In the view of the witness that the scriptures give to the “glory and greatness of Solomon and his kingdom, it perhaps seems strange that when he died his ‘house’ was far from strong.
It seems that Rehoboam was his only son, if there were others the scriptures do not mention them, though they do speak of two daughters.
As soon as Rehoboam came to the throne it was evident that he lacked the qualities of a true leader and added to that was the fact that the seeds for the division of the kingdom had already been sown. From 2 Chronicles 10 we learn it was the folly of Rehoboam that actually brought about the division, but the full responsibility cannot be limited to him.
The Departure of Solomon
At the heart of the matter we must surely place the departure of Solomon from the ways of the Lord. We recall the words of the Lord in 1 Kings 11. 11, ‘Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant’. According to the instructions of Deuteronomy 17. 16, 17 there were three things a king was not to multiply. ‘He shall not multiply horses to himself. Neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold’. Alas, in his latter years Solomon failed in all of these. Look at 1 Kings 10. 28, ‘Solomon had horses brought out of Egypt’. Trace the several references to gold in this chapter, noting also the abundance of silver at verse 27. Moving into chapter 11, verse 3 says ‘he had seven hundred wives, princesses and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart’. Though the Lord God of Israel had twice appeared unto him, sadly he now turned to the gods of the Zidonians, the Ammorites and the Moabites. What careful attention we should give to our affections, interests and associations lest, like Solomon, we should embark upon a pathway that will ultimately turn us away from the Lord and be divisive amongst His people. We leave the reader to consider the situations that have this potential.
The Desire of Jeroboam
While the direction of Solomon’s life was downward, that of another key figure in these events was in the ascendancy. Jeroboam was a servant of Solomon, that he had promoted to a position of authority, 1 Kgs. 11. 26, 28. Consider however the character of this man, for the scriptures suggest at least three things about him; that he was industrious, ambitious and unscrupulous. Where there is such a man it will need only a suitable opportunity to bring him into prominence.
We know it was God’s intention to give the rule over ten of Israel’s tribes to Jeroboam, but that of course did not excuse his rebellion against Solomon, 11. 26; or his conduct in leading the people astray, 12. 30.
Jeroboam was an industrious man, in fact that is the reason given for his promotion, 11. 28. The words of Ahijah to him, ‘thou shalt reign according to all that thy soul desireth, and shalt be king over Israel’, 11. 37, indicates that even before the prophet met him, Jeroboam had ambitions to be king. Then as we survey his later history we see his total lack of scruples as under pretence of being a champion of the people’s cause, with their welfare at heart, he cast aside that which was of God in favour of ideas of his own devising, and all with the intention of securing the kingdom to himself, 12. 26-33. Solomon had departed from the Lord, but in the wings an ambitious man waited for his opportunity.
In a different setting Paul warned the saints to ‘mark’ and ‘avoid’ men of the character of Jeroboam, Rom. 16. 17, 18.
The Discontent of the people
Perhaps a direct result of the decline in Solomon’s leadership, and certainly providing an opportunity for Jeroboam was the discontent of the children of Israel. In 1 Kings 12. 1-4 all Israel had come to Shechem to make Rehoboam king. Jeroboam had been summoned by the people, presumably to act as their spokesman and to give voice to their complaint, ‘thy father made our yoke grievous’. Whatever the basis for their charge, commentators vary in their suggestions, the people demanded change.
That discontent can quickly spread is witnessed by the conduct of Israel in the wilderness, Exod. 16. 1-2, Num. 14. 1-2, 16. 41; but handled wisely it can be contained and division prevented as seen in the events of Acts 6. 1-7, but where wisdom is lacking the consequences can be disastrous. Who could estimate the damage that has been done in past days to the testimony of some assemblies, because of saints failing to heed the apostle’s exhortation,‘Neither murmur ye’, 1 Cor. 10. 10?
The Deficiency of Rehoboam
The seeds for division had already been sown, but it was Rehoboam’s folly that brought them to fruition. Did Solomon have doubts about the fitness of Rehoboam to reign, Eccles. 2. 18, 19? Certainly Abijah, Rehoboam’s son, spoke with the benefit of hindsight to his father’s inexperience, 2 Chron. 13. 7.
We should notice that when all Israel came to Shechem it was with the intention of making Rehoboam king. Secondly the people’s complaint was not against Rehoboam but against his father. Thirdly they promised that if Rehoboam met their request they would be his servants, I Kgs. 12. 1, 4. How did Rehoboam respond? He exercised caution and sought counsel, vv. 5, 6; but not of the Lord. The counsel of old men, v. 7, reflected the teaching of Solomon in Proverbs 15. 1, ‘a soft answer turneth away wrath’, but this was rejected and instead Rehoboam gave ear to the words of the young men. Again Solomon had warned, ‘the beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water; therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with’, Prov. 17. 14; but ignoring such a warning Rehoboam answered the people roughly. They replied in a similar spirit, and the division of the kingdom took place, 1 Kgs. 12. 6-16.
There are few things that have a greater possibility for disaster than a man in a position of authority who lacks both the ability and the experience it demands. No doubt our thoughts move forward to 1 Timothy 3. 2 and Titus 1. 7. ‘The overseer must be’ (J.N.D. New Translation), Paul indicating that the accompanying qualifications are not optional, but essential.
These then were the elements that led to the division of the kingdom. Reviewing them we notice that the first and the fourth embrace a failure in the leadership. Had there been no departure with Solomon or deficiency with Rehoboam there would have been little room for the people to become discontented, or opportunity for the desires of Jeroboam to be realized.
Present conditions amongst assemblies, with so many marked by weakness, others suffering from the consequences of division, yet others giving prominence to one man in the appointment of a full-time minister, all point to a dearth of godly leadership and a grave deficiency with us. Surely it calls for deep exercise of heart, humility and confession before God on the part of all who desire to see assemblies prospering in the ways of God.