“[Rehoboam] spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions’ ” (v. 14).
When Solomon died in about 931 BC, his son Rehoboam succeeded him as king (1 Kings 11:43). His reign would be incredibly consequential for the history of God’s people, with one decision in particular destroying the unity of Israel.
Early in Rehoboam’s reign, the new king met with “all Israel”—leaders and important officials from the nation’s tribes—at Shechem to be confirmed as the new ruler of the nation. Located initially in the tribal territory of Manasseh but later absorbed into Ephraim (Josh. 17:2; 1 Kings 12:25), Shechem was an important city in Israel’s history. Joshua led the people in a covenant renewal there, and Joseph’s bones were buried at Shechem (Josh. 24:1–28, 32). At Shechem, Israel had its first disastrous experience with kingship when a small coalition of Israelites made the evil Abimelech king over them (Judg. 9). The fact that Rehoboam had to go to Shechem in the northern part of the nation suggests that there was some unease in the north about the new king that Rehoboam had to address in person. At Shechem, Rehoboam heard the plea of the tribes to lighten the load Solomon had put on them, to end Solomon’s practice of forced labor (1 Kings 12:1–5).
Rehoboam conferred with his advisers. The older ones who had served Solomon encouraged him to grant Israel’s request. However, the younger advisers—men who had grown up with Rehoboam—told the king to make the burden of forced labor even heavier. And the young king, evidencing the folly that so often attends youth, followed the unwise counsel of his younger friends (vv. 6–14). This did not please the people, and they rebelled against Rehoboam, killing the taskmaster Adoram and forcing the king to flee to Jerusalem. All Israel except the tribe of Judah (and eventually the tribe of Benjamin, which is not mentioned because it is often treated as effectively absorbed into Judah) rejected Rehoboam’s rule and made Jeroboam king. Only God’s intervention through the word of the prophet Shemaiah kept a civil war from destroying the people (vv. 16–24).
All of this happened, 1 Kings 12:15 tells us, to fulfill the prophecy of the kingdom’s division spoken by Ahijah (see 11:26–40). Here we see the remarkable concurrence of human choices and God’s providential rule. No one forced Rehoboam to take foolish counsel, and the Lord’s plan was thereby fulfilled. Matthew Henry comments, “God serves his own wise and righteous purposes by the imprudences and iniquities of men.”
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
That Rehoboam’s decision led to the fulfillment of prophecy did not make the choice any less sinful or foolish. God uses our decisions to achieve His purposes, but that does not mean we are not responsible for our choices. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves for our sins even though the Lord’s sovereign plan works through these sins to achieve a greater good.