1 Kings 12: The Division of Israel

The split of Israel was long coming, but it marked the end of their strength; united we stand, divided we fall. Let's look at how the kingdom split.


A divide between the southern tribes of Judah, Levi, and Benjamin and the 10 tribes of the north had been widing for quite some time. In the book of Samuel, we already see language in which the two are referred to by distinct names, similar to the South and Union in the United States. When Solomon provokes God with his idolatry, God let the frayed strands of the nation unravel. Rehoboam, Solomon's son inherits the throne of all Israel, but it doesn't last. Just as God promised, He continued the lineage of David on the throne, but for a smaller, weaker territory.

The Official Split of the Kingdom

Photocredit: Rowley
When then the 10 tribes of the north come to Rehoboam about the amount of work placed on them, Rehoboam forsakes the wise counsel of the elders and choses the poor counsel of his peers to "solve" the problem. Solomon had likely used men mostly from the 10 tribes to construct his palace and the Temple; this would explain what they meant by Solomon inflicting a heavy burden on them. Add to this the insult they already felt at Judah being favored by David, and the elders knew this was an uphill battle for Rehoboam.

Instead of agreeing to lighten their load or at least spread the work evenly amongst the tribes, as the elders suggested, Rehoboam chooses to flex his power in an unnecessarily cruel verdict. Rehoboam pridefully tells them that they will have a heavier load and instead of being punished by whips as Solomon had done, they would now be chastised with scorpions. Essentially, Rehoboam said that because they complained, he was going to make it even harder. Saying it out loud makes it obvious how stupid the idea was, but Rehoboam was rejecting God's wisdom. When we reject God's wisdom, we are fooled into thinking something sounds like a good plan when in fact, it's not. This was part of God's plan to reduce the kingdom given to Rehoboam.

Naturally, when Rehoboam conveys this message to the Israelites, they rebel. Jeroboam, who has come out of hiding now that Solomon is dead, is made king of the northern portion of the kingdom and the 10 tribes follow him just as the prophet said.


Jeroboam worried that if the men of his kingdom worshipped in Jerusalem, they would turn their favor to Rehoboam. A more important side effect of them turning their favor to Rehoboam, was that they would likely kill him as a traitor. Thus, to prevent worship in Jerusalem, Jeroboam turns to the people to idolatry. He setS up not one, but two, golden calves. Clearly, Jeroboam didn't learn from the Israelites in the Exodus. Jeroboam places one calf in Bethel and the other in Dan. Since most of the Levites were in Jerusalem and likely continued to followed Rehoboam and the way of God, the northern king was left without priests. Thus, Jeroboam appointed priests external to the Levites. He also created his own feast in the 8th month of the year. Jeroboam basically created his own religion using a little of God's original design and some pagan influences. God doesn't want us to alter His design, and this comes back to haunt Jeroboam and the northern kingdom.

Related to Christianity

Christianity experienced the same weakening after Jesus' resserrection. Initially the disciples and the apostles went out on one accord proclaiming God's word. They had flaws, but overall were men of God, just as David and Solomon were. Over time, problems crept in and when the Romans decided to take up Christianity they added paganism to their worship, just as Jeroboam did. After centuries of persecution for disobeying the Catholic Church, Christians began to splinter off into different denominations. Now, despict proclaiming to worship the same God, we many churches—many bodies of Christ and many kingdoms. Only a united kingdom can stand. Before all is said and done there will come a time when we have to choose which king we will follow.



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