Rehoboam

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Heir Apparent

Upon Solomon’s death, the twelve tribe kingdom passed naturally to Rehoboam, his eldest son. Rehoboam lived throughout Solomon’s forty year reign, for he was forty-one when he ascended the throne. He therefore experienced and witnessed the glory and wonder of Israel’s golden age. For as long as he could remember, he was the heir apparent, and he lived in the lap of luxury in a fabulous palace.

David’s bequest to Solomon was a kingdom with secure boundaries, strong and friendly relations with many of the surrounding nations, and a powerful economy. Most important of all, the nation was at peace with God, and work had already commenced on the Temple in Jerusalem. As a young boy Rehoboam would have marvelled as the wonderful building gradually took shape before his eyes. He must have been present when the great service of dedication and thanksgiving was held, and when the nation was committed even more closely to the things of God.

In Solomon, Rehoboam had the wisest human father there has ever been. The great collection of songs and proverbs written and gathered by the King (1 Kings 4:32 – He composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs.) included many addressed to “my son”, and were intended as part of Rehoboam’s spiritual education. How ironic that some of the opening words of Proverbs were immediately forsaken by Rehoboam at the beginning of his reign: “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not … for their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood” (Proverbs 1:10, 16).

The test occurred right at the beginning of Rehoboam’s reign. Representatives of the twelve tribes gathered to make him king. Surprisingly—and with hindsight, menacingly—they met at Shechem in Ephraim’s territory, and not at Jerusalem, which was situated on the border between Judah and Benjamin. There were historical reasons for choosing Shechem, for it was used by the patriarchs and in the early days of the conquest of Canaan, but in reality Shechem was chosen by the tribes specifically because it was not Jerusalem.

Rehoboam probably expected a coronation ceremony and cheering crowds. Instead he met a deputation of men from the northern tribes intent on flexing their muscle and exercising a measure of control over the new king. Responsibility for fomenting the rebellion rested with Jeroboam whose previous history is mainly omitted from Chronicles. The account of the prophecy about Jeroboam in 1 Kings 11:26–40 is assumed by the writer of Chronicles. Ahijah foretold the division of the kingdom, and told Jeroboam that ten tribes would associate with him, leaving Judah and Jerusalem with Solomon’s seed “for my servant David’s sake” (verse 32).

Jeroboam and the Northern Tribes

The assembly in Shechem was thus Jeroboam’s great opportunity to obtain control of the northern tribes. He returned from exile in Egypt, where he had fled from Solomon, and was welcomed by the tribal leaders to present their case to Rehoboam. There was a great difference between the two men. Rehoboam grew up in the king’s palace: he was the king’s eldest son. Jeroboam was just “Solomon’s servant” (verse 26). But more importantly, Rehoboam had lived a pampered life, when Jeroboam “was industrious” (verse 28). So Jeroboam was prepared for the meeting with the king’s son, and Rehoboam was not prepared at all.

This becomes evident in what follows. Discontent had festered in Solomon’s kingdom, and a wise son should have recognised the need for conciliation. Rehoboam wanted all the pomp of kingship, before proving to the people that he was worth their respect. The account of his reign in 1 Kings leaves the reader in no doubt about Rehoboam’s weaknesses and failings. The record in Chronicles has a different purpose. Both accounts are accurate, but the intention of Chronicles is to sow the value of repentance and the extent of God’s mercy. It is not concerned with the formation or history of the northern kingdom, and this is why little is recorded about Jeroboam and his activities. We are only told as much as is necessary to explain the events in Judah and Jerusalem.

The three chapters in 2 Chronicles devoted to Rehoboam (10–12) start by following the account in 1 Kings 12–14, but soon concentrate on Rehoboam to the exclusion of many of the details about Jeroboam. The three chapters devoted to Rehoboam divide his reign into three sections: the separation of the northern tribes, a period of consolidation and strength, and finally Rehoboam’s failure and repentance.

“The cause was of God”

2 Chronicles 10 parallels 1 Kings 12:1–20. There was not a sudden decline in Israel’s fortunes, and all the blame cannot be laid at Rehoboam’s door. Solomon’s later years, when his heart was turned away by foreign wives, were a time of falling away for the whole nation, Rehoboam included. The whole situation was God’s response: “The king hearkened not unto the people: for the cause was of God” (2 Chronicles 10:15).

For the first readers of Chronicles there was something more important to learn than information about Israel’s decline. Their parents or grandparents had followed in the footsteps of the people of Solomon’s day, and were taken into captivity. The kingdom was taken from them as it was taken from Solomon. They knew all there was to know about God’s view of spiritual apostasy. How God’s mercy is displayed when His people repent is a much more important and relevant message, both for them and for us. And Rehoboam is one of many examples provided in the history of the southern kingdom.

Each character in the story plays his part in accordance with God’s word. By turning away from God, Solomon failed to show mercy to Israel and made the people’s yoke heavy and burdensome. Jeroboam was God’s chosen king over the ten tribes, but he “rebelled against his lord (i.e., Solomon)” (2 Chronicles 14:6). And Rehoboam, who rejected the wise advice of his father’s elder statesmen, repented when he heard God’s word.

The emphasis is clearly on the need to “prepare the heart to seek the Lord” (2 Chronicles 12:14), and in this regard Rehoboam did not do well. He was forty-one when he succeeded Solomon, yet he was described as being “young and tender hearted” at that time (14:7). Solomon was still a teenager when his father David used similar words to describe him (1 Chronicles 22:5; 29:1), which suggests that Rehoboam had led a very sheltered existence, and was not trained or personally prepared for the kingdom. This was the tragedy of Solomon’s succession, as he seems to have recognised himself: “I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?” (Ecclesiastes 2:18, 19).

But did Solomon know? Rehoboam’s mother was Naamah an Ammonitess. She was possibly a daughter of Nahash the king of Ammon with whom David had forged a personal friendship for a reason that is not explained in scripture (1 Chronicles 19:1 – Later King Nahash of the Ammonites died and his son succeeded him.), but may date back to the time when David was on the run from Saul and needed allies in the surrounding territories. She was one of Solomon’s foreign wives (1 Kings 11:1 – All Israel joined David at Hebron and said, “Look, we are your very flesh and blood!), and in that Rehoboam was born before Solomon became king, it is apparent that these were not just a feature of his later life. Milcom was the god of the children of Ammon, and it was because Israel worshipped Milcom, Chemosh and Ashtoreth that the kingdom was divided (verse 33).

Who else could succeed Solomon? It is remarkable that, despite his “seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines” (verse 3), only one son—Rehoboam—is named. Unlike David, Solomon did not arrange his own succession, and it is possible that he died suddenly and unexpectedly, and that another son might have been groomed for the throne if Solomon had lived longer. But it was not to be, “for the cause was of God”.

Prosperity … and Decline

Yet Rehoboam, after the secession of the ten tribes, initially prospered. He listened to the words of Shemaiah and did not fight against Jeroboam (2 Chronicles 11:4), and he welcomed an influx of Levites and others who “set their hearts to seek the Lord” (verses 14–16). He strengthened the kingdom by strongly defending border cities to the south, west, and east and supplying other cities in Judah with arms, guards and supplies (verses 5–12). He also strengthened his hold on the kingdom by marrying within David’s family. He married two of David’s granddaughters: Mahalath and Maachah. But these were only two. “He desired many wives” (verse 23), opening himself to the same difficulties that Solomon faced.

Just as with Solomon, Rehoboam’s wives proved to be his downfall. For three years all went well, “they (i.e., king and nation) walked in the way of David and Solomon” (verse 17). But then the decline set in. The real problem lay in Rehoboam himself: “He strengthened himself, he forsook the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him” (12:1; cp. verse 13). Previously “the kingdom” was strengthened, now Rehoboam strengthened himself.

The difference may seem small, but it is highly significant. In our own lives, we can spend all our energy on things to do with our own personal interests, and those that do so “have their reward” now, Jesus said (Matthew 6:5). It is better to devote ourselves to building up the people of God—and in the process, we shall be strengthened ourselves.

The decline happened awfully quickly. For just three short years, presumably when the immigrant Levites and God-fearers had most impact on the king and the people, the kingdom prospered. During this period, the border cities were strengthened; but arms and supplies do not prevent the subtle invasion of ideas and attitudes. The northern kingdom had calves of gold strategically placed in Dan and Bethel, and the people of Judah began to be dissatisfied.

Threat from Egypt

Significantly, the border cities between the two kingdoms were not fortified, only those to the south, east and west of Judah. And in the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign, Shishak of Egypt captured these towns. He must have been a threat when Rehoboam became king. With a sympathetic king reigning over the northern kingdom, Shishak had every opportunity to attack Judah’s prosperity. Shishak also had other allies more closely associated with him: the Libyans, Sukkites and Cushites. This confederacy moved quickly, presumably attracted by the wealth and opulence of Solomon’s works in Jerusalem. They “came up against Jerusalem, because they had transgressed against the Lord” (2 Chronicles 12:2).

Shishak’s intention was to destroy Jerusalem; but he was an agent of God, and it was necessary first to see Rehoboam’s reaction. As the vast Egyptian-led army approached Jerusalem, Shemaiah took a message from God to the king: “Ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I left you in the hand of Shishak” (verse 5).

Both Rehoboam, and the princes of Judah who had gathered to Jerusalem because of the Egyptian threat, heeded God’s warning: “The Lord is righteous”, they said, and “humbled themselves” (verse 7). This was the attitude God was seeking, and which He still seeks. Before Him, no man can stand.

Repentance?

If Judah’s repentance was wholehearted, there can be little doubt that the Egyptians would have returned completely empty-handed. That it was not wholehearted is indicated by God’s reply: “I will not destroy them (i.e., Judah), but I will grant them some deliverance” (verse 7). This partial deliverance left Judah as a tributary to Egypt, and with the Temple stripped of its treasures. Shishak also took the golden shields Solomon had placed in the house of the forest of Lebanon (9:15, 16). These were made from the vast annual income received by Solomon from his provinces. Shishak therefore spoiled both the religious and secular treasures of Judah. “The Lord is righteous”, Rehoboam had said. So what evidence is there that Judah’s repentance was only partial? Two comments appear in the record. First, Rehoboam replaced the golden shields with ones made of bronze. He could not allow the empty spaces where they hung to mock his failure. This is a mark of human pride, not of humility.

Secondly, we are specifically told that “in Judah there were good things found” (verse 12, RV). In other words, there were some in Judah who trusted God implicitly, and who did not forsake His service. By implication, there were also many who were forsaking Him, and who paid scant regard to the warning provided by Egypt’s invasion.

Twelve years passed, and Judah served Shishak for the rest of Rehoboam’s reign. Neither Kings nor Chronicles give any details of these twelve years, but it is unlikely that the situation was very different from the one recorded in Kings when Shishak made his attack: “Judah did evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they committed, above all that their fathers had done. For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree. And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel” (1 Kings 14:22–24).

Lessons from Rehoboam’s Reign

For the first readers of Chronicles, there were three important lessons to be learned from Rehoboam’s reign:

First, his lack of preparation taught the necessity for being ready for all situations. Rehoboam was not ready to take charge of all Israel because he had not first prepared his heart to seek the Lord. He was not properly equipped to give the necessary spiritual lead, and his own personal life was not a good example to the nation. This is indicated by the comment in Chronicles that he “loved Maachah the daughter of Absalom above all his wives and concubines” (2 Chronicles 11:21). Absalom was not a good role model for a Godly leader.

Secondly, the Chronicles account emphasises how God responded directly to Judah’s waywardness by sending Shishak and the Egyptians to spoil the southern kingdom. The returned exiles were put on notice that God would treat them in exactly the same way if they were not faithful to His ways.

Thirdly, and most important of all, there is the example of God’s mercy extended when His people humble themselves and repent. But if repentance is only partial or short lived, His mercy will be removed. When Judah became subject to Egypt, it was like turning back the clock to the early days of Moses. They had forgotten God’s redemptive power, and once more they had to learn the lesson of servitude (2 Chronicles 12:8).

The question raised by these chapters is, Would the returned exiles heed the warning of Rehoboam’s reign? Initially, their territory was similar to the area of the southern kingdom, and they were a province of the Persian empire, out of which they had been brought by a mighty and outstretched arm. Among them were Levites who were encouraged to return and help establish a sound spiritual base for the revived nation. They would also appeal to those who were left in Israel’s former territory to join with them in the worship of the one true God. The historical account of their forbears sounded a strong warning which could not be ignored.

No wonder it is recorded of Ezra, the Levite and the “ready scribe” (who may have been responsible for recording the Chronicles account), that he “had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10; cf. 2 Chronicles 12:14).

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