The death of Solomon ended the greatest period in the history of Israel, the United Kingdom. This was followed by the Divided Kingdom which lasted 388 years. At Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam ascended the throne. His subjects had long chafed under the heavy taxation of Solomon. Led by Jeroboam, a general of Solomon’s, they asked Rehoboam to lighten their load.
Rehoboam foolishly replied, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke.’ 1 Kings 12:14. The people were so angry with this reply that ten of the twelve tribes revolted against Rehoboam and crowned Jeroboam as their king. Jeroboam’s kingdom became known as the northern kingdom of Israel.
Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained with Rehoboam in the southern kingdom of Judah. (The little tribe of Benjamin was so small it was virtually swallowed up by the tribe of Judah.) 2 Kings and the last part of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles tell the complete story of the Divided Kingdom.
The story of the northern kingdom is not a happy one. During its 253 years of history, it had one bad ruler after another, not a single one of its 19 kings actually being ‘good’. Nine dynasties or families of kings reigned during this time. Several kings were murdered and their places were taken by usurpers.
Jeroboam was so afraid that the people would go back to Jerusalem in Judah to worship and desire Rehoboam for their king that he set up two golden calves at Dan and Bethel for them to worship.
So angered was God at his action that He sent Ahijah to him to predict the downfall of Jeroboam’s house and the doom of Israel. The prophet declared, ‘The Lord shall smite Israel and he shall root up Israel out of this good land and shall scatter them beyond the river.’ 2 Kings 14:15.
After Jeroboam’s death, idolatry became even more rampant than before, and under Ahab, the seventh king, worship of the idol god Baal was introduced. During its first eighty years, the northern kingdom was almost continuously at war with Judah. The ascension of Ahab to the throne sank Israel to its lowest depths.
Ahab married a foreign woman, Jezebel, daughter of the king of Tyre. She brought along her idols and soon abolished the worship of Jehovah in Israel.
It is doubtful that a more evil, unscrupulous woman is described in the entire Bible and Ahab was so spineless that he yielded to his wife’s evil designs.
God sent the prophet Elijah to cry out again this idolatry. Elijah conducted a contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, and when they were proved false he had them slain. This intensified their determination of Jezebel to kill Elijah, but she never succeeded in her attempt.
Perhaps the best of all the kings of Israel was Jehu who succeeded Ahab’s son as king. With a ruthless determination, he had Jezebel killed and Baal worship abolished. But his zeal ran out and he never did away with the golden calves set up by Jeroboam.
Of most of the kings who followed Jehu, it is said they ‘departed not from the sins of Jeroboam.’ Israel’s political strength reached its greatest height since Solomon under Jeroboam II, but idolatry again grew worse.
God carried out His promise made by Ahijah to punish and scatter Israel. In 722 B.C. the powerful Assyrian king carried the people of Israel into Assyria. They never returned. From this point, the story of the Jews is that of the Kingdom of Judah.
Judah was smaller and weaker than Israel. Yet, through its 388 years of history, it remained much closer to God. Several kings were very good and on the whole, the bad was not as evil as those of Israel. All were of the family of David.
Judah began to decline under Rehoboam, but during the reigns of good kings Asa and Jehoshaphat, a great revival swept the land. In the following years, Judah borrowed the religion of Baal from Israel. It remained for King Hezekiah to completely root out idolatry. He and his great-grandson Josiah were the two best kings to rule Judah.
But Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, was as evil as Hezekiah was good. In his fifty-five year reign, he introduced every form of idol worship he could think of and even burned his own children with fire as a religious rite. This caused God to promise through the prophets that Judah would be sorely punished for its idolatry.
After Josiah became king he set out to bring the people back to God. When the lost book of the law was found in the temple, Josiah instituted such a religious revival as his people had never seen. Following Josiah’s death, Judah descended rapidly.
All the remaining kings were bad and weak. Judah was soon made a ‘satellite’ of Babylon, and when the kings dared to rebel, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 606 B.C. carried most of the people into captivity as the Assyrians had done with Israel over 100 years before.
Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, governed a few that remained, but in 587 B.C. he too and most of the rest were also carried into Babylon. This punishment of God taught the Jews a lesson. Never again did they return to idolatry.
Rehoboam goes to Shechem which was north of Jerusalem to meet with the people so that he can be made king. Jeroboam probably remembers what Ahijah the prophet told him concerning him reigning over ten tribes, 1 Kings 11:29-33, and so, he had earlier ran away to Egypt because Solomon had tried to kill him, 1 Kings 11:40, comes with a request that Rehoboam lightens the harsh labour and heavy yoke from his people that Solomon had put on the people, 2 Chronicles 10:1-11:4.
Solomon’s taxes were just too much for the people and so the northern tribes had every right to make this request because most of the money from taxes came from the northern tribes and most of it was spent in the south in Judah and Jerusalem.
Rehoboam speaks to the elders, these were the men who stood before Solomon when he was alive and reigned as king, and it appears that Solomon never listened to their complaints. It appears that Solomon was a bit of a dictator who refused to listen to the counsel of the elders.
The young men appear to be very dictatorial in their attitude toward the people, no doubt they were like this because they were spoiled by the king whilst living in the king’s court. In other words, they didn’t want to give up their lavish lifestyles.
We can see from Rehoboam’s decision that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and rule as a dictator so that he can continue to live in luxury as king.
As always, with this type of leadership, the rich get richer and the poor pay more taxes which results in them becoming poorer. It’s very clear that all Rehoboam is interested in is looking after himself, he didn’t care about anyone else.
When Israel saw that the Rehoboam refused to listen to them, they ask, ‘what share do we have in David, what part of Jesse’s son?’ They were basically saying if the northern tribes were to be burdened with a heavy taxation that would only go to David’s house in the south, then the northern tribes would feel that they could no longer be loyal to any descendant of David who was king.
There were several devout Israelites who emigrated to Judah so that they could remain under the rule of Rehoboam but also so that they can worship God in the manner in which God wanted to be worshipped in Jerusalem, 2 Chronicles 11:16.
Adoram was probably the same officer as the Adoniram of 1 Kings 4:6, and some believe that he might have been either a son or grandson of David’s Adoniram.
Rehoboam tried to regain his reign in the northern tribes by sending Adoram so that he could put them into forced labour, however, he was stoned to death. By doing this, the northern tribes sent a clear message to Rehoboam that they were rebelling against him and they have now officially split from Judah and Rehoboam.
Think about this, in just one day, because Rehoboam listened to the young men, and because of Rehoboam’s response to the northern tribes, we see Israel dividing into two kingdoms, and Rehoboam’s reign is reduced to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The northern kingdom will now be known as Israel and the southern kingdom will now be known as Judah.
When we read about the southern tribe of Judah, we must remember to include the tribe of Benjamin because most of them were absorbed into Judah. Because the land of Simeon was divided between the north and south, much of the tribe of Simeon was also included in Judah. The northern kingdom was to be known as Israel and the southern kingdom was to be known as Judah.
Whilst Rehoboam gathered as much men together as he could to go to war against the northern king, he receives a message from God through Shemaiah the man of God.
The message was simple, Rehoboam must give up his plans in trying to conquer the northern tribes. The reason for this is because it was God’s plan to divide the kingdom, 1 Kings 11:26-39, and Rehoboam will fail in his quest to try and unite them again because he would be going against God’s will. Rehoboam wisely listens to what God says and obeys Him and everyone returned home.
After Rehoboam was told to back away from his plans by God, Jeroboam goes on to fortify Shechem. Shechem was going to be Jeroboam’s new capital during his rule over the northern kingdom, but he would later make Tirzah his capital, 1 Kings 14:17. Later when Omri becomes king, he reaffirmed Samaria as the capital of the northern kingdom, 1 Kings 16:24.
Whilst Jeroboam ruled from Shechem he did more building work to the already existing buildings which were there, Joshua 24:11 / 1 Kings 12:1. He also fortified the city of Penuel and added to the buildings which were already in existence, Genesis 32:24-32 / Judges 8:8-9 Judges 8:17.
Jeroboam knows if his people go to Jerusalem to worship, they will end up giving their allegiance to Rehoboam. We must remember it was never God’s plan to have a temple built in the first place, 2 Samuel 7:5-7, it was never God’s plan to have a temple built in Jerusalem in the first place. Jerusalem was simply too far away from the northern tribes for them to travel and offer their sacrifices.
Jeroboam knew that Jerusalem was simply too far away, takes advantage of the situation and builds altars in Bethel, sometimes called Luz, Genesis 28:10-21 / Genesis 35:5-15, and in Dan, sometimes called Laish, Judges 18:24-31.
By doing this Jeroboam had deliberately kept the people away from Jerusalem, so that they wouldn’t become loyal to Rehoboam but sadly, he also kept them away from the ark of the covenant which was situated in the temple. In other words, he gave the people a religious system which was more convenient for them because this would save them a lot of time and energy travelling back and forth to Jerusalem.
Notice that Jeroboam has two golden calves made and says, ‘here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ These words are the same words which Aaron used when he made the golden calf at Mount Sinai, Exodus 32:4 / Exodus 32:8.
When the Israelites made a golden calf at Mount Sinai, God killed three thousand of them because of their idolatry, Exodus 32:27-28, and it’s very clear that God wouldn’t be too pleased with that Jeroboam is doing here in his idolatrous act.
Notice in Bethel, that he was ‘sacrificing to the calves he had made.’ He wasn’t making sacrifices to God anymore but to the calves. These calves were pagan images which looked like the Egyptian idols, Apis and Mnevis.
Jeroboam is now absorbed in idolatry and introduces new religious practices and brings about new religious beliefs. He doesn’t use Levitical priests and changes the feast dates to suit the people.
He could easily do this because the people around at this time didn’t have a copy of God’s Word, Hosea 4:6. Because he wanted to please the people so that they would stay loyal to him, he actually ended up causing the people to sin against God because of their practices and beliefs.