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We respect the entrepreneur and business leader. Steve Jobs and Elon Musk represent the height of success for many of us. They have the knowledge and know-how to get things done. King Solomon, at one level, was a lot like that. He had the “wisdom of Solomon,” and yet like any other person, he could not keep it all together.

Wise Solomon did not guard his heart at the end. He broke every command a king should not break (Deut 17:14–20). He multiplied horses, even going to Egypt for them. He married foreign women—hundreds of them. He let his heart be led astray by going after Ashtoreth and Milcom. He built high places for Chemosh and Molech on the Mount of Olives. And as the narrative tells us over and over, he acquired much gold and silver for himself.

All this the Torah explicitly forbids, and for all these reasons God tears away the kingdom from Solomon. But it does not occur in his days. It happens in the next generation (1 Kings 11:11–13). Here, I think we learn a principle that first generation leaders do not always see the rotten fruit of their labours, but they communicate the rot to the next generation. And when that generation lacks the wisdom of Solomon to administrate their kingdom with practical wisdom, it falls to pieces.

The story of 1 Kings 12:1–24 is how kingdoms fall apart. The story of 1 Kings 12:25 to the end of 1 Kings 14 is how this fall leads to disaster. Division leads to destruction. This story in Kings by application also illustrates four ways to divide and destroy the church.

First, don’t listen to the wise elders of the prior generation

Come to a new church. Talk to the youngest and most experienced people. Then ignore anyone who was a founding member of the congregation or who has at least been there for many years. That’s how you can really divide a church. You might even make so many mistakes that you destroy that congregation.

When Rehoboam becomes king in 1 Kings 12, he meets his first crisis of reign with a particular lack of wisdom. Jeroboam leaves Egypt and brings a group of Israelites with him to challenge Rehoboam as king (1 Kings 12:2–3). They request: “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 takes three days to decide (1 Kings 12:5). That seems wise. He first consults with the elders who worked alongside wise Solomon (1 Kings 12:6). They give him wise advice. Say “yes” to the request. But he rejects their advice and goes to the young men (1 Kings 12:8–11). They advise being even more hardcore and making the people work even harder.

Getting people to work for the kingdom’s sake probably would be economically advantageous. It might be the best governing decision in the abstract. But Rehoboam didn’t understand the room, and he was harsh as verse 13 says. The older wise men realized that delaying doing the right thing sometimes is wise. The young men lacked patience. They encouraged Rehoboam to be tough, get the job done, and be harsh.

Rehoboam should have listened to his father Solomon who said, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov 15:1).

Sometimes you hear it put like this. Speaking the truth is love! But the Bible says speaking the truth in love is the goal (Eph 4:15). Love without truth is sentimentalism; truth without love is harsh.* Only when both are together can we really say we are Christ-like.

Not only was Rehoboam harsh, but he was also crude. He said, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs” (1 Kings 12:10). Now, the “little finger” and thighs or literally “loins” is a crude male euphemism that refers to Rehoboam’s genitals.

You see what’s happening here. The young guys are on fire to get things done for the kingdom. They advise making people work even harder than they did under the previous king, Solomon (1 Kings 12:10–11). They also use harsh and crude language. They are acting like fools. Rehoboam was not even that young. He was forty-one (1 Kings 14:21).

What you expected happened. The kingdom divided. The church split. Even if Rehoboam technically was in the right, it seems clear that Jeroboam came up from Egypt in order to cause problems in Israel, the way that Rehoboam led his kingdom led to its division. This was all predicted by the Lord (1 Kings 11:11–12, 14–40).

Second, don’t learn from your mistakes

Rehoboam sees his kingdom divided due to his foolish decision making. In order to fix the problem, he rushes to a solution. As far as we know, he does not look to elders for advice. Instead, he sends Adoram to the tents of Israel—Adoram was the captain of the force labour in Israel, the very person that represents what the Israelites hated!

So what do you think would happen? Rehoboam doubles down not by just words but by action. He sends his henchman. And the people respond by stoning him to death (1 Kings 12:18). Then Rehoboam flees for his life to Jerusalem from Shechem where all Israel was (1 Kings 12:1).

So you are in a church, and you already made some massive mistakes. People are fuming. This might be the best time for reconciliation, for finding ways for both parties to feel heard and accepted. In the good sense of the term, we can call this compromise.

Now, a lot of people with the vigour of youth and confidence of being a king for one day don’t believe in any sort of compromise. Someone believes they are right; and nobody else can be. This person thinks of himself as a warrior for truth but without relying on the whole body of Christ as Jesus intended by giving us the gifts of the Spirit.

We might believe someone is the hand or the foot. Maybe we are the ear in Christ’s body. But we subtly believe we are the smartest, the best, have it all figured out. Solomon’s story already showed us that skilled sinners still need a Saviour. And here, Rehoboam should have relied on a wise set of counselors.

We all feel confident in our views until we hear the other side. Solomon put it like this: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17). And this happens in churches too. And it happens in theology.

The reason why pastors go to seminary, read commentaries, read other books, and talk to friends about Scripture and theology is because we should not rely on our own understanding. We are part of the body of Christ. We need each other.

But this is not just for pastors. It’s true for all of us. You might think you are the best father or mother out there. But I can guarantee it: you and I need help. Life is too big and diverse for us to know it all.

Rehoboam added insult to injury by sending Adoram to the Israelites. He should have listened and learned. Instead, he divided his kingdom.

Third, we become like the culture around us instead of being transformed by God’s Word

Once Rehoboam fled back to Jerusalem, the people there assemble together and make him king (1 Kings 12:20). Two things signal a problem here. First, only Judah confirms his kingship. No one else does. Second, he’s not anointed as king. Saul, David, and Solomon were anointed. Rehoboam was not.

This lack of anointing is one example of many in this text that show us that Rehoboam did not seem interested in the old paths (Jer 6:16–17). Rehoboam even seems to act like Egypt did.

As Solomon acted like Egypt by enslaving the Canaanites and as Pharaoh acted like Israel by destroying the Canaanites in Gezer in 1 Kings 9 (1 Kings 9:16, 20–21; Deut 7:1–2; Judges 1:29), Rehoboam by his actions repeats this reversal.

When Jeroboam asks in 1 Kings 12:4, “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,” he sounds like Moses in Exodus 5 who asks Pharaoh for three days off to worship God. But Pharoah responds: no, they may not rest from their burdens (Exod 5:5). Pharaoh even makes their burden heavier: “Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words” (Exod 5:9).

As Moses asked for rest and worship, similarly Jeroboam asks for rest from the harsh burden that Solomon laid upon Israel (1 Kings 12:4). Rehoboam answers like Pharaoh: “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” (1 Kings 12:14).

Then Rehoboam sends his task master Adoram to Israel while Rehoboam rides in a chariot like an Egyptian. Solomon almost totally gave into the ways of the nations of Egypt in particular. It’s small wonder that his son Rehoboam would likewise live as the nations do.

Peter Leithart insightfully comments: “Solomon turns to Egypt for horses and chariots, worships the gods of the nations, and transforms his kingdom into an Egyptian tyranny from which Israel seeks to be liberated. Ultimately, Jeroboam leads the people out of bondage into the wilderness” (1 & 2 Kings, 2006: 91). And as 1 Kings 12 tells us, Jeroboam makes two golden calves to worship the God of Israel as Israel did in the wilderness after the Exodus (1 Kings 12:28).

Rehoboam acts as Pharaoh; Jeroboam acts as a sort of Moses or perhaps Aaron because he makes the golden calves. The point here is that everything is going wrong. Israel is like Egypt.

I also wonder at why Rehoboam gathered at Shechem, not Jerusalem, to become king (1 Kings 12:1). The only other king that I know of who was made king there so far is Abimelech (Judges 9:6). Now Abimelech is violent and evil, and he dies when a woman drops a stone on his head. Maybe we are to see something in this location. It at least feels like the wrong place for all of this to go down.

Rehoboam has to flee from there and hurriedly become king in Jerusalem where only Judah follows him. The rest of the tribes do not.

Fourth, we don’t listen to the Word of God

Even the most overconfident of leaders can learn from constant failure. Rehoboam does the right thing once in this narrative. A prophet appears in Kings in 1 Kings 12 and warns Rehoboam not to go to war with Jeroboam.

Now, after fleeing to Jerusalem, he gathers 180,000 soldiers to reclaim Israel (1 Kings 12:21). Again, he makes fast decisions. But he halts. Shemaiah, “the man of God” hears a word from God and tells Rehoboam: “You shall not go up or fight against your relatives the people of Israel. Every man return to his home, for this thing is from me” (1 Kings 12:24).

At this point, it’s remarkable that Rehoboam and the 180,000 do so. I suspect that many of the 180,000 Judahites respected the Word of God. And so maybe Rehoboam could not force the fight. But the text does say “they listened to the word of the LORD” in verse 24 and not he listened to the word of the LORD. The plural they strongly implies that the people obeyed God’s word and Rehoboam was simply among them, perhaps unable to get his way.

We need to note that all of this, Shemaiah says, comes from the Lord: “for this thing is from me” (1 Kings 12:24). We already knew this as 1 Kings 11 tells us in detail and 1 Kings 12:15 tells us in summary form: “So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”

Peter Leithart points to the phrase used here “a turn of affairs,” which more literally could be translated “a twist from YHWH” (Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings 2006: 94). And that is what it was.

I want you to consider how God in 1 Kings 11 predicts what would happen in this chapter and yet the narrative only says God intervened at one point by sending the man of God Shemaiah. Now, I suppose we can sometimes get twisted up into knots when we try to figure out how God can know the future and predict judgment while all the while we are the ones that harm ourselves, or in this case Rehoboam’s foolishness defines his downfall, the division and destruction of the nation of Israel.

1 Kings 12 and 13 will show us in detail the destructive elements. But it falls into line as Rehoboam and then Jeroboam do great evil which is self-harm and yet God is behind it. As Solomon tells us in Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

Now, I suppose I cannot in just a few moments make this make sense to everyone. But in simple form, God knows our hearts perfectly; he knows the end from the beginning. His providence oversees all such that we do as he wills yet we choose it ourselves. We have no one to blame but ourselves which makes the sinfulness of sin so horrible.

There is no one to blame. It’s us who is the problem. Rehoboam did it all to himself. He divided the kingdom. Solomon contributed as father to be sure. The Bible does tell us that sin works its way down to the third and fourth generation (Exod 34:7). Sin makes a family sick, even a royal family. It’s generational in its effect. You learn evil. You do evil. It’s an infection, a corruption, powerful and life-changing for the worse.

Had Rehoboam and the 180,000 not listened to Shemaiah, not only would the kingdom have been divided but possibly it would have been destroyed by war. Only the Word of God prevented destruction, so that new life could be breathed into the kingdom of God again, when the seed of David returned.

How to Unite and Strengthen a Church

1 Kings 12 illustrates ways we can divide and destroy a church. I suspect all of us could easily follow the steps here. It comes naturally to do us. But let’s take a moment and ask: how can we unite and strengthen a church?

First, listen to the wise elders of the prior generation. Now, I know sometimes this does not map unto every situation. Sometimes, there may be no wise elders from a prior generation available.

Even so, a young Christian should still know the theology and ideas of a previous generation. Knowing church history and theology might be the way we respect the wise elders of the prior generation. When Jesus said he would build his church and the gates of Hades would not overcome it (Matt 16:18), he did not mean the church would start in 1517 or 1956. We have two thousand years of the Spirit growing Christ’s church to learn from.

Second, learn from mistakes. It is easy to put your shoulder down to the plow and push without every thinking. But what if you push in the wrong direction? If you run into a boulder, turn around!

Third, be transformed by God’s Word instead of the culture around us. Read your Bible and pray every day. And you will grow, grow, grow.

Fourth, listen to the Word of God. God’s Word written and God’s Word Incarnate bind us to themselves. God’s Word written, Hebrews 4:12 tells us, is a creature of God, living and active and sharper than any-two-edged sword. Its living-ness means that it speaks to us by the Spirit—it means that a 2,000-year-old book or in the case of 1 Kings, a 3,000 year old book can shape and transform your heart.

But none of us would listen to God’s word written, if we did not first know God’s Word Incarnate: Jesus of Nazareth who came to gather us from exile and dispersion across the world into his body. In his body, he reunites the twelve tribes of Israel in the twelve Apostles. In his body, he rebuilds the temple of God destroyed by nations. The tribes are united. We are now one in Christ.

By faith, we unite to Christ the Word of God. His Spirit binds us together. We are all adopted into the family of the Father God. And so the only way ultimately to avoid dividing a church is by clinging to Christ, the Word of God.

It is our unity into the body of Christ that names and defines the reality of our unity. In older times, churches would together confess their unity into the one body of Christ. It is both the blessing and effect of the Gospel to be one in Christ.

Now, the Gospel of Jesus Christ means we unite to Christ, are forgiven, sanctified, glorified. And it means we are all baptized into one body, Christ our head and we the body. We must listen to the Word of God and know what we are in Christ. Apart from this, church unity is impossible since there is no unity greater than our unity in the body of Christ.

Unity is a Gospel issue, since by faith, we unite to Christ and the Spirit indwells us corporately. Unity is not a goal; it’s a necessity. The reformers felt that schism was just as serious as heresy.

We must avoid it. And only by listening to God’s Word written and by trusting in God’s Word Incarnate can we both know what is true and enter into a relationship with the one who said, “I am the truth.” That alone is where unity lies. Christ our Head. We the body.



*I must have heard this phrase somewhere before. I cannot remember.