King Rehoboam was the son of King Solomon. Rehoboam ascended to the throne when he was forty-one years old and he reigned for seventeen years; his story can be found in 2 Chronicles 10—12 and 1 Kings 12:1–24; 14:21–31.
At the beginning of Rehoboam's reign the people came to him, saying, "Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you" (1 Kings 12:4). Rehoboam told them to come back in three days and he would have an answer for them. He went to consult his father's counselors who told him that if he was kind to the people now they would be loyal to him during his reign. Then Rehoboam sought the counsel of the young men with whom he had grown up. They advised him to speak harshly to the people and tighten his control over them. Rehoboam unwisely took the counsel of his friends, and the people rebelled against him.
At the same time as Rehoboam ascended to the throne, Jeroboam returned to Israel. King Solomon had placed Jeroboam over forced labor of the house of Joseph because of his industriousness (1 Kings 11:28). Around the same time Jeroboam was approached by the prophet Ahijah who told him that he would reign over ten of the twelve tribes of Israel because of Israel's idolatry (1 Kings 11:29–39). Because of this, Solomon sought to kill Jeroboam and he fled Israel.
When Israel rebelled against Rehoboam, they made Jeroboam their king. Rehoboam's own tribe, that of Judah, followed him, as did the tribe of Benjamin. Rehoboam gathered 180,000 warriors to fight against Jeroboam, but God spoke through the prophet Shemaiah to tell Rehoboam to stand down. This thing had come from the Lord. Rehoboam and the people wisely listened. Thus Jeroboam took control of ten of the tribes of Israel, while Rehoboam held the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, according to Ahijah's earlier prophecy. There was continued warring between Rehoboam and Jeroboam throughout their reigns. Of greater consequence, the kingdom of Israel would remain divided. Eventually the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel (the ten tribes) and were themselves later conquered by Babylon. The Babylonians also conquered the southern kingdom of Judah (the two tribes). The Persians later conquered the Babylonians; and the Persians, under Cyrus, allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland.
Like his father Solomon, Rehoboam ignored the laws that God had set for Israel's kings in Deuteronomy 17:15–20. Rehoboam had eighteen wives, sixty concubines, twenty-eight sons, and sixty daughters (2 Chronicles 12:11). He set the oldest son of his favorite wife up as chief prince and heir to the throne. Wisely, he dispersed other of his sons through the districts of his territories where he provided abundantly for them and found wives for them.
During Rehoboam's reign, the priests and Levites, as well as all the people who set their hearts on seeking the Lord, left their land throughout Israel and came to Judah. Jeroboam had feared that if the people continued to worship the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem (in Judah's territory), the people's hearts would turn back to Rehoboam. So Jeroboam made his own idols and placed them in Dan and Bethel; he also made other temples and high places, for which he appointed priests from the people (1 Kings 12:25–31). Jeroboam "cast [the Levites] out from serving as priests of the LORD" (2 Chronicles 11:14). The Levites and others faithful to the Lord strengthened Rehoboam's kingdom and secured his reign for three years because they were faithful and obedient to God (2 Chronicles 11:17).
However, 2 Chronicles 12:1 says that "When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him." The people of Judah continued to practice idolatry—high places, pillars, male cult prostitutes, and Asherim riddled the country (1 Kings 14:22–24). First Kings 14:22 says that "Judah did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…more than all that their fathers had done." Because of Rehoboam's unfaithfulness, in the fifth year of his reign, Judah was attacked by Egypt. Sishak, king of Egypt, took control of the fortified cities of Judah up to Jerusalem. Shemaiah the prophet stood before Rehoboam and the people and said to them, "Thus says the LORD, 'You abandoned me, so I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak'" (2 Chronicles 12:5). Rehoboam and the princes of Judah repented and humbled themselves before God. God had mercy on them and did not destroy them completely by the Egyptians; instead, they would become servants to Shishak. Shishak took the treasures of the temple and the king's palace, including the shields of gold that Solomon had made. Rehoboam replaced them with shields of bronze.
While Rehoboam had humbled himself before God when they were attacked by Egypt, he did not seek the Lord and he did evil in his life. The kingdom stood strong because of the people in it who remained faithful to the Lord, but unfortunately that would not continue to be the case in Judah's future.
Rehoboam knew who God was and even sought Him sporadically, but "he did not set his heart to seek the LORD" (2 Chronicles 12:14). He did not determine or prepare to be faithful, rather he followed his whim. Rehoboam's lack of determination in seeking the Lord resulted in the decline in his kingdom, the attack from Egypt, and a decline in the quality of kings following him.
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