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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
1 Kings 12

 

 

Verse 1

1 Kings 12:1. Rehoboam went to Shechem — With a view to be there declared Solomon’s successor by the people, and made king. It does not appear that he called the people thither, but went thither because they had prevented him, and pitched upon that place rather than upon Jerusalem, because it was most convenient for all, being in the centre of the kingdom; and because, as it was in the potent tribe of Ephraim, they supposed they might there more securely propose their grievances, which they were resolved to do, and use a greater freedom of speech than they could at Jerusalem, where the family of David was more powerful, more numerous, and better supported. And it is not improbable but Jeroboam had a hand in this, and that it was partly at least by his management, or that of some of his friends, who durst not, perhaps, venture themselves at Jerusalem, that this city was made choice of as a place of general convention. The glory of the kingdom of Israel was in its height and perfection in Solomon’s reign. It was long in coming to it, but it soon declined and began to sink and wither under Rehoboam his successor, as we find in this chapter, in which we see the kingdom divided, and thereby weakened, and made little in comparison of what it had been. Solomon probably supposed that by taking to himself seven hundred wives that were princesses, he should greatly strengthen his power, and enlarge his kingdom; and that from them and his three hundred concubines he should have a numerous progeny to perpetuate that power and dominion, in all its extent, to the latest generations. But if so, he was sadly disappointed: of these thousand women, it appears, he had but one son, and he a fool! and two daughters, mentioned 1 Kings 4:11; 1 Kings 4:15, to bear up his name, and continue his race. “Sin,” says Henry, “is an ill way of building up a family.”


Verse 3

1 Kings 12:3. They sent and called him — When the people sent Jeroboam word of Solomon’s death, they also sent a message to him to desire he would attend their general meeting at Shechem, and assist them to get their grievances redressed. For they judged that the presence and countenance of a man of such great interest and reputation might lay the greater obligation upon Rehoboam to grant them ease and relief. Some suppose that they had heard of what had passed between the Prophet Ahijah and him, and had an inclination to fulfil what the prophet had foretold to him; which is not unlikely. And all the congregation came — That is, all their elders, and the heads of their tribes. These, it appears, chose Jeroboam to be their speaker.


Verse 4

1 Kings 12:4. Thy father made our yoke grievous — By heavy taxes and impositions, not only for the temple and his magnificent buildings, but for the expenses of his numerous court, and of so many wives and concubines, and the maintenance of so many chariots and horses. Thus they began with a complaint against the former government; and, as Solomon had so grossly forsaken God, it is no wonder if he oppressed the people. The burdens, however, of which they complain, could not be so heavy as they represented them, considering the peace and plenty which they enjoyed, (1 Kings 4:25,) and the vast riches he brought into the kingdom; and it is expressly said, (1 Kings 9:22,) that Solomon made no Israelite a bondman. But to those desirous of a change, a light cause seems sufficient. Make thou the grievous service of thy father lighter, &c. — They promise to submit to Rehoboam as their king, and be his faithful subjects, if he would promise to ease them of those burdens which his father had imposed on them.


Verse 6-7

1 Kings 12:6-7. Consulted with the old men that stood before — his father — Solomon, in his best days, though so wise, yet would not depend solely on his own wisdom, but had other wise men about him, with whom he advised, as his counsellors in all matters of moment. If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, &c. — By complying with their desires, and condescending to them for a time, till thou art better established in thy throne. They say, This day, that is, now, for a short season, foreseeing that some would dissuade him from this course, as below the majesty of a prince; and answer them, and speak good words — The service is not hard: it is only to give a few good words, which it is as easy to give as bad ones. This was most wise advice, and if Rehoboam had pursued this method, by his mild behaviour and kind speeches he would have won their hearts, and made them submit cheerfully to him, so that he would soon have had the same power over them which his father had.


Verse 8

1 Kings 12:8. But he forsook the counsel of the old men — Judging it unworthy of his majesty and authority, and likely to encourage the people in their insolent demands; and, being proud and vain, he scorned to condescend to them and court them in this way, but would have obedience paid to him as to an absolute monarch; and consulted with the young men — So called compared with the old men, otherwise, as they had grown up with him, they must have been near forty years old. They were, however, men who were unexperienced, and who understood not the humour of the people they had to do with. This is frequently the fault of new kings: to show their power, and gratify their dependants, they frequently change their counsellors and put in new officers; not considering who are wisest and worthiest, but who have been their companions.


Verse 10-11

1 Kings 12:10-11. My little finger shall be thicker, &c. — Or, rather, is thicker, and therefore stronger, and more able to crush you, if you proceed in these mutinous demands, than his loins — In which is the principal seat of strength. My father was young and weak, and had many enemies, when he first took the kingdom, but I am the undoubted heir, and I find the kingdom by his wise care, far better settled and fortified against all enemies, foreign or domestic, than he did. Or, they advise him, in these words, to threaten to lay burdens upon them as much heavier than his father’s, as the loins of a man are thicker than his little finger. I will add to your yoke — That is, I will make it heavier and stronger, both to punish your petulance, and to curb and restrain you from seditions attempts. My father chastised you with whips — Punished and made you smart when you transgressed his laws or resisted his authority; but I will chastise you with scorpions — With such whips as will sting you like scorpions. If you proceed in these courses, I will most severely punish you. What sort of instrument is here meant by scorpions, cannot now be perfectly determined; though some authors think that whips with rowels in them, or sharp thorns tied to them, are intended by the expression. Undoubtedly it was a scourge, called so from its cruelty.


Verses 13-15

1 Kings 12:13-15. The king answered the people roughly — He affected to be haughty and imperious, and fancied he could carry all before him with a high hand, and therefore would rather run the risk of losing them, than deny himself so far as to give them good words. Thus many ruin themselves by consulting their humour more than their interest. For the cause was from the Lord — Who, having determined, in punishment of Solomon’s idolatries and criminal pleasures, to take the greater part of the kingdom away from his son, did not restrain Rehoboam from following the dictates of his own imperious temper, and ambitious views; but gave him up to the foolish and fatal mistake of answering the people according to the advice of his young and hot-headed counsellors, whereby their affections were alienated from him, and he lost more than half of his empire. Thus God, in his adorable providence, serves his own wise and righteous purposes, by the imprudences and iniquities of men, and snares sinners in the work of their own hands. They that lose the kingdom of heaven, throw it away as Rehoboam did his, by their own wilfulness and folly. Reader, take care that this be not thy case.


Verse 16

1 Kings 12:16. So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, &c. — Here we see the divine threatening to Solomon by Ahijah beginning to take effect, and the important event of rending the kingdom of the ten tribes from the house of David, foretold by that prophet, on the point of being fulfilled. The people show themselves bold and resolute in the cause they had undertaken, and highly resent the provocation which Rehoboam had given them, concluding that a government, which in the beginning was so haughty, would be intolerably grievous in the progress of it. What portion have we in David? — In David’s family and son; we can expect no benefit or relief from him, and therefore we renounce all commerce with him, and subjection to him. They named David rather than Rehoboam, to signify that they renounced not Rehoboam only, but all David’s family. Son of Jesse — So they call David in contempt; as if they had said, Rehoboam hath no reason to carry himself with such pride and contempt toward his people; for if we trace his original, it was as mean and obscure as ours. To your tents, O Israel — Let us forsake him and go to our own homes, there to consider how to provide for ourselves. Now see to thine own house, David — Look to thine own affairs, and content thyself with reigning over the house of Judah; for thou shalt no longer rule over us. Thus they break out into actual and open rebellion against the family of David, to which they were under the greatest obligations: for surely no nation ever owed more to a prince, than the Israelites did to him. But how soon were all his benefits forgotten by this ungrateful people! ungrateful, not only to God, but to their best temporal benefactors. It is true their jealousy for their liberty and property well became them as a free people; but the rashness of their resolution is much to be blamed: for, in time, and by prudent management, they might have settled matters with Rehoboam to mutual satisfaction. Had they inquired who gave him this advice, and taken a course to remove those evil counsellors from about him, the rupture might have been prevented. It is no marvel, however, that Israel fell away from the house of David, when the house of David fell from God, and from the great ends of their advancement, which was, to be ministers of God to the people for good.


Verse 18

1 Kings 12:18. Then Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the tribute — To pursue the counsel which he had resolved upon, say some; to execute his office, and exact their tribute with rigour, and, if need were, with violence. But it is much more probable that he sent him to treat with them; which was a new piece of imprudence when they were so highly exasperated. And to send the person for this purpose, that was over the tribute, with promises, perhaps, of easing them, when it was too late, was certainly the height of folly; for people generally hate those that are any way employed in collecting the tributes and taxes imposed upon them. And all Israel stoned him with stones, that he died — He was so odious among them that the very sight of him made them outrageous, and in a general tumult; they committed this barbarous act, and thereby violated the law of all nations, which prohibits any injury to be offered to the person of a king’s ambassador. Therefore King Rehoboam made speed to flee to Jerusalem From Shechem, where he yet was with his friends and guards about him. For, it seems, he had continued there in the midst of his kingdom, and among the seditious tribes, that he might overawe them by his presence, and repress any tumults in their first rise: but from thence, as soon as he saw himself in danger, he fled away in his chariot, with all speed, in the most cowardly manner, notwithstanding the haughtiness he had lately manifested, and the big words he had spoken. This seems to have been a still further degree of imprudence; for he should, if possible, have maintained his ground, and kept footing, as we speak, in the country of Israel, from whence it might not have been easy for them to expel him: but fear is a bad adviser. This is the first time that we find a king riding in a chariot; for we never read of Saul, or David, or Solomon riding in one. But after the division of the kingdom there is frequent mention of the use of chariots, both by the kings of Judah and Israel.


Verse 19

1 Kings 12:19. So Israel rebelled against the house of David — And thereby fulfilled God’s threatening denounced to Solomon. Nevertheless their conduct in this was sinful, as they did not revolt in compliance with God’s counsel, but to gratify their own passions.


Verse 20

1 Kings 12:20. When all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come — From Egypt; which was known to the great men, and to such as met at Shechem before, and was now spread over the country; they sent — To his tent, or habitation, to which he had retired from Shechem, as the others, who had met there had generally done. And called him unto the congregation — Which had been summoned by the elders of the several tribes, to consider how to settle their affairs, which they easily agreed to do, by conferring the crown on Jeroboam, according to God’s promise made to him. None followed the house of David — No entire tribe; but the tribe of Judah — Which comprehended Benjamin also, being one with it, as was observed before, 1 Kings 11:32. And it was by the singular providence of God that they did not also desert such a haughty prince as Rehoboam was. There were, however, many families and individuals of some of the other tribes, especially of Levi and Simeon, which dwelling in the cities of Judah, continued to be subject to Rehoboam, see 1 Kings 12:17.


Verses 22-24

1 Kings 12:22-24. The word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God — The prophet so called, partly to distinguish him from others of that name, (see Nehemiah 6:10; Jeremiah 29:31,) and partly to add more weight to his words. It appears this prophet was very well known in the reign of Rehoboam, whose annals he is supposed to have written. Of what authority he was in Judah, we may learn from this passage, in which he is represented as prevailing with the king, and a hundred and fourscore thousand men, to lay down their arms, and return home, instead of proceeding to make war on their brethren as they had intended, merely by declaring that the division which had happened was by the order and appointment of God. — Calmet. This thing is from me — This event is from my counsel and providence, to punish Solomon’s apostacy. They hearkened therefore to the word of the Lord — Either from a conscientious regard to their duty, or because they durst not oppose so potent an adversary.


Verse 25

1 Kings 12:25. Jeroboam built Shechem — He repaired, enlarged, and fortified it; for it had been ruined long since, 9:45. He might choose it as a place both auspicious, because here the foundation of his monarchy was laid; and commodious, as being near the frontiers of his kingdom. And built Penuel — A place beyond Jordan; to secure that part of his dominions.


Verse 26

1 Kings 12:26. Jeroboam said in his heart — Reasoned within himself. The sacred historian shows, by this phrase, the fountain of his error, that he did not consult God, who had given him the kingdom, as in all reason, and justice, and gratitude, he ought to have done; nor believed in and relied on God’s promises, 1 Kings 11:38, but on his own carnal policy. God had told him he would build him a sure house, if he would walk in his ways and keep his statutes, yet he could not depend on this, but, agreeably to the propensity of his fallen nature, studied to establish his throne by his own wisdom, and so brought evil upon himself, and introduced an idolatry into his kingdom which in the end proved its ruin.


Verse 27

1 Kings 12:27. If this people go up to do sacrifice at Jerusalem, &c. — All the people of Israel being bound, at the three great feasts, to go up to Jerusalem; and on other solemn occasions devout persons being used to go thither to offer gifts and sacrifices; he was afraid lest, if they should continue to go, they should be so taken with the magnificence of the temple and the royal city, and should so recall to mind the famous acts of David and Solomon who were buried there, as, by degrees, to be alienated from him, and brought back to their former allegiance to the family of David. And he the rather feared this, because their going to Jerusalem, and attending divine worship there, would have afforded to Rehoboam many occasions of showing them kindness and winning their affections; and to the priests and Levites, the sure and faithful friends of David’s house, many opportunities of soliciting them to unite themselves again to Judah, which tribe must have appeared to them to have the better cause, because it had the temple in possession in which God dwelt. But whatever reasons there might have been for his conjectures and apprehensions, and whatever prudence and policy may appear in his contrivance, considering the providence of God, by which the hearts of all men, and the affairs of all kingdoms are governed, and of which he had lately seen so eminent an instance, the course he took was foolish as well as wicked.


Verse 28

1 Kings 12:28. The king took counsel, and made two calves — In imitation of Aaron’s golden calf, and of the worship of the Egyptians, from whose country he had lately come. These calves were of the same matter with Aaron’s, and made for the same reason: his because Moses, the minister of God and medium of divine communication, was absent, and these because the holy city, where the temple, altar, and priests of God were, was distant, and could not be visited with safety. It is not improbable but, as some learned men have conjectured, it was in imitation of the Egyptians that he made two calves, and was not content with forming one. For they had a couple of oxen which they worshipped, namely, Apis at Memphis, the metropolis of the upper Egypt, and Mnevis at Hierapolis, which was the chief city of the lower. Jeroboam probably the rather presumed to make these images, because he knew the people of Israel were generally prone to idolatry; and that Solomon’s example had exceedingly strengthened those inclinations; and therefore that they were prepared for such an attempt, especially when his proposition tended to their own ease, and safety, and profit, which he knew was much dearer to them, as well as to himself, than their religion. It is too much for you to go to Jerusalem — Too great a trouble and charge, and neither necessary nor safe as things now stand. Behold thy gods, O Israel! — Not as if he thought to persuade the people that these calves were that very God of Israel who brought them out of Egypt: which was so monstrously absurd and ridiculous, that no Israelite in his right senses could have believed it, and to have intimated it would have been so far from satisfying the people, that it would have made him both hateful and contemptible to them; but his meaning was, that these images were visible representations, by which he designed to worship the true God of Israel. This appears, partly from that parallel place, Exodus 32:4; partly, because the priests and worshippers of the calves are said to worship Jehovah, and upon that account are distinguished from those belonging to Baal, 1 Kings 18:21; 1 Kings 22:6-7; and partly, from Jeroboam’s design in this work, which was, to quiet the people’s minds, and remove their scruples about going to Jerusalem to worship their God in that place, as they were commanded. This he endeavoured to do by signifying to them that he did not intend any alteration in the substance of their religion, nor to draw them from the worship of the true God, to the worship of any of those Baals which were set up by Solomon; but to worship that self-same God whom they worshipped in Jerusalem, even the true God who brought them out of Egypt: only to vary a circumstance; and that, as they worshipped God at Jerusalem, before one visible sign, even the ark and the sacred cherubim there, so his subjects should worship God by another visible sign, even that of the calves, in other places. And as for the change of the place, he might suggest to them that God was present in all places, where men with honest minds called upon him; that before the temple was built, the best of kings, and prophets, and people, did pray and sacrifice to God, in divers high places, without any scruple: and that God would dispense with them also in that matter: because going to Jerusalem was dangerous to them at this time, and God would have mercy rather than sacrifice.


Verse 29

1 Kings 12:29. He set the one in Beth-el, &c. — Which two places he chose for the people’s convenience, Beth-el being in the southern, and Dan in the northern part of his kingdom. Add to this, that as Bethel was in every body’s opinion a sacred place, having been consecrated by God’s appearing there more than once to Jacob; so Dan had been famous for the teraphim of Micah, unto which there had been great resort for a long time, 18:30. For such reasons as these it is likely he waived his royal city, which was Shechem, and chose these two places for the worship of the Divine Majesty, whom he pretended he did not forsake, but worshipped by these symbols of his presence.


Verse 30

1 Kings 12:30. This thing became a sin — An occasion of great wickedness, not only of idolatry, which is called sin by way of eminence; nor only of the worship of the calves, wherein they pretended to worship the true God; but also of the worship of Baal, and of the utter desertion of the true God, and of all sorts of impiety. The people went to worship before the one even unto Dan — Which is not here mentioned exclusively, for they went also to Beth-el, (1 Kings 12:32-33;) but for other reasons, either because that of Dan was first made, the people in those parts having been long leavened with idolatry, or to show the people’s readiness and zeal for idols; that those who lived in or near Beth-el, had not patience to stay till that calf was finished, but all of them were forward to go as far as Dan, which was in the utmost borders of the land, to worship an idol there; when it was thought too much for them to go to Jerusalem to worship God in the manner he had prescribed. The reader will easily observe here, as we have already intimated, that the sin of Jeroboam and the people did not consist in worshipping strange and false gods, but in setting up images, or representations of the true God, and worshipping him under the similitude of a corporeal form, which he had himself expressly forbidden, (Exodus 20:4,) and had severely punished in the case of Aaron; so that the people did not offend through ignorance, because their sacred records informed them of the terrible punishment which God had inflicted before for the like offence, whereby he made it evident how displeasing it was to him.


Verse 31

1 Kings 12:31. And he made a house of high places — That is, saith Abarbinel, he made a house or temple at Dan, wherein there was not one altar only, as there was at Jerusalem, but a great many altars or high places, probably complaining of it as an inconvenience, that in the temple at Jerusalem there was but one. The multiplying of altars passed with some as a piece of devotion; but God, by the prophet, puts another construction upon it, Hosea 8:11, Ephraim has made many altars to sin. And made priests of the lowest of the people — “And the lowest of the people,” says Henry, “were good enough, and too good, to be priests to his calves.” They who understand the words in this sense suppose he did this, either, 1st, Because the better sort refused the office as below their quality; or, 2d, Because such would be satisfied with mean allowances or small wages; and so he could put into his own purse a great part of the revenues of the Levites, which doubtless he seized upon when they forsook him and went to Jerusalem, (2 Chronicles 11:13;) or, 3d, Because mean persons would depend upon his favour, and therefore be pliable to his humour and firm to his interest. But it must be observed here, that the words מקצות העם, meketsoth hagnam, properly signify, from the ends of the people, and may be rendered, out of all the people, that is, promiscuously out of every tribe: an exposition which Bochart hath justified by a great many examples, showing that the same words are used in this sense in divers other places. Indeed, this exposition seems to be confirmed by the following clause, added to explain these words, which were not of the sons of Levi —

Though they were not of the tribe of Levi, to whom the office of the priesthood was confined by God’s express command. So that Jeroboam’s sin, as to this particular, was not that he chose mean persons, for many of the Levites were such; and his sin would not have been the less if he had chosen the noblest and greatest persons; as we see in the example of Uzziah: but in that he chose men of other tribes, contrary to God’s appointment, which restrained that office to that tribe. Thus, as he transferred the kingdom from the house of David, so he transferred the priesthood from the family of Aaron; and left it open, that any body might be admitted to that honourable employment; which was a very popular thing, and ingratiated him, no doubt, with the people.


Verse 32

1 Kings 12:32. Jeroboam ordained a feast on the eighth month, &c. — The feast of tabernacles; which by the law was to be celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. His chief intention in this change, no doubt, was to alienate the people from the rites observed at Jerusalem. “Some suppose, with Mr. Locke, that as this feast was appointed by God to be observed after the gathering in of the fruits, which might be sooner ripe about Jerusalem than in the northern parts of the country; so Jeroboam might pretend that the eighth month would be a better time for it than the seventh, because then they would everywhere be gathered.” Add to this, he might possibly have two other reasons for making this alteration: 1st, Lest he should seem directly to oppose the God of Israel, who had in a special manner commanded all the people to go up to Jerusalem on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, if he should require their attendance to celebrate the feast elsewhere at the same time: and, 2d, That by appointing his feast to be kept a month after that at Jerusalem was past, he might give those of the people of Judah an opportunity of attending it, whose curiosity might lead them so to do; and thereby might ensure the presence of a greater concourse of people to honour his institution. On the fifteenth day — And so forward till the seven days were ended. Like that in Judah — From whence he took his pattern, to show that he worshipped the same God, and professed the same religion, for substance, which they did, however he differed in circumstances. He offered upon the altar — With his own hands, as appears from 1 Kings 13:1-4, which he did to give the more countenance to his newly-devised solemnity. And it is no marvel, that he, who assumed a power to make priests, should undertake to do the priests’ work with his own hands. So he (Jeroboam) did in Beth-el — Sacrificing there also, as well as in Dan, to the calves that he had made — Or, to Jehovah, as he pretended, under the image of these calves. And he placed in Beth-el the priests of the high places — Having built a house or temple there also, as well as in Dan, and set up many altars in it where these priests officiated, as was done in other high places.


Verse 33

1 Kings 12:33. Which he had devised of his own heart — Out of his own will and pleasure, against the express ordinance of God. And ordained a feast To be observed, it is likely, every year in Beth-el, as well as in Dan, as the feast of tabernacles was at Jerusalem, like which it also lasted many days. And he offered upon the altar, and burned incense — Thus performing the highest part of the priest’s office.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/1-kings-12.html. 1857.

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