Guard Against Following Bad Advice
Sunday School Lesson for April 13, 2003
Background Passage: 1 Kings 12:1-14:31
Rehoboam, Rebellion, and the Division of the Kingdom (12:1-24)
In this chapter we are introduced to the reign of “Rehoboam,” the son of Solomon, who followed his father on Israel’s throne. The author relates that Rehoboam journeyed to the city of “Shechem”—a city closely identified with Israel’s patriarchs—in order to be officially declared king in view of “all the Israelites.”
However, when “Jeroboam” (one of Solomon’s chief officials who had earlier staged a rebellion against the king) got word that this had happened, he “returned from Egypt” and was immediately summoned to join with “the whole assembly of Israel” (v. 3). In verse 4, Jeroboam and the Israelite elders went to Rehoboam and began to describe to him how Solomon had abused them with his forced labor policies. Jeroboam proposed that if Rehoboam would “lighten the harsh labor” and remove the “heavy yoke” that Solomon had placed upon the nation, they would faithfully serve him as their new king. In reply to the assembly’s request, Rehoboam demanded a three-day period to reflect upon the answer he would give them.
In response to the request of the people, Rehoboam “consulted” with the “elders” of Israel who had “served his father” (v. 6). The wise men of Israel counseled the king to exhibit a servant-leadership style that would not only meet the needs of his people but would secure their loyalty to him—“they will always be your servants” (v. 7). Richard Nelson comments that the elders of Israel were “suggesting the sort of concessions in taxes and labor that were generally expected upon the accession of any new monarch” . Note that they counseled Rehoboam to provide the people with a “favorable answer.”
Sadly, however, the king totally rejected their suggestions and turned to “the young men who had grown up with him” for advice as to how to answer the people of Israel (v. 8). Unfortunately, these young men proved to be just like Rehoboam. They were “young, ambitious, proud, and insecure,” and they essentially counseled the king to “intimidate the crowd by declaring that he is tougher than Solomon” [House, 182]. They instructed Rehoboam to declare to the people that his demands upon them would be much more severe than his father’s were. Whereas Solomon had “scourged” them with “whips,” Rehoboam will scourge them with “scorpions” (v. 11).
As counseled by his peers, Rehoboam refused to grant grace to his people or to become their servant-leader as the elders had suggested. Thus, he “followed the advice of the young men”(v. 14) and “did not listen to the people”(v. 15). Interestingly, verse 15 tells us that, though Rehoboam made his own choices in this situation, the “turn of events was from the Lord” in precise fulfillment of the prophecy regarding the fracturing of the kingdom spoken through “Ahijah the Shilonite” (cf. 11:11-12). Therefore, we at once realize that this episode “maintains the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility that pervades all of Scripture” [House, 182].
In verses 16-21 the kingdom of Israel does indeed become divided as Rehoboam attempts to enact his harsh forced labor practices. When the king sent “Adoniram” to enforce his policies the people “stoned him to death,” thereby registering their utter refusal to come under the authority of David’s son (v. 18). With this, the northern tribes rebelled against Rehoboam (v. 19) and made Jeroboam the “king over all Israel”(v. 20). As a result, Rehoboam was left to rule “only the tribe of Judah” (v. 20).
Having been utterly rejected by the ten northern tribes, Rehoboam decided to muster 180,000 “fighting men” to invade Israel in order to “regain the kingdom” (v. 21). However, the Lord commissioned “Shemaiah the man of God” to go to Rehoboam with a divine message forbidding military action against his “brothers”(v. 24). The prophet also communicated that what had happened with the division of the kingdom was in direct fulfillment of the divine decree—“for this is my doing” (v. 24).
Jeroboam and the Corruption of Worship (12:25-31)
Having been declared king of Israel (v. 20), Jeroboam quickly rebuilt and established the city of “Shechem” as the capital of the northern kingdom (v. 25). This city was not only “an important ancestral location (Gen. 12:6), but it also guarded the Northern Kingdom’s west-east pass” [House, 183]. Following this move, Jeroboam then sought to solidify his control over the kingdom by initiating sweeping changes in the religious structures of the nation (vv. 26-27). Fearing that the Israelites might one day turn their hearts again toward Rehoboam, he sought the advice of allies who encouraged him to establish new centers of worship in the cities of “Bethel” and “Dan” (vv. 29-30). Note that this strategy involved gaining the approval of the people for such a move by appearing to be concerned about the distance they had to travel in order to worship in Jerusalem (v. 28).
As this action by Jeroboam is evaluated, seven sins against the Lord become evident [see Wiseman, 143-144]:
· First, he destroyed the unity of the covenant community both spiritually and physically (vv. 25-27).
· Secondly, he created man-made idols—“two golden claves”—to be worshipped as national deities (vv. 28-30). In reality, these calves were fertility symbols associated with pagan worship practices.
· Third, he increased the role of local sanctuaries, and diminished the importance of a central place of worship (vv. 29-30).
· Fourth, as a consequence of #3, he diverted worship away from Yahweh and the Jerusalem temple where His presence and Name were located.
· Fifth, he arrogantly took upon himself the role of priest—“he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built in Bethel” (vv. 32-33).
· Sixth, he introduced non-Levitical priests—“he appointed priests from all sorts of people” (v. 31).
· Finally, he totally reorganized the religious calendar in complete disregard for the commands of Yahweh—“On the fifteenth day of the eight month, a month of his own choosing . . . he instituted the festival for the Israelites” (32-33).
One: Blundering your way to the throne—Look carefully at 12:1-15 and see if you can identify the major errors Rehoboam made in his bid to become king.
Two: Effective leadership—Contrast the leadership style of Rehoboam with that of noteworthy and successful leaders in Scripture you are familiar with.
Three: Motives and agendas—What was Jeroboam’s real motive for constructing additional worship centers? How is this same sin, that of constructing your own religion, committed today?
Four: Fatal mistakes—What fatal errors did Jeroboam make in his relationship with both God and his people?