Because of rampant idolatry in Israel, the Lord disciplined His people by setting apart Jeroboam to rebel against King Solomon. Jeroboam would have the ten northern tribes; Solomon’s descendant, Rehoboam, would have Judah. The record of 1 Kings 12-14 points to the fact that both Jeroboam and Rehoboam were motivated by fear for themselves rather than fear of the Lord.
Rehoboam had gone to the northern city of Shechem to be anointed king in Israel. Yet when Jeroboam—after returning from exile in Egypt (1 Kgs 12:1-2)—came with the whole assembly of Israel, Rehoboam heard more than a simple request for a lighter yoke; he sensed rebellion amongst Jeroboam and his cohort and was afraid. Rehoboam sought counsel from Israel’s elders as to how he should respond. It is ironic that he, the son of the man who wrote so much about wise words and foolish speech (Proverbs 10), would so quickly set aside the counsel of Israel’s elders for the counsel of young men. That he listened to the advice of the young men who said, “This is what you should say to these people…‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins!’” (1 Kgs 12:11), showed that Rehoboam viewed the throne as a means of self-assertion. Tragic as it was, all of this “came from the LORD to carry out His word” (1 Kgs 12:15). Rehoboam’s reign was characterized by idolatry and unfaithfulness (1 Kgs 14:21-31). Even though he lived in the glorious city of Jerusalem, which boasted the temple, he was no match for Shishak king of Egypt. Shishak besieged the city and claimed the treasuries of the Lord’s temple: “He took everything” (1 Kgs 14:26).
Jeroboam was afraid. If the northerners had to go to Jerusalem for cultic celebrations, “the heart of these people will return to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will murder me and go back to the king of Judah” (1 Kgs 12:27). Like Rehoboam, he sought advice and sinned (1 Kgs 12:28-33). All this despite the Lord’s promise to Jeroboam that if he obeyed the law, the Lord would establish his dynasty just as the Lord had promised David (1 Kgs 11:38). Jeroboam refused. His heart was so hard that even when his arm was withered and restored by the man of God from Judah (1 Kgs 13:1-10), he “did not repent of his evil way but again set up priests from every class of people for the high places” (1 Kgs 13:33). Indeed, he, like the man of God, dismissed God’s clear revelation for a more convenient conviction (1 Kgs 13:11-32). Israel would never be able to recover from the failures of Jeroboam; his legacy led to the exile (1 Kgs 14:1-20; 2 Kings 17, 24).
The latter half of Solomon’s life and the initial scenes of the divided kingdom demonstrate that the descendants of Jacob would not remain loyal to the Lord. Moses predicted as much (Deuteronomy 29-30), Joshua warned against it (Joshua 24), and David echoed their words (1 Kings 2). Because of the idolatry of the land, the Lord raised up Jeroboam to discipline King Solomon and Israel. In the storyline of Scripture, idolatry is such a serious offense to God, because He is holy; no image could do Him justice. This paradigm set the stage for the coming of Jesus Christ—God become man.
(1) Paul wrote that, “In Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily” (Col 2:9) and said “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, a man, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself—a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time” (1 Tim 2:5-6).
(2) The author of Hebrews began his epistle by noting, “Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe. He is the radiance of His glory, the exact expression of His nature” (Heb 1:1-3a).
(3) After an extended defense of the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, John concluded his first epistle with the admonition, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).