Solomon…Rehoboam…Jeroboam…how much do you know about these names? If you were an Israelite, you would immediately recognize them as important figures in a critical moment in your nation’s history, much like Americans immediately connect the names Lincoln, Jackson, and Lee to a pivotal point in our history (the Civil War). Israel also had a time of division after King Solomon’s death, a division which came about because of Solomon.
Solomon began his rule of the kingdom he inherited from his father, David, with a desire to worship and please God. Unfortunately, as his fame and wealth grew, so did his desire for lesser things. He loved many women (300 wives and 700 concubines!), and to please them, his heart was turned away from God; he built high places of sacrifice and joined his wives in worshipping their foreign idols. What a disappointment this must have been to those who had served King David.
It displeased God, as you can imagine. He was angry with Solomon. The punishment would be that the kingdom would be torn in two. After Solomon’s death, ten tribes would be given to Solomon’s servant, Jeroboam, and the remaining tribe of Judah (and Benjamin, which actually was contained within the borders of Judah) would remain with David’s heirs, for the sake of David’s faithfulness.
We learn these details in 1 Kings 11, and in 2 Chronicles 10 we see it fulfilled. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, pridefully and foolishly takes the advice of his friends over the elders and promises hardship to the people he will rule. They rebel and just as God predicted, most of Israel follows Jeroboam, and the nation is torn in two. Listen to these curious words describing the results of Rehoboam’s poor decision making:
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 (2 Chronicles 10:15).
If we don’t know the “back story,” we could mistakenly get the impression that God caused Rehoboam to sin, that He instigated his poor decision and rebellious attitude. But we know that God does not tempt us; when we sin, it is because of our own wrong desires (James 1:13). But we can see that God used Rehoboam’s sinful decisions to accomplish His purposes. Matthew Henry comments on this idea:
Whatever the devices and designs of men are, God is, by all, doing His own work, and fulfilling the word which He has spoken, no iota or tittle of which shall fall to the ground. The cause of the king’s obstinacy and thoughtlessness was of God, that He might perform the word which He spoke by Ahijah This does not at all excuse Rehoboam’s folly, nor lessen the guilt of his haughtiness and passion, that God was pleased to serve His own ends by them.
God put Rehoboam in the position of choice. If he had chosen wisely and listened to the elders, God would have used some other means to divide the kingdom and fulfill His word. God tells us that there is always an escape when we are tempted to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). He is, however, as sovereign Lord and Creator, perfectly entitled to use our decisions for His own purposes. He is God, and we are not.
The division of the kingdom came about because Solomon turned away from God. The effects manifested in the lives of his sons and grandsons, who not only inherited the kingdom, but their father’s fallen nature and propensity toward sin, just as we all have inherited it from Adam. But isn’t it good news that our sinful choices are still within the purview of a sovereign God? How frightening it would be to think that we could make a decision that could thwart the purposes of God, or be irrevocable or unredeemable by God?
In this case, God used Rehoboam’s poor decision to play out in punishment for Solomon’s sin. For four hundred years, Israel will repeatedly be taught the lesson that obedience to God brings blessing, and rebellion brings hardship, destruction, and in the end, captivity, just as our poor choices makes us captives of sin. Thankfully, God’s greater sovereign purposes will reign, and Jesus came to restore all things, both spiritually through the cross, and eventually, physically, when He returns to rule on David’s throne and once again unite the kingdom of God’s chosen people.
What’s the takeaway?
When the events of our lives seem to take a turn for the worse, from our own willfulness or ignorance, or because of someone else’s poor decisions, perhaps we should step back and ask God for some perspective. It may not be just about “us.” God is likely working in ways we cannot see, accomplishing things of which we are not aware. It may be years before we see the reason; we may never know on this side of eternity. Yet, God remains faithful, good, and sovereign, and is infinitely trustworthy to carry out His perfect plans.