1 Kings 12: the Divided Priesthood

1(A) Rehoboam went to(B) Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. 2And as soon as(C) Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for(D) he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from[a] Egypt. 3And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, 4(E) “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” 5He said to them,(F) “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.


Rehoboam is by no means the son whom Solomon was writing to in the book of Proverbs.  Instead of inheriting the Spirit Whom Solomon was filled with, the subject Wisdom in the very book geared towards the son of Solomon (Proverbs 1:8).  Yet, Rehoboam walks in exactly the opposing direction:

6Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” 7And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” 8But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. 9And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” 10And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. 11And now, whereas(G) my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.'”

Though Israel, like Solomon’s disciplining, were but servants of the LORD – the truth of being children of God by the Spirit and through Christ is a gospel foundation found throughout both Old and New Testaments, as Jesus expressly states in John 15:12-17:

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.

14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.

15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

Indeed, are we to remain as disciplined servant-slaves in the period of Solomon, ‘whipped’ by the law of Moses?  Or are we to abide in Christ after His victory on the cross, and as v.15 clarifies – that we are friends of the LORD, though we are also His servants.  The movement from slave to friendship is that of the beholding of the visible LORD as the Person through Whom we meet the Father also, such mystery revealed by His Spirit.  Yet – on the third day, such slavery is not abolished.  Instead, Rehoboam clings onto the law of the Old Testament, and failed to see the Spirit of the law who points exclusively to Christ (1 Corinthians 2).  Instead, on the third day, their yoke is made heavier – yet, on the third day of Christ’s work on the cross, the yoke of slavery is removed and instead we are given the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:29-30; Galatians 5:1).  And so, Rehoboam failed by neglecting the priestly council of old (v.8 – c.f. 1 Kings 4), and instead took counsel from the young men who have grown up with him and stood before him.   What grand theology of servant-leadership which the old council of Levites and prophets is ignored – an incarnate theology of God-with-us, God-serving-us (Mark 10:45), twisted on its head to fulfill the theistic agenda of us-serving-God and us-trying-to-be-with-God.  Such is the advice of the young, not perceiving by the Spirit the teachings of the Torah and from history that the Angel fights for us (Joshua 5:14-15), pleads for us to the Most High (Genesis 48:16), leads us in the wilderness (Exodus 23:21) as the warm ambassador and Son of the One enthroned.  Rehoboam exudes coldness and a spirit of arrogance, ignoring once again his father’s mandate towards him (Proverbs 16:5), leaving the Son of the Most High to fulfill the true meaning of humility in His incarnation.

12So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said,(H) “Come to me again the third day.” 13And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying,(I) “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15So the king did not listen to the people, for(J) it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word, which(K) the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

Again – is it the LORD’s fault that Rehoboam spoke and acted in the name of evil?  No – this turn of affairs was merely part of the prophecy by the LORD through Ahijah to Jeroboam (v.15), the LORD who hears us and listens to us against Jeroboam who does not listen to the people (repeated in v.15 and 16).  Jeroboam is a type of the deity whom we create and worship – a ‘god’ who does not hear (Habakkuk 2:18-20) for it is lifeless, an implication which can be imputed to Jeroboam himself.


16And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.(L) To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” So Israel went to their tents. 17But Rehoboam reigned over(M) the people of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah. 18Then King Rehoboam sent(N) Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labor, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And King Rehoboam hurried to mount his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. 19(O) So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. 20And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David but(P) the tribe of Judah only.


There are interesting parallels between v.18 and the parable of Jesus in Matthew 21:33-41, regarding the stoning of Adoram (lord of heights / noble honour) as taskmaster over the forced labour and ambassador and sent one of Rehoboam.  The parallel is an ironic satire of the sending of prophets and servants of the LORD murdered by the world, though here Rehoboam, in following his parallel as the lifeless mock-Father sending Adoram, the lifeless mock-Son (for supporting Rehoboam’s Spirit-less agenda).  However, the Israelites have also sinned by murdering Adoram, important to note that the LORD does not favour the people under Jeroboam’s future rule because of their righteousness.  Quite the contrary, the favour clearly still lies with David (1 Kings 11:34-36, 11:39) and the other 10 tribes subject to whether Jeroboam clings onto Christ and His example of servant-leadership as well (1 Kings 11:38).


21(Q) When Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, 180,000 chosen warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon. 22But the word of God came to(R) Shemaiah the man of God: 23“Say to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the(S) rest of the people, 24‘Thus says the LORD, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives the people of Israel. Every man return to his home,(T) for this thing is from me.'” So they listened to the word of the LORD and went home again, according to the word of the LORD.

Though the LORD had permitted Rehoboam’s choice to follow the prostitute Folly instead of the Spirit, Wisdom (Proverbs 9), His plan to preserve Judah and Benjamin as the 1 tribe given to Rehoboam against the 10 tribes given to Jeroboam is actually a form of protection displaying the LORD’s favour to the line of Judah.  Can the house of Israel be won over with more brute force (of a pitiful 180,000 chosen warriors against Judah and Benjamin’s own countrymen ten times the size), just as the forced labour would be won over by scorpions?  Shemaiah, this man of God (a term applied to very few people, including David himself – 2 Chronicles 8:14), bearing a similar name to a Levite in the time of David (who with 200 of David’s men took part in the bringing up of the ark from Obed-edom to Hebron – 1 Chronicles 15:8), is a symbolic ‘conscience’-call, reminding them that the LORD is their king.  Either they continue to listen to Rehoboam and fall to their demise, or follow the man of God who supersedes the kingship of Rehoboam, following in line with Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha, Moses – the humble men who faced ruthless and Christ-less kings.  And it is for this very reason that Abijah, who proclaimed judgment upon Jeroboam as if it were Christ’s return in completion of his victory over Satan (2 Chronicles 13:8-12), would lead the men of Judah and Benjamin to victory against the Israelites.  There is no other reason for Shemaiah’s refusal to allow Rehoboam’s war, except that Rehoboam is not following the LORD’s will like Solomon and David have. 

25Then Jeroboam(U) built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. And he went out from there and(V) built Penuel. 26And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. 27If this people(W) go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.”


What is the significance of Jeroboam’s building of Shechem and Penuel to his fear in v.26?  Abraham pitched his tent and built an altar under the oak of Moreh at Shechem (Genesis 12:6), noting that the Canaanites were already there in the land; when Jacob arrived there, it was a Hivite city (Genesis 33:18, 34), though he purchased from Hamor a parcel of the field given to Joseph (Genesis 33:19, Joshua 24:32, John 4:5).  Shechem thereafter becoming a city of refuge after the Canaanites were ousted (Joshua 21:20-21), and as a scene of the blessing and curses (Joshua 24:23-25).  Yet, it is at this very place that Rehoboam was announced as king (1 Kings 12:1), undoubtedly acting as a reminder to Jeroboam that Rehoboam comes from the true lineage of David, himself standing outside of the house of David only to be reminded of the Shilonite’s words of this sacred house of Christ, building Penuel (face of God) though without the same significance as what Jacob had done in Genesis 32:30-31 when he wrested with Jesus.


Yet, strangely, Jeroboam and Rehoboam are not such different creatures.  Both are not listening to their people; both are not listening to God – both are deaf by all accounts despite the LORD speaking to Jeroboam through Ahijah the Shilonite in 1 Kings 11, and Rehoboam approached by Shemaiah, the man of God.  The LORD is with both Rehoboam and Jeroboam – but neither is walking with Him.


What is interesting is how, despite the rest of Israel’s detachment from the tribe of Judah and Benjamin combined, the designated location of the temple and the future place of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God remains at ancient Moriah or otherwise named as Jerusalem now (Genesis 22:2, 2 Chronicles 3:1), which is in the region of Judah.  In protecting Judah and Benjamin by preventing a civil war (v.22-24; whereby Rehoboam’s men may be slaughtered especially if they are fighting not in the LORD’s direction), this is a second layer to understanding the LORD’s favour towards Judah (if not the primary reason for such favour) – that Jerusalem is the designated location of His House built by the hands of Solomon, the son of David.  Despite Jeroboam being the effective king of Israel, his leadership is only supplemented by the LORD if He were to allow the Israelites to continue to worship at the place of Christ’s future work on the cross.  Yet, His denial of Jerusalem as valid place of worship is not merely a denial of methodology.  It is a fundamental denial of the LORD Himself, of the joint work of the Father Son and Spirit to happen at that key location – Jerusalem where the city of peace truly fulfils the implication of its name.  Jeroboam’s fear is not entirely unfounded however – as it had been with Solomon that he was a king who focused much on temple worship (being the founder of the temple – 1 Kings 6, and having a wide-reaching reputation implicating the success of his kingship stemming from the one LORD – 1 Kings 10).  So v.27 reveals such a tie between temple worship and the king – “If this people(W) go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah”; however, Rehoboam is but a mock-son of God.  He is not the son spoken of by Solomon in the book of Proverbs.  If it only were true, that if the ancient church would go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, Jesus Christ.  Yet – it would appear that their hearts are far away because their king is not Jesus, but Rehoboam (c.f. Deuteronomy 17:18-20).


28So the king took counsel and(X) made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough.(Y) Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” 29And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30Then(Z) this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one.[b] 31He also made(AA) temples on high places and(AB) appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. 32And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like(AC) the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel(AD) the priests of the high places that he had made. 33He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar(AE) to make offerings.


And so Jeroboam conducts a string of blasphemous actions, by creating new gods.  As though Rehoboam is a mock-Father, so Jeroboam is a mock-Aaron – he who ‘saves’ the Israelites away from the tyrant Rehoboam but only to set up new ‘gods’ (Hebrew Elohim) of two calves of gold.  This is an echo of Aaron’s words in Exodus 32:4.  Instead of devoting to the temple in Jerusalem, he made several temples on high places and appointed priests not of the Levites, breaching Exodus 29:9.  Instead, the placement of these self-made priests in Bethel (house of God) is almost a direct mocking of the true house of God built by Solomon’s hands by the LORD’s edict.  This place, like Shechem, is symbolic of Abraham’s journey – but under Jeroboam it bears a mock-meaning.    Instead of a place of vision (Genesis 28:11-19, 31:13), or a place of counsel (Judges 20:18-31), or a place of the LORD’s presence (through the ark of the covenant c.f. Judges 20:26-28) in the day of the Judges – it is a place of false worship and man-made religion.  Jeroboam’s blasphemy knows no bounds – and thus only fitting for this place to be redeemed by Abijah in 2 Chronicles 13:19.  In particular, that such idol worship should take place geographically in the furthest south compared to the furthest north of Israel, Bethel and Jerusalem straddling the borders of Israel and Judah and Dan being not in the heart of the united Israel but far north, far away from the mandated place of Christ’s work.

Instead of the feast of booths representing the Father’s presence with us on the 15th day of the 7th month (Leviticus 23:34), on the 15th day of the 8th month, this mock-feast is done in worship of the two golden calves.  What blasphemy that Rehoboam chooses the 15th of Bul / Cheshvan, for it is in this very month that Solomon completes the temple, simultaneously the same month as a reminder that the Noahic flood began and ended.  The irony falls on Rehoboam’s choice of this month; where Solomon chose to complete the First Temple in the month of the ending of the flood (1 Kings 6:38), Rehoboam chose to have a feast on about the same day as the day when rain fell and consumed the earth (Jewish calendar records it as 17th Cheshvan / Bul), in a month which otherwise has no remarkable divinely ordained festivity.  In other words, the parallel is that Solomon’s worship in a month of bitterness is reversed by his son’s institution of false worship, fulfilling the meaning of the barrenness of the month’s activities.


Ultimately, just as Rehoboam worshipped a lifeless god by being the lifeless lord of Judah, so also Jeroboam reflects this same truth by creating lifeless religion – “devised from his own heart” (v.33 – c.f. Psalm 14:1).  Here, Jeroboam treads ever so close to revealing the two persons of the Trinity in the two calves of gold, just as Aaron has revealed the oneness of the Trinity by equally calling the one calf as the plural Elohim (Exodus 32:4) – such Israelite ancient tradition preparing the men of Israel and Judah for the LORD who sends His own ‘Adoram’, only that he came to take our burdens, to serve us, and to die for us though we are the Israelites who have stoned him effectively on the cross.



1 Kings 12: the Divided Priesthood

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