I Kings 12

The Word Made Fresh

1Rehoboam went to Shechem where he was to be crowned king by all the Israelites. 2Jeroboam son of Nebat was still in Egypt when he heard the news. 3They sent for him, and he and all the leaders of Israel approached Rehoboam. They said, 4“Your father laid a heavy burden on us. If you will make things easier for us, we will serve you.”

5Rehoboam told them, “Come back in three days and I’ll have your answer.” They left, 6and Rehoboam met with some of the older leaders who had counseled his father, Solomon. He asked them, “What answer do you think I should give them?”

7“If you will be a servant leader of these people and speak kindly to them when you answer them, they will serve you forever,” they said.

8But he rejected their advice and asked the young men who had grown up with him and stood at his service, 9“How do you think I should answer these people who want me to lighten their workload?”

10They told him, “This is what you should tell these people who want you to make their work easier: say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11Do you think my father put a heavy burden on you? I will make it heavier. My father stung you with whips. I’ll sting you with scorpions!'”

12Three days later Jeroboam and the people came back to Rehoboam as the he had directed them. 13The king answered them roughly. He paid no attention to what the older men had counseled 14and instead took the younger men’s advice. He said, “My father made you work hard. I will make you work harder! He whipped you. I’ll sting you with scorpions!” 15He would not listen to the people because the LORD was bringing about the word the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat.

16When the people of Israel realized the king would not listen to them, they said, “We have no share in David. We inherited nothing from the son of Jesse. Go home, Israel! Mind your own business, David!” And they left.

17Rehoboam was still king over those Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah. 18He sent Adoram to take charge of forced labor, and they stoned him to death. Rehoboam quickly mounted his chariot and fled to Jerusalem. 19And that is how Israel rebelled against the house of David as they still do today.

20When word got out in Israel that Jeroboam had returned, they called an assembly and asked him to appear. They made him king over all of Israel. None of the people of Israel remained under the rule of the family of David except for the tribe of Judah.

21When Rehoboam arrived at Jerusalem he summoned the people of Judah and Benjamin and mustered one hundred eighty thousand soldiers to fight against Israel and restore the kingdom to Rehoboam son of Solomon. 22But the word of God came to Shemaiah, God’s man, 23to speak to king Rehoboam of Judah, son of Solomon. He said, “Tell all the tribe of Judah and of Benjamin and all their people 24that the LORD says you should not go and fight your relatives, the people of Israel. Everyone should go home,” and he said, “This is from God.”

The people obeyed the word of the LORD and returned to their homes.

25Jeroboam built up Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. Then he fortified Penuel. 26He thought, “The kingdom might very well return to the house of David 27if these people continue to go up to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the LORD in the temple. They might be persuaded to return to their slave master, king Rehoboam of Judah.” 28So, he asked for advice, and made two golden calves. He told the people, “You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods who brought you up out of Egypt!” 29He set up one of the calves in Bethel and the other in Dan. 30This caused the people to sin, because they went to worship the golden calves at Bethel and Dan. 31He also built shrines on the hilltops and appointed priests from among the populace who were not Levites. 32He established a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, corresponding to the festival being held in Judah. He offered sacrifices on the altar at Bethel to the golden calves he had made. He quartered his shrine priests in Bethel. 33He went to his altar in Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month to offer incense. The whole affair was his idea and his alone.


1-5: Rehoboam goes to Shechem to be crowned by the northern tribes, and there, of all people, we find Jeroboam. Jeroboam, a leader of the tribe of Ephraim, has been cooling his heels in Egypt all this time, but obviously has maintained contact with the folks back home and waiting for this opportunity to return. He is the one who challenges Rehoboam to relax the policies of his father Solomon. Solomon had of course levied heavy taxes and labor requirements on the northern tribes, but not on Judah (4:7-19). Rehoboam asks for three days to consider the request.

6-11: Rehoboam hears the advice of his father Solomon’s advisors, that he should accede to the request of the northern tribes. However, his own cadre of young ambitious courtiers thinks he should drop the hammer on them.

12-15: So, Rehoboam summons Jeroboam and the representatives from the northern tribes and lays down the law.

16-19: The northern tribes understandably see this as evidence that they will never be accorded an equal status with the tribe of Judah as long as they are ruled by a descendant of David, and they refuse to accept Rehoboam as their king. Rehoboam is unbelievably dense; he actually sends somebody to order them to get back to work, and they stone the poor fellow to death.

20: Jeroboam is quickly acclaimed king of Israel. Judah and Benjamin are left as the only tribes under Rehoboam’s rule. Benjamin is the tribal home of King Saul and his descendants (1 Samuel 9:1), while David was of the tribe of Judah.

21-24: Rehoboam musters an army to try to subdue Israel by force but is advised by Shemaiah that the division of the kingdom is God’s doing. Rehoboam sends his troops home.

25-33: Jeroboam builds up Shechem as his capital. He reasons that his hold on the northern tribes will be weakened if the people continue to go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, so he goes about setting up his own cult in Israel. He builds temples in Bethel and Dan, at both ends of his territory, and makes two golden calves like the ones Aaron had made in the wilderness. He evens makes the same claim for them: “These are the gods who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” Remember that Jeroboam had spent a number of years in exile in Egypt as a guest of Pharaoh Shishak, and had married the pharaoh’s sister-in-law. His son Genubath has been raised as an Egyptian. His new religion probably follows closely what he learned there. He goes so far as to appoint his own priesthood, ignoring the primacy of the tribe of Levi for those duties. He also institutes a rival religious festival so his people won’t be enticed to go back to Jerusalem.


Disaster. Judah, which early on paired with Benjamin, has always been set apart from the other tribes of Israel. Solomon’s practice of forced labor of the people, though not of the people of Judah, was bound to result in the separation of the tribes eventually. Rehoboam’s stubbornness — after all, he was the king! — sealed the fate of the kingdom. When will human beings learn that all of us are children of God — “red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in [God’s] sight”? If we teach that to our children, we have no excuse for not living it.