Accession and Folly of Rehoboam & The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

I understand that You want people to be monogamous (Gen 2:24, Matt 19:4-6), but even though Solomon had 100’s of wives and concubines Your anger was because he was committing idolatry (Ex 20:4). 

Yet, if Solomon would have walked with You like he should have, he probably would have stayed only with Pharaoh’s daughter?

Rehoboam. Illustration for Old Testament Portraits by Cunningham Geikie (Strahan, 1878). Portraits drawn by A Rowan and engraved by G Pearson.

Rehoboam means “he who enlarges the people”.

He was, according to the Bible, initially king of the United Monarchy of Israel but after the ten northern tribes of Israel rebelled in 932/931 B.C. to form the independent Kingdom of Israel he was king of the Kingdom of Judah, or southern kingdom. He was a son of Solomon and a grandson of David.

His mother was Naamah the Ammonite.

As a result of an Egyptian incursion to control the Philistia coast, the Kingdom of Judah became tributary to Egypt.

“And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king.

And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it, (for he was fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt;)

That they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying,

Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.

And he said unto them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed.

And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?

And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever” (1 Kgs 12:1-7).

Shechem, from the Hebrew word for shoulder, was a city and district in central Israel, in the hill country of Ephraim.

Built on the slope, or shoulder, of Mount Ebal, the city was the site of the first capital of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Shechem was the location of numerous events of Bible History:
* The place is first mentioned when Abram (see Abraham) arrived in what would become the land of Israel. The Lord appeared to him there and promised the land to his descendants. Abram then built an altar there (Gen 12:6-7).

* When Jacob returned from Paddan-Aram with Leah and Rachel, after his meeting with Esau, he purchased land from the sons of Hamor at Shechem (Gen 33:18-19).

* The incident involving Dinah and Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite who had the same name as the city, occurred around Shechem, and it was there that her brothers Levi and Simeon took their revenge (Gen 34:1-31).

* Joseph’s brothers were herding sheep near Shechem before they sold him away to Egypt (Gen 37:12).

* In the time of Joshua, the area was allotted to the tribe of Ephraim (Josh16:1-10, 17:1-18) .

* Joseph’s remains, that the Israelites under Moses and Aaron had brought out of Egypt with them in the Exodus, was buried at the plot of ground that Jacob had purchased there (Josh 24:32).

* After the death of Solomon, Rehoboam was made king of Israel at Shechem (1 Kgs 12:1, 2 Chr 10:1).

* After the Israelites split into two kingdoms, Jeroboam became the first king of the new northern kingdom of Israel at Shechem (1 Kgs 12:25).

* Shechem is not mentioned by name in the New Testament, however Jesus Christ would have often traveled through the city. His conversation with the Samaritan woman occurred in the area (Jn 4:1-26).

But Rehoboam ignored what they had said, and asked the men that had grown up with him, and they said, 

“Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins.

And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day” (1 Kgs 12:10-11).

And he did what they suggested.

After three days the people came to Jeroboam as he had told them what his friends had told him to tell them, and they said,

“…What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents.

But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them” (1 Kgs 12:16-17).

Jehoboam then sent Adoram, who was the head of the taskmasters, to the Israelites in Jerusalem and they stoned him to death, so King Rehoboam  jumped into his chariot and fled. The only Israelites that lived the way David had them live for God were those in Judah. 

Later, Jeroboam returned to Jerusalem and they asked him to become their king again, over all of Israel.  So he assembled the house of Judah, the tribe of Benjamin, and 480,000 warriors to fight against the house of Israel, so he could be king again.

“But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying,

Speak unto Rehoboam,

the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and unto all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the remnant of the people, saying,

Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They hearkened therefore to the word of the Lord, and returned to depart, according to the word of theLord” (1 Kgs 12:22-24).

Jeroboam then built Shechem in mount Ephraim and then built Penuel.

And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David:

If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.

Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.

And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.

And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.

And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.

So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense” (1 Kgs 12:26-33).

The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

The death of Solomon in 922 B.C. marked the end of an era in which one king exercised authority over all the tribes of Israel.  Henceforth, two independent nations emerged: Judah in the south and Israel in the north, each with distinct governments and national character.  

The Kingdom of Judah was the nation formed from the territories of the tribes of Judah, Simon, and Benjamin after the United Kingdom of Israel was divided. It was named after Judah, son of Jacob. The name Judah itself means Praise of God.

It is thought to have occupied an area of about 3,435 square miles, although its borders fluctuated. Map of the southern Levant, ca. 800 B.C.E. The territory of the Kingdom of Judah is colored burgundy.

Judah is often referred to as the Southern Kingdom to distinguish it from the Northern Kingdom (the Kingdom of Israel) after the two entities divided. Its capital was Jerusalem. It endured as an independent kingdom, with intermittent periods of vassalage to foreign powers, from the reign of Rehoboam until the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.

Israel survived the complex international changes of the Iron Age for 200 years (922-722 B.C.), while Judah managed to maintain her identity until 586 B.C.  

In the end both Israel and    Judah succumbed to the great powers of Mesopotamia – Assyria and Babylon – whose spreading tentacles engulfed the smaller states of the Levant. 

This period from 922 to 586 B.C., often called the Divided Monarchy, forms the background of much of the Old Testament.  Many of Israel’s writing prophets –Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, Jeremiah, and others – preached in these crucial times.   

First Kings 12 to Second Kings 25, complemented by Second Chronicles 10-36, covers events of this era.  Several of the Psalms and perhaps other portions of the Wisdom Literature reflect this period.  

All in all, the Divided Kingdom represents a complex but crucial background for understanding much of the Old Testament. 

Israel the Northern Kingdom

The two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, though originating in the empire of David and Solomon, were fundamentally different in character.  Israel, also called Ephraim by the prophets, normally was the wealthier, more powerful, and larger of the two.  

Her borders extended from Bethel northward to Dan, encompassing the Galilee, the hills of Samaria, and portions of the Transjordan, including Gilead and northern Moab.  

Portions of the two major international highways – the International Coastal Highway and the  g’s Highway – transversed Israel’s territories.   Control of these trade routes meant commercial wealth and access to luxury items.

The wealthy Phoenician cities on the northwestern border provided powerful commercial allies to boost the economy.  Israel’s geographical openness to other cultures fostered a cosmopolitanism in her cities and villages, not only in material culture and social customs, but even in religion.  

The Phoenician connection stirred the epidemic of Baalism that Elijah and Elisha so bitterly opposed about 850 B.C.  Politically, Israel centered on the old tribal territories of Ephraim and Manasseh. 

Shechem, Tirzah, and finally Samaria – all located close together in Manasseh – served as capitals. From about 850 B.C. onward, Samaria became the nerve center of Israel until its fall to Assyria in 722 B.C.  

The kings of Israel came from nine different families (see chart below), only two of which survived beyond the second generation.  Kings were selected by prophetic designation and popular assent, but could be removed violently when popular support waned.  

This political instability coupled with the Northern Kingdom’s vulnerability to attack were key factors in Israel’s downfall.

Judah, the Southern Kingdom

Judah’s borders stretched from the territory of Benjamin southward to Kadesh-barnea, although she often controlled much less territory. 

No international route crossed her borders, and natural barriers gave Judah a measure of protection lacking in Israel.  This isolation meant that Judah’s commercial ties were more limited than Israel’s.

King Jeroboam I of Israel (reigning from c.931 to c.911BC) fortifies Shechem to provide himself with a stronghold in the hill country of Ephraim. He also fortifies Penuel, a town across the Jordan near the River Jabbok (see Map 58).

Jeroboam turns away from the LORD and makes golden bull calves for the people to worship Baal in new temples in Bethel and Dan so they will not need to travel to Jerusalem (in the southern rival kingdom of Judah) to worship there;

Tell Dan is located north of Kibbutz Dan. To reach the site, pass the Kibbutz going north, and turn left on the next road following the signs to the Nature Reserve.

The most important commercial ties led southward to the Red Sea port of Ezion-geber and important caravan links through the Negeb.  Only when Judah was strong could these routes be exploited. 

The Edomites persistently battled Judah for these trade opportunities.  Still, the relative isolation of Judah had the important benefit of a more homogeneous population less susceptible to outside influences.

The kingdom of Judah was founded on Jerusalem and the royal house of David.  Jerusalem was both the religious and political center of the nation; the temple housing the Ark of the Covenant was the most prestigious shrine in all the land, giving Judah a political stability that was the envy of other states.

Thus, although militarily and economically weaker than Israel, Judah possessed an innate stability based on her tribal traditions and loyalties, which permitted her to survive more than 130 years longer than her powerful northern rival.

The Division of the Kingdom

When Solomon died in 922 B.C., the tribe of Judah readily accepted his son Rehoboam as heir to the Davidic throne.

Leaders of the northern tribes balked at the prospects of a new king who would follow the social and economic policies of the old regime, policies that they believed favored Judah and placed a heavy burden on their own tribes.

Provisioning the lavish court in Jerusalem with their taxes and providing laborers for Solomon’s building projects sapped thes trength of the northern the tribes.  The result was deep dissatisfaction toward the leadership in Jerusalem.

The emergence of older tribal allegiances compounded the problem.  Both of these troubling issues fanned rebellious sentiment. 

A fateful meeting between Rehoboam and the elders of the tribes occurred at Shechem.  As a condition of their allegiance (1 Kg 12) the elders demanded concessions on the part of Rehoboam – relief from what relief from what they regarded as the harsh excesses of Solomon.  

The volatile situation deteriorated rapidly when Rehoboam rejected outright the elders’ request and threatened stricter measures as a fitting antidote to sedition.  

King Jeroboam I of Israel (reigning from c.931 to c.911BC) fortifies Shechem to provide himself with a stronghold in the hill country of Ephraim. He also fortifies Penuel, a town across the Jordan near the River Jabbok (see Map 58). Jeroboam turns away from the LORD and makes golden bull calves for the people to worship Baal in new temples in Bethel and Dan so they will not need to travel to Jerusalem (in the southern rival kingdom of Judah) to worship there.

Like a flash of Rehoboam’s foolish response struck the heart of the northern tribal elders, who in turn voiced a cry of rebellion against the house of David.

A disgruntled Ephraimite named Jeroboam, a former overseer of Solomon’s forced labor gangs recently returned from exile in Egypt, emerged as the leader of the northern tribes.  

The point of no return had been reached; the kingdom of Solomon vanished, conquered not from without but from within by the passions of older, deeper tribal loyalties. In its place two weaker kingdoms struggled for survival.

Jeroboam quickly consolidated his control over the northern tribes, establishing a capital at Shechem.  However, religious loyalties of his subjects presented a difficult dilemma.  His rival Rehoboam controlled Jerusalem and along with it the temple of Yahweh, which housed the most sacred object of ancient Israel, the Ark of the Covenant.

Jeroboam ordered the building of two temples – one at Dan and the other at Bethel – in which golden bulls were erected, apparently to offset the place of Jerusalem (1 Kg 12:25-33).  Both sites were centers of ancient Israelite tradition and marked the limits of the new kingdom’s borders.

Jeroboam’s new temples seemed well suited to rival the temple of Jerusalem.  The choice of the bull images, however, had fatal consequences.  The bull had long been associated with pagan gods, especially the Canaanite deities El and Baal.

A recently discovered bronze bull figurine from Askelon (from ca. 1400 B.C.) and another found near Shechem (from ca. 1100 B.C.) confirm the idolatrous associations of the image.

Probably Jeroboam intended only to offer Israel a visible alternative to the Ark – upon which the invisible presence of Yahweh was enthroned – when he erected the golden bulls.

Regardless of motives, the effect was disastrous: the golden calves became a focus for idolatry and pagan religion.