Life in Israel under Solomon had been a mixed experience. His focus on building projects, commerce and alliances with other nations had made Israel extremely prosperous. Solomon had become so prosperous, in fact, that it was said that silver was made as common as stones in Jerusalem (I Kings 10:27). He was renown the world over for his wisdom and dignitaries from around the world sought to hear his wisdom and, in turn, brought gifts of silver and gold, and garments and armor, and spices and horses and mules (I Kings 10:23-25). Rehoboam inherited such a kingdom and such wealth.
However, there was another side to Solomon’s kingdom. In building such a kingdom, Solomon had to levy men out of all the children of Israel, thirty thousand men, and a third of them were put to work in Lebanon for a month every three months in gathering materials for the building of the temple (I Kings 5:13,14). Solomon’s building projects were many and required much manpower (I Kings 9:15-19, 24).
Though made up of the Canaanite tribes left in the land, Solomon also used one hundred fifty thousand as forced slaves (I Kings 5:15; II Chron. 2:17,18) and over these he set Israelite task masters to the tune of three thousand six hundred. Taxes were such that when the people came to Rehoboam’s coronation, they requested that the burdens which his father had placed on them be lightened, indicating Solomon had made things quite difficult for the people.
Besides all this, throughout the course of Solomon’s reign, he had curiously let slip away both his trust in Jehovah and God’s confidence in him. For “the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice, And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded” (I Kings 11:9-10). Like his father he desired many wives and had eighteen wives and sixty concubines (II Chron. 11:21,23).
Rehoboam inherited a kingdom in which, sadly, much of the populace was willing to turn from Jehovah and turn to other gods in Dan and Bethel (I Kings 12:29-33). All the gold and all the glory could not hold Israel together. Previously, faith in God had kept Israel united. Now that faith had been compromised by the sins of Rehoboam’s father and further exacerbated by Rehoboam’s sins.
Apparently, though Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, he was Solomon’s only son. No others sons are mentioned, though Solomon had at least two daughters (I Kings 4:11,15). There is no mention of other male rivals for the throne. Perhaps Solomon wanted more children for he wrote that a man is happy that has many children (Psalm 127). Rehoboam’s mother was Naamah, an Ammonite princess (I Kings 14:31). He was born in the last year of David’s life and the first year of Solomon’s reign. The name Rehoboam, quite ironically, means “enlarger of the people,” which is not what happened under him at all.
While Solomon was known for his wisdom, Rehoboam became known for his foolishness. When the people promised their allegiance to Rehoboam if he would but ease their burden, Rehoboam rejected the counsel of his father’s advisors who urged him to listen to their request, and listened to the young men with whom he grew up, who advised him to be harder than was Solomon (I Kings 12:1-11). Rehoboam’s rebuff of the people was the final straw in a series of events that led to the dividing of the kingdom. This was God’s judgment on the house of David for Solomon’s sins (I Kings 11:11-13).
But this was not the end. Though the first three years of Rehoboam’s reign in Judah strengthened his hand (II Chron. 11:17), because of his turning to idolatry, within five years God sent the king of Egypt against him and he despoiled the house of the Lord and the king’s house (I KINGS 14:25-28; II Chron. 12:2-4). This invasion by the king of Egypt and the rending of the kingdom, was a judgment from God because Rehoboam and Israel turned away from God unto idols (II Chron. 12:1-5; I Kings 11:11-13).
The one redeeming quality which we see Rehoboam evince is his final humility. When the king and the princes of Israel heard the Lord’s condemnation by the prophet Shemaiah, they humbled themselves (II Chron. 12:6). While he did evil and did not prepare his heart to seek the Lord (II Chron. 12:14), in the end he showed humility. And as God giveth grace to the humble, God did not destroy them but brought them into servitude instead (II Chron. 12:7,8; James 4:6).
Eric L. Padgett