By Jay T. Robertson, Ph. D.
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, University of Mobile
1 Kings 12:6–19
King Solomon died in 931 B.C., and his son, Rehoboam, ascended to the throne. Significantly, Rehoboam’s coronation was not held in Jerusalem but in Shechem. It was a city notable for its connection to Abraham and Jacob and as the place where Joshua led the nation in a renewal of their covenant with God. More importantly Shechem was in northern territory. Rehoboam’s journey north for his coronation reveals he knew the grievances of the northern tribes had to be heard.
Jeroboam, a former servant of Solomon, was summoned out of exile in Egypt to lead the northern tribes as they met with Rehoboam in Shechem. They wanted relief from Solomon’s policies that had become increasingly oppressive. Those policies had favored Solomon’s own tribe of Judah. This heavy yoke included harsh labor and an oppressive tax burden. Their request was not unreasonable. They did not demand the removal of all the burdens imposed, but only that the king would lighten them.
Experience Speaks (6–7)
When Rehoboam heard the grievance of the people from the northern tribes, he asked for three days to formulate a decision. In order to make his decision, he first consulted the elders who had served his father.
The elders gave Rehoboam a twofold response. First, he should be a servant leader to the people. Second, he should respond to their request with kind words. The elders knew this response would go a long way in building bridges. The people in the north had grown weary of being forced labor for Solomon’s building projects located primarily in Jerusalem and Judah. They were fed up with having to pay high taxes for the upkeep of the temple and the royal court.
The elders assured Rehoboam if he followed their counsel the people of the northern tribes would be his servants forever. They knew people will follow leaders they trust and who will not exploit them for selfish reasons. If Rehoboam chose to serve the people, he would not lose authority. He would earn credibility and their loyalty.
Arrogance Reigns (8–15)
Rehoboam rejected the counsel of the elders. He was not interested in being a servant leader.
Rehoboam consulted with the pampered young men (literally “children”) who had grown up with him in the palace.
These young men knew what he wanted to hear. They believed in intimidation and domination, not servant leadership. They celebrated Solomon’s hardships and mocked the peoples’ request. They told Rehoboam to intimidate the crowd by declaring he was tougher than Solomon ever dreamed of being.
Rehoboam promised the northern tribes they could expect greater burdens.
He abused his position by answering harshly. He refused to negotiate or compromise in any way. He responded with inflammatory, threatening language.
Up to this point, we see men acting on the basis of their sinful desires. The hand of God has been unseen, but it has not been absent. Verse 15 says, “This turn of events came from the Lord to carry out His Word” (see 1 Kings 11:29–39). God was not coercing the action. Rehoboam was acting freely, but his actions accomplished God’s sovereign plan.
Division Ensues (16–19)
The people rejected Rehoboam’s authority over them. They denied any responsibility to David’s dynasty and left Rehoboam to rule Judah. One poor decision tore down in a few days what David and Solomon had labored 80 years to achieve. Rehoboam fled for his life while Jeroboam became the king in the north, fulfilling God’s word. The once-thriving kingdom was divided.