The preceding chapters chronicle the decline in Solomon’s reign, but this was not a decline by the world’s standards. His kingdom continued to grow in riches and fame, but Solomon sowed the seeds of Judah’s eventual apostasy and decline. Solomon imposed an unfair system of taxation on the northern tribes; he gave away 20 towns in Galilee to the King of Tyre, calling them good for nothing. This violated their tribal lands and installed foreign rulers over the Israelites. Solomon fulfilled the Temple obligations, but his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD. He acquired great wealth and loved many foreign women who he allowed to lead his away from the LORD.
Here begins the pattern where God raises up people and nations that will threaten the throne of David’s descendants. The first is Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s tax collectors for the northern kingdom. The Prophet Ahijah delivers the message that 10 northern tribes will be torn away from his kingdom and Judah will be left with just two tribes to rule. Jeroboam will rule the Northern Kingdom and Solomon’s son Rehoboam will rule in Judah. God promises to build an enduring dynasty in the north, “If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statues and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you.”
However both Solomon and Jeroboam did not act in the ways of King David, Solomon attempts to kill Jeroboam like Saul did with David. And Jeroboam attempts to seize the throne from Solomon instead of honoring God’s anointed King, allowing God to work according to His timing, also unlike King David. Jeroboam flees to Egypt for his safety and Solomon dies.
Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, travels to Shechem to be crowned king of the Northern tribes. There he is met by Jeroboam, called back from Egypt to represent the northern tribes. They request reforms from Rehoboam, the work and tax imposed on them is too high, if you lighten our work and taxes we will serve you, meaning that they will acknowledge him as King. Rehoboam asks for three days to consult with his advisors; Solomon’s advisors say “if you show a willingness to help these people and grant their request, they will be your servants from this time forward.” But Rehoboam rejects their wise advice and went the bad advice of his cronies, thus setting in place all events to fulfill the prophecy of Ahijah. If fact we are told that “The king refused to listen to the people, because the LORD was instigating this turn of events so that he might bring to pass the prophetic announcement he had made through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat”.
The northern tribes reject Rehoboam as their king and summoned Jeroboam and made him king over the 10 northern tribes of Israel. Rehoboam prepares to attack the north, but the prophet Shemaiah intervenes to warn Judah against attacking Israel and they obeyed the LORD.
1 Kings continues with the account of Jeroboam’s reign, Jeroboam could have been an instrument of blessing for Israel. He was divinely chosen and given promises that his dynasty would continue and prosper if he obeyed the Lord. He chose Shechem as his capital, a politically and spiritually significant spot. Then out of fear that the northern tribes might switch their loyalty to the house of David if they went to Jerusalem to worship he set up alternative worship sites for Israel. Jeroboam placed golden calves in Bethel and Dan and built temples on the high places, and removed the Levites as priests. He designated alternative festival dates for Israel, and then offered up sacrifices to the calves he had made. Jeroboam adopted the style and sites of pagan worship and entangled them with the worship of the LORD.
Just as Jeroboam is offering up his sacrifices a prophet from Judah arrives to deliver a message from the LORD. In 300 years, King Josiah will be born; he will sacrifice the priests of the high places on this altar. Then he announced a sign that confirmed that his message is from God. The altar will be split open and the ashes will fall on the ground and at that moment the altar spit in two. Remember that signs are given to prove that the prophet came with God’s authority, this was a clear sign of God’s condemnation of the altars and worship that Jeroboam built.
This is followed quickly by two more signs that confirm God’s message. First Jeroboam attempts to seize the prophet, but the hand he extended is shriveled up and he could not pull it back. He pleads with the prophet to heal his hand, the prophet prays to the LORD and the king’s hand is restored. The third sign is embedded in a long strange story, the king invites the prophet to stay with him and eat at his table. But we learn that God was very clear with the prophet, he was told not to stop and eat or drink in Israel but to return to Judah without stopping.
As the prophet is traveling home a “lying prophet” greets him and tells him that the LORD told him to come eat and stay with him. The prophet is deceived and goes with the old prophet. As the prophet is leaving a truthful word from the LORD comes through the old lying prophet. The prophet will be killed by a lion, but the lion will not eat the prophet or his donkey. This story reinforces the warning to Jeroboam, Israel should take this warning very seriously – even a prophet will be killed if he takes God’s instructions lightly. The prophet’s death is another sign that the message is from God: The donkey and the lion are also reinforcement – the donkey did not run from the Lion, nor did the Lion eat the donkey or the prophet. The old prophet then retrieves the prophet’s body and gives him a proper burial in his tomb requesting that when he dies to be buried with the prophet. Put my bones right next to his bones, “for the prophecy he announced with the LORD’s authority against the altar in Bethel and against all the temples on the high places in the cities of the north will certainly be fulfilled.” The word of the prophet’s announcement against Israel, their false worship and the prophet’s death spread throughout Israel, but Jeroboam did not change his evil ways he continued to worship in the high places with false priests. This sin caused Jeroboam’s dynasty to come to an end and to be destroyed from the face of the earth.
When Jeroboam son becomes ill, he sends his wife in disguise to the prophet Ahijah to see if he could get a different decision from God. But God warned Ahijah and he delivered the bad news to Jeroboam’s wife, this son will die and he will be the only one of Jeroboam’s descendants to be buried, no male will perpetuate his line, they will not be buried, they will be eaten by dogs. The LORD will raise up a king over Israel who will cut off Jeroboam’s dynasty. It is ready to happen! Ahijah’s prophecy provides a sad picture of ruined potential. As the first king of an independent Israel, Jeroboam had the God–given opportunity to be a ruler of great stature; instead he was responsible for setting his kingdom on the road to disaster. The discrepancy between potential and performance is a recurring theme of the books of Kings.
1 Kings now returns to the account of Judah, Rehoboam ruled for 17 years in Jerusalem. For three years Judah followed the edicts of David and Solomon, but then did evil in the sight of the LORD. Rehoboam’s mother was an Ammonite, she worshiped the detestable idol-god Molech, she was most likely influential in reviving the Canaanite paganism in Judah. They built worship centers in the high places, erecting Asherah poles on every hill and under every green tree. They installed male cultic prostitutes, committing the horrible sins that the nations surrounding them practiced. These are the detestable practices that the LORD drove out of Canaan. Then God sent a message through the prophet Shemaiah, “You have abandoned me; therefore, I now abandon you to Shishak.”
Egypt invades Judah, Israel, Edom, and Philistia and gained control of 156 cities. The clear implication is that the Egyptian campaign was God’s chastisement for Judah, and particularly for Rehoboam, for it struck at the very heart of his kingdom—the temple and the royal palace. The leaders of Judah humbled themselves before the LORD, so God spared Jerusalem from destruction. But Rehoboam paid a ransom to Shishak from the treasuries of the Temple and the Palace. Rehoboam and Judah’s fortunes are reversed; they have gone vast prosperous lands, from Gold and Silver to Bronze and the small holdings surrounding Jerusalem. Rehoboam dies and is buried in the city of David and his son Abijah replaces him as king.