1 Kings 12 Study Notes
12:1-33 There are two reasons for the great attention given here to the northern kings. First, because of the covenant offered to Jeroboam I (11:31,38), it was proper to record the evidence that the northern kings rejected God’s covenant. Second, though God knew what the future would bring, Israel did not immediately disappear from the prophetic and historical picture. Being in the north, Israel was more exposed to the flow of events, both economic and political. Therefore, at its best, Israel’s location guaranteed wealth and power. At its worst, Israel’s location exposed it to greater danger of foreign conquest.
12:1 Shechem was strategically located on the main road north of Jerusalem near the border of Ephraim and Manasseh; therefore, it was a good location for shadowing Jerusalem on the north and for gathering the traditional northern tribal leaders. The advantages of this location were confirmed when Jeroboam made Shechem his capital. David, earlier, had made a covenant with the elders for the kingship (2Sm 5:3), but these elders were ignored when Solomon came to power (1Kg 1). They were open to David’s dynasty, but they wanted to negotiate. Rehoboam had to satisfy the traditional elders in order to become king. Clearly, if it had been God’s choice for Rehoboam to rule the united empire, he could have accomplished it, but the Lord had rejected Solomon, so he permitted the forces of disunity to proceed.
12:2-4 Jeroboam was summoned from Egypt to speak for the elders. After living under Solomon’s oppressive policies, they demanded that the economic burdens be lightened.
12:5-7 Apparently Rehoboam was not happy about hearing the words servant and serve applied to him.
12:8-16 Rehoboam’s arrogance can be explained only by his presumption that he could demand and receive Solomon’s absolute power. Rehoboam wanted to operate in terms comparable to the divine right of kings but with neither the military power nor the moral authority to enforce this approach. Rehoboam’s younger (fortyish) companions, who had grown up in Solomon’s absolutism, supported him with two proverbial similes and overrode the better counsel of the elders.
12:17 Rehoboam had no idea how close he came to losing everything—but for God’s grace and the Davidic covenant.
12:18-19 Rehoboam’s nÃ¤ivetÃ© and foolishness were demonstrated by his sending Adoram (the same man as Adoniram, 5:14), director of the forced labor battalions, to enforce his rule. Adoram represented one of the heavier and more degrading of the burdens Solomon had placed on the people. The northerners killed him in a particularly insulting way, and Rehoboam barely escaped with his life.
12:20 In theory, the traditional authorities had exercised their right to elect the king. However, even in the north their elective rights would quickly give way to dynastic succession and military revolution. The statement that the tribe of Judah alone followed David is another true but rhetorical statement (cp. 11:35-36). It was true that only the tribe of Judah completely followed David, but portions of Benjamin, remnants of Simeon, many Levites, and even other northerners who wished to remain true to the covenant dynasty also followed the house of David (2Ch 11:13-17).
12:21-24 The divine oracle against fighting their brothers prevented hostilities for the moment, but this was just the beginning of recurrent, generally small-scale, border warfare.
12:25 The selection of Shechem as the capital should have pleased the northerners, for whom it was a natural site for conducting intertribal business. Then Jeroboam built or fortified Penuel, almost directly east across the Jordan rift from Shechem. This gave Jeroboam a fortified foothold on each side of the Jordan River.
12:26-27 Jeroboam’s astute scheming showed his doubt of God’s promises. The Lord promised Jeroboam ten tribes, but Jeroboam speculated that God might prove untrue and the people of the north might return to the house of David.
12:28 The most sobering point in this verse is that the king sought advice, and rather than being turned from error, was encouraged to make two golden calves. This act was not simply rebellion against David; it was also the rejection of the proper worship of the Lord by the leaders and counselors of Israel who advised Jeroboam. The king then set up a new system of worship for the people to keep them from going to Jerusalem for worship. It was a shrewd innovation. Such golden images typically consisted of an image made of cheaper material, usually wood, covered with gold foil or gold plating. Possibly Jeroboam did not intend these images to represent the Lord himself, but rather meant to imply that the Lord was the invisible deity riding above the calves. Thus, the king may have intended to produce an alternate, nonidolatrous manner of worshiping the Lord. However, his was still a disobedient, human-made system that had its origins in unbelief and fear rather than faith and obedience. Jeroboam’s words are identical to those of Aaron four hundred years earlier (Ex 32:4).
12:29 Dan already had a history of illegal, idolatrous worship of the Lord (Jdg 18). The calf shrine in Bethel was on the traditional border between Benjamin and Ephraim, barely ten miles north of the national temple in Jerusalem. This was a deliberate insult to Jerusalem and the worship conducted there.
12:30-31 The Bible briefly depicts the pomp and circumstance of these consecrations: the people walked in procession before the calf installed at Dan. Jeroboam also set up other illegal shrines throughout the country, which he staffed illegally with non-Levites. This dispossessing of the Levites from their assigned duties encouraged their emigration southward. Ironically, God may have used Jeroboam’s idolatry to concentrate the Levites where their influence for good would be most effective.
12:32-33 Again, with political astuteness but religious disobedience, Jeroboam changed the calendar. He established a festival like the festival in Judah, on the fifteenth day of the eighth month. This festival apparently replaced the observances in the seventh month, Tishri, which included both the Day of Atonement and the Festival of Ingathering (Ex 23:16; also known as the Festival of Shelters). The text does not clarify whether Jeroboam’s illegal act of sacrifices was a one-time event when he initiated the worship or a habitual act on his part.