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First King of the Ten Tribes

by Jerold Aust

Jeroboam, an effective administrator under King Solomon, pleaded Israel's cause before Solomon's son and successor, Rehoboam: "Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you" (1Kings 12:4).
Jeroboam, chosen spokesman for most of the tribes of Israel, addressed Rehoboam at Shechem, not Jerusalem. That their meeting was in this northern city added to Rehoboam's troubles, for he knew the northern tribes were chafing at the heavy-handed tax and labor policies administered from Jerusalem.
Under Solomon's long and peaceful rule, Israel had lived in the lap of luxury, attributable at least in part to a heavy tax burden that allowed Israel to militarily and economically dominate the area and control its profitable trade routes. But this tax burden eventually generated considerable resentment among the people.
Rehoboam wanted to keep his father's affluent kingdom intact. But Jeroboam had different ideas: He planned to rule over a new kingdom to be formed from 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel, and Rehoboam unwittingly played right into his hands.
King Rehoboam needed a little time to consider his position and determine his response: "Depart for three days, then come back to me" (verse 5).
In the privacy of his court, Rehoboam turned to the elders who had counseled his father and asked: "How do you advise me to answer these people?"
The elders answered wisely: "If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever" (verses 6-7).
This is wise advice in any age, particularly so at such a critical time.
Although Rehoboam was the son of the wisest of men, he didn't inherit his father's wisdom: "But he rejected the advice which the elders had given him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him, who stood before him. And he said to them, 'What advice do you give? . . .' Then the young men who had grown up with him spoke to him, saying, 'Thus you should speak to this people who have spoken to you, saying, "Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter on us" . . . "(But, he replied) whereas my father laid a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!' " (verses 8-11).
The third day Jeroboam and other representatives returned to Rehoboam. "Then the king answered the people roughly, and rejected the advice which the elders had given him; and he spoke to them according to the advice of the young men . . ." (verses 13-14).
Rehoboam's abrasive words quickly drove a wedge among the 12 tribes: "Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying: 'What share have we in David (Rehoboam's grandfather)? . . . To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!' So Israel departed to their tents" (verse 16).
The northern 10 tribes proclaimed Jeroboam king over their newly formed kingdom. Rehoboam was left with only two tribes--Judah and Benjamin--along with a good portion of the tribe of Levi, which was interspersed among all the other tribes of Israel. Thus Israel was split into two kingdoms: Israel in the north, ruled by Jeroboam, and Judah in the south, ruled by Rehoboam from Jerusalem.

Jeroboam's Background
Jeroboam had significantly gained prominence during King Solomon's reign. "The man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valor; and Solomon, seeing that the young man was industrious, made him the officer over all the labor force of the house of Joseph" (1Kings 11:28).
First-century Jewish historian Josephus adds further details: ". . . When Solomon saw that he was of an active and bold disposition, he made him the curator of the walls which he built round about Jerusalem; and he took such care of those works, and the king approved of his behaviour, and gave him, as a reward for the same, the charge of the tribe of Joseph" (Antiquities of the Jews, book VIII, chapter vii, section 7).
However, relations between Solomon and Jeroboam would not remain so respectful and peaceable.
As Solomon grew older he fell increasingly into idolatrous worship. He so disgraced himself through his worship of idols that God rebuked him: "I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant (Jeroboam)" (1Kings 11:11).
Jeroboam's ascendancy wasn't the product of his own righteousness but came about, rather ironically, by Solomon's idolatry.

A Message from God
Privately the prophet Ahijah revealed to Jeroboam God's intention to make him the ruler of a new kingdom: ". . . When Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem . . . the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite met him on the way; and he had clothed himself with a new garment, and the two were alone in the field. Then Ahijah took hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces.
"And he said to Jeroboam, 'Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: "Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to you . . . because they have forsaken Me, and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the people of Ammon, and have not walked in My ways to do what is right in My eyes and keep My statutes and My judgments, as did his father David." '  (1Kings 11:29-33).
Here we see the reason for the kingdom of Israel splitting into two nations: idolatrous worship, or the rejection of the manner of worship God had prescribed in His Word.
Ahijah continued God's message: "However I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, because I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of My servant David, whom I chose because he kept My commandments and My statutes. But I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand and give it to you--ten tribes . . . So I will take you, and you shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel" '  (1Kings 11:34-37).
Josephus complements the biblical account: "Being a young man of warm temper, and ambitious of greatness, he could not be quiet." Jeroboam decided to seek control of the northern tribes immediately, and "he endeavored to persuade the people to forsake Solomon, to make a disturbance, and to bring the government over to himself" (Antiquities of the Jews, book VIII, chapter vii, section 8). Solomon, who learned of Jeroboam's subversive design, responded by trying to kill him. But Jeroboam fled to Egypt, where he remained until the king died (1Kings 11:40).

Confrontation with Rehoboam
After Solomon's death and Rehoboam's ascension of the throne, Jeroboam's countrymen summoned him from Egypt. Shortly thereafter he and Rehoboam had the confrontation.
After the northern 10 tribes announced their intention to reject the House of David, Rehoboam became desperate: ". . . He assembled all the house of Judah with the tribe of Benjamin, one hundred and eighty thousand chosen men who were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, that he might restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.
"But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, 'Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, saying, "Thus says the Lord: 'You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from Me.' " ' Therefore they obeyed the word of the Lord, and turned back, according to the word of the Lord" (1Kings 12:22-24).

Jeroboam: The Good and the Bad
Jeroboam had a golden opportunity to succeed, even during a time of great division. The Bible says little of his early life, although his parents are named. His father, Nebat was deceased, for Scripture identifies his mother, Zeruah, as a widow (1Kings 11:26).
Jeroboam was from the tribe of Ephraim (1Kings 11:26), one of the most powerful tribes among the 12. He was talented, ambitious, brave and industrious in his responsibilities. Though Jeroboam showed himself diligent in his early duties, his weaknesses eventually grew apparent.
In one of his first acts, Jeroboam chose Shechem--between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim in northern Israel--as his new capital and set about rebuilding and fortifying it (1Kings 12:25). Shechem's strategic location was geographically as well as religiously significant. Its religious ties went back not only to the patriarchs but to the Canaanites. Jeroboam sought to distance himself and the people from the influence of the kings of Judah in Jerusalem (verses 26-27).
Jeroboam was also apprehensive about his people's religious life, which centered around the temple and priesthood in Jerusalem. He devised a cunning plan, creating two golden calves for the people to worship, and strategically placed them at the northern and southern ends of the country (verses 28-29). The one in the south he placed at Bethel, on the main road to Jerusalem. Those among the northern tribes who intended to travel to Jerusalem for God's feasts (Leviticus 23) then could be easily diverted to worship at Bethel instead.
Jeroboam also established idolatrous worship on high places and appointed his own priests from other than the tribe of Levi (1Kings 12:31). Perhaps his greatest single change was to tamper with God's annual Holy Days. Instead of observing the Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month as God had commanded, Jeroboam instituted an alternate feast in the eighth month, "in the month which he had devised in his own heart" (verse 33).
The king's terrible spiritual blunders were to bring untold suffering on the House of Israel and Israel's descendants. Under Jeroboam's leadership the northern tribes soon drifted away from the pattern of religious worship God had commanded. It was bad enough before the national schism (1Kings 11:30-33), but the degeneration only worsened after the nation separated. In the south religious worship and morality similarly suffered a sharp decline (1Kings 14:22-24).

Degeneracy and Destruction
Jeroboam's counterfeit religion, with its own priesthood, gods and religious festivals and observances, was destined to play a major role in Israel's downfall.
Through Ahijah God had encouraged Jeroboam to rule properly: ". . . You shall reign over all your heart desires, and you shall be king over Israel. Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you" (1Kings 11:37-38).
But Jeroboam failed to exploit his remarkable opportunity. Rather, he instituted an idolatrous form of worship as the official religion of the new kingdom. In spite of God's warnings, Jeroboam refused to turn from his idolatrous ways.
God pronounced a sobering final edict against Jeroboam: "Because I exalted you from among the people, and made you ruler over My people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it to you; and yet you have not been as My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only what was right in My eyes; but you have done more evil than all who were before you, for you have gone and made for yourself other gods and molded images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back--therefore behold! I will bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam . . ." (1Kings 14:7-10).

A Legacy of Tragedy
Summarizing Jeroboam's and his successors' rule, the Bible says: "Then Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord, and made them commit a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, until the Lord removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day" (2Kings 17:21-23).
So Jeroboam's sins had far-reaching consequences. They led to the removal of God's blessings on the 10-tribed nation because not one of Israel's kings who followed Jeroboam initiated the necessary reforms that would have led the nation back to God's way of worship. Instead, all continued in his sins (2Kings 3:3; 10:29; 13:2; etc.). God does not give us a choice on how we are to worship Him (Deuteronomy 12:32). He gives us a choice of whether we will worship Him according to the instructions He has given.
Israel was instructed to worship the Eternal God, not two golden calves. God's people were told that the Feast of Tabernacles was to be observed in the seventh month of the year, not the eighth month. Not one of Israel's kings restored the true worship of God. The result was a horrific national captivity for all 10 tribes.
Many in the mainstream Christian world have not learned this vital lesson from the life of King Jeroboam. The practices he set in motion--substituting his own days, methods and kinds of worship for those God commanded--have continued down to this day.
God tells us in His Word when and on which days we are to worship. He does not want us to invent our own special festivals or borrow them from the pagan practices of yesteryear. (If you are not already familiar with the true biblical Sabbaths, both weekly and annual, please write for our two free booklets Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest and God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.)

Sidebar 1: Seeds of Separation
For numerous reasons the roots of Israel's disunity go as far back as Egypt. God knew from the beginning that good intentions don't always produce good actions: "The Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).
When Israel accepted His covenant (Exodus 19:8), God was well aware of the people's physical weaknesses: "Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29). The people would eventually reject Him (Deuteronomy 31:16-18,27-29).
As Creator of mankind, God well understands that "the carnal mind is enmity (hostile) against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
Later in Israel's history, the prophet Samuel wrote of Israel's desire for human rulership over God's theocratic rule: "And the Lord said to Samuel, 'Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day--with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods--so they are doing to you also' " (1Samuel 8:7-8).
Clearly, the people of Israel rejected God as their king. They wanted Samuel to establish a human monarchy to rule over them, as was the practice in surrounding nations. The Israelites got what they wanted--except that their king was to be directly subservient to God.
God warned the Israelites that a human king would take their sons to maintain a standing army and their food to sustain that army: " 'And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.' Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, 'No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles' " (1Samuel 8:18-20).
The seeds of Israelitish disunity germinated, taking firm root when King Rehoboam ascended the throne after Solomon's death. These seeds, which eventually separated the 12 tribes, existed long before Israelite unity dissolved. Three previous kings of Israel played indirect parts in Israel's ultimate separation:
- Saul's failure as king. When Saul was to be anointed as Israel's first king, he demonstrated a measure of humility (1Samuel 9:21; 15:17). However, as time passed, his character weaknesses came to overshadow his strong qualities. In the climactic episode of his failure to lead in godly fashion, God told Samuel to instruct Saul that he should punish Amalek for attacking the Israelites when they came out of Egypt (1Samuel 15:2). He gave Saul specific instructions.
Saul heard God's directives clearly. But, because he feared the people more than God (verse 21), he did what was right in his own eyes in order to gain their favor. His actions brought about his downfall and the end of his dynasty.
- David's sins. Based on outward appearance, David should never have become king. As a youth he apparently wasn't as tall as his older brothers. But he had a godly heart (1Samuel 16:7; Acts 13:22), and God made him Saul's replacement as king over Israel.
Over the course of his 40-year reign, the trappings of power, prestige and prosperity sometimes obscured David's spiritual vision and clouded his judgment concerning his need to fully obey God's laws. Although he wholeheartedly repented (Psalm 51), his sins and other problems sowed seeds of vengeance in Israel. They promoted a subtle distrust and jealousy throughout Israelite society.
Shimei clearly reflected this attitude in his denunciation of David as he fled for his life from his own son, Absalom: "The Lord has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!" (2 Samuel 16:8).
The troubles of David were legendary. Difficulties in David's house began with David's adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. The son born from their illicit union eventually died (2 Samuel 12). There was also incest in David's house,, between Amnon and his half-sister, Tamar. In time Absalom, Tamar's full brother, murdered Amnon over this shameful act (2 Samuel 13).
In David's kingdom his oldest son, Absalom, rebelled against him and attempted to usurp the kingdom, a seditious act that eventually cost Absalom his life (2 Samuel 13-18). David's kingdom suffered famine, war and plague (2 Samuel 21-24). These events set the stage for more problems.
- Solomon's false gods. God chose Solomon, David's son, as Israel's third human king. Early in his reign Solomon asked God for wisdom, understanding and the ability to properly rule the nation (1Kings 3:5-13). Later, however, Solomon's many wives and concubines turned his head and heart away from God (1Kings 11:4).
Solomon's example helped sow the seeds of apostasy and separation from God throughout the nation. The reigns of both Rehoboam and Jeroboam, as well as those of most of the subsequent kings of Israel and Judah, followed Solomon's apostate example.
- Rehoboam's faulty reasonings. Havoc broke out when Rehoboam became king. The time for internal strife and ultimate separation was ripe throughout Israel, particularly in the north. Rehoboam ignored the sound wisdom of his father's seasoned advisers and followed that of his youthful, inexperienced peers. He unwittingly facilitated a split foreordained by Almighty God.
The seeds of separation were sown early by Israel's kings. They were watered and nurtured by many self-centered acts over multiple decades. Ultimately Israel reaped the harvest when much of the nation, seeing itself as largely disenfranchised, rallied behind an ambitious servant in Solomon's incredibly wealthy empire: a man named Jeroboam.
The nation's separation into two fragmented and competing kingdoms was bad enough. Even more devastating was their separation from God and the more far-reaching consequences of that fracture: the later destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

--Jerold Aust

Sidebar 2: A Future Reunion for Israel and Judah
Israel's separation began during the reigns in the 10th century B.C. of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. However tragic separation may be, God includes within His masterful design a plan to redeem Israel and humankind, to eventually bring them together with God and each other (Romans 11:7,25-27).
God reveals that all 12 tribes of Israel will once again be united: "Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again . . .
"Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God. David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children's children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever.
"Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them . . . I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore" (Ezekiel 37:21-28).
Have such prophecies ever been fulfilled? Ezekiel wrote these words some 350 years after Jeroboam's reign. The northern 10 tribes of Israel had been defeated and carried away into captivity at the hands of the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C. Ezekiel himself was writing from Babylon, where he, along with much of the populace of the southern kingdom of Judah, had been exiled several years earlier.
Ezekiel did not live to see these words fulfilled, nor has anyone since. A careful reading of the Bible shows that only a few remnants of the northern 10 tribes ever reunited with the exiles from the kingdom of Judah in their homeland. And later even their descendants were largely scattered after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70.
Although many descendants of Judah have resettled in the Middle East since the modern state of Israel was established in 1948, most of Judah's descendants remain scattered among the nations.
Clues as to when Ezekiel's prophecies will finally be fulfilled can be found in the words that "David My servant shall be king over them" and "My servant David shall be their prince forever."
If David will literally "be their prince forever," this will obviously be after he has been brought back to life. Several passages in Scripture show that this resurrection of David--to eternal life--will occur at Jesus Christ's return (1Corinthians 15:12-54; 1Thessalonians 4:13-17). It is at that time that this man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22) will be given eternal life, along with many others who will live and reign with Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:4-6). Made immortal, David will then be able to rule over a reunited Israelite kingdom forever.
The Israelites will eventually be reunited under King David and reconciled to their Creator, from whom their sins had cut them off (Isaiah 59:1-2).
This prophecy is but a tiny glimpse of the astounding future God reveals to us through His prophets. To understand more, be sure to request your free booklets What Is Your Destiny?, God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind and What Happens After Death? These are yours for the asking when you contact us at the addresses on page 2 of this issue.

--Jerold Aust

©1999 United Church of God, an International Association

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