Christian Churches of God
After a period of mourning for Solomon, thousands of people gathered at Shechem to witness Rehoboam being made king. Among those in the crowd was Jeroboam, who had returned from Egypt when he heard of Solomon's death. This paper has been adapted from chapters 111-113, Volume V of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
A Kingdom Divided
We continue here from the paper King Solomon (No. CB103).
A Kingdom divided
Rehoboam, Solomon's son, had come before a public gathering to be proclaimed king officially (1Kgs. 12:1; 2Chr. 10:1), although he had actually been Israel's new ruler from the time of his father's death (1Kgs. 11:43).
Rehoboam's attitude was that of a young man accustomed to what great wealth could provide. He had little interest in the welfare of his people.
Conflict with his subjects started on his inauguration day. Jeroboam, to whom God had promised rulership of ten tribes of Israel, led the whole assembly of Israel and went to meet the new king (1Kgs. 12:2-3).
Jeroboam said to Rehoboam: "For years your father has troubled us with heavy taxes. Lately he has forced many men of Israel into heavy labour on various projects. We can't continue under these conditions much longer. Now we're asking you to help us by lowering our taxes and stopping the draft of men into forced labour."
Rehoboam said. "Come back here in three days. Meanwhile, I'll confer with my advisors. There will be a decision made by the time we get together again" (1Kgs. 12:4-5; 2Chr. 10:2-5).
So the Jeroboam and the people went away.
As he promised, Rehoboam went to men who could advise him. First he asked the opinions of older men who had been advisors to Solomon. They told him that he would be wise to consider doing what the people asked, and that he would be looked up to as a good and fair ruler if he would help them out of their trouble.
Later, Rehoboam also conferred with younger men who were more inclined to his way of thinking.
"Why worry about what the people want?" they asked the king. "Taxes and forced labour aren't hurting them too much. If you decrease what your subjects should give, your income will decrease. Why let the people talk you into something you'll regret? Be stern with them. Show them who's running this nation!" (1Kgs. 12:6-11; 2Chr. 10:6-11).
Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to the king for an answer. Rejecting the advice given to him by the elders, Rehoboam followed the advice of the young men.
He said to the people, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions [metal-spiked leather lashes]”.
So the king did not listen to the people. However, this turn of events was to fulfil what the Lord had told Jeroboam through Ahijah. So this was God’s doing (1Kgs. 12:12-15; 2Chr. 10:12-15).
The people were angry and returned home. Jeroboam wasn't as disappointed as he might have appeared to be. He knew that the people were on the verge of revolting against the king. It was his opportunity to stir them up further, which he promptly did.
As a result, every tribe of Israel except Judah and Benjamin (the small tribe whose territory adjoined that of Judah) rebelled against Rehoboam. As representatives of the ten tribes were returning in disappointment to their homes, Rehoboam sent the chief collector of taxes to speak to them.
Convinced that the people would passively submit to any extra burden he put on them, Rehoboam later sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labour; but all Israel stoned him to death.
Adoniram had served under both David and Solomon (2Sam. 20:24; 1Kgs. 4:6; 5:14).
The frightened king didn't waste time calling for advisors to tell him to leave. He got in his chariot and escaped to Jerusalem, where he knew he would be safer among the people of his own tribe (1Kgs. 12:16-19; 2Chr. 10:16-19).
While Rehoboam was establishing himself in the royal palace, leaders of the ten rebellious tribes met to form a nation separate from Judah and Benjamin. They started by declaring Jeroboam king. His leadership convinced them that he was best fitted to be over them. That was as God had planned it, so that a large part of Israel would be taken from the rule of Solomon's family. Otherwise Jeroboam wouldn't have been allowed to become a ruler, as he wasn't of the royal line (1Kgs. 12:20).
Reports of what was going on quickly reached Rehoboam. He began to realize that matters were much more serious than he had been given to believe. He gave orders that all the soldiers of Judah and Benjamin should be gathered to make war against the rebellious tribes and so regain the kingdom for Rehoboam.
One hundred and eighty thousand troops answered Rehoboam's call. Just when the king was about to send them into action, a prophet by the name of Shemaiah came to tell him and the people of Judah and Benjamin that God didn't want them to war against their brothers of the other tribes. He told them to go home as this was God’s doing. So they obeyed the word of the Lord and went back home. Thus God prevented a civil war He didn't want to take place (1Kgs. 12:21-24; 2Chr. 11:1-4).
All of these things were allowed to happen to bring about punishment on the house of David because of Solomon’s idolatry (1Kgs. 11:9-13).
One of the first things Jeroboam did as king was to rebuild and fortify the mountain town of Shechem, which he occupied with a small army after Rehoboam had fled. Shechem had been mostly in ruins since it had been ravaged by Abimelech nearly two hundred years before. Now Jeroboam planned to make it the seat of his kingdom. He also rebuilt and fortified the town of Penuel, located east of the Jordan near the Jabbok River. It was on a route to foreign cities, including Damascus to the northeast. Manned by Jeroboam's soldiers, it was an important outpost for checking on caravan traffic moving to and from Jerusalem (1Kgs. 12:25).
In his efforts to strengthen himself as ruler, Jeroboam felt he had to do some scheming. He reasoned that if many of his people felt obligated to go to Jerusalem to observe God's annual Sabbaths and Festivals, they might repent of their rebellion and feel that Jeroboam had led them astray.
"They'll surely do away with me if they begin to think that way," Jeroboam thought. "Something will have to be done to keep them away from Jerusalem."
Instead of showing obedience and asking God for help in his office of king, Jeroboam chose to pursue the opposite direction by deliberately leading the people away from God. After seeking advice, the king made two images of calves constructed of gold. One was erected in the town of Bethel, and the other was set up in the town of Dan. Jeroboam then made a proclamation to all his people.
He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go all the way to Jerusalem to observe the festivals. Here are your gods, who brought you up out of Egypt”.
Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests. These "priests" weren't of the family of Levi. They were men of low rank who were willing to conduct sacrifices to idols for whatever they were paid.
Surprisingly, many people fell in with the king's suggestion to break God's Law. Instead of being faithful to their Creator, they began making sacrifices to the calf images. Within only weeks Jeroboam's kingdom was infested with one of the evils God had especially warned the people about over the centuries. As for the real priests – the Levites – who lived in that part of the land, and the other people in the ten tribes who remained faithful to God, they fled to Judah and Jerusalem (1Kgs.12:26-31; 2Chr. 11:13-17).
But Jeroboam wasn't satisfied with the change he had made. God's Festival of Tabernacles was soon to be observed. He feared that this happy time of the year would draw many to Jerusalem, where the festival had been joyfully kept. In an attempt to control his subjects he announced that there would be no reason for them to go anywhere to observe the start of the Festival on the Fifteenth day of the Seventh month. He had officially changed the date to the fifteenth day of the eighth month – the period we now know as Halloween! (1Kgs. 12:32-33).
To attempt to alter the Holy Days established by God was sinful. However, Jeroboam didn't do any worse than others in the mainstream churches today who have worked to change or do away with God's Sabbaths down through the ages. Today many churches keep Easter instead of Passover and Whitsunday instead of Pentecost. Sunday is regarded as the Lord’s day of worship instead of God's weekly Sabbath, and so on. These things will be corrected over the whole world when Christ comes to Earth to rule (Zech. 14:16-19). See the papers God’s Holy Days (No. CB22); Satan’s Days of Worship (No. CB23).
To impress those who came to his centres of worship, Jeroboam often assumed the role of High Priest. One day a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering. "God has sent me from Judah to declare a curse on this altar!" he loudly announced. "A child by the name of Josiah shall be born to the house of David! He, too, shall burn something on this altar, but it won't be incense. It will be the bones of your lying priests who sacrifice here!" (1Kgs. 13:1-2).
These events were fulfilled many years later just as God prophesied (2Kgs. 23:15-17).
That same day the man of God gave a sign: “This is the sign the Lord has declared: the altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out.”
When the king heard this, he stretched out his hand and said, “Seize him!”
Jeroboam thought he could kill the prophet of God because he did not like his message. However, it is God who decides when His prophets are to be killed.
Just then, Jeroboam’s outstretched hand began to shrivel up and he was unable to draw it back or drop it to his side! Then the altar split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God (1Kgs. 13:3-5).
"Pray to your God to make my arm as it was before!" the king said to the prophet.
So the man of God interceded with the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored and became as it was before.
"Come to my home with me and have something to eat," he said to the prophet. "I want to reward you for what you did about my arm" (1Kgs. 13:6-7).
"I wouldn't go with you if you gave me half of your possessions!" the prophet exclaimed. "God told me not to eat nor drink while in this town. I'm not even to return by the way I came, lest evil men wait to harm me."
Jeroboam would have been pleased if he could have known what would soon happen to the prophet. Two brothers who had witnessed what had taken place at the altar hurried home to tell their father, who was also a prophet. The father had failed to leave the country when idol worship started.
"Tell me which way this man went!" the father excitedly asked.
So they saddled a donkey for their father and he rode after the man of God. He found him sitting under an oak tree and asked, "Are you the one from Judah who prayed that King Jeroboam's withered arm would be healed?"
"I am the one," was the answer.
The older man was pleased, and he said to the resting man, "Come with me to my home and have something to eat and drink."
"I have been told by God that while I am here I must neither eat nor drink," the prophet explained. "I am not to accept help from anyone in this idolatrous area. I am not to retrace my steps."
The old prophet answered, "I too am a prophet, as you are. I was told by an angel that I should find you and bring you to my home for nourishment" [but he was lying].
So, the man of God returned with him and they ate and drank in his house. He was hungry and thirsty so wanted to believe that God had spoken to the older man. God was allowing the older man, even in his shameful dishonesty, to test the obedience of the man from Judah (1Kgs. 13:8-19). The prophet from Judah should not have listened.
Later, at the older prophet's home the word of the Lord came to the old prophet. He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, "You have disobeyed by retracing your steps at Bethel and by eating and drinking here. Because you have done this, you will never return home. You will not be buried in the tomb where your relatives are buried" (1Kgs. 13:20-22).
When the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet who brought him back saddled his donkey for him. On the way he was terrified to see a lion standing in the road. The animal rushed toward him and killed him. Those were the prophet's last conscious moments. His punishment was swift for not following and obeying God's instructions. This is a lesson to remind us that if we do not obey God we can expect to suffer the consequences.
Some men who were travelling on the same road a little later were startled to see a lion standing beside a man's body. At Bethel they told several people what they had seen (1Kgs. 13:23-25).
It wasn't long before the old prophet heard about it. His sons saddled his donkey again and he went to look for the slain prophet, whom he found a short distance away. The lion and the donkey were still standing beside the dead body. However, the lion had neither eaten the body nor mauled the donkey. So the prophet picked up the body of the man of God, laid it on the donkey and took it back to Bethel and buried him in his own tomb. This was also to fulfil the prophecy that the body of the man of God would not be buried in the tomb of his fathers (1Kgs. 13:22).
"After I die," the old prophet told his sons, "bury me in my tomb with this man of God. The Lord told him to shout against the altar of Bethel and his curse against the shrines in Samaria will surely be fulfilled” (1Kgs. 13:26-32).
In spite of the supernatural breaking of the altar and the damaging and healing of his arm, Jeroboam didn't cease from the wrong ways he had established. Even in the face of the warning from God about what would happen to the false priests, Jeroboam continued to hire common men who had little ability for those offices. Anyone who wanted to could be a priest. This was a great sin against God and would result in the destruction of Jeroboam’s kingdom and the death of all his family (1Kgs. 13:33-34). It was Israel's great turning point.
To warn Jeroboam one more time of his evil ways, God allowed his son, Abijah, to become very ill. Jeroboam was greatly concerned when the boy didn't recover. No one could tell what caused the sickness or how long it would last. But it was obvious that Abijah couldn't live very many more days if he stayed in his weakened condition.
"Perhaps Ahijah the prophet would know what's wrong with Abijah and what should be done for him," Jeroboam said to his wife. "He was the one who told me that I would become king. Possibly he has other supernatural knowledge."
Jeroboam said to his wife, “Disguise yourself so that you won't be recognized as the queen by anyone who sees you, and go to Ahijah the prophet and ask him if the boy will recover" (1Kgs. 14:1-3).
As gifts for the prophet, she took ten loaves of bread, some fig bars and a jar of honey (1Kgs. 14:3).
Dressing in plain clothes prevented the queen from being recognized on the trip. Deceiving Ahijah obviously would be easy, inasmuch as he was an old man now and had become blind. However, the Lord told him that the queen, pretending to be someone else, was coming to ask about her sick son. And the Lord told him what to tell her.
When Ahijah heard her at the door, he called out, "Come in! I am honoured to be visited by the wife of King Jeroboam!"
"Why have you tried to conceal who you are?" Ahijah asked (1Kgs.s 14:5-6).
Then he said to her, "The Lord God gave me a message for you to take to your husband, the king. You are to tell him all that I'm about to tell you."
"Tell Jeroboam," Ahijah began, "that God wants to remind him that he was given a high honour and a very special opportunity when most of the kingdom of Israel was taken away from the house of David and given to him to rule. He could have become a great man by following David's example of obedience. Instead, he foolishly chose to mislead the people by causing them to turn to worshipping other gods – an evil pursuit in which he has outdone any ruler of Israel before him" (1Kgs. 14:7-9).
"Since Jeroboam has acted so wickedly," Ahijah continued, "God will bring evil times to him. He will lose his rulership. God has already chosen another man to reign in his stead. Any of Jeroboam's family that try to rule Israel will be destroyed by this man. Then God is going to shake this nation as a strong stream shakes a reed. The people shall be driven out of the land and scattered in other countries because they have worshipped the idols their king has set before them.
"As for your son Abijah, whom you came to ask about, he shall die as soon as you return home. None of your husband's family shall receive a proper burial except him because he didn't want his father to set up idols for Israel to worship" (1Kgs.14:10-16).
Then Ahijah told Jeroboam's wife to go home. So, she returned to Tirzah; and the child died just as she walked through the door of her home. Then there was mourning for him throughout the land, just as the Lord had predicted through Ahijah (1Kgs. 14:17-18).
Matters weren't going much better in Jerusalem. Some of the Levites who were faithful priests and many other faithful Israelites had swarmed into Judah from the other ten tribes to escape idol worship (2Chr. 11:13-17). However, after three years, a large part of Judah and Benjamin had turned to the abominable practices and customs of pagan religions. Rehoboam didn't set out to promote idolatry as Jeroboam did, but he was so absorbed in his own interests, including his eighteen wives and sixty concubines, that he failed to give proper attention to the welfare of his subjects (1Kgs. 14:21-24; 2Chr. 11:18-23).
In the fifth year of his reign, Rehoboam received a shocking surprise. A messenger came from the desert of Shur to report that a large army had entered Judah’s territory. Reports disclosed that at least sixty thousand horsemen, twelve hundred chariots and uncountable thousands of footmen were moving steadily toward Jerusalem.
This was the Egyptian army and their allies that were about to attack Israel!
In time the Egyptians captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem (2Chr. 12:1-4).
There was great turmoil in Jerusalem when the Egyptian army came in sight of the capital of Judah. The vast force was led by Shishak, the Egyptian king who had harboured Jeroboam after Jeroboam had escaped a death sentence by Solomon (1Kgs. 11:37-40).
Then Shemaiah, the prophet, came to see Rehoboam and the leaders of Judah who had assembled in Jerusalem for fear of Shishak.
He said, “I have a message from God for all of you. He wants you to know that He has sent the Egyptian army against Judah because you and many of the people of Judah have turned away from the One True God and have taken up idol worship and other ways of perversion. The Egyptians will overrun Jerusalem just as they have overrun your towns that have been taken! You will be completely at their mercy” (2Chr. 12:5).
After Shemaiah had gone out of the room, some of the people dropped to their knees and called out to God to forgive them for what they had done. Others followed the example, but only because they were so desperate that they yearned to cry out for forgiveness and help. Facing death as they did, they were truly remorseful because of their foolish and corrupt ways.
Later, Shemaiah returned to state that he had some news they would welcome.
"God has heard your prayers," the prophet told them. "He knows that you are deeply regretful of leading your people wrongly. Because you have humbled yourselves, God has decided not to allow the Egyptians to destroy you. But they will take this city and you will become their servants and pay tribute. Then you will learn how much better it is to be servants of God than of man" (2Chr.12:6-8).
When Shishak, king of Egypt, attacked Jerusalem, he carried off the treasures of the Temple and the royal palace. He even took the gold shields Solomon had made.
So, King Rehoboam made bronze shields to replace them and assigned these to the commanders of the guard on duty at the entrance to the royal palace.
When the king of Egypt left Jerusalem with the greatest amount of wealth any conqueror had ever taken from a city, that wasn't the complete cost to the Israelites. Because the people of Judah would remain subject to Egypt, Shishak demanded that they send regular tribute to him. Such tribute might not have been possible to raise if the Egyptians had devastated the land and ruined the economy. This drain of wealth to Egypt fulfilled the prophecy of Shemaiah that Judah would become a servant to Egypt (2Chr. 12:8-9; 1Kgs. 14:25-26).
Since Rehoboam humbled himself, the Lord’s anger turned from him, and he was not totally destroyed. In the next few years Judah partly recovered from the invasion. Rehoboam's close brush with death caused him to apply himself more dutifully as ruler (1Kgs. 14:27-28; 2Chr. 12:10-12).
Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem. However, he did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.
There was continual warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam, and these senseless skirmishes went on all the rest of Rehoboam's life.
Rehoboam, Solomon's son, was subsequently buried in Jerusalem where those of the family of David had been entombed. Abijah, one of Rehoboam's many sons, then became king of Judah (2Chr. 12:13-16; 1Kgs. 14:29-31).
Unfortunately, Abijah wasn't much of an improvement over his father. God allowed this young man to reign just long enough – three years – in order that there would be a continuance of the family of David on the throne. Abijah committed all the sins his father had done before him. His heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God as David’s had been (1Kgs. 15:1-5; 2Chr. 13:1-2).
There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam. Abijah went into battle with four hundred thousand men, and Jeroboam drew up in battle against him with eight hundred thousand fighting men (2Chr. 13:3).
When the army of Judah arrived at Mt. Zemaraim, in the hill country of Ehpraim, King Abijah shouted to King Jeroboam and his army.
"Listen to me!" You should know that God has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt. In spite of that, Jeroboam desires to become king of all Israel, even though he is a mere servant of David’s son, and a traitor to his master. Then a whole gang of worthless rebels joined him, defying Solomon’s son Rehoboam when he was young and not strong enough to resist them.
"Do you actually believe that you can defeat the kingdom of the Lord that is lead by a descendant of David?” Abijah (Abijam) continued. "What advantage will your greater numbers be to you as long as you have only your powerless calf images to rely on? And how can you expect victory after having put the priests of God out of your land, replacing them with pagan priests? As for us, we are relying on the God to whom we sacrifice at the Temple at Jerusalem. Only the descendants of Aaron are our priests, and the Levites alone may help them in their work. You would be wise to not fight against us. If you do, when you hear the sound of trumpets from the priests who are with us you will know that you are about to fail in battle!" (2Chr. 13:4-12).
Meanwhile, Jeroboam had sent part of his army around behind the men of Judah to ambush them. They were so filled with fear that many of them called out loudly to God for help. At a signal from Abijam, the priests sounded their trumpets and the men of Judah began to shout.
As they shouted God used King Abijah and the men of Judah to turn the tide of battle against King Jeroboam and the army of Israel; they slaughtered 500,000 of the troops of Israel that day.
So Judah, by depending upon God, defeated Israel and chased King Jeroboam’s troops and captured some of his cities. The king of Judah didn't plan to take over every town in northern Israel. He wanted only to have control over those that were close to Jerusalem. King Jeroboam never regained his power during Abijah’s lifetime, and eventually God struck him and he died (2Chr. 13:13-20).
Because of his confidence in God in the conflict with Jeroboam, Abijah became a stronger king for a time. He married fourteen wives and was the father of thirty-eight children. When he began to fall into his father's ways of living, God allowed his life to come to an end (1Kgs. 15:6-8; 2Chr. 13:21-22).
Asa, one of Abijah's twenty-two sons, became the next king of Judah. Even as a very young man, he had observed how idolatry had brought so much trouble to Israel. As soon as he came into power he began a strong campaign to rid his domain of evil religious practices by destroying pagan altars, images and places where idols were worshipped. Besides, he gave his officers orders to put out of the country all who were found to be sodomites, degenerate men who often posed as priests at places of idol worship.
In banishing idolatry, Asa met with an awkward situation in his palace when he found that his grandmother, one of Rehoboam's wives, was an idol worshipper. She had arranged to have a special idol made and set up in a nearby grove for private worship. It was embarrassing to the king to ban the queen dowager from his court, but he had no choice. As for the idol, it was torn down and burned.
As the purge of his nation progressed, Asa proclaimed that the people should look to God and His Commandments for the only right ways of living, and that only then could they enjoy a time of peace. As a result of changes for the better in the people, there was no war for the next ten years.
Again crowds thronged to the Temple to worship and sacrifice. It was almost as it had been in the early days of Solomon. However, some sacrificed at places they picked themselves, usually close to their homes. The priests and the altar had been established at the Temple so that this wouldn’t happen. Other places should have been removed by Asa. It was the one thing he failed to do in his efforts to help Israel. Otherwise, he lived very close to God (1Kgs. 15:9-15; 2Chr. 14:1-5).
With peace came a measure of prosperity to Judah. It was a time to build new, fortified towns where the borders of the land could be strengthened, and to gather and equip men for better defense. Military might couldn't substitute for God's protection, but if any nation was known to have a small army and poor fortifications, it was almost the same as inviting some greedy king to attack.
As it happened, Zerah the Cushite marched out against them with a vast army and three hundred chariots. Asa went out to meet him and they took up battle positions in the Valley of Zephathah, near Mareshah.
Asa had an army of 300,000 soldiers from Judah, equipped with large shields and spears, and 280,000 archers from Benjamin. These were all brave fighting men (2Chr. 14:6-10).
"Then Asa called to God and said: "Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you. We will go against them in your name, trusting that you will not let them prevail against us, for if they do, and if we are your people, it would be as though they prevailed against you. We know, though, that you have the power to do anything. We're putting our lives into your merciful hands."
“Then the Lord struck down the Cushites before Asa and Judah. The Cushites fled, and Asa and his army pursued them as far as Gerar. A great number of Cushites fell and could not recover. The men of Judah carried off a large amount of plunder. They destroyed all the villages around Gerar, for the terror of the Lord had fallen upon them. They plundered all of these villages and also attacked the camps of the herdsmen and carried off droves of sheep and goats and camels. Then they returned to Jerusalem” (2Chr. 14:11-14, The NIV Study Bible).
We will continue with the series of The Bible Story in the paper Trouble in Israel and Judah (No. CB105).