April 17 Reading: I Kings 12-14 Commentary
“Then the young men who had grown up with him [Rehoboam] spoke to him, saying, ‘Thus you should speak to this people who have spoken to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter on us’—thus you shall say to them: ‘My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s waist! And now, whereas my father put a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!'” (I Kings 12:10-11)
We have seen time and time again in reading the Bible that God keeps his promises. From I Kings 12 on, we see a sad promise come to fulfillment. God had told Solomon that the kingdom would be torn away from him because of his disobedience. That event happened in I Kings 12. From here on, Israel was a divided kingdom for around 200 years.
Tensions had existed between the tribes in the north and the south for some time. Ephraim was the most powerful tribe in the north, while Judah was the most powerful in the south. David was from the tribe of Judah and he had moved the capital to Jerusalem in the south. No doubt this, along with Solomon’s taxation to fund projects in and around Jerusalem (including the temple build), probably added to the strain.
The two kingdoms are referred to as the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. Each has their own storyline in the text, as sections talk about a king of Israel or a king of Judah. Often the kingdoms will be at odds with one another, although they do come together from time to time for common goals.
Divided Kingdom Highlights
What does stand out is that the Northern Kingdom (10 tribes known as Israel) never had a king that served the Lord. The evil kings are said to have walked in the way of Jeroboam, the first ungodly king of Israel. The Southern Kingdom (the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, known together as Judah) alternated between kings who honored the Lord and those that did not. Those who honored the Lord are said to have walked in the way of David.
The main highlight of the era though, is the emergence of the prophetic ministry. God sent prophets throughout the years to bring his word to Israel and Judah. The two most noteworthy are Elijah and Elisha. Other major prophets included Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Both kingdoms were eventually conquered by surrounding nations. The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The Southern Kingdom of Judah lasted longer, but was eventually taken over by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. It’s a sad ending to a nation that seemed to have everything going for it.
I Kings 12 – Revolt Against Rehoboam
Once Solomon died, his son Rehoboam went to Shechem to be crowned king (v. 1). Shechem was located in Ephraim, a tribe in northern Israel.
Leaders are sent from all the tribes for his coronation. Also present was Jeroboam, the person from I Kings 11 that God had told would lead the northern tribes. Jeroboam had fled to Egypt for a time to escape from Solomon.
At this assembly, Jeroboam and other leaders of Israel came to Rehoboam with a request. They said, “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you” (v. 5). Seems like a simple and doable request to gain the favor of the people.
Rehoboam told the men to return in three days (v. 5). In the meantime, he consulted his advisors. Those who were older and more experienced who had advised Solomon, counseled Rehoboam to show moderation and appease the people. If he did, they’d serve him forever (vv. 6-7).
However, the younger advisors (Rehoboam’s friends) told him to increase the burden his father had put on the people. They used a great phrase to explain their position, telling Rehoboam to say to the people, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions” (vv. 8-11).
So Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders. When the northern tribes heard his decision and that Rehoboam had not listened to them, they said, “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, Israel! Look after your own house, David!” (v. 16).
Crowning Two Kings and Two Calves
The tribes in the north did not appreciate Rehoboam’s decision. When these tribes heard the Jeroboam had returned from self-imposed exile in Egypt, they made him king over Israel (v. 20). The ten tribes in the north split to form their own kingdom.
Rehoboam returned to Jerusalem and assembled 180,000 men of Judah and Benjamin to go fight against Jeroboam and Israel. But a prophet by the name of Shemaiah came to Rehoboam with a message from the Lord. He said, “This is what the Lord says: Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing” (v. 24). So there turned back and did not go to war against the northern tribes.
Jeroboam rebuilt Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, making it the first capital of the northern kingdom. He also feared that the main worship center was still in Jerusalem. If the people went there to worship at the temple he reasoned, they may have a change of heart and turn their allegiance back to Rehoboam.
So to counter this, he fashioned two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt!” (v. 28). He stationed one in Bethel (north of Jerusalem in Benjamite territory) and one in Dan (in northern Israel). So there was one worship center in the northern part of the land and one in the southern part of the land. (vv. 29-31). And he installed priests at these locations to help with sacrifices and festivals to their gods (vv. 32-33).
I Kings 13 – The Man of God
After Jeroboam set up the two worship centers with the two golden calves, “a man of God went from Judah to Bethel by the word of the Lord” (v. 1). We don’t know who this person was but he went with a prophetic word from the Lord. He approached Jeroboam as he stood by the altar to burn incense.
The word from the man of God for Jeroboam was not good. The prophet foresaw a king from Judah named Josiah who would kill all the priests of Jeroboam and burn them on the altar. The sign this would happen was that the altar would split apart and it’s ashes poured out on the ground (vv. 2-3).
Jeroboam is furious at this and ordered the prophet to be arrested. However, when Jeroboam’s hand reached out toward the prophet, it “withered, so that he could not pull it back to himself” (v. 4).
Jeroboam asked the prophet to pray that God would restore his hand. The man of God did pray and the Lord healed Jeroboam’s hand. Jeroboam wanted to reward the prophet with a meal at his house. But the prophet refused saying,
“If you were to give me half your house, I would not go in with you; nor would I eat bread nor drink water in this place. For so it was commanded me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘You shall not eat bread, nor drink water, nor return by the same way you came'” (v. 8-9).
So the man of God left and went home another way.
The Man of God Dies
Another “old prophet” lived in Bethel. When his sons told him all that the man of God had done that day in Bethel, the old prophet wanted to meet the man of God. So they saddled his donkey and found him sitting under an oak tree (vv. 11-14).
The old prophet asked for the man of God to return to his house and eat bread. But the man of God said that he could not based on what the word of the Lord had told him (vv. 15-17).
At this the old prophet lied. He said an angel spoke to him with the instructions to bring the man of God back to his house. So the man of God went with them (vv. 18-19).
While they were eating, a true word from the Lord came to the old prophet. He told the man of God,
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord, and have not kept the commandment which the Lord your God commanded you, but you came back, ate bread, and drank water in the place of which the Lord said to you, ‘Eat no bread and drink no water,’ your corpse shall not come to the tomb of your fathers'” (vv. 20-22).
When the man of God left, a lion attacked him on the road and he died. The old prophet went and retrieved his bones and put them in his own tomb (vv. 23-32).
None of these events caused Jeroboam to turn from his sin. Instead, it only deepened his agenda as he made priests from every class of people and also assumed the role of priest himself. He would forever be remembered in the Biblical narrative as the one who “made Israel sin” (I Kings 16:26).
I Kings 14 – Judgment on Jeroboam
In time, Jeroboam’s son Abijah became sick (v. 1). We don’t know his exact age. However, based on vv. 12-13, he must have been young.
The sickness must have been severe because Jeroboam told his wife to go ask Ahijah the prophet about their son. Ahijah was the prophet who told Jeroboam he would be king (I Kings 11). So it is interesting that in a time of real distress Jeroboam did not consult his own priests, but turned to a true prophet of the Lord.
Jeroboam’s wife disguised herself so that Ahijah would not know her. Ahijah was old and could not see (v. 4), so she’d probably elude detection. However, God revealed to Ahijah that she was coming. So when she arrived, Ahijah wasted no time addressing her. (vv. 2-6).
A Prophet’s Message
Ahijah’s prophecy against Jeroboam’s son and his house was not what she wanted to hear. Ahijah told her:
“Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Because I exalted you from among the people, and made you ruler over My people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it to you; and yet you have not been as My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only what was right in My eyes; but you have done more evil than all who were before you, for you have gone and made for yourself other gods and molded images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back— therefore behold!
I will bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male in Israel, bond and free; I will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as one takes away refuse until it is all gone….Arise therefore, go to your own house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die.” (vv. 7-12)
Jeroboam’s family line would end (II Kings 15:27 – 16:7). God would raise up a king over Israel that would cut off Jeroboam’s house (v. 14). Not only that, but God would “uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the River, because they have made their wooden images, provoking the Lord to anger. And He will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who sinned and who made Israel sin.”
The Child Dies
When Jeroboam’s wife returned and came to the threshold of her house, the child died just as Ahijah had prophesied. It makes you wonder why she ever returned home. If she had stayed away and never returned, would the child have lived? In any case, she did not and all Israel mourned for him (v. 18) .
There is however, an interesting note concerning this child found in in verse 13. About Abijah, the Lord said through Ahijah the prophet:
“And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he is the only one of Jeroboam who shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something good toward the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.”
There was something about Abijah’s character that drew the Lord’s attention. It appears that his heart was right before the Lord. So, from a life-after-death perspective, the implication is that this child went to heaven when he died.
If he was young enough (i.e. before an age where he could have been held accountable for right and wrong), this verse supports the position of those who believe young children are secured in their salvation. This theological position is sometimes called the “age of accountability“, an undefined age that children reach where they are able to make a choice to follow the Lord or not. If they die before that age of understanding is reached, they are not held accountable for their sinful state and thus go to heaven.
The most often cited passage supporting this position is the story in II Sam. 12:21-23, after the baby son born to David and Bathsheba had died. David remarked that he knew his son could not return to him, but that he [David] would go to him one day. That may simply refer to David’s own death and going to the grave. However, the context makes it seem David was hopeful he would see his son again.
Rehoboam is King of Judah
Reboboam’s reign as king lasted 17 years in Jerusalem. Judah followed the pattern of behavior of Israel in that they did not serve the Lord under Rehoboam. They,
“…did evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked Him to jealousy with their sins which they committed, more than all that their fathers had done. For they also built for themselves high places, sacred pillars, and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree. And there were also perverted persons in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel” (vv. 22-24).
In the fifth year of his reign, Shishak, king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. He won a victory and carried off all “the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house; he took everything. He also took away all the gold shields which Solomon had made” (v. 26).
Rehoboam and Judah were always at war with Jeroboam and Israel (v. 30). When he died, his son Abijam became king (v. 31).
Questions to Consider:
Be careful who you listen to. There are voices that want to speak truth into your life and there are those who want to deceive and speak harm.
After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam was made king. He had a choice on how to rule and sought counsel from his advisors and friends. Unfortunately, he chose the wrong advice and it ultimately split the kingdom. How do you discern between good and bad advice? Is God part of that equation?
God knows the hearts of children. They are precious in His sight. Even Jesus acknowledged this when he said to his disciples who were trying to stop some children from bothering Jesus, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 19:14)
What other points would you want to know about in our I Kings 12-14 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.