1 Kings 12: Foolish and Selfish Kings Destroy a United Israel

Now that we’ve completed the Book of Ecclesiastes — Solomon’s wise insights on life — we return to the history of the Israelites. It’s ironic that the story jumps from wisdom to foolishness so drastically. We’ll see that when leadership is motivated by selfishness, which overrides wisdom, it only leads to destruction.

We need to go back to the end of 1 Kings 11 to recap on how this whole mess started. Let’s dig in…

1 Kings 11:26-40 – Jeroboam Rebels against Solomon

26 Another rebel leader was Jeroboam son of Nebat, one of Solomon’s own officials. He came from the town of Zeredah in Ephraim, and his mother was Zeruah, a widow.

27 This is the story behind his rebellion. Solomon was rebuilding the supporting terraces and repairing the walls of the city of his father, David. 28 Jeroboam was a very capable young man, and when Solomon saw how industrious he was, he put him in charge of the labor force from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the descendants of Joseph.

29 One day as Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh met him along the way. Ahijah was wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone in a field, 30 and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten of these pieces, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and I will give ten of the tribes to you! 32 But I will leave him one tribe for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. 33 For Solomon has abandoned me and worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians; Chemosh, the god of Moab; and Molech, the god of the Ammonites. He has not followed my ways and done what is pleasing in my sight. He has not obeyed my decrees and regulations as David his father did.

34 “‘But I will not take the entire kingdom from Solomon at this time. For the sake of my servant David, the one whom I chose and who obeyed my commands and decrees, I will keep Solomon as leader for the rest of his life. 35 But I will take the kingdom away from his son and give ten of the tribes to you. 36 His son will have one tribe so that the descendants of David my servant will continue to reign, shining like a lamp in Jerusalem, the city I have chosen to be the place for my name. 37 And I will place you on the throne of Israel, and you will rule over all that your heart desires. 38 If you listen to what I tell you and follow my ways and do whatever I consider to be right, and if you obey my decrees and commands, as my servant David did, then I will always be with you. I will establish an enduring dynasty for you as I did for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39 Because of Solomon’s sin I will punish the descendants of David—though not forever.’”

40 Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but he fled to King Shishak of Egypt and stayed there until Solomon died….

…Then his son Rehoboam became the next king.

1 Kings 11:26-40, 43b NLT

1 Kings 12

Rehoboam went to Shechem, where all Israel had gathered to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of this, he returned from Egypt, for he had fled to Egypt to escape from King Solomon. The leaders of Israel summoned him, and Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel went to speak with Rehoboam. “Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.”

Rehoboam replied, “Give me three days to think this over. Then come back for my answer.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father, Solomon. “What is your advice?” he asked. “How should I answer these people?”

The older counselors replied, “If you are willing to be a servant to these people today and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your loyal subjects.”

But Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers. “What is your advice?” he asked them. “How should I answer these people who want me to lighten the burdens imposed by my father?”

10 The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! 11 Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’”

12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to hear Rehoboam’s decision, just as the king had ordered. 13 But Rehoboam spoke harshly to the people, for he rejected the advice of the older counselors 14 and followed the counsel of his younger advisers. He told the people, “My father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!”

15 So the king paid no attention to the people. This turn of events was the will of the Lord, for it fulfilled the Lord’s message to Jeroboam son of Nebat through the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh.

16 When all Israel realized that the king had refused to listen to them, they responded,

“Down with the dynasty of David!
    We have no interest in the son of Jesse.
Back to your homes, O Israel!
    Look out for your own house, O David!”

So the people of Israel returned home. 17 But Rehoboam continued to rule over the Israelites who lived in the towns of Judah.

18 King Rehoboam sent Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labor, to restore order, but the people of Israel stoned him to death. When this news reached King Rehoboam, he quickly jumped into his chariot and fled to Jerusalem. 19 And to this day the northern tribes of Israel have refused to be ruled by a descendant of David.

20 When the people of Israel learned of Jeroboam’s return from Egypt, they called an assembly and made him king over all Israel. So only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the family of David.

Shemaiah’s Prophecy

21 When Rehoboam arrived at Jerusalem, he mobilized the men of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin—180,000 select troops—to fight against the men of Israel and to restore the kingdom to himself.

22 But God said to Shemaiah, the man of God, 23 “Say to Rehoboam son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the people of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, 24 ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not fight against your relatives, the Israelites. Go back home, for what has happened is my doing!’” So they obeyed the message of the Lord and went home, as the Lord had commanded.

Jeroboam Makes Gold Calves

25 Jeroboam then built up the city of Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and it became his capital. Later he went and built up the town of Peniel.

26 Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. 27 When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

28 So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

29 He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. 30 But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.

31 Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. 32 And Jeroboam instituted a religious festival in Bethel, held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in imitation of the annual Festival of Shelters in Judah. There at Bethel he himself offered sacrifices to the calves he had made, and he appointed priests for the pagan shrines he had made. 33 So on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a day that he himself had designated, Jeroboam offered sacrifices on the altar at Bethel. He instituted a religious festival for Israel, and he went up to the altar to burn incense.

1 Kings 12 NLT

A Divided Israel Sins by Turning to Idolatry

Map of the divided kingdom of Israel at the time of 1 Kings. Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Image by Sweet Publishing from FreeBibleImages.org, (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Map of the divided kingdom of Israel at the time of 1 Kings. Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Image by Sweet Publishing from FreeBibleImages.org, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Here we go again! They were doing so well! Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, God was happy, and the people knew what they needed to do to keep God happy. What happened?!

Well, it all started with Solomon and his 700 wives and 300 concubines. All these women led him to worship their pagan gods and idols. Likewise, the people saw their king worshiping them, so they thought it was OK. In the end, Solomon lost his wisdom. Obviously, wisdom is not inherited, either. His son, Rehoboam, failed to heed the wisdom of his father’s advisors. And it all came down to taxes.

Foolishness and Selfishness

  • Rehoboam ignored the wise advice to lower taxes and keep the people loyal. Verse 7 reminds me of Jesus saying in Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you must be a servant.” When leaders put the people first, like a servant should, everything works out for the best.
  • Remember, Solomon had raised taxes to build the temple and his palaces. Similarly, Rehoboam, raised taxes higher and made things worse for the people.
  • Enter Jeroboam, (Yes, the two names sound similar, but they are two different people, not related.) whom God put in the right place at the right time. See, it may seem that the kingdom of Israel is falling apart, but God is in control. He has a plan.
  • The Israelite kingdoms are split in 2 and they will stay like that for 200 years.
  • Like the prophet, Ahiajah, prophesied, 10 tribes formed the kingdom of Israel in the north and the tribe of Judah, which is King David’s line, is staying with Jerusalem as it’s capital. This keeps the Davidic Covenant, that promises a Messiah through the line of David.
  • The people of the tribe of Benjamin, spent so much time worshiping at the temple, that they were usurped into Judah. Thus, the people from Judah were called “Jews”.
  • The name “Jeroboam” means “may the people be great”. That sounds familiar — “We the People”.
  • Why Shechem? As it turns out, back in Genesis 12, Abraham worshiped there. In Genesis 33, Jacob built an altar there. Finally, Joseph is buried there. So, besides being the geographic center of the northern kingdom, it was as good a place as any to build a capital.
  • Jeroboam then had a problem. Since all Hebrews were required by God to go to Jerusalem to worship at least 3 times a year, he was afraid the people would like it there and not come back. Hence, thinking like Aaron in Exodus, he built a pair of golden calves, in honor of God, and placed one in Dan and another in Bethel. He also instructed the priests to hold festivals at the same time as the Hebrew ones. He created an alternative religion to control the people. Unfortunately, this broke God’s 2nd Commandment…

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.

Exodus 20:4-5 NLT

A True Test of Character is not by Trial, but by Power

Give a person power and they’ll either excel or swell. When selfishness, pride, vanity, envy, and greed take over, that’s it. That’s the downfall of any organization — whether it’s a government, a business, or a church.

Pray for today’s religious leaders — priests, pastors, and ministers — to hold true to the Gospel. To not be weak or “woke”. Conforming to the world is 100% AGAINST the will of God. Like Paul wrote in Romans

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 NIV

When you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, He transforms your heart and your mind to better be in line with God’s will. When you receive the Holy Spirit in your heart, He convicts you — guides you away from temptation. However, you MUST heed His warnings!

Jesus wants to be your friend!

Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart -- let Him in!
Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart — let Him in!

What are you waiting for?!

Invite Jesus into Your Heart and Receive the Gift and Confident Hope of Eternal Life…

Greater is He who is Living in Me

In Christ Alone

Top image by Sweet Publishing from FreeBibleImages.org, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Soli Deo Gloria! To God Alone Be the Glory!


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