Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 5 2019 - 1 Kings 11:41-12:24 – Solomon's death and a divided kingdom

Jeroboam son of Nebat was one of king Solomon's officials, placed in charge of part of his labour force (1 Kings 11:26-28). One day, when Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah met him. The prophet said that because of the idolatry of the children of Israel, God was going to give ten of the twelve tribes of Israel to Jeroboam to rule over. Only the tribe of Judah would be left to be ruled by Solomon's successor. This prophecy would be fulfilled only after Solomon's death.

Somehow, Solomon heard about this and tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt and stayed there until Solomon's death. And that is where we pick up the story in today's reading.

After Solomon's death, his son Rehoboam travelled to Shechem where all Israel had gathered to see him anointed as king. But Jeroboam raced back from Egypt and become spokesman for "the whole assembly of Israel" in a confrontation with Rehoboam demanding, "Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labour and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you" (12:4). These words make it clear that the common people had suffered enough of the high levels of taxation and conscripted labour Solomon had imposed on them to support his extravagant lifestyle and impressive army. They seem willing to acknowledge Solomon's son as their king, but only if he does not demand as high a price from them as had his father.

Rehoboam askes for three days to consider their demands; days in which he consults his advisors.

The elders who had served Solomon during his lifetime had probably witnessed first-hand the growth of Solomon's court and of his army and the toll it had imposed on the people. They wisely advised Rehoboam, "If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favourable answer, they will always be your servants" (12:7). They were advising Rehoboam to return to God's model for the one who would be king over his people, the servant king. This was a model that had been exemplified for a while in king David, the shepherd king. (For David's humility, see 1 Chronicles 17:16-27.)

But this advice did not please Rehoboam who seems to have a high view of his own dignity and rights as a royal prince, soon to be king. So, having rejected the advice of the elders, Rehoboam turns to some of the young men who had grown up with him, probably in the privileged environment of Solomon's court. They advised Rehoboam to answer the people's demands by saying, "My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions" (12:10-11). And that's what Rehoboam did, provoking a revolt by all the tribes of Israel except Judah.

So the prophet's words were fulfilled. Jeroboam became king over the ten northern tribes, confusingly now known as Israel, and Rehoboam became king over the tribe of Judah in the south – and over the smaller tribe of Benjamin. Solomon had been famous for his wisdom, Rehoboam his son will be forever remembered by the people of God for his folly.

In David's greater son, the Lord Jesus Christ we have one who did not grasp on to his own dignity and position. He left his throne in glory to come into this world not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for sinners. And because he was glad to give himself for us, so we are now glad always to be his servants. His kingdom will know no end.

Father God, give us, by your Spirit, the wisdom not to think of ourselves more highly than we should, but to value others more highly than ourselves. Above all, fill us with love and devotion towards our Lord Jesus Christ, the Servant King. Help us always to follow him in the path of faithful obedience and service.

Peter Misselbrook