1 Kings 12


Israel was a family.  The tribes of Israel were made up of the descendants of 12 brothers.  They all enjoyed the same ancestry and the same heritage.  There was among them a bond of blood as well as a bond of faith.  But in this chapter, we shall see the bonds breaking and the house of Israel divided.


1 Kings 1-11

1 Kings 12-ff

Israel united as one nation

Two Kingdoms:   Israel & Judah


For the rest of the books of Kings, we will see Israel as a divided nation.  From this time onward, the northern tribes will be designated as Israel while the southern tribes will be called after the largest of those tribes—Judah.





            Then Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. (1 Kings 12:1).


The fact that the planned coronation of the king was to take place at Shechem is significant.  Jerusalem was the capital city of Israel.  It was here that Solomon had been anointed and installed as king of Israel (1 Kings 1:38-39).  And yet, Rehoboam found in necessary to travel to Shechem for the inaugural ceremony.


The name “Shechem” describes “the space between the shoulder blades.”  The town lay exactly between the two mountains of Gerazim and Ebal.  It was here that Israel had come in the days of Joshua where half of the people stood on Mount Gerazim and half of the people stood on Mount Ebal to read the Law of the Covenant.  Half of the people had read the blessings of the covenant and half of the people had read the cursings of the covenant and the people had pledged themselves to follow the Lord.


Shechem lay in the geographical center of the land of Israel.  It was specifically within the territory of the tribe of Ephraim - one of the largest and most influential tribes of Israel.


The fact that Shechem was to be the site of the inaugural ceremonies was evidence that there was already a schism of spirit between Judah and the other tribes.





2                       Now when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it, he was living in Egypt (for he was yet in Egypt, where he had fled from the presence of King Solomon).

3                       Then they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam, saying, 4 “Your father made our yoke hard; now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you.” (1 Kings 12:2-4).


The tribal leaders call Jeroboam from where he had been banished to Egypt to come and be their spokesman.  These two men will soon be pitted against one another.




Son of Solomon and heir apparent of the kingdom

Former appointee over the forced labor projects of Solomon

A young man?

A mature man

From the tribe of Judah (his mother was a princess of Ammon - 1 Kings 14:31).

From the tribe of Ephraim


The request which was made of Rehoboam was for a lightening of the “hard service” and the “heavy yoke” which had been imposed by Solomon.


It was fitting that Jeroboam be the one who requested relief from the heavy burdens, since he had been Solomon’s principal task-master.

Solomon’s building projects had not been cheap.  They had been great and they had been wondrous, but they had also placed a heavy burden upon the people of Israel.  In order to construct the Temple and his palace and his various treasure-cities, Solomon had resorted to forced labor in which the people of Israel had been forced to leave their farms and their lands and their families to work on the king’s building projects (1 Kings 9:15).  Furthermore had been the expense of Solomon’s kingly court (1 Kings 4:22-23).


The bad news was that taxes were higher than ever before.  The good news was that the economy was good so that people had been able to pay the demands.  But now they come asking for relief.




5                       Then he said to them, “Depart for three days, then return to me.”  So the people departed.

6                       King Rehoboam consulted with the elders who had served his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, “How do you counsel me to answer this people?”

7                       Then they spoke to him, saying, “If you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.”

8                       But he forsook the counsel of the elders which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him.

9                       So he said to them, “What counsel do you give that we may answer this people who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Lighten the yoke which your father put on us’?”

10                     The young men who grew up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you shall say to this people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, now you make it lighter for us!’  But you shall speak to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins!

11                     ‘Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’” (1 Kings 12:5-11).


Rehoboam takes the petition of the tribes under advisement and asks three days to study the matter.  During this time, he solicits the counsel of his advisors.  They are polarized into two groups.


The Elders

The Young Men

They had served as advisors to Solomon

They had grown up with Rehoboam

“Be a servant to the people, grant them their petition, and speak good words to them”

“Threaten the people with even greater burdens”


Notice the chiastic formula of the advice of the Elders in verse 7.  It is presented in a cause and effect motif.


If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them


Then they will be your servants forever.







And answer them

And speak to them good words



There is a lesson here.  It is a lesson of leadership.  He who would learn to be a leader must first learn to be a servant.





12                     Then Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day as the king had directed, saying, Return to me on the third day.”

13                     The king answered the people harshly, for he forsook the advice of the elders which they had given him, 14 and he spoke to them according to the advice 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 events from the Lord, that He might establish His word, which the Lord spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Kings 12:12-15).


Rehoboam followed the advise of his younger peers, couching his threats in the strongest possible terms.


“What my Father did”

“What I will do”

Made your yoke heavy

Add to your yoke

Disciplined you with whips

Discipline you with scorpions


The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes. (Proverbs 21:1).

Rehoboam’s decision was not mere happenstance.  It was a turn of events from the Lord (12:15).  Although both Rehoboam and his advisors all had “free will,” it was the Lord who brought this decision about.  This was not merely a case of God’s foreknowledge.  The author tells us that these events came from the Lord.





16                     When all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; To your tents, O Israel!  Now look after your own house, David!”  So Israel departed to their tents.

17                     But as for the sons of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. (1 Kings 12:16-17).


Government only works when it is with the consent of the people.  This is true of both nations as well as churches and families.  It is also the basis of Presbyterianism.

The response of Israel was one of rebellion and a desire for independence.  Since the king had refused to look out for their interests, they would now look out for their own interests.  Only the tribe of Judah would remain under the rulership of the house of David.


Although the intent of rebellion was now present, the actual occasion for this rebellion came about when the next call for forced labor arose.


18                     Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the forced labor, and all Israel stoned him to death.  And King Rehoboam made haste to mount his chariot to flee to Jerusalem.

19                     So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.

20                     It came about when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, that they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. None but the tribe of Judah followed the house of David. (1 Kings 12:18-20).


Rehoboam attempted to test the resolve of the northern tribes by sending his taskmaster with a call to forced labor.  The man was taken and executed in an act of overt rebellion.


This apparently took place while King Rehoboam was still in the area.  When his royal taskmaster was executed, he fled the area.  The rest of the tribes now took this opportunity to acclaim Jeroboam as their new king.


This rebellion did not take place in a vacuum.  There were other factors which were already at work in bringing it about.  Ephraim, the tribe of Jeroboam, was particularly known for its pride and desire for ascendancy.


(1)        Ephraim had complained to Joshua (who was also from Ephraim) about the relatively small size of its inheritance (Joshua 17:14).


(2)        The Tabernacle was initially set up at Shiloh within the territory of Ephraim (Joshua 18:1).


(3)        When Gideon defeated the Midianites, Ephraim complained that they had not been invited to participate in the victory (Judges 8:1).


(4)        Ephraim complained against Jephthah for not including them when he fought against the Ammonites (Judges 12:1).  The truth was that they had been asked and had refused.





            Now when Rehoboam had come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, 180,000 chosen men who were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon. (1 Kings 12:21).


Rehoboam set out to restore the union of Israel.  The north must not be permitted to secede from the union.  His call to arms was answered by 180,000 men of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.


This brings up a question.  Why did Benjamin side with Judah?  Benjamin and Judah had previously been rivals.  Saul had been from Benjamin while David was of Judah.  But Jerusalem lay on the border between Benjamin and Judah.  By virtue of it being the capital city, it had given prestige to Benjamin.


Israelite would fight Israelite.  Cousins and uncles would soon be at war.  Israel was a house divided.





22                     But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, 23 “Speak 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, saying, 24 ‘Thus says the Lord, “You must not go up and fight against your relatives the sons of Israel; return every man to his house, for this thing has come from Me.”’”  So they listened to the word of the Lord, and returned and went their way according to the word of the Lord. (1 Kings 12:22-24).


This is the first an only mention of Shemaiah in the book of Kings, although there are others with the same name.  He is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles where he prophesied to Rehoboam of judgment upon Judah coming from Egypt.


Shemaiah’s message was simple:   Don’t go to war against your relatives because it is the Lord who brought about the divided nation.  Because of his message, war was averted.





            Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and lived there.  And he went out from there and built Penuel. (1 Kings 12:25).


Shechem was already an ancient city, nearly a thousand years old dating back before the days of Jacob.


Jeroboam built up this city and made it his initial capital.  Later he built a secondary palace at Penuel, the place where Jacob had wrestled with the angel on the Jabbok River.  These two sites were located amidst the center of the Northern Kingdom and were designed to unify the people under his rule.





26                     Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David.

27                     “If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.”

28                     So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.”

29                     He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. (1 Kings 12:26-29).


Jeroboam was now the king of the Northern Kingdom.  But he was a king with a problem.  The law of the Lord mandated that all Israelites make a pilgrimage three times a year to worship the Lord in His Temple.  And here lay the problem.  The Temple was in Jerusalem.  And Jerusalem was in Judah.  And this land was under the domain of Rehoboam.

This state of affairs would give Rehoboam ample opportunity to wage a propaganda campaign which could ultimately result in Jeroboam being removed and the Kingdom being reunited.  And so, Jeroboam came up with an alternative plan of worship.  It was a plan which appealed to convenience.  The plan was for two centers of worship to be set up within the Northern Kingdom.  They would be located at the extreme northern and southern borders of the kingdom.


1.         Bethel ( “House of God”).


This was the place where Jacob had his vision of a ladder reaching to heaven (Genesis 28:11-19).  It was located a mere 12 miles north of Jerusalem and sat atop a bare mountaintop.


2.         Dan.


The tribe of Dan had originally been given an allotment of land between Judah, Ephraim and Benjamin.  This had proven to be uncomfortably close to the Philistines and in the days of the judges they migrated northward to the area north of the Sea of Galilee on the slopes of Mount Hermon (Judges 18).  Capturing the Canaanite city of Laish, they renamed it Dan and made it their religious center with their own Levitical priesthood descended from Moses (Judges 18:30).


Convenience is the byword of popular America.  We even have convenience stores for when you don’t want to be bothered with going to the regular store.  This attitude of convenience has infiltrated our religious thinking.  We come to worship God when and where it is convenient.





30                     Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan.

31                     And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi.

32                     Jeroboam instituted a feast in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast which is in Judah, and he went up to the altar; thus he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves which he had made.  And he stationed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.

33                     Then he went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised in his own heart; and he instituted a feast for the sons of Israel and went up to the altar to burn incense. (1 Kings 12:30-33).


The writer of Kings now outlines the various sins which Jeroboam’s religious reforms brought about.


1.         The Sin of Worshiping in the Wrong Places.


            But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God shall choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. (Deuteronomy 12:5).


The Lord had ordained that He was to be worshiped in the Temple in Jerusalem.  He had manifested His presence there with the cloud which moved into the Holy of Holies.


2.         The Sin of Ordaining an Alternate Priesthood.


The Lord had instituted the Levitical Priesthood.  Since they were committed to the continuing program of worship at the Jerusalem temple, Jeroboam established his own non-Levitical priesthood.


3.         The Sin of Alternate Feast Days.


The Lord had dictated certain feasts which His people were to observe.  Jeroboam established alternate days of worship and feasting.


The Lord’s Mandate

Jeroboam’s Compromise

The Feast of Tabernacles on the 15th day of the 7th month.

A feast like the one in Judah on the 15th day of the 8th month.


The 15th day of the month was the day of the full moon.

It is perhaps only coincidental that Jeroboam’s feast day falls on or around our modern Halloween.  One possible reason for the later feast was to accommodate a later harvest for those who lived further north.


4.         The Sin of Idolatry.


Verse 32 says that Jeroboam caused to have made several graven calves.  He likely sold this idea to his fellow Israelites by suggesting that they were following in the example of Aaron who had molded a similar calf when the Israelites were in the Sinai wilderness.  Another possibility is that these calves were fashioned to replace the great cherubim in the Temple.


There is a lesson here.  It is that God is the One who determines how He is to be worshiped.  We are not at liberty to set up our own theology, our own churches or our own forms of worship.


One of the most insightful movies to come out of Hollywood in the 1990's was Robert Duvall in “The Apostle.”  It presented the fictional story of a Pentecostal preacher and his real faith amidst his own sins and failures.  There is one scene in the movie that has characterized American religion.  It is when the minister determines to baptize himself and to ordain himself into a new ministry.  This was what Jeroboam was doing.  He sought to establish his own religious method of worshiping God so that he would not have to face political problems - much like Henry 8th’s actions in bringing about the Church of England.


This naturally brings us to another question.  If we are not free to leave on our own and to worship God in any way we desire, what shall we say to the Protestant Reformers who departed from the Roman Catholic Church?


In answer, let me point out that the Reformers did not leave the Roman Church as a matter of convenience, but rather as a matter of principle due to their correct perception that the Roman Church had long since departed from some of the major principles of true faith.


The same should be true of us.  We ought not to leave a local church for some small reason.  Rather we should commit ourselves to the church wherein the Lord has placed us.


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