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J Gibson, Derby

(1 Kings 12.1-24; 14.21-31; 2 Chr 10.1-12.16)

During the reign of Rehoboam the kingdom of Israel was divided into northern and southern portions, Israel and Judah respectively. This was one of the most significant negative events in Israel's history, and Rehoboam was partly to blame for it. That schism still exists, and will only be rectified when Messiah reigns gloriously over a worldwide kingdom with a united Israel as head (Ezek 37.15-23).

As soon as Rehoboam came to power he faced Jeroboam, an old foe of his father's, and a rebellion of monumental proportions. Under the premise of dissatisfaction with taxation (1 Kings 12.4) "all Israel" (12.1,16,20), except Judah and Benjamin (12.20,21), demanded changes to the way the country was run. However, the true reason for their uprising was far more sinister. Jealousy and rebellion against God's appointed governing house of David lay at the root of their demands (12.16). With the nation's future hanging in the balance, the politically naïve Rehoboam had to deal quickly and effectively with this massive revolt (2 Chr 13.7). His flawed efforts, in accordance with God's purpose, were in vain. Israel was split, and Rehoboam's rule was limited to 17 years over the southern kingdom of Judah only (1 Kings 14.21).

Latterly, Rehoboam lapsed into idolatry. Since mothers greatly influence their children, it is not inconsequential that this idolatry is mentioned immediately after his mother's nationality (1 Kings 14.21-24). She was an Ammonitess (14.21,31; 2 Chr 12.13), the Ammonites being forbidden from entering "into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation" (Deut 23.3-4). It is, therefore, likely that Rehoboam's mother contributed to his idolatrous tendency. By way of contrast, godly parents, and especially mothers, are repeatedly encouraged throughout Scripture to rear their children in God's fear (Ex 12.26-27; Deut 6.7; 11.19; Eph 6.4; 1 Tim 5.10).

Jeroboam's Revolt (1 Kings 12.1-24; 2 Chr 10.1-11.4)

"Jeroboam the son of Nebat" was an industrious young man to whom Solomon entrusted the rule of "the house of Joseph" (1 Kings 11.26,28). Yet, as soon as Ahijah prophesied that Jehovah would rend Israel, delivering ten of the twelve tribes to Jeroboam, Solomon sought to kill him (11.29-40). Fleeing, Jeroboam found refuge in Egypt (11.40).

These ten northern tribes had not only grown weary of Solomon's excessive taxation (12.4) – the inevitable consequence of a monarchy (1 Sam 8.10-17) – but had also developed bitter resentment against David's ruling house (1 Kings 12.16). Christian believers are admonished to acknowledge God-given leadership, whether secular authorities (Rom 13.1) or elders in the local assembly (1 Thess 5.12-13).

Israel's summons of Ephraimite Jeroboam (1 Kings 12.3) and gathering to Shechem (12.1) rather than God's appointed capital Jerusalem, declared their intention to rebel against God's ordained king. Rehoboam's harsh answer simply gave them the excuse they were looking for. It also indicated that, although Rehoboam was God's appointed king, and during the first three years of his reign Judah "walked in the way of David and Solomon" (2 Chr 11.17), he was not ideally suited to rule. His answer suggested the following character traits which should never be found in the leaders of God's people:

     •Pride: "My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins" (1 Kings 12.10) – I will be a bigger man than my father.

     •Tyranny: "my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions" (1 Kings 12.11) – kings were meant to tenderly care for (2 Sam 7.8; 24.17) and serve God's people (1 Kings 12.7), not to act as cruel task masters.

     •Imprudence: "he forsook the counsel of the old men" (1 Kings 12.8), failing to remember Solomon's words "A soft answer turneth away wrath" (Prov 15.1).

The kingdom's disruption was soon reinforced by Jeroboam's instigation of a wicked and counterfeit religion (1 Kings 12.25-33; 2 Chr 11.14-15). It aimed at preventing Israelites from attending the national feasts at Jerusalem, and had its source, as with all doctrinal error (1 Tim 4.1), in hell itself. The "he-goats" (2 Chr 11.15, JND) signified "demons, so named from the Egyptian idolatry, in which the worship of goats … occupied a prominent place".¹ Thereafter, Jeroboam was known as the man "who made Israel to sin" (e.g. 2 Kings 15.28).

So, whether it was Israel's discontent, Jeroboam's unprincipled taking advantage of politically inexperienced Rehoboam, or Rehoboam's own foolish answer, all was superintended by God's sovereign hand to fulfil his promise to Jeroboam and to judge Israel for their sin (1 Kings 11.29-40) - "the cause was from the Lord" (12.15). To his credit, Rehoboam, probably intending to negotiate with tribes who complained about excessive taxation, was intelligent enough to send to them "Adoram, who was over the tribute" (12.18). Him they stoned. Furthermore, even after amassing an army of 180,000 to reunite the kingdom, in obedience to God's word, Rehoboam refused to go to war (2 Chr 11.1-4).

Rehoboam's Promise (2 Chr 11.5-17)

Despite his failed attempt at retaining national unity, Rehoboam's first three years showed some promise (2 Chr 11.17). He fortified his kingdom from external invasion through building projects, established effective leadership, ensured sufficient provisions, and accumulated a good arsenal of weapons (11.5-12). Local churches also require protection, not from Egyptian hordes but from the dangers of immorality and error. They also need leadership, in the form of godly elders, spiritual nourishment from regular exposure to Bible teaching, and skill in using "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6.17). After all, "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds" (2 Cor 10.4).

In addition, Rehoboam received early spiritual encouragement. Priests and Levites, who were prevented from fulfilling their God-given roles, migrated southward (2 Chr 11.13-15). The southern kingdom also benefited from a considerable influx of other godly Israelites who "came to Jerusalem, to sacrifice unto the Lord God of their fathers" (11.16).

Shishak's Invasion (1 Kings 14.22-28; 2 Chr 11.18-12.12)

Rehoboam's fifth year saw Egypt, which had previously sheltered Jeroboam (1 Kings 12.2), forcefully attacking Israel. Their invasion immediately followed Israel's departure from the Lord (14.22-25; 2 Chr 12.1-2). The words of Shemaiah the prophet confirmed a clear link between the two "Ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak" (2 Chr 12.5). So Shishak and his massive powerful alliance became Jehovah's servant in the affliction of wayward Israel (12.3).

Three specific sins showed Israel's abandonment of the law of the Lord. Firstly, building "high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree" (1 Kings 14.23) disobeyed God's command to "utterly destroy" all evidence of Canaan's idolatrous practices (Deut 12.2-3). Secondly, sodomy was forbidden (23.17), but Israel practised it (1 Kings 14.24). Thirdly, Rehoboam was – as his father before him (11.1-3) and contrary to the rules governing Israelite kings (Deut 17.17) – a polygamist (2 Chr 11.18-23). One of the many complications of polygamy is the potential to favour one wife and her children over the others. This frequently, as in Rehoboam's case (11.21-23), resulted in the true firstborn being overlooked. Again, God's law prohibited such preferential treatment (Deut 21.15-17).

Although Shishak advanced as far as Jerusalem (2 Chr 12.4), he was prevented from totally destroying the city because of the people's repentance (12.5-7,12), and because that "in Judah there [had] been good things" (12.12 YLT). Nevertheless, there were repercussions. Firstly, since Shishak "took the fenced cities" (12.4) Judah remained vulnerable. Secondly, God promised Israel slavery – "they shall be his servants" (12.8) – in order to teach them the important lesson that God's rule is far less oppressive than that of worldly rulers. The Lord Jesus taught the same principle "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Mt 11.29-30). Thirdly, Judah was impoverished because Shishak had taken away their treasures (1 Kings 14.26; 2 Chr 12.9). In response, "Rehoboam made shields of brass" (12.10-11), cheap imitations of the riches of Solomon's kingdom. Backsliding believers experience the same things. They become vulnerable to attack, they find the world's demands increasingly burdensome, and they fail to enjoy the vast spiritual wealth that is theirs in Christ (Eph 1.3).


¹ Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, 1996), 3:607


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