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This chapter relates Rehoboam’s going to Shechem to be made king, and Jeroboam’s return from Egypt, ( 1 Kings 12:1,2), the people’s request to Rehoboam to be eased of their taxes, as the condition of making him king, ( 1 Kings 12:3,4), his answer to them, after three days, having had the advice both of the old and young men, which latter he followed, and gave in a rough answer, ( 1 Kings 12:5-15), upon which ten tribes revolted from him, and two abode by him, ( 1 Kings 12:16-20), wherefore he meditated a war against the ten tribes, but was forbid by the Lord to engage in it, ( 1 Kings 12:21-24) and Jeroboam, in order to establish his kingdom, and preserve the people from a revolt to the house of David, because of the temple worship at Jerusalem, devised a scheme of idolatrous worship in his own territories, ( 1 Kings 12:25-33).
Ver. 1 . And Rehoboam went to Shechem , etc.] After the death and internment of his father: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king : as was pretended, though in reality it was to seek occasion against him, and make Jeroboam king; it is very probable they knew of the prophecy of Ahijah, and therefore would not go to Jerusalem, but to Shechem, a city in the tribe of Ephraim, of which Jeroboam was, and where he had sowed the seeds of sedition when ruler there; and this place they chose, partly because they could more freely speak what they had in their minds, and partly for the safety of Jeroboam they had sent for on this occasion; so that Rehoboam went thither not of choice, but of necessity. The Jews observe that this place was very ominous; here Dinah was ravished, Joseph was sold, Abimelech exercised tyranny, and here now the kingdom was divided.
Ver. 2 . And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it , etc.] Of the death of Solomon, and of the meeting of the Israelites at Shechem: (for he was fled from the presence of King Solomon ; (see 1 Kings 11:40) and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt;) until the death of Solomon; some render the words, “Jeroboam, returned out of Egypt” f304 , which agrees with ( Chronicles 10:2), this he did on hearing the above news, and on being sent for by some of his friends, as follows.
Ver. 3 . That they sent and called him , etc.] That is, the people of Israel, some of the principal of them, especially of the tribe of Ephraim, sent messengers to him, and gave him an invitation to come to them at Shechem; or, they had sent f305 , as Kimchi interprets it, which was the reason of his returning from Egypt, at least one of them: and Jeroboam, and all the congregation of Israel, came ; the chief men of them, the heads of the people; these, with Jeroboam at the head of them, who was come out of Egypt, came to Shechem, where Rehoboam was, and they had appointed to meet him: and spake unto Rehoboam ; one in the name of them all, perhaps Jeroboam: saying ; as follows.
Ver. 4 . Thy father made our yoke grievous , etc.] Laid heavy taxes upon them, for the finishing of his buildings, for the maintenance of his household, for keeping such a large number of horses and chariots, and for the salaries of his officers, and for the support of his magnificent court; though they had very little reason to complain, since this was for the honour and grandeur of their nation, and they enjoyed their liberty, and lived in peace, plenty, and safety all his days; and such an abundance of riches was brought unto them by him that silver was as the stones of the street; though perhaps the taxes might be increased in the latter part of his life, for the support of his vast number of wives, and of their idolatrous worship, and for the defence of himself and kingdom against the attempts of Hadad and Rezon; but, as most interpreters observe, what they find most reason to complain of, they take no notice of, even the idolatry he had set up among them: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us lighter ; that is, ease them of their taxes, or lessen them: and we will serve thee ; acknowledge him as their king, give him homage, and yield obedience to him. Ver. 5 . And he said unto them, depart yet for three days, then come again to me , etc.] Suggesting that he would consider of their proposal and inquire into the merits of it and as things should appear to him he would give them an answer in three days time; which at first sight may seem a point of prudence in him, to take time for deliberation and counsel in this affair, but in his case and circumstance it was very imprudent; for he might easily see there was discontent among the people, and a faction forming against him, and, by taking time to himself, he gave them time to take their measures, and hasten and ripen them for a revolt; for, by giving them such an answer, they might plainly perceive he was not inclined to give them satisfaction; it would have been the most advisable in him to have promised them at once that he would make them easy: and the people departed ; to their quarters, and there remained to the third day.
Ver. 6 . And King Rehoboam consulted with the old men that stood before Solomon his father, while he yet lived , etc.] Which was very prudently done; for as these were men in years, and had been his father’s counsellors, from whom, do doubt, they had learnt much wisdom, being often in cabinet council with him, they were capable of giving him the best advice: and said, how do you advise, that I may answer this people ? what answer would you advise me to give to them, and in what manner?
Ver. 7 . And they spake unto him, saying , etc.] They gave their advice as follows: if thou wilt be servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them ; condescend to them, behave in an humble manner towards them, for this day however, and gratify and oblige them; though indeed a king is but a servant to his people, and his administration of government a doing service to them; hence Antigonus f306 , a king, mild, humble, and gentle, perceiving his son to behave in a fierce and violent manner towards his subjects, said to him, my son, dost thou not know that our glorious kingdom is a servitude? and answer them, and speak good words unto them ; give them a soft answer, and speak kindly and gently to them, and make them fair promises, and give them reason to expect that their requests will be granted: then they will be thy servants for ever ; such conduct would so win upon them, and make such an impressions upon them, that they would for ever after entertain high opinion of him, and be strongly affected and attached to him, and readily serve him.
Ver. 8 . But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him , etc.] He did not rightly relish it, nor cordially receive it; it did not suit with his haughty temper, he could not brook it, to stoop to his people; he thought it a lessening of his dignity to do anything that looked like courting their favour; and therefore determined not to take the advice given him by the old men, but to seek for other: and consulted with the men, that were grown up with him, and which stood before him ; the sons of nobles, with whom he had his education, and who were his companions from his youth upwards, and who were now officers in his court, and of his privy council, being his favourites, and those he consulted on this occasion; and though they are called young men, as they were in comparison of the old men, yet since they were contemporary with Rehoboam, who was now forty one years of age, they must be about forty, or not much under, and at an age to be wiser than they appeared to be.
Ver. 9 . And he said unto them, what counsel give ye, that we may answer this people, saying , etc.] (see Gill on “ 1 Kings 12:4”).
Ver. 10 . And the young men that were grown up with him, spake unto him, saying , etc.] Gave him the following advice: thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying ; as is said, ( 1 Kings 12:4) thus shall thou say unto them, my little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins ; or, “is thicker” signifying that he had more strength and power than his father had, and that he would make them know it, and they should feel the weight of it, and instead of lessening he would increase their taxes; for also hereby was intimated, that his glory, grandeur, and magnificence, was greater than his father’s, especially when he first came to the kingdom, and therefore required the same taxes, or greater, to support it; and perhaps reference may be had to the difference of their age, Solomon being a child, or a very young man, when he came to the throne; whereas Rehoboam was upwards of forty years of age, and capable of judging what was fit to be done, and not to be talked to and treated after this manner, nor to receive the kingdom upon a condition of the people’s prescribing.
Ver. 11 . And now, whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke , etc.] Which was putting words into his mouth, owning the charge and accusation brought against his father, as he did, ( 1 Kings 12:14), which was very unbecoming, if true; unless this is said according to the sense of the people: I will add to your yoke ; make it heavier, lay more taxes on them: my father hath chastised you with whips ; which was putting a lie into his mouth, and which he uttered, ( 1 Kings 12:14) for no instance of severity exercised on the people in general can be given during the whole reign of Solomon: but I will chastise you with scorpions ; treat them more roughly, and with greater rigour: whips may mean smaller ones, these horse whips, as in the Targum; which gave an acute pain, like the sting of scorpions, or made a wound like one. Ben Gersom says, these were rods with thorns on them, which pierced and gave much pain. Weemse thinks these are alluded to by thorns in the sides, ( Numbers 33:55 Judges 2:3), for whipping with them was about the sides, and not along the back. Abarbinel calls them iron thorns, rods that had iron prongs or rowels to them, which tore the flesh extremely. Isidore says, a rod that is smooth is called a rod, but, if knotty and prickled, it is rightly called a scorpion, because it makes a wound in the body arched or crooked. Pliny ascribes the invention of this sort of scorpions to the Cretians.
Ver. 12 . So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day , etc.] Jeroboam came to him at the head of the people, being the head of the faction, and designed for their king: as the king had appointed, saying, come to me again the third day ; (see 1 Kings 12:5).
Ver. 13 . And the king answered the people roughly , etc.] In a blustering manner, gave them hard words and severe menaces, being worked up to such a spirit by his young counsellors: and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him : to give them good words and kind promises. Ver. 14 . And spake to them after the counsel of the young men , etc.] And in the very language in which they gave it: saying, my father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke; my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions , (see Gill on “ 1 Kings 12:11”).
Ver. 15 . Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people , etc.] To lessen their taxes, and ease them of their burdens, as they desired: for the cause was from the Lord ; it was according to his will and appointment; the defection of the people was willed by the Lord, and various things in Providence turned up to alienate their minds from Rehoboam, and dispose them to a revolt from him in favour of Jeroboam; and the Lord suffered the counsellors of Rehoboam to give him the advice they did, and gave him up to the folly of his own heart to take it: that he might perform his saying, which the Lord spake to Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat ; (see 1 Kings 11:29-39).
Ver. 16 . So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them , etc.] To grant their requests: the people answered the king, saying, what portion have we in David ? or in his posterity, which are not of our tribes, nor are we obliged to have a king of that family; nor can we expect any benefit or advantage from thence, as may be easily concluded from the rough answer of Rehoboam: neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse ; so they called David by way of contempt; which was great ingratitude, when he had done such great things for them, and he and his son Solomon had raised them to the pitch of wealth and glory they now enjoyed; these were seditious expressions, and seem to be borrowed from a seditious person in the times of David, ( 2 Samuel 20:1) to your tents, O Israel ; signifying it was high time to depart from Rehoboam, and to have nothing to say to him, or do with him, but retire to their habitations, to consider whom to set as king over them: now see to thine own house, David ; thou son or grandson of David; not his own house and family, and mind his domestic affairs, nor the house of the sanctuary in his tribe, as many of the Jewish writers interpret it; but rather the tribe of Judah, of which he was, and would have him consider to what a narrow compass his kingdom would be brought, who was just now blustering and boasting of his grandeur as a king: so Israel departed unto their tents ; to their cities, as the Targum, and their habitations there, without recognizing Rehoboam as their king, or swearing allegiance, or giving homage to him as such.
Ver. 17 . But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah , etc.] Either such Israelites of the ten tribes that had before dwelt, or now upon this removed, for the sake of worship, to dwell in the tribe of Judah; or else that part of Israel, the tribe of Judah, which dwelt in the cities belonging to it: Rehoboam reigned over them ; they owned him to be their king, and submitted to his government.
Ver. 18 . Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the tribute , etc.] There was one of this name in this office in the time of David, ( Samuel 20:24), this is the same with Adoniram, as Jarchi thinks, (see Kings 4:6), him he sent either to collect the tribute of the Ephraimites, to show his authority; or rather to call the people back to have some further discourse with them, and endeavour to soften things, and bring them to a compliance, so Josephus f311 ; but it was too late, and he employed a very improper person; the heavy taxes were their complaint, and a tax gatherer, and especially one that was at the head of the tribute, must be of all men the most disagreeable to them; this is another instance of the folly and false steps of Rehoboam: and all Israel stoned him with stones, that he died ; the populace fell upon him at once, and stoned him to death; and which, though contrary to law and justice, was approved of and applauded by their principal men and all the people; so irritated and provoked were they by Rehoboam’s answer to them. Hottinger says, this man was buried in Shechem, which is very probable; but it is not expressed here, as he suggests it is; however, a grave stone, found A. D. 1480, in Spain, with this inscription, is not genuine, “this is the grave of Adoniram, a servant of King Solomon, who came to collect tribute, and died such a day:” therefore King Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem ; from Shechem, fearing they would treat him in the same manner in their rage and fury; his courage was now cooled, and his haughty and hectoring spirit was now brought down, and he was glad to make use of his chariot for flight; this is the first time we read of a king of Israel riding in a chariot; though before of Sisera, a Canaanitish captain, and that only in a chariot of war.
Ver. 19 . So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day .] In which the writer of this book lived, and so continued until their captivity by the king of Assyria. Their revolt is called a rebellion; for though it was according to the purpose and will of God, yet the people had no command or order from God for it, and was done without consulting him, and was a rejection of their lawful prince.
Ver. 20 . And it came to pass, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again , etc.] Out of Egypt; the chief men knew of it before, for he had headed them in their approach and address to Rehoboam; but the people in common had not, and especially those of the various tribes besides that of Ephraim: that they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel ; they sent for him from his tent or house, which probably was in Shechem, and gave him an invitation to come to their assembly, met together to deliberate about a king; when they unanimously chose him to be king over Israel, that is, over the ten tribes, and inaugurated him into his office: there was none that followed the house of David but the tribe of Judah only ; in which Benjamin was included, as appears from the following verse; that being joined to it, and mixed with it, and both having a part in Jerusalem, and so ever after the kingdom was denominated the kingdom of Judah.
Ver. 21 . And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem , &e.] From Shechem, which was forty miles from Jerusalem: he assembled all the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin, an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon ; which not only shows courage reassumed by Rehoboam, now safely home, but the hearty attachment of Judah and Benjamin to him, who raised presently so numerous an army in his favour; and had it not been that the Lord was against their going to battle with Israel, in all probability they might have gained their point, Jeroboam being scarcely settled in his kingdom, and having no forces raised.
Ver. 22 . But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God , etc.] A prophet in those days, (see 2 Chronicles 12:15) and the word that came to him, as in the Targum, is called the word of prophecy: saying ; as follows.
Ver. 23 . Speak unto Rehoboam the son of Solomon king of Judah , etc.] He is called king before, but of what tribe or tribes is not expressly said, only it is implied in ( 1 Kings 12:17) and he is only acknowledged king of Judah by the Lord himself: and unto all the house of Judah and Benjamin ; which made but one house, as before but one tribe, ( 1 Kings 11:36) and to the remnant of the people ; of the other tribes that might dwell among them at Jerusalem, and especially Simeon, whose inheritance was within the tribe of Judah, ( Joshua 19:1) saying : as follows.
Ver. 24 . Thus saith the Lord , etc.] A common preface the prophets used when they spoke in the name of the Lord: ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel ; and that because they were their brethren; though that is not the only reason, another follows: return every man to his house, for this thing is from me ; it was according to the will of God, as Josephus rightly says f314 ; it was by his ordination and appointment, though Jeroboam and the people sinned in the way and manner in which they brought it about; and therefore to fight against Israel, in order to regain the kingdom, would be fighting against God, and so to no purpose: they hearkened therefore to the word of the Lord, and returned to depart according to the word of the Lord ; they knew Shemaiah was a prophet of the Lord, and they believed the message he brought came from him, and therefore hearkened and were obedient to it; and with the consent of Rehoboam were disbanded, and returned to their habitations, being satisfied with, and submissive to, the will of God, both king and people. Ver. 25 . Then Jeroboam built Shechem in Mount Ephraim, and dwelt therein , etc.] Not that this city had lain in ruins from the times of Abimelech, ( Judges 9:45) for then it would not have been a proper place for the convention of the people, ( 1 Kings 12:1) but he repaired the walls of it, and fortified it, and built a palace in it for his residence: and went out from thence, and built Penuel ; a place on the other side Jordan, the tower of which was beaten down by Gideon, ( Judges 8:17) and might be now rebuilt, or at least the city was repaired by him, and anew fortified, perhaps for the better security of his dominions on that side Jordan; though Fortunatus Scacchus is of opinion that this was an altar, the same as at Carmel, ( 1 Kings 18:30), which Jeroboam built, and called by this name in testimony of the common religion of the Israelites and Jews.
Ver. 26 . And Jeroboam said in his heart , etc,] As he was musing about the state of his kingdom and the affairs of it: now shall the kingdom return to the house of David ; such were his fears, unless some method could be taken to prevent it, particularly with respect to religion, which was what his thoughts were employed about.
Ver. 27 . If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem , etc.] In the temple there, three times in the year, which all the males were obliged to, besides other times, when they had occasion to offer sacrifice, which they might do nowhere else: then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their Lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah ; being drawn by the magnificence of the temple, the beauty and order of worship in it, the holiness of the place, and the grandeur of the royal court, and the persuasions of the priests and prophets of the Lord, both to keep to the service of the Lord, and to obey their lawful sovereign; and besides, they might be in fear they should be taken up and punished as traitors, and therefore would choose to submit to Rehoboam, that they might have the liberty of sacrificing without fear; Jeroboam seems conscious himself that Rehoboam was their liege lord and lawful king: and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah ; his fears ran so high, that he should not only lose his kingdom, but his life, unless some step was taken to make an alteration in religious worship. Ver. 28 . Whereupon the king took counsel , etc.] Of some of his principal men, that had as little religion as himself, and were only concerned for the civil state; and the result of their consultation was as follows: and made two calves of gold ; in imitation of that which was made by Aaron, and encouraged by his example and success; and having been in Egypt some time, he might have learned the calf or ox worship there, and might take his pattern from thence, and have two as they had; the one they called Apis, which was worshipped at Memphis, and another called Mnevis, worshipped at Hierapolis, as many learned men have observed; these were she calves, according to the Septuagint and Josephus f316 : and said unto them ; not his counsellors, but the people of the land: it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem ; pretending he sought their ease, by contriving a method to prevent their long fatiguing journeys, to go up with their sacrifices, firstfruits, etc. and the Jews say the firstfruits ceased from going up to Jerusalem on the twenty third of Sivan, which answers to part of May and part of June, on which day they kept a fast on that account: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt; using the same words Aaron did on a like occasion; not that he thought these were really gods, and had divinity in them; nor could he hope or expect that the people would believe they had; but that these were representations of the true God, who had brought them out of Egypt; and that it might as well be supposed that God would cause his Shechinah to dwell in them as between the cherubim over the ark.
Ver. 29 . And he set the one in Bethel , etc.] In the southern part of the land, on the border of Ephraim and Benjamin; and the rather he chose this place, because its name signifies the house of God, and had been a sacred place, where Jacob more than once enjoyed the divine Presence: and the other put he in Dan : in the northern part of the land, for the convenience of the inhabitants of those parts; and the rather, since it had been a place resorted to in former times, because of the teraphim of Micah there.
Ver. 30 . And this thing became a sin , etc.] The cause and occasion of the sin of idolatry; it led them by degrees to leave off the worship of God, and to worship these calves as gods: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan ; which was the furthest off, such was their great zeal for idolatrous worship; or they went thither before that at Bethel was set up; and even they at Bethel would go as far as Dan to worship, such was their veneration for both the calves. Abarbinel is of opinion that these calves were not made by Jeroboam for idolatrous uses, only the altar later mentioned; and that he never worshipped before them, nor sacrificed to them, nor even built the altar before them; but that these were set up as signs, and in memory of his kingdom, like the pillars in Solomon’s temple; that he chose the calf or ox as emblems of his family, the family of Joseph, ( Deuteronomy 33:17) two to represent Ephraim and Manasseh; golden ones, to denote the majesty and perpetuity of his kingdom; and he set these, the one at Bethel, at the entrance of it, and the other at Dan, at the further borders of it; and that he did not call those gods, but the only true God, as he that brought Israel out of Egypt; only signified by that expression, that he was everywhere, there as well as at Jerusalem; but that the Israelites, who were taken with sensible objects, on visiting these out of curiosity, it became a snare to them, and they fell into the worship of them; just as Gideon’s ephod, and Moses’ brasen serpent, were unto them.
Ver. 31 . And he made an house of high places , etc.] Or “altars” f318 , built a temple at Dan, and set up several altars in it for sacrifice, both for burnt offerings, and for incense, as at Jerusalem: and made priests of the lowest of the people ; this clause seems not so well rendered; for this would have been very unpopular, and brought his new form of worship into contempt, to make the dregs of the people priests, which was not only a very sacred office, but of great honour; it was usual in some nations for kings to be priests also f319 , and Jeroboam himself exercised this office, ( 1 Kings 12:33 13:1) and therefore would never put the meanest of the people into it, but rather those of higher rank: the words may be literally rendered, “from the extremities” or “ends of the people” f320 ; meaning not merely from the extremist parts of his country, but rather out of the whole of the people; out of all sorts of them, out of any of them, without any distinction of tribe: for so it follows, which were not of the sons of Levi ; and as by this means he enriched himself, by taking the cities that belonged to the priests and Levites, which they were obliged to leave, and from whence he drove them, ( Chronicles 11:14) so he pleased the people by laying open the priesthood common to them, and freeing them from the payment of tithes, and the like.
Ver. 32 . And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah , etc.] The feast of tabernacles, which was on the fifteenth day of the seventh month; this was done chiefly for the sake of an alteration; though Abarbinel thinks, because the fruits of the land were not so soon ripe nor so soon gathered, in the northern parts of the land, as nearer Jerusalem, he judged this month the fittest for the feast of ingathering the fruits; and he might hope to get more people to come to his feast, when all were gathered in: and he offered upon the altar (so he did in Bethel), sacrificing unto the calves that he had made : this he did by his priests, or rather he himself did it, (see 1 Kings 13:4), this shows that Jeroboam made these calves for worship, and did sacrifice to them, at least as representations of God.
Abarbinel, to make this agree with his hypothesis, gives this sense of the clause, that he did not sacrifice to the calves, but to God, because of them, that his kingdom, which they were a sign of, might be continued; and there being but one calf in a place, he could not be said to sacrifice to them both, but to God, because of both; or else he thinks this must be done after the people had turned aside to them, and not when Jeroboam made them. The clause in the parenthesis, “so he did in Bethel”, intimates that he did the same in Bethel as in Dan, of which what is said before is spoken; that is, that he made an house of high places in Bethel also, made priests out of all the people, such as were not of the tribe of Levi, appointed the feast of the fifteenth day of the eighth month to be observed there also, and he himself offered on the altar there: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made : to officiate there.
Ver. 33 . So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month , etc.] As he had done in Dan: even in the month which he had devised of his own heart ; the feast of tabernacles was of God’s appointing, but the time of keeping he had devised himself, changing it from the seventh month, or Tisri, which answers to our September and October, to the eighth month, or Marchesvan, which answers to part of October and part of November: and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel ; to be observed by them as the feast of tabernacles was by the priests of Judah and Benjamin: and he offered upon the altar, and burnt incense ; which none but the priests should do; perhaps the reason why the same resentment was not shown as to Uzziah was, because this was not at the altar of the Lord: whether he burnt incense after the manner of the Jewish priests, or as the priests of Egypt did to the sun, where he had been for some time, is not certain; the former burnt incense only twice a day, morning and evening, the latter three times; at sunrising they burnt rosin, about noon myrrh, and about sun setting “kuphi”, which was a compound of sixteen sorts f321 .