1 Kings 12: The Kingdom Divided
What king do you remember who was king of the people of Israel in the Holy Land? Perhaps you think of Saul who was the first king anointed by the prophet Samuel; or of David who was anointed in Bethlehem, who conquered Goliath and other enemies and brought up the ark to his city Jerusalem; or of Solomon who was king after David, who had wisdom and riches, and built in Jerusalem the beautiful temple of the Lord.
After Solomon, troubles came from outside enemies, for the people forgot the Lord, worshiped other gods, and did evil; and when they did so, enemies always troubled them. There was also trouble among the people themselves which led to the dividing of the kingdom into two, the kingdom of Israel in the north, and the kingdom of Judah in the south.
It came about in this way. Solomon to do all his building and to make Jerusalem beautiful made the people pay large taxes and do much hard work. They were tired of these burdens, especially the people in the northern part of the country who lived far away from Jerusalem. They hoped that Rehoboam, Solomon's son who was to be king after him, would make the burdens lighter. It was a very important day when Rehoboam went to Shechem in the middle of the country to be made king of all the people. The people of the northern tribes asked him to make their burdens lighter. The old men advised him to do so. But Rehoboam listened to the advice of young and unwise men and said that he would make them heavier and the punishments more severe. The people of the northern tribes would not agree to be ruled so; they separated and made a kingdom by themselves, the Kingdom of Israel, and the southern part of the country that stayed with Rehoboam was the Kingdom of Judah. Who would be king of the new Kingdom of Israel? They made Jeroboam king, who had been a leader in Solomon's work, "a mighty man," and "industrious." He had also been told by a prophet that he would some day be king. Rehoboam still lived in Jerusalem, and Jeroboam at first lived in Shechem in the middle of the land.
Jeroboam did another thing. He was afraid if the people of his kingdom went to Jerusalem for the feasts and for worship that they would join again the Kingdom of Judah. To keep them away from Jerusalem, Jeroboam made two calves of gold and set them up for the people to worship, one at Dan, far north at the springs of the Jordan, and one at Bethel, near the southern border of his kingdom, in sight of Jerusalem. This was remembered as Jeroboam's great sin. So the kingdom was divided and became two kingdoms.
Saul, David, Solomon. Each name brings to your mind a king who ruled the whole country of Palestine, David making Jerusalem the capital city, and Solomon adding to its strong defense and building the beautiful temple to be the center of worship of all the people. The kingdom was one. It is sad to see evil days coming upon Jerusalem even before Solomon's death, because the people disobeyed the Lord and worshiped idols that were worshiped by the nations about them; and idols were even brought into Jerusalem by wives whom Solomon married from these nations. (1 Kings 11:1-13) Then nations around began to be enemies, as was always the case when the people were not faithful in worship of the Lord.
There were troubles nearer home, and the one united kingdom was divided into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. We must find out what brought about this division.
Do you remember Shechem in the middle of the land? After the death of Solomon there was a meeting at Shechem to make Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, king. The northern tribes were already holding a little apart from the southern. This was perhaps the reason for Rehoboam's going to meet them at Shechem, instead of their all coming to Jerusalem. They felt that their burdens were too heavy, and asked Rehoboam that he would make their yoke lighter than Solomon had done. (1 Kings 5:13-16; 9:10, 15)
How did Rehoboam answer them? (Verses 4-11) We remember the heavy taxes and labor imposed by Solomon for his building and other work. (1 Kings 5:13-18) A scorpion here means a whip with sharp points which wound like a scorpion. Was Rehoboam's answer wise? It caused the revolt of the northern tribes and the division of the kingdom. They went to their homes leaving only the people of the southern country, Judah (with the little tribe of Benjamin which counted as a part of Judah) to serve Rehoboam. Rehoboam sent to the rebellious people a messenger, "Adoram, who was over the tribute." He is called Adoniram in 1 Kings 4:6. The "tribute" means the labor which the tribes were forced to give. The angry people would be the more angry when they saw this man, and they stoned him. So Rehoboam fled in his chariot to Jerusalem. He prepared to make war, but word came from the Lord that they should not fight with their brethren. The prediction of Ahijah, the prophet of Shiloh, was coming true.
Who was Jeroboam who was made king of the northern kingdom, Israel? We find his name in verses 2 and 3 of our chapter, and we learn more about him if we look back to chapter 11. What had he done when Solomon was king? (1 Kings 11:26-28) Also what had the prophet Ahijah predicted, and what sign had he given which made Jeroboam know that he would be king of some of the tribes? Some verses speak of the tribe of Judah as alone in the southern kingdom, but Benjamin was with it, in which Jerusalem was. (1 Kings 12:23) Chapter 11 also tells us why Jeroboam was in Egypt, till called back to be made king. Where was Shechem which Jeroboam at first made his capital? It was an old city, but Jeroboam strengthened it.
One of the strongest ties to hold the northern tribes and the southern tribes together was their having the same worship, and their going up to the temple at Jerusalem, especially three times each year at the three great feasts: the Passover in the spring, the Feast of First Fruits in the early summer, and the Feast of Tabernacles, the thanksgiving feast, in the autumn. (Deut. 16) If the people went in this way to Jerusalem to worship, it would help to draw the tribes together again as one nation, with Rehoboam as their king. To keep the people of the northern tribes away from Jerusalem and the temple, Jeroboam made idols, two calves of gold, and set them up for the people to worship, one at Dan, far north at the springs of the Jordan, and one at Bethel, on the high hills near the southern border, in sight of Jerusalem. What do these golden calves of Jeroboam remind you of? Compare also the words of Jeroboam with the words in Exod. 32:4. This is often mentioned afterward in the story, as "The sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin." And also to keep the northern tribes from going to Jerusalem to the Feast of Tabernacles, Jeroboam appointed a feast of their own a month later, in the eighth month, and sacrificed to the golden calves.
The land was now divided into two kingdoms. If you draw a line across the map between Jerusalem and Bethel, the part above the line is Israel, Jeroboam's kingdom; and the part below the line is Judah, the kingdom of Rehoboam.
1. What son of Solomon was king after him? What tribe was faithful to him? What was his kingdom called?
2. What was the kingdom called which was formed by the tribes that revolted from Rehoboam? Who was its first king?
3. What did Jeroboam do to keep the people of his kingdom from going to Jerusalem and the temple? Why did he wish to keep them away?
Why this apparent collapse after the peace and glory of Solomon? We have thought of Solomon as representing a heavenly peace in ourselves and Divine peace in the Lord after victories are gained. Why do we come again to rebellion and evil days? In a broad view of the Bible story David and Solomon represent an ideal of heavenly truth and love which after it is seen in its beauty must be slowly worked out through many discouragements. Also when Solomon represents the Lord, the story that follows may be thought of as describing the slow steps by which the Lord's kingdom is established among human beings.
The Land of Canaan is a type of a heavenly mind or character, and the tribes are its several faculties. We recognize two kingdoms of the mind, the will with its affections, and the understanding with its thoughts and outward expressions of life. These kingdoms of the mind are represented by the two kingdoms of Canaan, the will by Judah, and the understanding by Israel. In the perfect heavenly state the two faculties are in harmony and act as one, but in the progress of regeneration they are allowed to act independently and are often in conflict. A separateness of action is needed and is permitted by the Lord so that when the will is naturally evil we can learn what is right and by practice come to love it. (A. 4292, 4750; E. 433; R. 96)
The rebellion of the northern tribes against the burdens of Solomon and Rehoboam can also represent the impatience of the understanding with the requirements of good life; the disposition to be content with knowing what is right and with superficial goodness and forms of worship, without the patient obedience which makes life deep and brings one near in affection to the Lord. The counsel of the old men suggests that the yoke which at first seems heavy will become light as one advances in heavenly life. (Matt. 11:30; H. 359, 533)
Compare these idols of Jeroboam's with the golden calf of Sinai and consider their meaning. There is an Egyptian association with them both. Cattle represent affections for natural comforts and uses, and when made objects of worship they represent supreme regard for these natural things. What can be represented by the gold which goes into the making of these idols? The worship of the calf at Sinai represented especially the regard of the people for the external forms of worship to the neglect of the heavenly affections of love to the Lord and to one another. We recognize a similar meaning in Jeroboam's idols. (A. 9391; E. 391)
The turning away from heavenly love and deeper heavenly life to mere knowledge and to outward forms of goodness and of worship is further represented by Jeroboam's keeping the people from the temple at Jerusalem, and especially from attendance at the Feast of Tabernacles. This autumn harvest feast, after they had gathered in from the threshing-floor and the wine-press, represented deep union with the Lord in faithful life. The impatient Jeroboam spirit makes light of this deep experience and prefers its superficial life. (Deut. 16:1-17; A. 9286, 9296)