1 Kings 12:1-24
1 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. 2 And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. 3 And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, 4 “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” 5 He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.
6 Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” 7 And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” 8 But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. 9 And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” 10 And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. 11 And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”
12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, “Come to me again the third day.” 13 And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
The Kingdom Divided
16 And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” So Israel went to their tents. 17 But Rehoboam reigned over the people of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah. 18 Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labor, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And King Rehoboam hurried to mount his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. 20 And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David but the tribe of Judah only.
21 When Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, 180,000 chosen warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon. 22 But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God: 23 “Say to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, 24 ‘Thus says the Lord, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives the people of Israel. Every man return to his home, for this thing is from me.’” So they listened to the word of the Lord and went home again, according to the word of the Lord.
AFTER the death of Solomon, tensions increased between the ten tribes in the north and the two tribes in the south, where power and wealth were concentrated around Jerusalem.
Solomon’s son Rehoboam made matters worse. He regarded the northern tribes as rebels and set about subduing them with a program of forced labor. The northern tribes responded by declaring their independence and crowning Jeroboam, their rebel leader, as king.
This sad division among God’s people was very significant. God had promised to bless people from every nation through a king from the line of David. When the northern tribes crowned their own king, they were separating themselves from that promise and from the blessing of God.
Religion, Politics, and Violence
Jeroboam was a shrewd leader. He saw that if faithful people from the north kept visiting Jerusalem to worship the Lord in the temple, they would be reminded of God’s promise and might renew their allegiance to the line of David. So he crafted two golden calves and established his own center of worship in the north (1 Kings 12:28).
Jeroboam had no interest in obeying the Lord. He was merely using religion to strengthen the identity of his people. And when that is the aim, any religion will do.
In the south, where the royal line of David continued, a king typically transferred power to his son as he approached death. But in the north, there was no established royal house and no recognized line of succession. So political intrigue and violence abounded, and most of the kings came to power by murdering their predecessors.
Persecuting God’s People
Ahab was the most notorious of the northern kings. His wife, Jezebel, led a furious persecution in which the prophets of God were hunted and killed. In half a century Israel had gone from a people united in worshiping the Lord to a nation confused and divided. Fifty years after the cloud of God’s presence had filled Solomon’s temple, the knowledge of God was all but lost, even among His own people.
The social results of turning from God and His laws were disastrous. The prophet Amos described conditions in the northern kingdom in these words: “They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name” (Amos 2:6–7).
The sad story of the northern kingdom continued for about two hundred years (920–722 BC). There were nineteen kings altogether, and every one of them “did evil in the eyes of the LORD” (see 2 Kings 15:9).
Eventually, God allowed enemies to overrun the northern kingdom. The king of Assyria deported the entire population in 722 BC, dispersing them across the breadth of his kingdom. Later, he repopulated the area with immigrants, who became known as the Samaritans.
The Story in the South
The two tribes in the south, often referred to as Judah, benefited from better leadership than their brothers and sisters in the north. Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, and Jotham were all commended by God. But none of them eliminated the places of worship to other gods that had been erected in the days of Solomon. These centers of idolatry continued to be an offense to God.
Things took a turn for the worse in Judah when Manasseh came to power shortly after the northern tribes were scattered. Manasseh reigned for fifty-five years, and he led God’s people into more evil than the nations God had driven out of the land (2 Kings 21:1, 9).
Manasseh promoted the worship of Molek, which included an evil rite in which children were sacrificed in a fire. He “consulted mediums and spiritists,” and in an ultimate act of defiance toward God, he built altars to pagan gods in the temple of the Lord (2 Kings 21:4–6). God had called His people to be lights in the world, but Manasseh led them into deep darkness.
Changing Laws and Changing Hearts
Some years later Manasseh’s grandson Josiah began to seek after the Lord. Stirred by the rediscovery of a manuscript of God’s Law that had been lost in the temple, Josiah led a national campaign of reformation. He toured the country and personally supervised the destruction of all the altars to idols in the land (2 Kings 23). Some of these had been built in the time of Solomon and had been standing for three hundred years.
Josiah’s reform was the greatest onslaught against pagan practices in the history of Israel. He eliminated idolatry. But changing laws is not the same as changing hearts, and soon after the death of Josiah, the altars to idols were rebuilt, and the patterns of sin associated with them resumed.
A View from the Fourth Valley
The tragic story of the divided kingdom teaches us that when a nation turns away from God, dark powers of evil are unleashed. God’s people chose to worship gods of their own making. They turned from the light and eventually were devoured by darkness.
But God never abandoned His people. He kept speaking to them through the prophets, even when they turned to other gods. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, and Habakkuk all called God’s people to repentance during these dark years of the divided kingdom. But God’s people were not listening to God’s Word.
So, after repeated warnings, the time for God’s judgment on His own people finally came. The Babylonian army laid siege to Jerusalem and remained there for nearly two years, until the city fell in 586 BC. The suffering of God’s people was indescribable. Many lost their lives, and most of those who survived were taken to resettlement camps in Babylon.
The city of Jerusalem became a smoldering ruin. The temple where God had chosen to meet with His people was totally destroyed. The great kingdom that had been the envy of the world in the time of David and Solomon was reduced to a small community of war prisoners in Babylon. But even in this darkest hour, God had not forgotten His people or His promise.
- Why do you think God’s people kept turning away from Him? What causes people to turn away from God today?