Two Wrongs Did Not Make it Right
“Rehoboam … forsook the advice of the elders” (1 Kings 12:12‑13, texts from NASB).
By Brad Sweeney
Great as King Solomon was at the beginning of his reign, his rule degraded in time when he failed to put God first in his personal life and in governing policies. Although no rebellion took place during his reign, dissatisfaction was felt. His compromises to God’s laws would be a catalyst in the spiritual decline and division of the united monarchy. This became evident after he was succeeded by his son, King Rehoboam of Judah, and King Jeroboam of Israel.
While working to close up a breach in the city of Jerusalem, Solomon observed that Jeroboam was a valiant, mighty man and a hard worker. Jeroboam was the son of Nebat, of the tribe of Ephraim. He was left fatherless to be raised by his widowed mother Zeruah. (1 Kings 11:26, 28). Solomon placed Jeroboam in charge of the conscripted labor force of the house of Joseph. These labor armies were forced to work for a number of months (1 Kings 5:13,14).
At this same time, God’s prophet Ahijah approached Jeroboam with a startling message. Ahijah cut up his own new garment into 12 pieces and told Jeroboam to take ten of them in symbol of how God would rip Solomon’s kingdom in two. Solomon had turned his heart away from the Lord. He did not follow the statutes and ordinances of the Lord fully, as David his father had done and went after the idolatry of Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the idol of Moab, and Milcom, the idol of the Ammonites and Molech the idol of the sons of Ammon. As a consequence, God would give Jeroboam the ten tribes as king (1 Kings 11:5-7, 33).
This was to be merely a governmental division and not a departure from true worship as centered at the temple in Jerusalem. God assured Jeroboam that he would bless and prosper his reign and build him a lasting house of successors, provided he kept God’s laws and commandments.
Ahijah’s startling prophecy to Jeroboam of his future kingship must have been reported to King Solomon, for he sought to put Jeroboam to death. Jeroboam then fled to Egypt under the protection of Pharaoh Shishak until the death of Solomon.
When Solomon died, his inexperienced 41‑year‑old son Rehoboam, from his princess Ammonite wife, Naamah, came to the throne. He became, quite briefly, the last king of the united monarchy.
With this change in the monarchy, the discontented northern tribes remembered Jeroboam in Egypt and sent word to him to come back and be their leader in presenting their petition to King Rehoboam. The petition was a plea and a warning that they would not acknowledge Rehoboam as king and serve him unless he would lighten the hard conscripted service and heavy yoke the Israelites had borne under Solomon (1 Kings 12:4).
Rehoboam, who had already been recognized as king by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, was at the conference and properly enough asked for three days in which to consider the question about this crisis in the affairs of the kingdom.
Asking for Counsel
Rehoboam called for the elders of the kingdom who had served his father to know their advice. Their recommendations were good. They advised that he be a servant of the people and grant them their petition and speak good words to them. “Then they will be thy servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7).
But Rehoboam forsook the wise counsel of the elders and consulted with the young men he grew up with and now served him. Their advice was that for a monarch to be successful he must intimidate his subjects and rule them with a heavy hand. Wise as his father was, Solomon had neglected to teach his son principles of justice in human affairs and prepare his son for a proper decision in the crisis upon him. Pride and inexperience said, “Hold to your power. If you yield an inch they will consider you weak and inefficient and will ask for more and more until shortly you will be a king in name only.” Pride and ambition are dangerous counselors.
The king followed the advice of the young men, and his answer is an example of the exact opposite of “a soft answer turning away wrath.” Rehoboam sharply replied to the petitioners, “You claim that my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, and you ask me to make it light. Instead, I will add to your yoke! My father chastised you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions!”
Let us remember that we need to seek the wisdom that comes from above, that is, “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).
Someone once said, “Solomon had a thousand wives and concubines but the Bible only names one son, and he was a fool.” His unwise, boastful language, which no doubt was the abundant overflow of his own heart condition, meant all that it boastfully said. His grave mistake consisted in seeking and following advice from a wrong source. Had he recognized that the throne of Israel was “the throne of the kingdom of the Lord,” his course should have been to seek counsel of God, as did his father and grandfather. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5, 6).
Did not Rehoboam come by his folly honestly? Could we expect more of the son of a heathen idolatress mother, Naamah? Furthermore, Solomon, while worshiping the true God himself, lacked firmness and principle in the conduct of putting God first in the interests of his home. For his Ammonite wives, Solomon built, adjoining the Mount of Olives, and opposite the Temple of God, a heathen temple to Molech, thereby disobeying God’s strict command (Leviticus 18:21). This site is still known as “The Mount of Offense” (1 Kings 11:7).
Rehoboam’s unwise decision caused the northern tribes to be wrested from him. Ten tribes revolted, and they named Jeroboam as their king.
To the south, the tribe of Judah, the tribe of Simeon (that was “absorbed” into Judah), the tribe of Benjamin, and the people of the tribe of Levi, who lived among them of the original Israelite nation, remained in the southern kingdom of Judah.
Rehoboam then assembled the warriors of Judah and Benjamin and made plans to subdue the revolt. However, God interfered, explaining that what had occurred was in keeping with the divine will which he had spoken to Jeroboam through the prophet Abijah concerning these tribes. As a result, Rehoboam did nothing further about it (1 Kings 12:10‑20, 2 Chronicles 10:1‑19, 2 Chronicles 11:4).
The 2 lesser kingdoms of Israel and Judah would never again regain the prominence they enjoyed as a single united Davidic empire.
Rehoboam as King of Judah
For a time, Rehoboam walked closely according to the laws of Jehovah. However, with his kingship firmly established, he was disobedient to the God of Israel. He permitted Judah to practice Asherim idolatry and allowed male cult prostitutes in the land, perhaps influenced by his Ammonite mother and her family (1 Kings 14:23, 24).
In the 5th year of Rehoboam’s reign, God raised up Pharaoh Shishak, who together with his allies, captured a number of cities in Judah. Had it not been that Rehoboam and his princes humbled themselves in repentance, not even Jerusalem would have escaped. As it was, Shishak took as his booty the treasures of the temple and the king’s house, including the gold shields that Solomon had made. Rehoboam replaced these shields with copper ones (1 Kings 14:25‑28, 2 Chronicles 12:2‑12).
During his lifetime Rehoboam married 18 wives including Mahalath, a granddaughter of David, and Maacah the daughter of Absalom. Maacah was his favorite wife and the mother of Abijah, the heir-apparent to the throne. Rehoboam had 28 sons (2 Chronicles 11:18‑21). He also had 60 concubines and 60 daughters.
Rehoboam reigned as king for 17 years. Before his death at age 58 and the ascension of Abijah to the throne, Rehoboam distributed many gifts among his other sons, presumably to prevent any revolt against Abijah after his death. Rehoboam is listed in the genealogy of Jesus, through his stepfather Joseph (Matthew 1:7).
On the whole, Rehoboam’s life is best summed up in this commentary: “He did evil, because he did not set his heart to seek the LORD” (2 Chronicles 12:14).
Jeroboam as King of Israel
As new king of the 10 northern tribes, a boy of humble birth had reached a grand opportunity for service for his God and his people. What did Jeroboam do?
Jeroboam became fearful that his people would remember and yearn for their religious heritage and the Temple in Jerusalem, which was within the southern kingdom. This yearning might prompt the people to leave Jeroboam and return to the southern kingdom or, worse yet, turn on Jeroboam and kill him.
Like Rehoboam, Jeroboam took the course too commonly taken — the selfish course. He looked not serve the Lord, nor to the people, to serve their best interests. He looked selfishly to his own interests.
He reasoned thus: If I would establish my family in the kingdom of these ten tribes, I must separate them from the influence of the kingdom of Judah. And since the temple is in the land of Judah, and all the religious rites and interest of the people center there, I must turn the attention of the nation I rule away from the kingdom of Judah, and away from the regulations which God has established there (1 Kings 12:27).
So, Jeroboam corrupted the true worship of God. He turned to idolatry that Solomon allowed, which was an abomination to God. He made two golden calves for worship and sacrifice. One was set up in Bethel and the other far to the north in Dan. He instituted a new feast and appointed priests from the lowest of the people, not qualified, for they were not of the tribe of Levi. Jeroboam also built houses on high places for this idolatrous worship to take place (1 Kings 12:28‑33).
The Consequence of Idolatry
For these idolatrous transgressions, a condemnatory prophecy was pronounced to Jeroboam while he was offering sacrifice to a golden calf at a new altar that he had caused to be built.
An outstanding prophecy in 1 Kings 13:1‑2 states, “There came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, ‘O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’”
This prophet condemned Jeroboam’s idolatrous worship, and he prophesied of the future destruction of this altar and the slaying of those participating in the idolatry. This prophet named the agent of God’s judgment. It would be Josiah of the house of David of the two‑tribe kingdom of Judah. This prophecy was pronounced roughly 300 years before the future King Josiah.
This prophecy is almost unique. There is only one other instance where the name or works of a king of the Jews was prophesied centuries before his birth. That king was our Lord Jesus, who was not crowned king of the Jewish nation and its civil government but was king of the people by virtue of his authority as God’s chosen to rule in righteousness. Good King Josiah “walked in all the way of David his father.” Josiah would eliminate the idolatrous worship of heathen gods in Israel, return them to the true worship of Jehovah, and follow all His Law Covenant arrangements. Josiah is also one of the kings mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel.
The “If” Clause
Jeroboam’s failure as a king was a result of not properly heeding the “ifs” which God attached to His promises. God had assured Jeroboam that “if” he was faithful in keeping his commandments and obeying his statutes he would build him “an enduring house,” even as he had done for David (1 Kings 11:38).
“If” Jeroboam had possessed a living faith in Jehovah, he would not have resorted to setting up idol worship in an effort to keep those under his rulership from visiting Jerusalem where they might be weaned away from his authority. Faith would have convinced him that God was able to build him a “sure [ruling] house,” and that he did not need to resort to forbidden measures to maintain his authority over the northern tribes.
As a result, God withdrew His favor from Jeroboam. Jeroboam also displayed a lack of faith in God and His overruling providence when one of his sons became ill. This is seen in Jeroboam’s instructions to his wife that she should conceal her identity when visiting the Lord’s prophet to inquire whether their sick son would recover. Ahijah was now blind, and Jeroboam thought it would be an easy matter to deceive him (1 Kings 14:4). He should have known that nothing could be concealed from the true and living God of Israel, whom Ahijah served. The answer was: “No.”
The End of Jeroboam and His Dynasty
Additionally, the prediction was made that God would punish Jeroboam for his lack of righteous leadership. He was told that every male heir of Jeroboam would be cut off (1 Kings 14:10).
The ten-tribe and two-tribe kingdoms would wage war against each other, and Jeroboam suffered mighty defeats at the hands of Abijah, the son of his old nemesis Rehoboam. Shortly thereafter God struck Jeroboam and he died, bringing an end to his 22 year -reign. His son Nadab ascended to the throne (2 Chronicles 13:20, 1 Kings 14:20).
Abijah’s prophecy against Jeroboam’s male heirs came to pass in the second year of Nadab’s reign. While Nadab’s army was sieging a Philistine town in southern Dan, a conspiracy broke out in his army. Nadab was slain by one of his own captains, Baasha, who then made himself king of Israel, thus ending the ruling house of Jeroboam.
Jeroboam and Rehoboam paid the consequences of not setting their hearts to seek the Lord. They demonstrated that “pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18).
They did not place God first in their lives and in their duties as kings on the throne of the Lord of Israel. To obey is better than sacrifice. They did not obey God’s laws and ordinances, leading their nation to divide and fall into spiritual decline.