The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king.Rehoboam
1 Kings 12
REHOBOAM ("he enlarges the people") was the only son of Solomon. His mother was an Ammonitess called Naamah. He began to reign when he was forty-one years old, and he reigned seventeen years. Why mention his mother? Because destiny is often determined by parentage. Life is not a child's game, played with wooden pieces; its secrets are often deep—lying far back in unexpected places, and flashing out ages afterwards in great surprises. Rehoboam was emphatically his mother's child.
"All Israel were come to Shechem to make him king." Possibly the Ephraimites insisted that he should go to their city to be crowned; possibly it was a clever stroke of policy on the part of Rehoboam: he may have submitted to an apparent indignity to please the vanity of the restless mountaineers; but where God is working out a plan; all our little schemes and aims are drawn into it as the whirlpool sucks all streams and currents into its mighty and terrible sweep.
Shechem, the metropolis among the mountains of Ephraim, lay thirty-four miles north of Jerusalem, and seven miles south of Samaria. Shechem was a city of refuge (Joshua 20:7)—a centre of union to the tribes (Joshua 24:1, Joshua 24:25). Abimelech had reigned there (Judg. ix.). Abimelech destroyed the city, but it was rebuilt and made the capital of Ephraim. Shechem is now called Nablûs.
When it is said that all Israel went to Shechem, it may mean that delegates representing Israel went to that city. In great national crises the people speak through their properly qualified representatives. It may have been so in this case.
"And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it (for he was fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt)" (1Kings 12:2).
Jeroboam, when taken notice of by king Solomon, was the son of a widow (Zeruah), and was exceedingly energetic—a man who could take charge of large works and carry them out with success. Solomon had an eye for capable men, and he selected Jeroboam to superintend the works which he was establishing in his kingdom. Jeroboam was not only a mighty man of valour, but remarkable as being "industrious," and therefore king Solomon made him ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph (1Kings 11:28). Perhaps we think this was honour enough for the son of Nebat, who was one of the king's servants, and the son of "a widow woman." Perhaps Jeroboam thought so too; but men do not fix the bounds of their own habitation, nor determine their own destiny. One day, when Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, a prophet called Ahijah met him, and they two walked alone in the field; and Ahijah took a new garment, rent it into twelve pieces, gave Jeroboam ten of them, and explained to him that he (Jeroboam) would one day be king over Israel. Solomon heard about this, and it made him furious. He sought to kill Jeroboam, and so he who was one day to be a king fled away into Egypt, put himself under the special protection of Shishak, king of that country, and waited there until the death of Solomon. Great destinies are worth waiting for. Many men are now in obscurity who will one day be called to honour and influence. God's promises seem sometimes to be turned upside down, so much so that it is difficult to distinguish them from temptations. What was Jeroboam to think when he was driven from a high position into exile and poverty? Truly he might think that he had been misled by a shadow in the water. But the time of his manifestation was at hand. Jeroboam was in Egypt when Solomon died, but he was in Shechem when the tribes assembled there. It would appear that as soon as he heard of the death of Solomon he returned out of Egypt.
Now that we have all the characters before us we may imagine the scene. Shechem, a city in the mountains of Ephraim; Rehoboam, the son of a king, going up to be acknowledged and crowned; the people ill at ease, yet not unwilling to be loyal to the new king if he will but show himself gracious to them and lessen their burdens; Jeroboam at the head of the deputation, and the following speech made:
"Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee" (1Kings 12:4).
Earnest men do not make exaggerated demands. Mere disturbers would have claimed a great deal; they would have said, We must ask much in order to get little; we must demand a thousand if we would get a hundred. But these men were not mere disturbers. They were animated by a patriotic and solemn purpose, and they said neither more nor less than they really meant. True strength does not weaken itself by exaggerations.
"And he said unto them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me" (1Kings 12:5).
This is important, as showing that Rehoboam knew what he was doing. There could be no after-thought of insanity, or no suggestion of having been unduly urged and driven by impulsive people. These short verses in human history are often charged with great meanings.
Now mark what follows as still further confirming this view. Rehoboam consulted with the old men, the veterans who had stood before Solomon his father, and they, as became the dignity of age and the fulness of their experience, gave counsels of conciliation; Meet the people, said they, and they will be thy servants for ever. But Rehoboam turned to the young men, the men who had grown up with him, and they said, Say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins, and now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. This answer Rehoboam gave on the third day. We may well ask, How is such insanity to be accounted for? The answer is in the fifteenth verse: "The cause was from the Lord." He sends men strong delusion that they should believe a lie. He blinds whom he means to destroy. An awful doctrine in one aspect truly, but a very gracious one in another; gracious, because it is infinitely better that all such insanities should be of the Lord's sending and under the Lord's control, that they should be parts of a great scheme ending in mercy, than that the world should be the sport of eccentric minds and its policies and advancements the playthings of idiot rulers. If you ask whether there is not some better way than that taken by the Lord in the case of Rehoboam, I answer, The Lord reigneth, and our wisdom, apparently so excellent, is foolishness before him.
"So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel; now see to thine own house, David" (1Kings 12:16).
This is commonly read as a threat of war, but is more critically read as a "a warning against interference." The Speaker's Commentary says, The meaning of "Now see to thine house, David," seems to be, Henceforth, house of David, look after thine own tribe, Judah, only.
"But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them" (1Kings 12:17).
Now from this time we must make a distinction. Israel will represent the ten seceding or revolting tribes, and Judah will represent those Israelites who acknowledged Rehoboam as king. This is the great division.
"Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the tribute; and all Israel stoned him with stones that he died. Therefore king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem" (1Kings 12:18).
Not the home-coming that the king expected. He might have brought back with him the allegiance of the whole nation, instead of that he brought but the small following of Judah and Benjamin. Adoram was probably sent with some offer of better terms. The king had probably seen his mistake and was now willing to concede the demands of the deputies. He would reduce the heavy taxation, or mitigate the forced labour. But it was too late! Beware of this word too late! Kings exist for peoples, not peoples for kings.
Ver. 20. When all Israel, i.e., all the people in the most literal sense, and not the delegates only, had heard that Jeroboam was come again, they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel. Thus the prophecy was fulfilled. Thus tyranny was broken, and thus a great rent was made in human history.
Now what are the lessons of world-wide importance that are here taught? (1) God is the King of kings; (2) Great power, without great wisdom, becomes tyranny; (3) All divine promises are made conditionally: David's sons did evil, and therefore the kingdom was almost wholly taken from them; (4) Loyalty to kings must bend to loyalty to God; (5) Let nations put their trust in God, and he will work out their deliverance. What is true of nations is true of individuals.
"An ancient French counsellor, being asked by his king to lay down some general rules for government, took a piece of paper, and wrote on the top of it 'moderation,' in the middle of the leaf 'moderation,' and at the bottom 'moderation'"—Trapp.
"But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him" (1Kings 12:8).—"It was the custom in different countries to educate with the heir to the throne noblemen of nearly the same age. This answered two great and important ends: (1) it excited the prince to emulation, that he might as far as possible surpass his rivals in age; and (2) that he might acquire a good knowledge of those who were to hold the highest offices under him "—Adam Clarke.
"The usurpation of the throne was Jeroboam's first sin, to which he added a second and much greater one immediately after his ascent of the throne—namely, the establishment of an unlawful worship, by which he turned the political division into a religious schism, and a falling away from Jehovah, the God-King of his people "—Keil.
"Rehoboam's oppression of the people was a sin; yet, you will observe, the people had no right to complain. They had brought this evil on themselves; they had obstinately courted and struggled after it. They would have 'a king like the nations,' a despotic king, and now they had one they were discontented. Samuel had not only earnestly and solemnly protested against this measure, as an offence against their Almighty Governor, but had actually forewarned them of the evils which despotic power would introduce among them."—Newman.
The Sin of Jeroboam
1 Kings 12
Kings must build. The enlargement and decorations of cities is pleasant to subjects. They sometimes mistake building for security, as for example in the case of Jericho.
Jeroboam built Shechem. (See Judges 9:45.) The meaning is that Jeroboam enlarged and fortified the old capital of Ephraim, which was now to become the royal city of Israel. Antiquity has always been an element of value. No new city could have had the charm of Shechem. How to attach the new to the old has always been a critical problem for all leaders.
Jeroboam also built (restored, completed, fortified) Penuel. The ancient name was Peniel. (See Genesis 32:30.) Penuel was on tolerably high ground, higher at all events than Succoth. It lay on an important route and commanded the fords of Jabbok. (See Judges 8:17.) Gideon destroyed the fort or tower, and probably Jeroboam rebuilt it. The exact site of Penuel is now unknown.
"And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: if this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam, king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam, king of Judah" (1Kings 12:26-27).
It was easier to do the outward work of building, than to do the inward work of establishing the loyalty of excited men. This reflection gives an insight into the character Jeroboam. (1) He was far-sighted; (2) he was highly imaginative; (3) he was appalled by the very grandeur of his own success. It began to overweight him. It threw a shadow on the future. Now all these characteristics are only good so far as they are turned to good purposes. They are amongst the highest qualities or powers, but they may be turned to the ruin of their possessor. Edged instruments sometimes tempt men to commit suicide.
This reflection also throws light upon the new position of Jeroboam; (1) the old might re-assert its supremacy; (2) through the religious emotions political ascendency might be re-established; (3) the people were part of a great whole, and Rehoboam was their lawful king. It will therefore be intensely interesting to find out how a shrewd and powerful man will conduct himself in such a crisis. Here is the answer:—"Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan" (1Kings 12:28-29).
There are many lessons arising out of this arrangement, lessons of universal application; let us try to seize some of them.
(1) Here is a distinct oversight of Jeroboam's divine call to the throne.
(2) Here is an attempt to meet earthly difficulties by earthly stratagems. The help of heaven is not invoked. The king took the case wholly into his own hand.
(3) Here is an attempt to pass off the counterfeit for the real,—the two golden calves were set up as God. The religious element in human nature must be provided for. Kings have to consider it. Scientists must not ignore it Even atheists have to cope with it. These be thy gods,—Money, Nature, Self, Continuity, Development.—It is for the Christian teacher to set up the true God and Saviour of the world.
(4) Here is the distinct abuse of divine providence. Jeroboam was called to the kingdom by the Lord, yet the very first thing he does is to ignore the Lord who called him, and put up two calves of gold in his place. Success ill-used is the ruin of any man. The prosperity which forgets the God who gave it is the greatest calamity of human life. Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked.
(5) Here is an instance of the ease with which discipline is relaxed, and a proof that relaxed discipline leads to the loosening and deterioration of character. "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem," said the king. An appeal to the weak side of human character.—It is an appeal made today; (a) you are not fit to go to church; (b) it is too far to go; (c) the weather is unfavourable. It is easy to set man in downward motion.—When discipline is relaxed, the whole character will easily fall to pieces. (6) Here is the exact value which Jeroboam put upon the intelligence and dignity of his subjects. He gave them a calf for a god! Refined people will have refined gods. Refined gods will help to make a refined people. In this respect the Christian religion pays the highest tribute to human intelligence. It calls men to a God infinite in every perfection. An argument in support of the Christian religion may be founded on this fact.—Judge a religion by its god.—Judge a people by the kind of god that will satisfy them.—If a calf will do, what must be their intelligence? If nature will do, what must be their emotion? If science will do, what must be their moral sense? If nothing will do, what must be their whole organisation?
On the side of the people there was (1) Utter forgetfulness of the solemn and holy history of Israel; (2) a moral lethargy that exposed itself to every temptation; (3) a spiritual debasement that preferred personal ease to religious discipline.—People who can be content with a calf for a god may well be content with a rebel for a king.—The perversion of religious feeling carries with it the perversion of all other feeling.—As worship is debased, patriotism is enfeebled.
"And he set, the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one even unto Dan. And he made an house of high places, and made Levites of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi" (1Kings 12:29-31).
Jereboam's power of management comes out here; he excelled in organisation. The calves were set up at opposite ends of the kingdom. Note the lessons: (1) Clever management of religious affairs is no proof of personal piety or godliness. (2) There is a temptation when religion is taken under imperial patronage or direction to subordinate the religious to the political—Jeroboam said in effect, "I must take care of the kingdom whatever comes of the Church: the king first, and God afterwards." (3) How possible it is to make people believe that holy places make holy deeds. Herein see the cunning of Jeroboam. Bethel and Dan were both sacred places; the one, Bethel, would touch the sentiment of the southerns; the other, Dan, would touch the sentiment of the dwellers in northern Palestine. (About Bethel see Genesis 28:11-19, Genesis 35:9-15, 1Samuel 7:16. About Dan see Judges 18:30, Judges 18:31.) (4) Observe that when impious kings venture to make priests they make convenient tools for themselves. They are afraid of high intelligence, noble character, divine inspiration, and daring power.—They want their own servants, not God's.—The true ministry is called of heaven.—If Jeroboam first offered the office to the Levites and they refused it, their refusal was a proof of their divine election.—The expression "made priests of the lowest of the people" means literally "from the ends of the people," equal to "from all ranks of the people."
"So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel; and he offered upon the altar and burnt incense" (1Kings 12:33).
Thus the king himself became a priest: his power of management and scheming is once more brought to bear. He who had managed great imperial works of a material kind was tempted to measure his intellectual sagacity against religious problems. So Jeroboam set up a system of his own. He changed the festival month. Where everything has been appointed and determined by God no change is permissible. Under such circumstances he who would change a date would change a doctrine. God specified for the candlesticks and the snuffers as well as for the mercy seat and the cherubim.—Having brought the office of a priest into contempt, the king sought to make it respectable by assuming it himself,—so we patch our own poor work, and cover our decrepitude with a mantle of gold.
The leading object of Jeroboam's policy was to widen the breach between the two kingdoms, and to rend asunder those common interests among all the descendants of Jacob, which it was one great object of the law to combine and interlace. To this end he scrupled not to sacrifice the most sacred and inviolable interests and obligations of the covenant people, by forbidding his subjects to resort to the one temple and altar of Jehovah at Jerusalem, and by establishing shrines at Dan and Bethel—the extremities of his kingdom—where "golden calves" were set up as the symbols of Jehovah, to which the people were enjoined to resort and bring their offerings. The pontificate of the new establishment he united to his crown, in imitation of the Egyptian kings. He was officiating in that capacity at Bethel, offering incense, when a prophet appeared, and in the name of the Lord, announced a coming time, as yet far off, in which a king of the house of David, Josiah by name, should burn upon the unholy altar the bones of its ministers. He was then preparing to verify, by a commissioned prodigy, the truth of the oracle he had delivered, when the king attempted to arrest him, but was smitten with palsy in the arm he stretched forth. At the same moment the threatened prodigy took place, the altar was rent asunder, and the ashes strewed far around. This measure had, however, no abiding effect. The policy on which Jeroboam acted lay too deep in what he deemed the vital interests of his separate kingdom, to be even thus abandoned; and the force of the considerations which determined his conduct may in part be appreciated from the fact that no subsequent king of Israel, however well disposed in other respects, ever ventured to lay a finger on this schismatical establishment. Hence "the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, wherewith he sinned and made Israel to sin," became a standing phrase in describing that iniquity from which no king of Israel departed (1Kings 12:25-33; 1 Kings 13).