The Torn Kingdom
The Torn Kingdom
1 Kings 12:1–14:20
Main Idea: The division of the kingdom was accompanied by sad events during this dark period of Israel’s history.
I. Division (12:1-24)
A. The assembly (12:1-15)
B. The aftermath (12:16-24)
II. Downfall (12:25-33)
A. Do you trust God?
B. Do you love God?
C. Do you fear God?
III. Disobedience (13:1-34)
A. The Judean prophet confronts Jeroboam (13:1-10).
B. The Judean prophet gets killed by a lion (13:11-32).
IV. Death (14:1-20)
As in a good television series, allow me to give you a 30-second review of where we are in this Old Testament drama before we move on to the next episode. In chapter 11 God promised that He would tear the kingdom apart because of Israel’s sin and idolatry. The prophet Ahijah gave this prophecy to Jeroboam, who was also told that he would reign over 10 tribes of Israel, the northern kingdom (11:26-39). Solomon then sought to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt until Solomon died (11:40). Now Rehoboam succeeds Solomon as king, but we are left to wonder what will happen in light of the prophecy of the torn kingdom and the promised reign of Jeroboam. The glory days of Israel are over, and a sad division of the kingdom is drawing close.
The passage under consideration has it all: political gamesmanship, a stoning, bovine worship, honest preachers, lying preachers, manipulation, deception, stupidity, fear, faith, pronouncements, a withered hand, a destroyed altar, the death of a child, and (oh yeah) a lion mauls a man. Welcome to the part of the Bible few people read! But we should read it, for there’s much to learn here. Over it all is the sovereign God of the universe displaying justice and mercy.
We can consider 1 Kings 12:1–14:20 under four headings: division, downfall, disobedience, and death. The kingdom is divided, just as God promised (12:1-24). Downfall happens in every way, most dreadfully perhaps through Israel’s worship of a golden calf (12:25-33). Disobedience persists, even in the prophets’ lives (13:1-34). Death occurs, most vividly with the death of Jeroboam’s child (14:1-20).
Throughout this drama there are many exodus-like aspects. As Moses led Israel out from Egypt’s tyranny, so Jeroboam is looked to as the one who will lead Israel out from Rehoboam’s tyranny. Just as God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to accomplish His will, so Rehoboam’s hardness of heart will lead to the schism God promised. When Jeroboam leads the people out, however, things don’t go well. Jeroboam actually turns into a new Aaron! He makes two golden calves and says, “Israel, here is your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (12:28; cf. Exod 32:4). Such disobedience eventually leads to exile.
Though many years have passed since these golden calf incidents, the sinfulness of the human heart remains. Our sinful nature is drawn toward rebellion and idolatry, and we’re in great need of redemption. We’re in great need of David’s greatest Son. And we find traces of that hope in this dark period of history. We find God keeping His word. We find God ruling over the events of history sovereignly. Because God keeps His word and because Yahweh is the only sovereign God, we have found salvation through the anticipated King. Let’s take a look at these events, and let’s remember that God is at work, even in this dark season.
1 Kings 12:1-24
The opening narrative breaks down into two simple parts. First, we find the assembly (vv. 1-15); and second, we see the aftermath (vv. 16-24; Davis, 1 Kings, 126). At the conclusion of each section, there is a theological note to underscore that God is in charge of this situation. Humanly speaking, stupidity and stubbornness of heart cause the split of the kingdom, but the author makes clear that, divinely speaking, this is the outworking of God’s purposes. He says,
The king didn’t listen to the people, because this turn of events came from the Lord to carry out His word, which the Lord had spoken through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat. (1 Kgs 12:15)
This is what the Lord says: You are not to march up and fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Each of you must return home, for I have done this. (1 Kgs 12:24)
So before we try to make practical applications from this story, we need to make sure we understand what the writer wants us to see primarily. The focus is on divine sovereignty, not on the lack of wisdom of youth or how older people get ignored (Davis, 1 Kings, 128). We might rightly note such matters, but the point in the text is that God is keeping His word sovereignly. No human beings, regardless of how much authority they have, can compete with His rule and reign. The writer of Proverbs says it like this: “A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses” (Prov 21:1).
The Assembly (12:1-15)
So Israel set out to make Solomon’s son Rehoboam the new king. We’re told that Jeroboam, meanwhile, returned from Egypt upon hearing this news. The people, including Jeroboam, tell Rehoboam that his kingship is contingent on responding positively to their demands. They claim Solomon had been too hard on them (cf. Exod 1:14; 2:23), and thus they were looking to the new king to lighten their burdens. Rehoboam tells them he will give them an answer in three days.
At this point the book of Proverbs comes to mind. It’s often missed that Proverbs has a royal dimension to it. The first nine chapters, which serve as a unit, have a father speaking to his son about living in relationship to wisdom. Many have noted that one can see Solomon training his son how to rule the kingdom wisely (Prov 8:15-17). Throughout Proverbs there are explicit instructions about ruling the kingdom justly and wisely as well (e.g., Prov 16:12-15; 21:3,15; 25; 31:9). So the questions here in Kings are: Will Rehoboam rule wisely or not? Will he follow the counsel of Proverbs and surround himself with wise people or with fools (Prov 13:20)? Will he speak persuasive words filled with gentleness (Prov 16:21,24)? Sadly, Rehoboam acts foolishly.
He receives counsel from two groups. The older men first instruct him to go easy on the people at the beginning of his reign in order to persuade those on the fence to remain loyal to him. But Rehoboam rejects this counsel. He turns instead to his peers, who will tell him what he wants to hear. The young guns tell him the opposite approach is needed: fear and intimidation.
Rehoboam takes the counsel of the younger men and then gives his speech on the third day to all the people. He says, “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 barbed whips” (v. 14). He behaves like Pharaoh, increasing the burdens after hearing a plea for relief (Exod 5:1-21). And with this you can hear the kingdom shredding.
Over it all, however, is God. The writer says, “The king did not listen to the people, because this turn of events came from the Lord to carry out His word” (v. 15). Thus we see divine sovereignty and human responsibility here (cf. Exod 4:21; 7:3-4; 7:13). This event isn’t “mechanical” (Davis, 1 Kings, 128). God didn’t violate Rehoboam’s will. The young king made his own stupid decision. Yet this whole event happened through a turn of events from the Lord. God isn’t surprised. God is actually accomplishing His purposes. We see this sort of dynamic—sovereignty and responsibility—at work in the cross of Christ (Acts 2:23).
In the middle of political and social chaos, we should remember that God sits in the heavens and does as He pleases (Ps 115:3). This should encourage all believers in general and those living under oppressive governments in particular. God will have the last word. God is in charge. We may not be able to answer all of the questions related to divine sovereignty, but that’s not the point. The point is, because God reigns supremely, we should humble ourselves before Him and trust Him. The book of Revelation makes this point in high definition for us. We know where the future is headed, and there’s only one who will sit on the throne!
The Aftermath (12:16-24)
Following Rehoboam’s decision and speech, his actions remain foolish. The people rebel against the new king, disperse, and go home. Then Rehoboam sends his servant Adoram on a special assignment to impose forced labor on the northern groups. Rehoboam wanted them to know that the new king was serious. But Adoram didn’t execute his mission; instead Israel executed Adoram, so Rehoboam retreated to Jerusalem. The writer then tells us of the long-term division that ensues: “Israel is in rebellion against the house of David until today” (v. 19).
Because of Rehoboam’s folly, Israel calls Jeroboam to be king, which also fulfills God’s word (11:35-37). Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remain under Rehoboam’s rule.
Verses 16-20 contain repeated references to “David” and the “house of David.” This emphasis may intend to raise the tension of David’s dynasty. Will David continue to have a son to sit on the throne or not? We have the privileged vantage point of knowing that God will keep His promise (2 Sam 7:16) despite Rehoboam’s rebellion and the kingdom’s division. Thus, in a story about God’s judgment, we also see God’s mercy peeking out behind the clouds. This theme runs throughout the Kings narrative. A lamp in Jerusalem remains until the ultimate Son of David rules.
In verses 21-24 we find Rehoboam reacting to Israel’s decision. He decides to restore the kingdom through warfare. However, a prophet named Shemaiah prevents this by bringing Rehoboam this word: “This is what the Lord says: You are not to march up and fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Each of you must return home, for I have done this” (12:24). Based on Rehoboam’s previous decisions, one would expect him to reject this word. But shockingly, he heeds it. The writer says, “So they listened to what the Lord said and went back as He had told them” (v. 24).
We are thus left with Rehoboam actually making a wise decision. God intervenes, speaks His word, and everyone listens. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t last long. The northern and southern tribes will have constant wars in the future (see 14:30; 15:6; 16). The division here in chapter 12 has a ripple effect for years to come.
Let us be a people who submit to God’s Word, heed godly counsel, and trust in God’s comprehensive sovereignty. And let us give humble thanks and joyful adoration to our perfect King, Jesus, who alleviates our burdens, provides for our greatest needs, and rules His kingdom with wisdom and justice.
1 Kings 12:25-33
The next episode bears much similarity to the wilderness journey in the book of Exodus. This “new Moses,” Jeroboam, leads the people out from under the yoke of the pharaoh-like Rehoboam. But as in the Exodus narrative, worshiping a golden calf follows deliverance.
Before taking a quick look at that event, we must realize how often this tragic downfall is referenced in the book of Kings. The writer constantly refers to Jeroboam’s idolatry as Israel’s characteristic sin that eventually leads them into exile (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 109; e.g., 1 Kgs 15:26,34; 2 Kgs 17:20-23). This is a tragic downfall.
Several application questions emerge from this story. We need to consider this account since we too are prone to sink into the pit of idolatry. Three causes of Jeroboam’s false worship are his lack of trust in God, his lack of love for God, and his lack of the fear of God.
Do You Trust God?
Jeroboam doesn’t trust anyone. Not only does Jeroboam distrust Rehoboam, but he also doesn’t trust the people to remain loyal to him (12:25-27). What’s worse, he doesn’t trust God, who told him he would be the king (11:31-39). To ameliorate his insecurity, he decides to “make” a religion that will prevent Israel from going to Jerusalem.
Have you ever acted like Jeroboam? Have you ever tried to control and manipulate things for your own security rather than trusting in God’s Word? Is security your god? Do you find yourself walking more by sight than by faith in what God has promised? Are you more logical than spiritual? We should be critical of Jeroboam here, but we also need to admit our likeness to him. We need help to look to God instead of ourselves for security. As the hymn “’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” puts it, “Oh for grace to trust Him more!”
Do You Love God?
Jeroboam also provides an example of using religion for purely political reasons instead of living with real devotion to the living God. In this account he’s worried about losing his subjects to the other political leader. This golden-calf project actually has little to do with religion. He simply decides to use religion for self-gain. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Pandering to people through religious language and ritual.
Many want to use God but not love God. How different are true followers of Jesus! A disciple finds the glory of God beautiful, while a vain, religious person only finds Him useful. To the latter person God isn’t ultimate. God is a means to that person’s own twisted end. Don’t be a merely religious person. Follow Jesus genuinely. Bow to Him whatever the cost. Love Him. Serve Him. Don’t play religious games. Will you die in your devotion to Christ or die in dead religion?
After taking counsel from his pathetic advisors, Jeroboam acts: “Then he made two golden calves, and he said to the people, ‘Going to Jerusalem is too difficult for you. Israel, here is your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt’” (12:28). He thus defies God’s holy commands (e.g., Exod 20:4) and worships idols. Like the aftermath of the golden-calf incident in Exodus, judgment is coming.
Jeroboam does the exact opposite of what God initially told in him chapter 11.
After that, if you obey all I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight in order to keep My statutes and My commands as My servant David did, I will be with you. I will build you a lasting dynasty just as I built for David. (11:38; emphasis added)
Instead of revering God and His word, Jeroboam follows his sinful heart.
To secure his position (v. 29), he makes a center of worship in both the far north (Dan) and the far south (Bethel). These locations provided a convenient religion for the people. They also held historical significance. Bethel’s significance went back to Abraham (Gen 12:8; 13:3-4) and Jacob (Gen 28:10-22; 31:13; 35:1-16; cf. Judg 20:26-28). Worship took place previously in Dan during the period of the judges (Judg 18). Thus, Jeroboam was able to mask his purposes and perhaps play on tradition and history. The whole plan seems quite subtle.
Finally, we find descriptions of Bethel in particular. Jeroboam makes his own high places, his own altar, and his own priests. To complete the circus, he makes his own festival (cf. Exod 32:5). All of this he does to rival Jerusalem and to secure his position. He violates clear commandments like those in Deuteronomy 12.
Jeroboam lives with absolutely no fear of God. He thinks he can dishonor God with impunity. He considers politics more important than true worship. He thinks his security comes from self instead of God. He lives in total folly, for the handbook for Kings—Proverbs—tells us clearly and repeatedly, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10). Jeroboam neither fears God nor has wisdom from God.
Don’t play the fool. In our culture the foundational message for individual decision making seems to be “follow your heart.” But the Bible teaches otherwise. The message is “fear God” not “follow your heart.” Comedian Bill Murray quips, “I followed my heart, and it led me to the fridge.” Rehoboam and Jeroboam followed their sinful, selfish hearts, and it led them into idolatry and ruin. Will their prophets do any better? Will they fear God and keep His word? We shall see in the next episode.
1 Kings 13:1-34
After Jeroboam builds his new temple, he is all set to initiate his false religion. But things don’t go as planned. Provan contrasts him with Solomon:
Solomon’s temple was built in fulfillment of a prophetic promise about both temple and dynasty (2 Sam 7:1-17), the building of Jeroboam’s temple evokes prophetic threats (1 Kgs 13:2-3; 14:7-13), which in due course will come to fulfillment in the destruction of both dynasty and temple. (1 and 2 Kings, 113; emphasis added)
God intends for His word to be obeyed. Jeroboam violated God’s word, and now we’re introduced to a story of two prophets who must also heed God’s word—first the Judean prophet and then the prophet from Bethel.
The Judean Prophet Confronts Jeroboam (13:1-10)
The man of God from Judah does well at first. While the ceremony at Bethel is going on, this prophet stands up and brings a threat related to the altar. He tells of a descendant of David, Josiah, who will bring judgment on the new priests by destroying them on Jeroboam’s altar and profane the altar by putting human bones on it. He also says that an imminent sign would validate his message.
Jeroboam will have none of it, so he reacts immediately. The king stretches out his hand, saying, “Arrest him!” But when he does, his hand withers and he can’t pull it back (v. 4). In verse 5 we then read that the altar does in fact split and its ashes pour out.
The whole account shows that God isn’t only displeased with idolatry, but He’s also not under the control of any other “god.” He can split the buildings and the altars today if He wishes. He’s also sovereign over rulers. He can take the finger with which they point and immobilize it. Right now, God gives breath to every atheist who breathes out “There is no god.” In God’s immeasurable mercy and patience, He doesn’t always crush such people instantly but instead offers them an opportunity to repent.
But Jeroboam doesn’t repent. He asks for prayer, but this is more like the inauthentic prayers of Pharaoh (e.g., Exod 8:8,28; 9:27-28; 10:17; 12:32) than the prayer of a repentant person. Jeroboam tells the Judean prophet, “Plead for the favor of the Lord your God and pray for me so that my hand may be restored to me” (v. 6). His request gets answered, but his heart doesn’t change.
As a pragmatic politician, Jeroboam decides to take a different course of action with the prophet. If he can’t capture the prophet, what about inviting him to dinner? He offers the prophet not only a kingly meal but also a kingly reward. But the prophet refuses. He obeys God and says, “for this is what I was commanded by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water or go back the way you came’” (v. 9). Then we read, “So he went another way; he did not go back by the way he had come to Bethel” (v. 10). God wanted the prophet to stand up, speak up, and get home without being distracted or corrupted. And the prophet obeys. So far so good.
Throughout all of chapter 13, the “word of the Lord” is the primary theme (13:9,17,20,21,26,32; Davis, 148–49). Jeroboam refuses it. The Judean prophet follows it at first (13:1-10) but then abandons it (13:11-24). The prophet from Bethel abuses it (vv. 11-32). What will you do with God’s Word?
The Judean Prophet Gets Killed by a Lion (13:11-32)
The following story is filled with surprising and mysterious drama. The writer tells us that an old prophet from Bethel in the south makes an effort to meet up with this Judean prophet. When the old prophet finds the Judean prophet, he invites him over for dinner. As with Jeroboam, he tells the old prophet that he must decline based on God’s word. His instructions were not to stop for bread and water and to return home by another way. Not to be refused, the old prophet played the “the Lord told me” card and lied to the Judean prophet. This lying prophet insisted that the Lord told him to show hospitality to the Judean prophet, and his lie proved persuasive, as the Judean prophet “went back with him, ate bread in his house, and drank water” (v. 19).
Be careful whenever someone says, “The Lord told me.” Many cult leaders have played this same trick. Be careful around religious people who know how to manipulate others through religious language and schemes. Paul says that false teachers “worm their way into households and capture idle women” (2 Tim 3:6). Such people are deceptively evil. We should also be mindful that yesterday’s victories don’t ensure today’s and tomorrow’s victories. The Judean prophet triumphed at Jeroboam’s altar, but in the next scene he disobeys God’s clear word. This wild story reminds us of our great need for discernment and a daily, resolute commitment to obey God.
The story takes a strange twist. The old prophet actually speaks God’s word honestly. God can use all sorts of people. After clearly lying (v. 18), the old prophet now speaks truth:
This is what the Lord says: “Because you rebelled against the command of the Lord and didn’t keep the command that the Lord your God commanded you—but you went back and ate bread and drank water in the place that He said to you, ‘Don’t eat bread and don’t drink water’—your corpse will never reach the grave of your fathers.” (vv. 21-22)
Because of the Judean prophet’s disobedience, he will not make it home, and he will not die in peace. So a lion attacks and kills this man of God from Judah. A strange scene then follows his awful death. The lion doesn’t eat the body or attack the donkey. The lion’s unusual behavior magnifies that fact that this death was not an ordinary “man gets mauled by a lion” type of death. This is God’s judgment. The strangeness led everyone to talk about it.
When word gets back to the prophet from Bethel, he goes and retrieves the dead body, performs burial rites, and tells his sons that what the Judean prophet actually said concerning Jeroboam will come to pass.
The writer then says that Jeroboam didn’t change his evil ways but continued in sin despite the previous prophecy and the miracle at the altar. Due to his hard heart, destruction awaits the king.
As we observe this odd story, we should make one additional, obvious application: everyone must obey God’s word—prophets, kings, and everyone in between. In the case of the prophets, we’re reminded that those doing public ministry don’t get a pass on personal obedience. Just because the Lord uses you to speak His word doesn’t mean you can take personal obedience casually. The Judean prophet serves as a warning to us. Our personal lives and our public ministry should be harmonious, not duplicitous. Live with the same degree of commitment to the Lord in your home and neighborhood as you do in a church building and on a platform.
1 Kings 14:1-20
The next episode in the Jeroboam reality TV show is equally intriguing and sad. Jeroboam is troubled by his son’s sickness, so he sends his wife to the clergyman who predicted his ascent to the throne (11:37-38). He wants to know his son’s future. He tells her to take some Krispy Kreme doughnuts with her and to disguise herself. But the disguise makes no sense for two reasons. Ahijah is a prophet who already knows about the situation, and he’s blind.
Why does Jeroboam try to use this tactic? We aren’t told, but it’s probably because he was not following Ahijah’s original instruction to follow God’s word. Jeroboam probably thinks if he approaches Ahijah directly, then bad news will follow. He wants good news. But no one can manipulate God (cf. Acts 8:9-25), and no one is ever out of the eyes of God. No one can sneak away from God’s just judgment.
In verse 6 Ahijah dispenses with the games, saying, “Come in, wife of Jeroboam! Why are you disguised? I have bad news for you.” He proceeds to give her the unbearable news. Because Jeroboam hasn’t acted like David and has worshiped false gods instead, disaster is coming. The Lord is going to bring Jeroboam’s dynasty to a disgraceful end:
I will eliminate all of Jeroboam’s males,
both slave and free, in Israel;
I will sweep away the house of Jeroboam
as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone!
Anyone who belongs to Jeroboam and dies in the city,
the dogs will eat,
and anyone who dies in the field,
the birds of the sky will eat,
for the Lord has said it! (vv. 10-11)
Ahijah then tells her of the fate of her sick son: he will die. It’s tragic indeed, but at least this son will be buried. The wider tragedy is that Jeroboam’s house will be cut off. Ahijah tells the king’s wife,
The Lord will raise up for Himself a king over Israel, who will eliminate the house of Jeroboam. This is the day, yes, even today! For the Lord will strike Israel and the people will shake as a reed shakes in water. He will uproot Israel from this good soil that He gave to their ancestors. He will scatter them beyond the Euphrates because they made their Asherah poles, provoking the Lord. He will give up Israel because of Jeroboam’s sins that he committed and caused Israel to commit. (vv. 14-16)
Provan summarizes, “Jeroboam’s disobedience affects not just his own destiny (as the Judean’s prophet’s destiny had done), nor just that of his own house; it affects the destiny of the whole kingdom” (1 and 2 Kings, 119).
When Jeroboam’s wife returned and crossed the house’s threshold, the boy died according to the prophet’s word, and all of Israel mourned.
This story echoes David, who also lost a son due to sin, and the king’s sin affected others (2 Sam 12). But of course David’s whole house wasn’t destroyed. The God of justice is also the God of mercy, who in the fullness of time brought forth the ultimate Son of David, Jesus.
This is where we should end: Jesus. How might we wrap up this dark period of Israel’s history of division, downfall, disobedience, and death? The story reminds us that we need a better King and a better Prophet. We need One who can overcome our great problem: death. We need One who can bring about a united kingdom under a perfectly just and wise reign. We have all of this—yes, all of this—in Jesus, the King to end all kings.
The good news of the gospel is that God is merciful to sinners. He forgives idolaters and liars. He offers everlasting life to dying people. This salvation is made possible through the work of the King who took our judgment at the cross, rose from the dead, and opened the way of salvation for all who will heed God’s call to repent and believe in Christ. Don’t persist in sin. Repent. Look to Jesus as your sin-bearing substitute who alleviates our greatest burden, and embrace the fullness of salvation He offers. Then you can be assured of a place in His coming kingdom. If you have embraced Him as your Savior and King, then rejoice in Him now. Realize that your King has come, your King will return, and peace and righteousness will dwell forever. Live this day in light of that day, as a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom.
Reflect and Discuss
- Describe how God is both faithful and just when He splits the kingdom of Israel.
- Why is Rehoboam harsh toward Jeroboam and the assembly?
- How important is godly counsel for believers today?
- Why did Jeroboam make two golden calves?
- How might church leaders today lead God’s people astray with good intentions?
- Do people often make pragmatic choices that compromise their beliefs? Give examples.
- Jeroboam feared that Israel’s faithfulness to God would lead them to return to Rehoboam. When faithfulness and self-gain compete in your life, which one wins?
- Can faithfulness ever lead God’s people astray?
- God uses the prophet to confront Jeroboam but also judges the prophet for his disobedience. What does this teach about God’s character?
- In what ways are you tempted to love yourself more than obedience?