Now we see the effects of disobedience to the Lord. King Solomon has just died and his anointed son Rehoboam has succeeded him. But if we remember from 1 Kings 11:26-40 the Lord spoke to Jeroboam the son of Nebat through Ahijah the prophet and revealed to him that he would be the king of the northern kingdom of Israel. Before all of Solomon’s forced labor in the district of Ephraim, Jeroboam enjoyed great favor with the king. After Ahijah informed Jeroboam he would be become the ruler of the northern tribes because of Solomon’s adultery, Solomon heard this and tried to kill Jeroboam. So, Jeroboam fled to Egypt for safety. After Solomon’s death his son Rehoboam went to Shechem to be anointed and crowned king. Why Shechem? First of all, Shechem had a rich history dating back to Abraham’s travels in the land. But more importantly, a rift had begun to develop between the northern and southern tribes and Shechem was a much more neutral place than Jerusalem.
Solomon did many great things while he was king. Not only did he build himself a palace and the temple for the Lord but he fortified many cities. To accomplish all this work, he put a heavy burden on his people. There were many taxes that were to be paid and Solomon used a lot of forced labor. Life had not been like that under king David and the people moaned and chafed under the weight of Solomon’s rule. The request from Jeroboam and the Israelites was reasonable. They asked for a lighter burden in terms of taxes and labor. Give Rehoboam credit for at least seeking council. Solomon’s old advisors told him the people would be all his if he could lighten the people’s load. But Rehoboam also sought council from friends he had grown up with and they encouraged him to make the people’s loads heavier. This was not the way to win friends and influence people. Rehoboam promised that even the lesser evils of his reign…his finger…would be as hard as anything they knew under Solomon and it would only get worse from there. The young men compared Solomon’s rule to a whip and Rehoboam’s rule to a scourge. This was a brutal weapon, one that the Romans used on Jesus. A scourge was a whip with bits of sharp bones and pieces of metal tied in the strands of the whip. These bits cut into flesh and caused excruciating pain and damage. The surprising thing in this reading was that this direction came from the Lord. Human foolishness and bad decisions achieved God’s purposes. Solomon’s defection from the Lord late in his reign had already disqualified his descendants from ruling over all Israel. And Rehoboam initiated the split with his own foolish actions. Even in the people’s short poem there was division, with the reference to the northern tribes of Israel and the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The reign of Rehoboam was marked with the division of the tribes into northern and southern kingdoms and the consequences that division brought. He failed miserably as a leader but we also see in him an example of what repentance looks like. He became obedient later and we see some restoring of blessings. It would be short lived however.
Shortly after the kingdom divided, the tribe of Benjamin joined Judah to form the southern kingdom. It seems ironic because King Saul was a Benjamite. But Benjamin had been loyal to David many years before. And it made sense because the tribe of Benjamin was closer to Judah geographically. As we read from chapters 11-36 we will watch the southern kingdom of Judah ride a spiritual roller coaster. There will be periods of reform where the king and his people will return to worshiping the Lord and there will be periods of rebellion where the ways of the Lord will go by the wayside. Rehoboam spent time fortifying cities and he stocked them with supplies in case war broke out. But we also see an interesting phenomenon occur. The priests and Levites from other tribes moved to Judah. They left land and possessions to come to Jerusalem so that they could continue to worship and serve the Lord. Jeroboam had made gold idols for the northern kingdom to worship and these men wanted no part of that. It also meant there was no work for them to do in the northern kingdom any longer and their lives may have actually been in danger. They also knew Rehoboam was a descendant of David and therefore an heir of God’s promise to David. Once the legitimate religious leaders left the northern kingdom the worshipers of the Lord could not worship there in good conscience. Some of them moved south and others made pilgrimages to Jerusalem to worship in the temple. This strengthened Rehoboam and weakened Jeroboam. It appears it took three years for Jeroboam to fully establish his new worship cult in the northern kingdom.
The wife Jeroboam took was most likely David’s great granddaughter. Rehoboam was his grandson and it looks like this marriage was kept within the larger royal family. Then Rehoboam married a granddaughter of David’s son Absalom and their son Abijah would eventually succeed him. Rehoboam named him the successor in order to ensure a smooth transition following his death. It is quite possible Abijah served alongside Rehoboam like Solomon had with David. Rehoboam was shrewd with his sons. We see his delegation of royal authority by means of district governors. These were positions he gave to his sons. This prevented infighting among any prospective successors to the throne, solidified the king’s position, guarded against coup attempts, ensured an heir for the continuation of the dynasty, and extended the influence of the royal family to outlaying districts. Having the sons spread out made it less likely that one jealous son could kill all the others at once.
Rehoboam’s downfall begins in what we have recorded in chapter 12. He established his kingdom and strengthened himself. Notice who took credit for all that! He also forsook the law of the Lord and took all Israel with him. He gets credit for that as well. Abandoning the law of the Lord is the same as abandoning God Himself. Likewise, Jesus said that the person who truly loved him would obey His commandments. John 14:21. In some translations we read that Rehoboam abandoned the law of the Lord. In others we read he transgressed against the Lord. The word transgressed here means to break a trust, most often willingly. Often the word is used in conjunction with sin. Transgression is almost always against the Lord and may be committed by individuals, communities and especially covenant communities. And most often death, military defeat, and exile are all viewed as divine judgement on Israel’s transgressions.
In this case God’s judgement came at the hands of the Egyptians under their ruler Shishak. Egypt was at a point in their history where they were beginning to recover from a long period of decline and they wanted to establish control over Palestine. God used their ambitions to discipline Rehoboam for abandoning the Lord. The fifth year of Rehoboam would be 925 B.C. And in order that the Judeans might understand how privileged they were to serve God, He would allow them to become servants to the Egyptians. Only then would they appreciate once again the joy of being God’s servant people. The treasures of the king’s house that the Egyptians seized had been spoils of war captured by David and dedicated to the Lord. Judah became a vassal state of Egypt. King Rehoboam’s conduct had consequences for the southern kingdom. When a king obeyed God, the Lord would bless the nation. When the king turned away from the Lord, his subjects would suffer. And, when or if the king repented and humbled himself before the Lord, His forgiveness and restoration would cover both he and his kingdom. The treasures were surrendered so that Shishak would not attack the city of Jerusalem.
Note the differences between David, Solomon, Rehoboam, and Abijah. David, a man of God died at a very old age with riches and honor. Solomon died wise, rich, and powerful. But Rehoboam did evil. As a result, he fought wars throughout most of his troubled reign. Abijah followed Rehoboam’s example of not honoring God.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W