5.54 1 Kings -- The Great Divorce
1 Kings 12 records the defeat of God's original plan for His people, a plan for gathering Israel under a righteous king, organizing their worship around the central Temple, prospering them in the eyes of the world, and so making men jealous of Israel and her God. It was a momentous failure, and it was accomplished by men of trivial minds. As a judgment for their sins, God split the covenant people in two.
It didn't take long to destroy the heritage of David. While Solomon was still warm in his grave and his son Rehoboam not yet set on the throne, Jeroboam returned from Egypt and led a delegation of the tribes of Israel to Rehoboam. They made a reasonable request, at least so it appears on the surface:
"Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you" (1 Kings 12:4).
Jeroboam had firsthand experience of the "heavy yoke," since he had supervised the slaves in the tribe of Joseph. While conquered Canaanites bore the brunt of the heavy work in Solomon's building programs, the Israelites themselves were drafted to supervise these projects (and likely paid taxes for them).
Yet we must not omit the possibility that this request was carefully crafted as a pretext for a rebellion waiting in the wings. After all, why did the leaders of Israel choose Jeroboam, who was out of the country, to come and represent them before Solomon's son? Jeroboam was "one of them," an Ephraimite (1 Kings 11:26), a tribe north of Judah. But as Solomon's Public Enemy #1, Jerry would not have been in favor with Rehoboam. Usually, when you sincerely want to gain a concession from an opponent, you don't send as an emissary the person most hated by the other side. But this is what the other tribes of Israel did -- which makes it seem that they were intent on baiting Rehoboam rather than pacifying him. If so, they succeeded in doing so.
Rehoboam's most memorable quality was that he totally lacked the very quality his father had had in his youth: wisdom. His father's counselors advised him to "give them a favorable answer." These were men who had seen Solomon's rise and decline, and they had witnessed the effects of his rule outside the palace. They knew that the foundation of the nation was cracking under the weight of Solomon's pomposity. The people were asking for relief, they were seeking a second Exodus from the Israelite Pharaoh. Jeroboam put on the mantle of Moses and declared, "Let my people go!" The old advisers agreed.
But Solomon's wisdom failed him in his dotage, for he had not prepared his successor in the ways of statecraft. Rehoboam was a king in the style of Absalom -- a rebel, if not against his father, then against God. He was the son of an Ammonite woman (1 Kings 14:21), and had no allegiance to the God of Israel. In fact, he was the first of the kings of Israel not to have a revelation from God, and an empowerment or infusion of the Spirit. He curried favor with a group of young hotheads, with whom he surrounded himself. For them, coronation was a chance to party on a big scale, without the restraints of Solomon holding them back: finally, they got possession of the gold drinking cups and the 1000 women in the harem.
So when Jeroboam and the leaders of Israel showed up with the idea that being a king involved certain responsibilities and reciprocities, the message was lost on the crowd of wine-bibbers. "What? -- we just got rid of the old wheezebag. Who is this rabble telling us what we cannot do?" The answer Rehoboam gave is a classic motto of ineptitude:
"My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions" (1 Kings 12:11).
This reply shows a complete disconnect with the reality of life outside the palace. The northern tribes, having provoked the situation, were quick to follow up.
"What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse's son? To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!" (1 Kings 12:16)
This shows that Israel had already made a plan of secession, and reveals how tenuous had become the unity of the tribes in Israel under Solomon. Recall that David and Solomon were of the house of Judah, and that David had "ruled in Hebron" for 7 years as head of Judah, before being crowned king of all Israel. The unified kingdom was his creation, but it was not a "given." Most Israelites probably maintained primary loyalty to their own tribe and its elders. Also, much of what Solomon had done in building up Jerusalem benefited only the tribe of Judah, not Israel as a whole. The palaces were there, the Temple was there, yet Israelites from all tribes were drafted to work on these projects and were even sent to Tyre to supervise the procurement of timber and rock. As Jerusalem grew more and more magnificent, so the resentment of the outlying Israelites also rose -- and finally erupted.
The Israelites left the assembly at Shechem, but Rehoboam sent Adoram after them. He was the head official over forced labor. Adoram was the vicarious sacrifice for Solomon's sins:
"all Israel stoned him to death" (1 Kings 12:18)
and Rehoboam fled for his life.
The northern tribes crowned Jeroboam as their king, and Rehoboam prepared for war. The only thing that averted a catastrophic civil war was divine intervention. The Word of God came to a prophet named Shemaiah, who told Rehoboam and the Judahites to go home,
"for this is my doing" (1 Kings 12:24).
For the moment the conflict was defused. However, despite this command from God, throughout their reigns,
there was continual warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:30).
This is the sad aftermath of Solomon's magnificence -- a divided nation, an angry populace, and two unworthy rulers.