16 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. 17 But Rehoboam reigned over the people of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah. 18 Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labor, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And King Rehoboam hurried to mount his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. 20 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.
21 When Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, 180,000 chosen warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon. 22 But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God: 23 “Say to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, 24 ‘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 12:16-24 ESV
Reigning over the 12 tribes of Israel had never been an easy task. Even the great King David had found it difficult to win over the allegiance of all the tribes when he first ascended to the throne. After the death of King Saul, David’s own tribe of Judah immediately crowned him as their king. But the rest of the tribes anointed Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth as their king. This included Gilead, the Ashurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and all Israel (2 Samuel 2:9). For seven-and-a-half years, David would reign over the tribe of Judah, while the rest of the tribes gave their allegiance to Ish-bosheth. But eventually, these two factions ended up doing battle with one another.
There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker. – 2 Samuel 3:1 ESV
After a long and protracted struggle, Ish-bosheth was assassinated by two of his own soldiers, leaving the 11 tribes of Israel in a state of disarray. Eventually, they settled their dispute with Judah and agreed to accept David as their king.
So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years. – 2 Samuel 5:3-5 ESV
Each of these tribes was characterized by a strong independent streak and a natural desire for autonomy. While they had all demanded that Samuel the prophet appoint a king over them, they would have each preferred that he choose a man from their own particular tribe. And this strong tribal allegiance made it difficult for any of Israel’s kings to rule without experiencing some form of unrest or dissatisfaction from the various clans. Ruling over this confederation of 12 tribes required diplomacy and humility. No king could expect to manage this diverse conglomeration of autonomous people groups through intimidation or brute force.
And yet, here was Rehoboam, the new king of Israel, attempting to do just that. Having heard the request of his people that he rescind some of his father’s more abusive policies, Rehoboam ignored their plea and threatened them with even worse conditions.
“My father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!” – 1 Kings 12:14 NLT
Emboldened by the foolish counsel of his inexperienced peers, Rehoboam had decided that intimidation was better than negotiation. He stubbornly refused to make any concessions and, in doing so, he ended up alienating ten of the 12 tribes of Israel. In just a matter of minutes, Rehoboam managed to destroy the kingdom his father and grandfather had spent 80 years building.
When all Israel realized that the king had refused to listen to them, they responded,
“Down with the dynasty of David!
We have no interest in the son of Jesse.
Back to your homes, O Israel!
Look out for your own house, O David!”
So the people of Israel returned home. – 1 Kings 12:16 NLT
Centuries later, Jesus would make a statement that powerfully illustrates the folly of Rehoboam’s decision: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Matthew 12:25 ESV). In a single act, fueled by youthful pride and arrogance, Rehoboam had managed to destroy one of the greatest nations on the face of the earth.
The people of Judah and Israel were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore; they had plenty to eat and drink and were happy. Solomon ruled all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These kingdoms paid tribute as Solomon’s subjects throughout his lifetime. – 1 Kings 4:20-21 NLT
Rehoboam had inherited his father’s wealth, crown, and vast domain, but it seems that his father’s wisdom had been non-transferable. He was operating in ignorance and determined to do things his own way. And he would learn the painful lesson from one of the many proverbs his father had collected.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. – Proverbs 14:12 ESV
This stubborn young man refused to believe that his kingdom was lost. In a futile effort to quell what he saw as an insurrection, “Rehoboam sent Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labor, to restore order, but the people of Israel stoned him to death” (1 Kings 12:18 NLT). Rehoboam quickly discovered that he was a king without a kingdom. He had lost control over the entire northern region of the nation and was left with nothing but the land belonging to the tribe of Judah as his domain. And the author of 1 Kings makes sure that his audience understands the gravity of the situation.
And to this day the northern tribes of Israel have refused to be ruled by a descendant of David. – 1 Kings 12:19 NLT
This was not a temporary setback, but a permanent realignment of the political, civil, and religious fortunes of the nation of Israel. What happened that day would have long-term implications for all 12 tribes. And, as the author points out, this entire scenario had been according to the sovereign will of God. It had all been His doing. Yes, Rehoboam had played his part, alienating his fellow Israelites by refusing to listen to their calls for justice. But God had already warned that this was going to happen. It was His judgment against Solomon for his sin and rebellion.
The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord’s command. So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants.” – 1 Kings 11:9-11 NLT
This was God’s will. And yet, Rehoboam continued to stubbornly refuse to accept his fate. In a last-ditch effort to restore his kingdom, he assembled an army of 180,000 men from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin with the intent to fight a civil war against his own people. But God graciously intervened.
“Say to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, ‘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.’” – 1 Kings 12:23-24 NLT
Rehoboam would not be able to thwart the will of God. The die had been cast. The outcome was set in stone. The nation had been divided and no one would be able to restore it to its former glory. And the rest of the book of 1 Kings will chronicle the somewhat sordid history of the divided nation of Israel. Virtually overnight, what had once been a rich and powerful kingdom had been reduced to a shadow of its former glory. The ten tribes in the north became the nation of Israel, while Judah eventually joined forces with the tribe of Benjamin to form the nation of Judah. And these two nations would not only find themselves constantly at odds with one another but also with God. The unfaithfulness displayed by Solomon would continue on both sides of the border between these two nations. For generations to come, the people whom God had chosen would choose to disobey and dishonor Him. And yet, throughout it all, He would continue to display His love and grace, sending His prophets to call His people to repent and return. Despite their unfaithfulness, He would remain faithful.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson