Rehoboam is the son of Solomon, the king of Israel. It is approximately 930 BC and Rehoboam’s father has passed away. Rehoboam is ascending to the throne. 1 Kings 12:1 records Rehoboam going to the city of Shechem for his coronation. By going to Shechem he is trying to rally support from the northern ten tribes for his kingship. The people have some demands for this new king before they will submit to his rule. They point out that his father Solomon had made their burden heaven. Lighten the load and the northern tribes say that they will serve under Rehoboam. The burden the people are talking about is likely referring to two situations. First, the tax burden is likely in view to pay for the building of God’s temple. Second, Solomon drafted forced labor from the people of Israel (1 Kings 5:13) and Jeroboam was put in charge over the forced labor (1 Kings 11:28). The northern ten tribes call for Rehoboam to lighten the load and they will honor Rehoboam as king and serve him. Rehoboam tells them that he will have an answer for them in three days. He is going to take some time to think about this decision.
Rehoboam asks for counsel from two sets of advisors. Rehoboam first asks the older men, the advisors who served under his father Solomon. They advise Rehoboam to do what the northern tribes were asking for him to do. Notice the wise counsel they give in verse 7. “If you will be a servant to this people today…then they will be your servants forever.” Be a servant today and your rule will be established over the people your whole life. Rehoboam does not like this answer and rejects this counsel. So Rehoboam decides to receivee counsel from the young men who had grown up with him. The young men tell Rehoboam to answer the people in this way. “My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. And now, whereas 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.” (12:10-11) These are two completely different answers advised to Rehoboam. Rehoboam hears the answer he wants to hear from those who had grown up with him. It is important to keep in mind the age of Rehoboam in this story. When we read the story about the contrasting advice of the old men and the young men, it is easy to think of Rehoboam as some young twenty year old. However, 1 Chronicles 12:13 tells us that Rehoboam was 41 years when he ascended to the throne. He is 41 years old right now. Yet, he is going to make a foolish decision and go with the advice of his peers.
Verse 13 tells us that Rehoboam spoke to the northern tribes three days later and answered the people harshly. He spoke the very counsel that the young men had given him. In verse 16 we see that this harsh answer leads to revolt. The northern tribes say that they no longer have a portion with the house of David. Essentially, the northern tribes have just ceded from the union (to use language similar to our civil war in the United States). Northern tribes have broken away from the rule of Rehoboam and tells the house of David to fend for itself. They no longer belong together as one nation under one rule.
Now we typically stop the story here and point out the foolishness of listening to one’s peers and not listening to the counsel of the older. This is a good point and it is a point that can be drawn from this text seeing the end result of Rehoboam’s decision. However, there are some other factors that must be considered that the author wants us to understand from this event.
Carefully read verse 15. This was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word. This is not some random accident. This is not the kingdom going off the rails. This scenario was brought about by the Lord so that he could fulfill his word. The focus of this text is not on Rehoboam’s stupidity but on God’s sovereignty. We must pay attention to the emphasis in the text. What is the writer speaking about to say that this came about so that God would fulfill his word?
In 1 Kings 11:1-8 we read about Solomon turning his heart away from the Lord. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. His wives turned his heart away from the Lord and to other gods. Verse 9 reveals that the Lord was angry at Solomon for turning his heart away. Verse 11 records the condemnation.
Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. 12 Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.” (1 Kings 11:11–13 ESV)
Who would be given the kingdom? Who is the servant that would receive the kingdom that was torn away from Solomon? Notice verses 30-32.
Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes 32 (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel)… (1 Kings 11:30–32 ESV).
God had promised that the kingdom would be divided because of Solomon’s sin. This point is made again a few verses later. Rehoboam gathers 180,000 chosen warriors to go fight against the northern tribes to restore Israel and unite the nation again. However, the word of God came to the prophet Shemaiah to tell Rehoboam not to go up or fight against the northern tribes. The reason is very clear. “Every man return to his home, for this thing is from me” (12:24). This division was God’s doing. Twice the text emphasizes to the reader that God is behind this turn of events. There are three life lessons that we can learn about Rehoboam and how God dealt with this situation.
The consequences of our sins are far-reaching.
The effects of sin last for generations. Because of Solomon’s sin the kingdom was set to divide. The effect of this sin would last until both the northern tribes and the tribe of Judah were carried in captivity. The sin of Solomon changed the course of events the effects of which lasted for generations. God was very open about the effects of sin. God told us that our sins will not only devastate our lives but devastate the lives of people for generations.
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7 ESV)
God is merciful and forgiving. However, we must understand that our sins will continue to have its impact for generations long after us. Things could have gone completely differently in the life of Rehoboam. But the sin of Solomon changed the course of events in Rehoboam’s life. I believe that we fail to grasp the devastating impact of our sins on our children. We must keep in mind the choices we are making about God today definitively impact our children in the future. Sexual immorality destroys the home and deeply affects the children. Divorce and remarriage, whether scriptural or not, impacts the lives of our children. Our emotional responses like anger, stubbornness, bitterness, malice, meanness, and even our disposition affects our children. They learn those behaviors. They mimic our behaviors. Our sins can even change the outcome of their lives. When we choose to stay home rather than come to worship God we teach our children that God is not the priority. We teach our children that there are other things that are more important. When our children are doing homework, playing with toys, sleeping, and so forth during worship, we are teaching our children that singing, praying, listening, and reading God’s word is not the reason we are here. We teach them to be pew sitters and not God worshipers. Our lack of devotion to God is observed by our children. Our lack of Bible study, prayer, or teaching changes and affects them.
God uses our sins for his purposes.
The amazing part of this story in 1 Kings 12 is that God can use our sins for his glory and his purposes. This does not mean that we should actively engage in sin because God can accomplish his will with or without us. Our first point was to see the damage that sin causes in our own lives, our children’s lives, and to generations beyond us. What we do learn is that God can accomplish great things even after we make big mistakes in life. We are not permanently crippled by our decisions or by the adverse things that happen to us. It is so sad to see so many people today look back at their bad decisions or the decisions of others that have caused them pain and simply are unable to move past that damage. Horrible things could have happen to you in your life by people who were supposed to be your family or loved ones. But we are not permanently crippled by those things. God can use evil things and horrible sins for his own purposes. The turn of events in our lives does not mean that we cannot have a joy filled, good life in God now. Rehoboam simply needed to obey the word of the Lord and God was going to bless him and his kingdom even though the kingdom had been divided because of his father’s sins.
Life goes better when we live in obedience to the Lord.
Can you imagine what would have happened in verse 24 is Rehoboam had not listened to the word of the Lord and decided to fight against the northern tribes anyway? Would God have brought a humiliating defeat against Rehoboam? It is not wise to resist the purpose and plan of God. Yet so often that is what we do in this life and wonder why we suffer through so many problems and difficulties. Solomon’s lack of obedience brought hardship and distress to his children and to the nation. When we obey the Lord our lives will go better. Listen to what Solomon teaches concerning this truth.
My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, 2 for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. 3 Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. 9 Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; 10 then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. (Proverbs 3:1–10 ESV)
Life and peace will be added to your life when we obey God’s commandments. Be faithful to the Lord and you will have success with God and favor with people. Fearing the Lord will bring healing to your body and refreshment to your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth and possessions and he will provide for you. The godly life is the wise way to live. Trust in the Lord and obey his word. It is not too late to join your life with Jesus and put your faith in him. God can use our mistakes and sins and bring about his purposes.