Here begins a new section. Of the kings of Judah who now come to our attention, it is mentioned of seven kings that they do what is good in the sight of the LORD. The other kings fail. That failure is painted, despite the difference with both books of Kings, where the emphasis is on responsibility and therefore on failure. The emphasis in the books of Chronicles is not on that, but on the grace of God.
From the reign of King Rehoboam 2 Chronicles becomes a book about a period of almost four hundred years (from 930-538/536 BC) showing a history of failure and grace. The emphasis is on the restoration that may follow in God’s grace time and again on failure. God does not prevent failure, but provides restoration. We see this for example with Peter, who fails, but for whom the Lord has prayed (Lk 22:32).
The first and second book of Kings mainly describe the history of the ten tribes with a single reference to the two tribes. In the second book of Chronicles it is mainly about the two tribes with a single reference to the ten tribes. The emphasis here is on the two tribes because in Judah is Jerusalem and in Jerusalem stands the temple and in Jerusalem sits a prince from David’s house on the throne. There is God with His heart.
There is not one king in the ten tribes who does what is good in the eyes of the LORD. There everything is failing with perhaps a small exception with Jehu, who at least started well. 2 Chronicles will turn out to be a book of revivals. So we notice that Rehoboam is humiliating himself (2Chr 12:6,12). Yet he is not a type of the Lord Jesus, although he is a son of David, for he also does what is evil in the eyes of the LORD (2Chr 12:14).
The Lord Jesus never had to humiliate Himself. He can say: “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Mt 11:29). Humiliation always comes after sin, personal and communal. Humility is a present mind and does not suppose sin.
The LORD has given authority to the king that rules over his people, He entrusted that authority to him. All kings exercise the power of David. The only question is how they do it. They are nothing but servants of God. In David and Solomon we have, besides references to the kingdom of peace, also references to the present time. We too have to do with the kingdom of God. Of that kingdom the Lord Jesus is the Commander, the King, and the believers are the subjects.
That kingdom is not a public kingdom, but a kingdom in secret. Anyone who confesses Christ as Lord is a subject in that kingdom. Wherever the authority of Christ as Lord is established and confessed, God’s kingdom becomes visible. We can think especially of the lives and families of the believers. That authority is not always direct authority, but it is also indirect, for example by parents (Eph 6:1). The kingdom of God is an important topic for the early church, as we see in the book of Acts.
After the Lord Jesus went to heaven, He entrusted the government in His kingdom –hidden from the eyes of the world – to the responsibility of His subjects. The question then is how someone behaves in God’s kingdom, when the Lord of that kingdom is absent, in heaven.
We see this in the parable of the good and the evil slave (Mt 24:45-51). When the Lord comes to ask for accountability for the policies of His slaves, it becomes clear that there are faithful and faithless subjects (slaves). For those who have a position of authority in that kingdom, it is so, that he who is first a good slave, becomes an evil slave.
1 - 5 Israel’s Request for Burden Relief
1 Then Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. 2 When Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard [of it] (for he was in Egypt where he had fled from the presence of King Solomon), Jeroboam returned from Egypt. 3 So they sent and summoned him. When Jeroboam and all Israel came, they spoke to Rehoboam, saying, 4 “Your father made our yoke hard; now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you.” 5 He said to them, “Return to me again in three days.” So the people departed.
Rehoboam – he reigns from 931-913 BC – goes to Shechem (verse 1). Shechem is located in the area of the ten tribes, about sixty kilometers north of Jerusalem, the city of God’s choice. Rehoboam’s choice of Shechem seems to be a concession to the dissatisfied northern tribes to appease them. The people came to Shechem to make him king there. By coming to them he gives the impression that he chooses for them. In so doing, however, he gives the people a wrong impression and thereby leads them away from the city where God dwells. He says as it were what Jeroboam will do later, that the city of God is too far away.
Jeroboam, the Ephraimite, is the natural leader of the people. He hears of the change of throne in Egypt, where he fled for fear of Solomon (1Kgs 11:26-40), and returns to Israel (verse 2). He does not come only on his own initiative. The people themselves want him as leader. Therefore they let him call (verse 3). Together with the whole of Israel, Jeroboam goes to Rehoboam with a request. Their request is that the heavy yoke imposed on them by Solomon should be lightened.
They never dared to express the request he and all of Israel made during the reign of Solomon. That didn’t arise in their minds either. They certainly had to give to and do a lot for Solomon, but under his reign they also experienced great prosperity, wealth and peace. Solomon’s reign has been a blessing for the people.
That has changed when Solomon deviated from the LORD. Then it was no longer a privilege to help maintain the prosperity of their king. What was a privilege became a yoke. The heavy yoke they are talking about now consists of great efforts and large sums of money that the people must provide to maintain all the glory of Solomon. Asking to lighten their burdens is a program item in a political campaign that always is welcomed by the supporters. Jeroboam makes clever use of the knowledge that the people are not satisfied with the high tax burden.
Rehoboam hears the request and asks for three days of reflection (verse 5). In so doing, he shows that, for him, this request is only part of a political joust. He is also only interested in making the greatest possible profit from this case himself.
6 - 14 Consultation and Decision of Rehoboam
6 Then King Rehoboam consulted with the elders who had served his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, “How do you counsel [me] to answer this people?” 7 They spoke to him, saying, “If you will be kind to this people and please them and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.” 8 But he forsook the counsel of the elders which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him. 9 So he said to them, “What counsel do you give that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Lighten the yoke which your father put on us’?” 10 The young men who grew up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you shall say to the people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter for us.’ Thus you shall say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! 11 Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I [will discipline you] with scorpions.’” 12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day as the king had directed, saying, “Return to me on the third day.” 13 The king answered them harshly, and King Rehoboam forsook the counsel of the elders. 14 He spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it; my father disciplined you with whips, but I [will discipline you] with scorpions.”
Rehoboam first asks counsel from “with the elders who had served his father Solomon while he was still alive” (verse 6). The elders give an answer that can be explained in two ways, positive and negative (verse 7). The positive approach is that Rehoboam, by following their counsel, meets the people and becomes their servant. The elders tell him that being good to the people is the best he can do. They advise him that he should be kind to the people and that his words will be good words to the people.
Their counsel comes down to being the most, he must want to be the least. When he does, he resembles the Lord Jesus, Who is in the midst of His disciples as One Who serves (Lk 22:26-27). Serving brings to the throne to rule over the twelve tribes. You learn to rule by wanting to serve. That is the counsel of the elders. Being ready to be the least brings to the highest place.
If the approach is negative, it should be noted that the elders are only interested in their own interests. They have served with Solomon, but apparently have gone along in his wrong way. Now they see that they will lose their position if they get the people against them. They realize that Solomon has lost all his credit and that those who belong to the old guard and remind them of the hard yoke only make themselves to be hated more when they show a hard attitude. Their counsel in this case does not come from the search for the will of God, but from the search for the favor of men (cf. 1Thes 2:4b).
In which way however we look at the elders’ counsel, Rehoboam doesn’t like it, because following their counsel means that he has to surrender his absolute authority. He rejects their counsel (verse 8). With this attitude he goes to “the young men who grew up with him and served him”. He does not first ask counsel from both parties and then chooses, but rejects the counsel of the elders even before he has consulted the young men. He has no respect for the wisdom of the elders. He prefers to tailor his wishes to his peers, who are also employed by him.
Although he is their superior, he places himself at their level. He asks them what “we” – that is, he and they, and not he as king – “will answer this people” (verse 9). He also spoke to the elders about “this people” (verse 6), in which a certain contempt resounds. He repeated to the young men that the people had asked him to lighten the yoke.
His contemporaries, “who grew up with him”, take their chance (verse 10). They are the new generation that wants to come to power at all costs. As to them the elders have had their time. A new wind must blow, their wind. However, that wind is not the wind of a pleasant coolness, but a hurricane that causes death and destruction. They say to him that he must impose more burdens on the people than they already have.
The young men also put the words in his mouths, which he should speak to the people: “Thus you shall say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins!’”. The saying comes down to instead of the requested relief, the burdens of the people is increased so much that the burdens of his father compared to that are as nothing.
Rehoboam has put himself in a position to become the servant of his contemporaries. Instead of speaking the good words that the elders advised him, they tell him to speak words that can only arouse the anger and wrath of the people. Their counsel is that he rules the people with an iron fist. The people must and will obey him (verse 11). His father Solomon may have used whips to teach obedience to the people, but he will use scorpions.
As agreed, after three days Jeroboam and all the people come to Rehoboam to hear his answer (verse 12). Rehoboam gives a hard answer (verse 13) instead of a soft answer (Pro 15:1; 16:18). Again it is said that he gives this answer because he rejects the counsel of the elders (verse 8). In total contrast to the yoke of the Lord Jesus, which is easy, or light (Mt 11:30), he tells the people that he will impose a heavy yoke on them.
Many have ruined themselves and others by trapping and inciting those who are among them. Rehoboam bears his father’s crown, but does not have the wisdom of his father. He has not the wisdom of Job who did not despise the cause of his male or female slaves in a dispute with him (Job 31:13), but patiently listened to them, considered their reasons, and gave them a gentle answer. This attitude must adorn all who have a degree of authority over others. Friendliness brings things about, while violence breaks down.
15 - 19 Israel’s Apostasy From the House of David
15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn [of events] from God that the LORD might establish His word, which He spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
16 When all Israel [saw] that the king did not listen to them the people answered the king, saying,
“What portion do we have in David?
[We have] no inheritance in the son of Jesse.
Every man to your tents, O Israel;
Now look after your own house, David.”
So all Israel departed to their tents. 17 But as for the sons of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. 18 Then King Rehoboam sent Hadoram, who was over the forced labor, and the sons of Israel stoned him to death. And King Rehoboam made haste to mount his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.
The answer given by Rehoboam brings about a turn of events in Israel that comes from God (verse 15). Through the answer of Rehoboam God fulfills His word which He spoke through Ahijah about the division in the people (1Kgs 11:31-32). It therefore seems as if Rehoboam has no choice because God has predicted it that the people will fall apart in two parts. However, a prediction of God should never and can never be an excuse for the actions of a human. Rehoboam is fully responsible for what he does. So it is with the rejection of the Lord Jesus. Everything that happened to Him is foretold, but that is never an excuse for those who rejected Him. In his disobedience man fulfills the counsel of God (Gen 50:20; Acts 2:23).
Rehoboam’s actions are the cause of the tearing of the realm. In David and earlier in Ephraim we see this division between the ten and the two tribes. In 1 Kings 11 the empire is torn as a result of the sin of Solomon. The direct reason is the folly of Rehoboam. He is what his father Solomon says, the foolish son of a wise king (Ecc 2:19). According to his son Abijah’s testimony, he is “young and timid” here (2Chr 13:7).
When there is spoken of “all Israel” (verse 16), it is the ten tribes. Verse 1 also mentions ‘all Israel’, but that still refers to the twelve tribes. In the next chapter there is also mention of “all Israel”, by which is meant all Israel in the two tribes (2Chr 11:3; 12:1). The true Israel, from the tearing, is to be found among the kings from the house of Judah. Where God dwells among His people, there is all Israel represented. That is Israel according to God’s thoughts.
We can apply this to the church today. We can ask the question for ourselves where God now dwells, when there is so much division. The answer is that the Lord Jesus dwells there in the midst of His people, where believers come together in the knowledge that they represent the whole, without the presumption that only they are God’s people.
The people take their hands off the house of David. They say they have no part in David. Everyone should stand up for himself. This is a particularly bad reaction from the people. Never can the failure of a king be an excuse for the people to turn away from the king appointed by God.
There are also Israelites who live in Judah (verse 17). They do not follow their brothers of the ten tribes in their apostasy, but remain faithful to Rehoboam. In so doing they remain faithful to the house of David which God has given over His people as the house of kingship.
Rehoboam does not want to face the fact that he has lost authority over the ten tribes (verse 18). He sends Hadoram to them. That is the man who is over the forced labor, that is to say, he takes care of the deployment of labor. It is certainly not tactical of Rehoboam to send this man. Hadoram is the embodiment of the hard times experienced by the people under Solomon. He is probably one of the most hated people of the old regime. This is shown by the fact that they receive him with a rain of stones and kill him with it.
For Rehoboam the death of Hadoram is the reason to flee to Jerusalem. There he feels safe. He makes haste to mount his chariot to flee.
The description of the events of the tearing of the realm is finished with the conclusion that the Israelites in this way, “so”, apostatize from the house of David (verse 19). The remark “to this day” indicates that this situation is still the case on the day the chronicler records everything.
The chronicler leaves the rebellion of Israel for what it is – it is described in 1 Kings 12. In the remainder of his account of history he focuses on the developments in the two tribes and in the two tribes he focuses on those who want to remain faithful to the LORD.