated thus: When Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard, ( now he was still in Egypt, whither he had fled from the face of Solomon the king, and Jeroboam was dwelling in Egypt,) then sent they and called him, and they came, Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel, and spake to Reho-boam, saying. They had heard of Ahijah’s prophecy that Jeroboam should become their king, and they knew his ability and influence, and desired his counsel and guidance in this critical period of their history. All this indicates a deeply-laid plan and a well-matured purpose to throw off the yoke of the house of David.

Verse 4

4. Thy father made our yoke grievous Some have doubted whether Solomon really oppressed the people with severe exactions, and have thought that these complaints were only a pretence to cover their purpose of rebellion. But the probability is, that these complaints had some foundation. The people who once clamoured for a king that they might be like the nations round them, now began to realize the truth of Samuel’s prediction as to the cost of maintaining a king and a court. 1 Samuel 8:11-18. The vast levies of men raised by Solomon to build the temple, and the palace, and the fortifications of Jerusalem and other cities, (1 Kings 9:15,) must have severely taxed the people, and this grievous yoke quite likely grew heavier with Solomon’s advance in years.

And we will serve thee Was this promise made in good faith? Doubtless their purpose of revolt was fixed in case Rehoboam refused to accede to their demands; but had he agreed to make their burdens lighter, there is reason to believe they would have remained in allegiance to the house of David.

Verse 5

5. People departed Retired from Rehoboam’s presence, not to return home, but to tarry at Shechem three days to await the king’s decision.

Verse 7

7. Be a servant unto this people this day The ruler that would hold the affections of his people must first learn to be their servant. He must consult their wishes and interests so as not to seem unmindful of his most humble subject. But it is easy to see, as Bahr remarks, that such a proposition might not be very agreeable to a rash and imperious young king, in whose veins Ammonite blood flowed.

Verse 8

8. The young men that were grown up with him Probably sons of Solomon’s chief officers, who had been trained at the royal court, and were designed to be the officers of the succeeding king. Though called ילדים , youths, they may have been, like Rehoboam, forty or more years old.

Verse 10

10. My little finger… thicker than my father’s loins A proverbial expression equivalent to, My power is greater than my father’s, and my exactions shall come upon you accordingly.

Verse 11

11. Whips… scorpions As the scorpion an instrument of torture with many lashes, like the legs of the animal of this name, and each lash armed with sharp points to lacerate the flesh is a more terrible scourge than the common whip, so will my severity exceed my father’s.

Verse 15

15. The cause was from the Lord Better, for it was a change from Jehovah. סבה Septuagint, μεταστροφη a change or turn in the course of events. The meaning is, this great change or revolution in the Hebrew state was brought about in the providence of God as a judgment on the nation for the sins of Solomon. He decreed it, and foretold it by the prophet Ahijah. 1 Kings 11:30-33. But neither Solomon’s sins nor Rehoboam’s blind folly and rash imprudence were from the Lord. For them their human authors were solely responsible. But He, whose omniscience takes in all future events as foreseen certainties, (not as decreed necessities,) may well, in respect to events affected by human agency, determine and decree his own future judgments or mercies according to what he foresees men will freely do. So, too, in infinite holiness his determinate counsel and foreknowledge even delivers up Jesus of Nazareth to death, but this decree influences not causatively the action of those wicked hands that crucify and slay him. See Acts 2:23, and note there.

Verse 16

16. What portion have we The signal cry of insurrection and revolt. Compare 2 Samuel 20:1.

Departed unto their tents Went to their different homes, and proceeded to make arrangements for founding a kingdom separate from Judah.

Verse 17

17. Children of Israel… cities of Judah Israelites not belonging to the house of Judah, but dwelling within the territory of that tribe.

Verse 18

18. Rehoboam sent Adoram This officer, called also Adoniram, (see note on 1 Kings 4:6,) had accompanied the king to Shechem, and now was sent out, perhaps with instructions from Rehoboam to assure the seditious populace that the duties of his office should not be executed oppressively. But it was then too late to appease the indignant throng, and even the king was obliged to fly.

Verse 20


20. All Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again The representatives of the people, when they were about to assemble at Shechem to demand of Rehoboam a lightening of their burdens, had sent and called Jeroboam from Egypt, and he was at the head of the assembly at Shechem when they made their demands; (compare 1 Kings 12:2-3; 1 Kings 12:12;) but it was not till after the congregation at Shechem was broken up, and the people had departed to their tents, (1 Kings 12:16,) that all Israel, in the wider sense, (that is, the masses who went not to Shechem but were only represented there by their elders or delegates,) heard of Jeroboam’s return.

Sent and called him unto the congregation The congregation that had assembled to anoint him king. Here we have an instance of the rapidity with which the sacred writer passes over the minor details of his history. The call for this assembly the time, and place, and manner, of its coming together and the ceremonies of the election and crowning of their new king, are all passed over in silence.

Judah only Though Benjamin seems to have adhered to Rehoboam, (1 Kings 12:21,) and also many Israelites of other tribes that dwelt in the cities of Judah, (1 Kings 12:17,) yet they are all looked upon thenceforth as absorbed in the tribe of Judah. See on 1 Kings 19:3.

Verse 21

21. With the tribe of Benjamin It was natural that this tribe, lying as it did upon the border of Judah, and having Jerusalem, the royal city of David, even within its own territory, should adhere to the southern kingdom.

Verse 22

22. Shemaiah With this man of God we here meet for the first time, and though our knowledge of him is limited to a few scattered notices, we see in them how vast a moral power the prophets of this age wielded over the king and the nation. They and the converts of their ministry were the salt that preserved the nation through many a long year of idolatrous rebellion. Shemaiah seems to have been, during Rehoboam’s reign, pre-eminently the prophet of Judah. His word on this occasion, though doubtless much against the royal will, awed the king into submission. Again, in the time of Shishak’s invasion, he appeared, and his ministry was instrumental in averting the possible consequences of that invasion the destruction of Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 12:5-7. He also composed a history of Rehoboam’s reign. 1 Kings 12:15.

Verse 23

23. The remnant of the people Those Israelites not of the tribes of Judah or Benjamin who were dwelling within their cities. 1 Kings 12:17.

Verse 24

24. Returned to depart They turned from their attempt to go and fight Jeroboam, and went or returned to their homes. The reading in 2 Chronicles 11:4, is, They returned from going against Jeroboam.

Verse 25


25. Built Shechem Enlarged and fortified it for a royal residence.

Dwelt therein Not exclusively, for in 1 Kings 14:17, we find him dwelling at Tirzah.

Went out from thence That is, Shechem was the base of operations in the building and fortifying of other cities.

Penuel The place east of the Jordan, near the fords of the Jabbok, where Jacob wrestled with the angel, (Genesis 32:30) and whose tower and inhabitants, in the time of the judges, Gideon had destroyed. Judges 8:17. Jeroboam probably regarded it as an important position, commanding the great caravan road to the farther East, and accordingly fortified it for the security of his kingdom.

Verse 26

26. Jeroboam said in his heart He earnestly soliloquized. The expression implies deep thought, and profound, far-sighted consideration. He not only thoroughly considered the subject within himself, but he also took counsel with his most intimate and interested advisers. He did not wish nor design to introduce heathenish idolatry into his kingdom, but he was apprehensive that if all his people went up to Jerusalem to worship their hearts would soon revolt from him, and turn to the government of Rehoboam. So the making of new sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan, the institution of the calf-worship, and the establishment of a new priesthood, were undertaken, not with the design of countenancing idolatry, but professedly as modifications and reforms in the true worship of God demanded by the changed circumstances of the kingdom. They were dictated by a shrewd state-policy; not by the word of God. They were probably presented to the people as improvements on the temple worship, for it was not to be expected that a people so long accustomed to the worship of the invisible Jehovah, though they might have felt ever so bitter towards the government at Jerusalem, would consent to any semblance of idol-worship unless it were presented with a plausible show of argument. And doubtless the proposed reforms, when first presented to the people, lacked no show of reason. It was urged that it was too much for all the people to go to Jerusalem, (1 Kings 12:28,) and that the division of the old kingdom, which was of the Lord, ( 1Ki 12:15 ; 1 Kings 12:24,) required some corresponding changes in the place and modes of Divine worship.

Jeroboam might have maintained, with a skill worthy of the ratiocination of modern German Neology, that there was nothing in the place itself that need lead them to worship solely at Jerusalem, for Shiloh, Nob, and Gibeon had been sanctuaries before it was chosen; that the changing of the priesthood from one set of persons to another had a sufficient precedent in Solomon’s deposition of Abiathar, (1 Kings 2:27;) and that the setting up of the golden calves was not in itself wrong, but had the sanction of the blessed Aaron’s example, who set up one at Sinai, and taught the people to look upon it, not as an idol, but as a symbol of the Lord that brought them out of Egypt. Exodus 32:4-5. But just here was Jeroboam’s sin a one-sided construction and use of the facts of sacred history, and an arrogant assumption to improve the religious worship of the nation by most dangerous methods, that had no proper sanction from Jehovah or his prophets. He may be regarded as a type of the Romish hierarchy, which, in its efforts to bind the people to St. Peter’s chair, has verily set up graven images in connexion with its worship, and assuming to represent the sanctities of a holy antiquity, has, in fact, reproduced the forms of heathen idolatry. “The sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat,” says Stanley, “is the sin again and again repeated in the policy (half-worldly, half-religious) which has prevailed through large tracts of ecclesiastical history. Many are the forms of worship in the Christian Church, which, with high pretensions, have been nothing else but ‘so many various and opposite ways of breaking the second commandment.’ Many a time has the end been held to justify the means, and the Divine character been degraded by the pretence, or even the sincere intention, of upholding his cause; for the sake of secular aggrandizement; for the sake of binding together good systems, which, it was feared, would otherwise fall to pieces; for the sake of supporting the faith of the multitude from the fear lest they should fall away to rival sects, or lest the enemy should come and take away their place and nation. False arguments have been used in support of religious truth, false miracles promulgated or tolerated, false readings in the sacred text defended. And so the faith of mankind has been undermined by the very means intended to preserve it.”

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Verse 28

28. Took counsel But not of God. Compare Isaiah 30:1.

Two calves of gold Jeroboam’s residence in Egypt had made him familiar with the calf-worship so largely practised there, and this, doubtless, had much to do with the erection of these golden shrines: besides, the people had already become accustomed to the sight of the figures of oxen in their religions ceremonial by their presence as supporters of the molten sea at the temple of Jerusalem. And as it had now become needful to provide some substitute for the ark and its cherubim, it was natural to adopt the semblance of an animal with whose presence they were already familiarized. These calves were not set up to be worshipped as idols, any more than were the ark and other sacred shrines at Jerusalem, but were designed to be symbols of Jehovah. They were made, like the golden calf at Sinai, of wood or other material overlaid with gold, and probably resembled the Egyptian Mne, or Mnevis, which was worshipped at On, or the bull Apis, whose form was similar.

It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem An appeal to the fleshly love of ease. He has nothing against the worship at Jerusalem; that is all right for those that dwell there; but he assumes to show his people an easier and better way. There have never been wanting those who are very ready to take the easiest apparent road to heaven, nor have there been wanting ministers to point it out.

Behold thy gods Rather, Behold thy God. He would no more establish polytheism than would Aaron. He quotes the very words of Aaron, (see Exodus 32:4,) as if to say, This is no new religion, no new system of worship; but was used of old by our fathers under the sanction of Aaron.

Verse 29

29. Beth-el… Dan Since one of the objects he professed to seek was the convenience of the people, two places of worship would of course be better than one Beth-el in the southern and Dan in the northern part of the kingdom. Perhaps, also, here was a still closer imitation of the Egyptian calf-worship, in that the two calves might resemble, the one Apis, who was worshipped at Memphis, and the other Mne, who was worshipped at On. There was reason, and policy too, in fixing on Beth-el and Dan. The one was consecrated in the traditions of the people as the place where God appeared to Jacob, and that patriarch had himself called it the house of God. Genesis 28:11-22. There, too, the people had formerly been wont to go up to worship God. 1 Samuel 10:3. And at Dan the teraphim of Micah had been set up, and a religious service established in connexion with it in the days of the judges. Judges 18:30.

Verse 30

30. This thing became a sin It was not designed to be idolatry, but it speedily ran into it. How could it result otherwise, for it was a direct violation of the second commandment, and a likening of the glory of the invisible God to an ox that eateth grass? Jeroboam must have known the hazards of his course; but his case is only one example out of many which show how the natural heart of man will turn away from those parts of God’s word which conflict with his self-interests and desires. He probably, as we have indicated above, (note on 1 Kings 12:26,) quieted his conscience by explaining away and distorting the obvious lessons of sacred history.

For the people Rather, and the people went before the one, unto Dan. The meaning is obscure, and perhaps some words have fallen out of the text. Keil takes the one to mean the calf at Beth-el, and understands that the people even unto Dan, that is, the greater part of the people, went to the sanctuary at Beth-el. Others take the one in the sense of one of the two, and explain: The people throughout the whole kingdom, even unto Dan, resorted to one or the other of these shrines, the one, of course, which was most convenient. In this sense, unto Dan would be a shortened form of the common expression from Beersheba unto Dan, Beersheba not being named, because, perhaps, of its adherence to the tribe of Judah. 1 Kings 19:3.

Verse 31

31. House of high places That is, a house at the two high places just mentioned Beth-el and Dan. At each of these high places he built houses suitable to the worship that was to be established at them. So the houses of high places ( 1Ki 13:32 ; 2 Kings 17:29; 2 Kings 17:32; 2 Kings 23:19) are the temples for worship built at the high places.

Made priests of the lowest of the people Rather, from the whole of the people; that is, the entire mass of the population without reference to tribes. The priesthood had hitherto been hereditary, and confined to the tribe of Levi; but Jeroboam annulled this Divine arrangement, probably because the Levites refused to give their sanction to the new forms of worship, and thus obliged him to do this or have no priests at all. מקצות העם , literally, from the ends of the people, never has reference to the moral character or social position of the people, but to their numerical or territorial extent. The sin of Jeroboam in this was not that he selected for priests persons of low birth or infamous character, but persons taken indiscriminately from the entire population.

Not of the sons of Levi These probably opposed the king’s new devices and unauthorized innovations; and when he proceeded to make priests from the whole people, they “left their possessions,” and with “such as set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel, came to Jerusalem,” and by their piety and numbers they greatly “strengthened the kingdom of Judah.” See 2 Chronicles 11:13-17.

Verse 32

32. A feast in the eighth month Solomon fixed upon the feast of tabernacles in the seventh mouth (1 Kings 8:2) for the dedication of the temple, and Jeroboam selects the same feast for the dedication of his house at the high place in Beth-el, but he ordains that it be held a month later there than it was in Judah. “A plausible occasion for this arbitrary deviation from the law, which repeatedly names the seventh month as the time appointed of the Lord, (Leviticus 23:34; Leviticus 23:39; Leviticus 23:41,) might be found in the circumstance that in the northern districts of his kingdom the grain ripened at least a month later than in the southern Judah, and this festival was to be kept at the ingathering of the fruit of the land.” Keil.

The fifteenth day “He adhered to the day of the month,” says the same writer, “on account of the weak, who might take offence at the innovations.”

The feast that is in Judah The feast of tabernacles, that continued to be celebrated in Judah according to the law.

He offered upon the altar This need not be pressed to mean that Jeroboam himself offered the sacrifices at Beth-el, any more than 1 Kings 8:63-64, to show that Solomon did the same. The ministry of the priests is to be supposed in either case. But with Jeroboam, who had already gone so far as to ordain priests contrary to the law, it were no strange thing to even sacrilegiously perform with his own hand the sacred duties of the priesthood, and 1 Kings 13:1; 1 Kings 13:4, seem quite clearly to indicate that he did at least burn the incense himself.

So he did in Beth-el The frequent mention of Beth-el in this passage shows that it was regarded as the more important of the two high places.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-kings-12.html. 1874-1909.
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