12:1-16:28 EARLY DAYS OF THE DIVIDED KINGDOM
Revolt against Rehoboam (12:1-24)
From the time of the judges there had been tension between Judah and the northern tribes, particularly Ephraim. Rehoboam apparently knew of the possibility that the northern tribes would break away from him, and therefore he arranged for a special coronation ceremony in Shechem, one of the more important northern cities (12:1).
Jeroboam decided immediately that he would test Rehoboam’s ability as a leader. He knew that Solomon’s forced labour and heavy taxation policies were unpopular, and he used these to stir up the people against Rehoboam (2-5). Rehoboam realized the seriousness of the situation, but whether he relaxed or tightened his father’s policies, he was doomed to failure. The northern tribes decided to break away from Rehoboam and form their own kingdom (6-17).
Rehoboam tried to force his authority on the rebels by sending his labour chief, Adoram, to deal with them. Adoram was probably the most unpopular person in Israel, and the northerners promptly murdered him. They then invited Jeroboam to be their king (18-20). Rehoboam fled to his palace in Jerusalem, from where he planned to establish his rule in the north by military force. To his credit he changed his mind when a prophet told him that this division was God’s will (21-24).
With the division of the kingdom came the collapse of the empire that David and Solomon had built.
One by one the subject nations regained their independence.
From this point on, the northern kingdom of ten tribes was known as Israel, the southern kingdom as Judah. Judah was the smaller of the two kingdoms in both population and area, and had the poorer country agriculturally, but politically it was more stable. It had an established dynasty, the dynasty of David, and its people, being mostly from one tribe, were fairly well unified.
By contrast there was never a strong unity in the northern kingdom. Reasons for this were the greater number of tribes in the north, the comparatively large population of Canaanites still living in the area, and the natural divisions created by mountains and rivers. Judah was more isolated, but Israel was more open to foreign interference.
The writer’s plan in outlining the history of the two kingdoms is to record the reign of one king to his death, then return to the story of the other king and follow it through the same way. The length of a king’s reign is at times difficult to determine, since in some
cases the king shared the reign with his father during the latter’s last years as king. Sometimes the length of the reign is calculated from the beginning of the joint reign, other times from the beginning of the reign as sole king. Further variations occur because the number of years of a king’s reign may include the years of his ascension and death as full years, even though he reigned for only part of those years.
Writings such as ‘The Books of the Chronicles of the kings of Israel and Judah’, which the writer mentions frequently from here on, are not to be confused with the books called Chronicles in our Bible. Rather they were the official court records of Israel and Judah.
False religion in the north (12:25-33)
Shechem, where Rehoboam had hoped to unite all Israel, now became the capital of Jeroboam’s breakaway kingdom. Jeroboam established a second capital at Penuel, east of Jordan, probably with the aim of holding the allegiance of the two and a half eastern tribes (25). Later he moved his capital a short distance north to Tirzah, which remained the capital during the reigns of several kings (see 14:17; 15:21,33).
Jeroboam saw that his people might be tempted to transfer their allegiance to Rehoboam if they went to Jerusalem for sacrifices and festivals. He therefore set up his own shrines at Bethel (near his southern border) and Dan (near his northern border), complete with his own order of priests, sacrifices and festivals. This new religion included many ideas taken from the religions of Canaan and neighbouring countries. It was a rebellion against God for which the writer of Kings repeatedly condemns Jeroboam. It led Israel into increasing moral and religious corruption over the next two centuries (26-33).