This important period in the history of the kingdom makes for disturbing reading. The outcomes of issues of great importance for nations often hinge on seemingly small events, and so it was here for the children of Israel. A brief meeting at Shechem and three days’ consideration of a request from the people by the king were destined to shape Israel’s future for years to come. Sadly, no one, except ‘Shemaiah the man of God’, 1 Kgs. 12. 22; 2 Chr. 12. 5, and possibly the ‘old men’, 1 Kgs. 12. 6-7, come out of the record with any credit.
First, ‘Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king’, 1 Kgs. 12. 1; 2 Chr. 10. 1. The will of man was to the fore and the Lord’s name was strangely absent. By meeting him at Shechem to make him king, the northern tribes of Israel were acknowledging that he was the heir to the throne, although they laid down conditions as to whether they would accept him as such, 1 Kgs. 12. 4; 2 Chr. 10. 4. Their message was clear: ‘Lighten the burdens your father, Solomon, placed on us and we will serve you’.
Second, ‘And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it … they sent and called him’, 1 Kgs. 12. 2-3; 2 Chr. 10. 2. Clearly, the northern tribes had not forgotten the immense talent Jeroboam had displayed in the past, and they had no hesitation in sending for him to be their spokesperson. The message that had been given to him by the prophet Ahijah would undoubtedly have been well known by this time, 1 Kgs. 11. 30-32.
Third, Rehoboam decided on the pathway of a three-day consultation: ‘Depart yet for three days, then come again to me’, 1 Kgs.12. 5; 2 Chr. 10. 5. Initially, he consulted with the old men. It was evident that he was only going to accept the advice of his seniors if it coincided with his own; however, as it did not, he sought the counsel of the young men, who had grown up with him. When Jeroboam and the people returned to Rehoboam on the third day, the decision had been made that would shatter the peace of the kingdom for years to come, i.e., that the burdens placed on the people would not be lightened, but increased, 1 Kgs. 12. 12; 2 Chr. 10. 12.
At this point, when all appears lost, with one simple statement the historian adjusts the reader’s vision to see what was really happening: ‘For the cause was from the Lord’, 1 Kgs. 12. 15; 2 Chr. 10. 15. ‘The cause’ could be translated, ‘the turn of events’ NKJV. The Lord was in control of the turn of events and used it to accomplish the promise He had made to Jeroboam through the prophet, Ahijah, 1 Kgs. 11. 30-31.
First, Rehoboam’s harsh words gave the northern tribes the excuse they were looking for to reject him as king, 1 Kgs. 12. 16; 2 Chr. 10. 16. They not only rejected Rehoboam as king, but, by making Jeroboam king, they contemptuously rejected God’s chosen Davidic line. Nevertheless, the faithfulness and sovereignty of God were seen in that the line was preserved. Neither Rehoboam’s folly, nor Jeroboam’s ambition, were able to thwart the purposes of God. However, although Rehoboam could not destroy God’s covenant with David, he certainly cast a shadow upon it.
Second, Rehoboam con-tinued to show a singular lack of wisdom in the way in which he handled the fall-out from the decision of the northern tribes. His first response was to send Adoram to them, who was in charge of the tribute tax, 1 Kgs. 12. 18; 2 Chr. 10. 18. Any thoughts of success he might have had for this unwise move were soon dissipated. Adoram was the last person that they would have wanted to see so soon after the rebuttal of their requests. It weakened, rather than strengthened, Rehoboam’s position, and it also cost Adoram his life.
Third, Rehoboam’s immediate response was to seek revenge against the house of Israel: 1 Kgs. 12. 21; 2 Chr. 11. 1. He decided that if they would not accept his authority willingly, he had no other option than to force them to do so.
Just when it seemed as if nothing could prevent a costly and damaging internal battle between brethren from tearing the country apart still further, the Lord stepped in. It was as well that there were those in the land who were sensitive to the Lord’s voice. We read, ‘But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God’, 1 Kgs. 12. 22; 2 Chr. 11. 2. It must have been a lonely path for the prophet to tread in days when very few appeared to be interested in the word of the Lord. Nevertheless, the Lord knew that Shemaiah was one through whom He could speak at a moment’s notice.
Shemaiah, previously unheralded and unknown, delivered a vital message to Rehoboam and the people at precisely the right moment in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed: ‘Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me’, 1 Kgs. 12. 24; 2 Chr. 11. 4.
In the light of all that has gone before, the reader may be taken by surprise at the next statement: ‘They hearkened therefore to the word of the Lord, and returned to depart, according to the word of the Lord’, 1 Kgs. 12.24; 2 Chr. 11. 4. The familiar pathway up to this time had been a total lack of desire to hear the Lord’s voice, let alone to obey it. However, at long last there was a positive response to His word.
Following the brief chink of light in the dark surroundings, the narrative moves back swiftly to the familiar territory of men’s disobedience to, and disregard for, God’s word. Jeroboam was about to take the northern tribes to new depths of departure from the Lord.
Jeroboam stands as a challenge to believers not to seek to embellish God’s promises and plans with their own, but to exercise the faith that simply takes Him at His word. Although nothing excuses his evil ways, it has to be acknowledged that the context in which Rehoboam reigned was far more conducive to right spiritual practices than the one in which he, Jereboam, lived. Rehoboam had a rich family heritage in that his grandfather was David and his father, Solomon. He must have known well the secrets of success and the pitfalls to avoid when ruling over the kingdom. He had the privilege of reigning for seventeen years in Jerusalem, 1 Kgs. 14. 21; 2 Chr. 12. 13. The temple, the priesthood and the sacrifices were there; therefore, it is distressing to see how quickly things went wrong in such a favourable setting, 1 Kgs. 14. 22.
Sadly, Rehoboam forsook God’s law, 1 Kgs. 14. 22-24; 2 Chr. 12. 1. Such departure did not go unnoticed by the Lord. Under His hand, Shishak, king of Egypt, brought a mighty army up against Judah and Jerusalem, 1 Kgs. 14. 25; 2 Chr. 12. 2-4. It was at this point that Shemaiah, the prophet, appeared on the scene once again and spoke to the king and the princes that had gathered at Jerusalem, 2 Chr. 12. 5. His message was simple and to the point, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak’, 2 Chr. 12. 5. A servant with spiritual insight will always look behind the immediate circumstances facing the Lord’s people and see His hand at work. The message of judgement for sinners and discipline for disobedient saints is never an easy one to deliver but, like Shemaiah, we should not hold back from declaring it. Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders are apposite: ‘For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God’, Acts 20. 27.
Whenever the word of the Lord is proclaimed it calls for a response from the hearers. On this occasion the people responded positively. They accepted the message in a spirit of humility and acknowledged that the Lord is righteous, 2 Chr. 12. 6. A truly penitent people will discover that the God who exercises discipline is also the God of compassion, cp. Micah 7. 18-19. Unlike Jonah, Shemaiah had no difficulty with this concept, cp. Jonah 4. 2. Clearly, he accepted that the God of judgement is also the God of infinite compassion and mercy, who is always ready to forgive and to restore. He had no hesitation in declaring that the hand of the Lord that had moved to chastise Rehoboam and the people of Judah would now move in restoration and preservation of them, 2 Chr. 12. 7. However, the Lord was not deceived by the nature of the people’s repentance. He knew how shallow it was and the waywardness of their hearts; therefore, He declared, through the mouth of Shemaiah, ‘I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance [i.e., for a little while]; and my wrath shall not be poured out upon Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak. Nevertheless, they shall be his servants’, 2 Chr. 12. 7-8.
Perhaps the saddest of sights would have been to witness Shishak taking away the treasures of the house of God, as well as the shields of gold that Solomon had made, 1 Kgs. 14. 26; 2 Chr. 12. 9. It is recorded of Judah that, during the reign of Rehoboam, they ‘built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree’, 1 Kgs. 14. 23. Rehoboam even permitted the evil practice of sodomy. The need of the day was for men and women of God, who were prepared to stand against the tide of immorality and idolatry that was sweeping through the land. There were only a few to be found, but Shemaiah was one of them. He justifiably bears the description, ‘Shemaiah, the man of God’, 1 Kgs. 12. 22. As the tide of spiritual and moral corruption sweeps through our land today, let us determine to be men and women of God, who are prepared to bear fearlessly and unashamedly the torch of divine truth.
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