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A Divided Kingdom

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Kings 12–13; 2 Chronicles 10–11

An arrogant, self-seeking attitude is the starting point for conflict, division, destruction, and apostasy. There are few better examples of this principle than the two men who initiated the division of Israel into competing kingdoms: Rehoboam and Jeroboam.


The Lord revealed to Solomon the tragic consequences his apostasy would have in Israel—namely, the nation would be divided. And the way God brings this about is through the arrogance of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, who is now king of Israel.

As Rehoboam arrives in Shechem for his coronation, 1 Kings 12 tells us the northern tribes arrive and want to see some changes take place. In verse 4 they make their request of Rehoboam:

“Your father [Solomon] made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.”

They are referring to the heavy taxes and the demand for manpower during Solomon’s building projects. This had taken a heavy toll on the people, and now they want relief.

So, Rehoboam promises to give them an answer after three days. Verse 6 tells us that he calls a meeting with “the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father.” He asks these veteran leaders for their advice, and they tell him to grant the people’s request.

But Rehoboam doesn’t like their advice—this isn’t what he was looking for. So, verse 8 tells us:

He abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him.

You know, if you ask enough people for advice, you will eventually find somebody who tells you what you wanted to hear in the first place! And that is what these young men do. They tell him to respond to the people with these words:

“My little finger is thicker than my father's thighs . . . 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 [barbed whips].” (verses 10-11)

Well, that will rally people around you!

Sadly, Rehoboam follows the advice of his young friends. Clearly, he doesn’t have a clue how to lead a nation.

We read here in verse 16:

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.” . . . So Israel went to their tents.

This means they are going home and effectively declaring their independence.

In a rather desperate attempt to keep the northern tribes under his control, Rehoboam sends a messenger to speak to them and demand payment of taxes. The people stone this man to death.

Rehoboam responds by preparing to attack these tribes, but a prophet by the name of Shemaiah appears on the scene and delivers this message from the Lord:

“Thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not go up or fight against your relatives the people of Israel. . . . for this thing is from me.’” So they listened to the word of the Lord and went home again. (verse 24)

The united kingdom of Israel under Saul, David, and Solomon now becomes a divided kingdom. And from this point, the books of Kings and Chronicles will give us the history of these two separate kingdoms. The northern kingdom, made up of ten tribes, is referred to as Israel. The southern kingdom, made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, is referred to asJudah, with Jerusalem as its capital.

The parallel account in 2 Chronicles 11 tells us Rehoboam gets busy building defenses in Judah; he even starts accumulating wives and concubines—just like his father, Solomon. He hasn’t learned anything from history. And as the old saying goes, “If you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it.” And he will.

Now here at 1 Kings 12:25, the focus turns to the northern kingdom and its newly anointed king, Jeroboam. Back in 1 Kings 11, God’s prophet promised Jeroboam that if he followed the Lord, he would have a successful reign on the throne. But Jeroboam evidently hasn’t learned anything from history either, because we are told here in verse 27 that he says to himself:

“If [my] people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to . . . Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam.”

Essentially, he is saying, “I can’t maintain my kingdom if I follow God, because the people will go to Jerusalem to worship at the temple, and I will lose control of them. I have to keep them from going there.”

Well, how does he do that? Verse 28 says that he fashions two golden calves as idols and tells the people these are the gods that brought Israel up out of Egypt. He places one in the northern part of Israel at Dan and one in the southern region at Bethel.

The second thing he does is build little temples in his territory and appoints false priests, verse 31 says, “from among all the people, who were not of the Levites.” In other words, they are not qualified to serve as priests, but who cares? Over in 2 Chronicles 11, we learn that some priests and Levites in the north defected and moved to Jerusalem.

So, Jeroboam creates this system of idolatry in order to keep his people from going near Jerusalem. And this sets a horrifying precedent of rebellion and idolatry. In fact, throughout the record of 1 and 2 Kings, we read of one king after another walking in the way, or in the sin, of Jeroboam.

Now God does not just let Jeroboam destroy himself without opportunities to repent. Here now in chapter 13, God sends a man to confront the king and denounce this idolatry. He prophesies that Jeroboam’s altar will be torn down and the ashes poured out.

Jeroboam does not repent. Instead, we read this in verses 4-5:

Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” And his hand . . . dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. The altar also was torn down, and ashes poured out . . . according to the sign that the man of God had given.

His hand is paralyzed, and the altar is destroyed. That will make a believer out of anybody! And Jeroboam here in verse 6 asks the man of God to pray that God will heal him. He does pray, and God heals the king.

But even after all this, chapter 13 ends by telling us in verse 33, “Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way.” The miracle affected Jeroboam’s hand, but it didn’t change his heart.

Before this chapter concludes, however, it records another incident involving the man of God who confronted Jeroboam. God commanded this man not to stop to eat or drink in that place but to return immediately to Judah. Tragically, he is deceived by an older prophet, and he disobeys the Lord. The next morning, he is killed by a lion as God’s judgment for his disobedience.

Now this is one of the strangest and most surprising events in the book of 1 Kings. But it serves as God’s dramatic and powerful warning to the northern kingdom. If this devout man of God was judged for this one act of disobedience, why in the world would they think they could get away with their idolatry and defiance of God?

Well, there’s much more to come. In the meantime, beloved, take God’s Word seriously, listen to the Lord’s warnings, and walk with Him in obedience today.

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