Rehoboam’s answer to the people is NOT acceptable. The kingdom of Israel is split in two. Rehoboam plans to fight this but God steps in.
The words of Rehoboam were like a slap in the face to the people. They answered him with nearly the same words that were used on David upon his return from fleeing from Absalom. “We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel!” (verse 16b). “We have no share in David, no part in Jesse’s son! Every man to his tent, Israel! (2 Samuel 20:1b).
I want to throw something out here before we go on. If you a looking for a reason for division you can surely find it. Abraham Lincoln said it better than I can: “If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.” All of Israel was enslaved under Egypt. All Israel left Egypt together. But lines of demarcation were implanted deep within this people. They didn’t mix and mingle as one nation but as twelve separate groups. Granted, these groups were to act as one and on behalf of the whole. But even their campsite each night reinforced the divisions among them. They camped by tribe, three on each side of the Tabernacle. They had tribal leaders that reported to one centralized leader. That structure remained, even when they finally had a king. No wonder it was so easy for them to tear things apart whenever it got tough.
Rehoboam was being unreasonable for a reason; God’s reason. Solomon’s sin demanded a price be paid and that price was the rending of the kingdom. God tore it from the hands of Solomon’s son, just as He promised He would.
The people’s response didn’t go over well with Rehoboam. They stood up to him when he expected them to cower in fear. Since they challenged his words he is going to see that his threat is carried out. He sends Adoram to see to it that they bow under the burden of forced labor.
My bible helps says that Israel didn’t have forced labor at this time and that Rehoboam was reinstituting it. He told them he would subdue then even more than his father had. It is possible that the forced labor had already ended by then. But it is more probable that the Israelites hadn’t been the ones relegated to forced labor. Solomon had made slaves of the other people from other nations who lived within Israel’s borders. The Israelites were not slaves but task masters. Rehoboam means to turn those who have forsaken him into slaves alongside the other foreign nations. He is probably rationalizing his decision with this thought: “If you have no inheritance with the son of Jesse, you have no rights as an Israelite. The house of Jesse rules Israel.”
Adoram didn’t survive this encounter. The people stoned him to death. And this made Rehoboam realize they meant business. Rehoboam fled back to Jerusalem where he would mount a response to this ‘rebellion.’
We aren’t told how Benjamin decided to throw their lot in with Judah. Maybe it was because Jerusalem sat in Benjamin’s allotment of land. Maybe Rehoboam promised them something for loyalty. I find it interesting that the tribe of Simeon didn’t join Judah as it is completely contained within the boundaries of Judah. Is it possible that the tribe of Simeon had been absorbed by Judah at this point? The fact that Ahijah prophesied that “ten parts” would be given to Jeroboam would call for Simeon to join with the tribes of the north.
Rehoboam is angry when he gets back to Jerusalem. He is still intent on enforcing his rule on ALL Israel. Judah and Benjamin are not enough for him. He is not satisfied with the little that remains. His next act as king is to go to war. This is a ‘civil war’ pitting ‘brother against brother’ in battle. Rehoboam raises 180,000 troops for the first encounter. I can’t even imagine the numbers they would face from the combined ten tribes. It doesn’t matter though because God stops the battle before it can even begin.
With all his faults, Rehoboam makes one GREAT move; he listens to the prophet Shemaiah. He quickly goes to Rehoboam and gives him the words God spoke. “Thus says the Lord, 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” (verse 24a).
Rehoboam was NOT willing to take on the Lord AND the people. God confirmed that this was His hand at work. That knowledge didn’t keep the peace but at least it stopped war from breaking out right away. This status quo would not last long, but that is a story for another day.
I’m curious to know if Israel was still living in tents. The people were told to go to their tents while at Shechem. Is that because they had come with tents to attend the coronation of Rehoboam? God tells Judah and Benjamin to go to their homes. That probably answers my question. Jeroboam was calling the people to go back to their temporary shelters. After Rehoboam left, they probably packed up and went home too.
Today’s lesson, when God closes a door it is best NOT to beat upon it. He won’t open it until HE is ready.
Father God, help me know which doors to knock on, which ones to walk through and which ones to LEAVE ALONE. I don’t think I have put myself in Rehoboam’s place of arrogance but I’m not sure. Help me in the issue I’m working on now. Show me where to direct my attention. Give me wisdom in my approach. Help me NOT to tarnish Your name in the process. NOTHING is worth doing that!