1 Kings 12 Commentary: A Kingdom Divided

1 Kings 12, a pivotal chapter in the Old Testament, marks a significant turning point in the history of Israel.

This chapter delves into the complex and consequential events following the reign of King Solomon, leading to the division of the united kingdom into two separate entities: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.

The narrative centers on Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, whose pivotal decisions and interactions with the people set the stage for this historic split.

The chapter not only highlights the political and social dynamics of the time but also offers insights into themes of leadership, wisdom, and the consequences of actions.

1 Kings 12:1-4, Israel’s Demand for Lighter Burdens

After King Solomon’s death, the people approached his successor Rehoboam with grievances concerning the harsh labor and heavy yoke placed on them by Solomon.

The people appealed for relief from these difficult burdens and service requirements instituted under Solomon’s reign.

This set the stage for Rehoboam to either alleviate the people’s burdens through wise and merciful leadership or perpetuate oppression through foolishness and severity.

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

1 Kings 12:4, ESV

The people’s demand reveals the tensions arising from Solomon’s extensive building projects and the forced labor used to implement them. This passage foreshadows a potential crisis and turning point based on how Rehoboam responds to this appeal.

1 Kings 12:5-11, Seeking Counsel and Rejecting the Elders’ Advice

When faced with the people’s request, Rehoboam first sought counsel from the elders who advised appeasing the people by lightening their load, speaking kindly, and serving them. However, Rehoboam arrogantly disregarded the elders’ insightful advice rooted in experience and wisdom.

But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him.

1 Kings 12:8, ESV

Instead, he turned to the young men he had grown up with, who advocated for harshness and intensifying the burdens to display authority.

And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. And now, whereas 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 scorpions.’”

1 Kings 12:10-11, ESV

Rehoboam’s foolishness in rejecting the elders’ counsel and heeding inexperienced advice would prove catastrophic for the kingdom’s unity.

This interaction demonstrates how seeking wisdom is essential for righteous leadership, yet pride and arrogance can blind leaders to prudent counsel.

1 Kings 12:12-17, The Harsh Response and its Consequences

Acting on the foolish advice of the young men, Rehoboam declared to the assembled Israelites that rather than lightening the burdens he would intensify them with even harsher service requirements.

This severe stance prompted swift rebellion among the people. The ten northern tribes rebelled, killin Adoram, and only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

Rehoboam’s harsh and arrogant response split the unified kingdom passed down from David and Solomon. His foolish rejection of wise counsel resulted in a national crisis and the fracturing of Israel.

And 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. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” So Israel went to their tents.

1 Kings 12:16, ESV

1 Kings 12:18-20, The Division of the Kingdom

In the aftermath of Rehoboam’s disastrous decision, the once unified Israelite kingdom was fractured.

Jeroboam rose up to rule over the 10 rebel northern tribes as king of Israel. Meanwhile, Rehoboam maintained kingship over the southern kingdom of Judah.

And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David but the tribe of Judah only.

1 Kings 12:20, ESV

This schism reveals the catastrophic consequences of Rehoboam’s foolishness and lack of wise leadership.

His failure to heed prudent counsel led directly to the divided kingdom, compromising the strength and solidarity of the nation.

1 Kings 12:21-24, Rehoboam’s Failed Attempt at War

After the rebellion and division of Israel, Rehoboam unwisely sought to wage war against Israel to enforce his power. However, the prophet Shemaiah forbade this military aggression, acknowledging it was from God.

‘Thus says the Lord, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives the people of Israel. Every man return to his home, for this thing is from me.’” So they listened to the word of the Lord and went home again, according to the word of the Lord.

1 Kings 12:24, ESV

This failed attempt at war further exposes Rehoboam’s inability to lead Judah rightly.

Resorting to force when wisdom and diplomacy were required demonstrated his inadequacies as a leader.

1 Kings 12:25-33, Jeroboam’s Idolatry in Bethel and Dan

While Rehoboam’s failed leadership compromised Judah, Jeroboam also proved to be an unrighteous leader over Israel. He rebelled against God by establishing idolatrous calf worship in Bethel and Dan.

Jeroboam likely feared that retaining the Temple in Jerusalem as a place of worship would turn the people’s hearts back to Rehoboam. However, instituting idolatry revealed distrust in God’s protection and prioritization of power over obedience to the commandments.

So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one.

1 Kings 12:28-30, ESV

Thus, both kings were fundamentally compromised – Rehoboam by folly and Jeroboam by spiritual rebellion. Their unrighteous leadership catalyzed the moral downfall of the now divided kingdom.