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KD Old Testament Lesson 27: A Divided Kingdom

Posted by Karl D. on July 12, 2010

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Solomon
Reading: 1 Kings 12-14, 2 Chronicles 17,20

The reading this week covers the split of Israel into two kingdoms. Jeroboam becomes the king of the northern kingdom (the ten tribes) and Rehoboam becomes the king of the southern Kingdom (Judah). These notes primarily highlight questions and thoughts regarding the introduction of Jeroboam and Rehoboam.

2 The Rejection of Rehoboam

2.1 Chiastic Outline of 12:1-20:

Following Walsh I outline the narrative as follows:1

A. Narrative introduction (12:1-3)
   B. The first interview with Rehoboam (12:3-5)
      C. Rehoboam consults with the elders (12:6-7)
      C' Rehoboam consults with the youngsters (12:8-11)
   B' The second interview with Rehoboam (12:12-17)
A' Narrative conclusion (12:18-20)

2.2 Rehoboam Went to Shechem

Read 1 Kings 12:1-5

(1) And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king. (2) 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;) (3) That they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying, (4) 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. (5) And he said unto them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed.

2.2.1 The Importance of Shechem

Why did the people meet in Shechem (Shechem as a place is prominent throughout this chapter)? Well, at the very least it is pretty close to a central location (see map 10). Also, Joshua gathered the tribes together at Shechem (Joshua 24:1):

(1) And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.

Given this backdrop Joshua’s beautiful plea to Israel comes to mind (Joshua 24:15):

(15) And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

  • Let’s go back to the original question. Why did the people meet in Shechem?
  • Choosing a king is linked with Israel’s covenant with Jehovah. The king is the anointed one. Possibly the meeting in Shechem is a reminder of this fact. It also reminds us that the king must help Israel keep its covenant.

2.2.2 Jeroboam in this Pericope

Jeroboam is in Egypt (but comes to Shechem … apparently he is a very fast traveler). Also these verses specifically mention Solomon’s use of forced labor for his building projects and how Solomon greatly increased taxes (tribute).

  • To me this conjures up Moses and Exodus imagery. What do you think? Do you think the author intends for us to see Jeroboam as a figure like Moses and Solomon as a figure like Pharaoh (at this point in the narrative)?
  • Suppose I am right and this is definitely Moses/Pharaoh imagery. Does the Moses imagery make a theological point? Does it possibly teach us something about God and his relationship with Israel?
  • Suppose I am right and this is definitely Moses/Pharaoh imagery. Isn’t it a little bit strange to apply Moses/Exodus imagery to Jeroboam given how Jeroboam behaves later in the book of Kings?

2.2.3 Backing Up: More Imagery Surrounding Jeroboam

Let’s back up a tiny bit. At the end of chapter 11, Ahijah the Shilonite anoints Jeroboam to be King over ten tribes.

35 But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand, and will give it unto thee, even ten tribes. 36 And unto his son will I give one tribe, that David my servant may have a light alway before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there. 37 And I will take thee, and thou shalt reign according to all that thy soul desireth, and shalt be king over Israel. 38 And it shall be, if thou wilt hearken unto all that I command thee, and wilt walk in my ways, and do that is right in my sight, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did; that I will be with thee, and build thee a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel unto thee.

And in verse 40 the narrator relays some information about Solomon and Jeroboam:

40 Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam. And Jeroboam arose, and fled into Egypt, unto Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon.

Jeroboam does flee to Egypt in verse 40 but it doesn’t strike me as Moses imagery here. Instead, it feels more like Jeroboam as David and Solomon as Saul imagery to me. I think this imagery is even stronger if you read all of chapter 11. For example, both Samuel and Ahijah are prophets from Shiloh.

  • So the author has potentially wrapped Jeroboam in both David and Moses imagery. Why these images particularly in light of Jeroboam’s future?
  • I can’t help but think that the author wants to forcefully relay the possibility of a new beginning here … A new David … A new Moses. Why drive home this possibility? What does it tells us about God and about God’s relationship with Israel? Also, are the parallels (particularly the David parallels but also the Moses parallels) double-edged?2
  • I wonder if one point of all this imagery is that the Lord does not give up on us? The Lord can create a new beginning for us?

2.3 The Advice of Old Men

Rehoboam asks for advice from the older men (Solomon’s Advisors). Read 1 Kings 12:7:

(7) 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.

  • What exactly are the older advisers suggesting? Is there some ambiguity here?
    1. If you want to be King take a moderate course. I like this image because it links kingship with humility. If Rehoboam wants power he must first humble himself. Why is humility important in this context?
    2. Just tell the people what the want to hear, and then when you have consolidated power you can whatever you want. I kind of like this reading because it emphasizes the miraculous nature of Jeroboam coming to power. The Lord sustains who he anoints.

2.4 The Advice of Young Men

Rehoboam ignores the advice of the older men, and turns to his younger advisors. Read 1 Kings 12:10-13:

(10) And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, 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. (11) 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. (12) 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. (13) And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him;

  • What do we learn about Rehoboam in these verses?
  • What does the phrase, “my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” mean?
  • Does this part of the narrative reconnect with the Egypt and Pharaoh image?

    Rehoboam (successor to Solomon) plans to increase oppression: Reminds me of Ex. 5 when Pharaoh increases the Israelites burden after Moses demands their freedom. The no straw stuff. Rehoboam hardens his heart.

  • Rehoboam’s advisors and Rehoboam (a few verses later) express a pretty crude little rhyme (commentators point out the underlying Hebrew rhymes3). Does the euphemistic rant reveal something important?

3 Gold Calves

3.1 Jeroboam is Worried

Read 13:25-27:

(25) Then Jeroboam built Shechem in mount Ephraim, and dwelt therein; and went out from thence, and built Penuel. (26) And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: (27) 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.

  • What do we learn about Jeroboam?
  • Are Jeroboam’s concerns valid?
  • Does anything strike you as odd about these verses?
  • How do Jeroboam’s concerns and manner contrast to what Solomon did when he gained power?
  • Shechem was already an old city by the time of Jeroboam, so what does the writer mean here when he says that Jeroboam built it?
  • Jeroboam leaves Shechem? Is that important?

3.2 Jeroboam Makes Two Gold Calves

Read Kings 13:28-33:

(28) 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. (29) And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. (30) And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan. (31) 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. (32) 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 Beth-el, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed in Beth-el the priests of the high places which he had made. (33) So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Beth-el 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.

  • Notice how the Moses link is extended and reverses in a powerful way. Jeroboam’s exodus ends in a startling way. Instead of being connected with Moses he is powerfully linked with the worst part or moment of the Exodus. Jeroboam uses exactly the same words to introduce the golden calves as Exodus 32:1,4.
  • The gold calves are images or sculptures of young bulls.4
  • Verses 25-27 and 28-30 seem in such tension with each other. Jeroboam’s intentions seem good to me but then all a sudden in verses 28-30 he rejects Jehovah and embraces idol worship. Does this seem strange or am I misreading something? Is it possible that Jeroboam isn’t engaging in or promoting idolatry but deserves to be condemned anyways? Is it possible this is a later ex post unfair judgment on the part of a Judean author?
  • I do think it is possible (probable?) that Jeroboam and Israel were not worshiping these young bull sculptures. I think there is a good chance the calves were symbols (even if the author of Kings sees them and condemns them as idols).

3.3 Modern Historical Scholarship and Jeroboam

Richard Nelson in the HarperCollins Bible Commentary provides these comments about Jeroboam:5

Modern historical scholarship tends to judge Jeroboam less harshly than the writer of Kings did. Jeroboam was probably following traditional Northern worship practices. The bull images at Dan and Bethel certainly represented the Lord, not some idolatrous alien god. Both Dan and Bethel, situated on the northern and southern borders of Jeroboam’s kingdom, had been sanctioned as worship sites in earlier periods (Judg. 18:30; 20:18 -> Bethel; Dan). Moreover, the multitude of high places had existed long before the monarchy as local shrines to the Lord, and not all early priests were necessarily Levites (cf. Judg. 17:5). In celebrating the Feast of Booths in the eighth month, Jeroboam was probably following the established liturgical calendar of the North.

Suppose that modern historical scholarship is basically right on this issue and Jeroboam was not introducing idol worship.

  • Could there still be something quite wrong about what Jeroboam did?
  • Are there any hints in the text that support the view from modern historical scholarship?

3.4 A Prophet From Judah

The Lord sends a prophet from Judah to condemn Jeroboam. Read 1 Kings 13:2-3:

(2) And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee. (3) And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the LORD hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.

  • Notice the prophet doesn’t single out the calves. Does this suggest that the calves are merely a symptom of a larger problem rather than the problem itself?
  • Is the cow ever a symbol in approved ancient temple worship? What about modern temple worship?
    • The oxen in Solomon’s temple clearly come to mind.
    • The red heifer used in ritual purification.

3.5 The Bull and Baal

There are clear links between Baal and bulls. Baal has intercourse with Anat (The War Goddess) and a steer is born. Furthermore, in the apocryphal Old Testament text Tobit we find the following in Tobit 1:5:

All the tribes that joined in apostasy used to sacrifice to the calf Baal, and so did the house of Naphtali my forefather.

  • Note: Scholars estimate a date of about the 3rd century BCE for Tobit.
  • If the Bull is both a symbol of Jehovah and Baal what does this tell us about Jeroboam?
  • Even if Jeroboam’s intentions or motives are pure this move could have easily confused the people. Or Jeroboam may have chosen this symbol precisely because of its dualism.
  • This may suggest that Jeroboam’s high places became dual purpose. Is this possibly worse than if Jeroboam was just worshiping Baal?

3.6 Some Final Thoughts About the Calves

Suppose Jeroboam did not engage in idolatry in that case would it be fair to say that ultimately Jeroboam loses his kingdom because he refused to trust the Lord? Why or why not?

4 Abijah Falls Sick

Read 1 Kings 14:1-6

(1) At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick. (2) And Jeroboam said to his wife, Arise, I pray thee, and disguise thyself, that thou be not known to be the wife of Jeroboam; and get thee to Shiloh: behold, there is Ahijah the prophet, which told me that I should be king over this people. (3) And take with thee ten loaves, and cracknels, and a cruse of honey, and go to him: he shall tell thee what shall become of the child. (4) And Jeroboam’s wife did so, and arose, and went to Shiloh, and came to the house of Ahijah. But Ahijah could not see; for his eyes were set by reason of his age. (5) And the LORD said unto Ahijah, Behold, the wife of Jeroboam cometh to ask a thing of thee for her son; for he is sick: thus and thus shalt thou say unto her: for it shall be, when she cometh in, that she shall feign herself to be another woman. (6) And it was so, when Ahijah heard the sound of her feet, as she came in at the door, that he said, Come in, thou wife of Jeroboam; why feignest thou thyself to be another? for I am sent to thee with heavy tidings.

  • Does this story remind anyone of another Old Testament story?
  • What are the similarities between the Isaac, Jacob, and Esau blessing story and what are the differences?
  • Are the differences instructive?

4.1 A Prophet Condemns Jeroboam

The prophet has heavy tidings and condemns Jeroboam and his house. Read 14:10-11.

Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone. 11 Him that dieth of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat: for the LORD hath spoken it.

  • Why the crude language?
  • What does “and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall.” mean?

    It laces the condemnation with a continued stream of phrases that equate Jeroboam with waste. If only indirectly in the first one.

4.2 The Queen of Heaven

Read 1 Kings 14:15

(15) For the LORD shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and he shall root up Israel out of this good land, which he gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their groves, provoking the LORD to anger.

The KJV version translates Asherah poles as groves. See “Nephi and His Asherah,” 2000, Daniel C. Peterson, JBMS, farms.byu.edu for a Mormon interpretation of Asherah.


1 Walsh, J. T., 1196, Berit Olam: 1 Kings, The Liturgical Press, 70.

2 Walsh, J. T., 1196, Berit Olam: 1 Kings, The Liturgical Press, 70.

3 Devries, Simon J., 2003, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Kings, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 158.

4 Nelson, Richard D., 2000, “1 Kings” in Harper Collins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 288.

5 Nelson, Richard D., 2000, “1 Kings” in Harper Collins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 288.

6 Responses to “KD Old Testament Lesson 27: A Divided Kingdom”

  1. Carole said

    In 1 Kings 8, we find that Solomon is dedicating the temple. Could you tell me why he was the one to dedicate this temple and not the Prophet of that time? This was puzzlement to me as I studied the lesson.
    By the way, you lessons and blog are a great help in studying the Old Testament. Keep up the good work!

    • Karl D. said

      It’s a good question and I don’t think I have a good answer (hopefully someone else will chime in with a better answer).

      One of the issues here could be that it is simply not possible to map our modern ecclesiastical structure into this ancient setting. At the very least king at this time was a religious position (in part). The King was the “anointed one” (language related to Messiah) and from the beginning of his reign we see Solomon involved in temple rituals. Also, we may be in a period with no “dominant” prophet (like Samuel a little earlier or Elijah a little later) but rather multiple or at least several prophets. Thus Solomon may stand as a central religious leader at this point and really may be the natural choice.

      • Jim F said

        I don’t have an answer either, but I have a strong suspicion: I think your suggestion “it is simply not possible to map our modern ecclesiastical structure into this ancient setting” is probably right.

      • BrianJ said

        Also, I would think that the question should be who was the high priest at the time, not who was the prophet. Only in our modern church are those two positions always filled by the same person.

  2. reed russell said

    Hadn’t Solomon sent the High Priest into exile for siding with Adonijah?

  3. Melissa said

    Just one of the two high priests.

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