Who was Rehoboam?
In the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament, Rehoboam was the son and successor of Solomon, the last king to claim the throne of old Israel and the first king of Judah after the division of the kingdom. He was born circa 978 BC.
His mother was Naamah, an Ammonitess. The account of his reign is contained in 1 Kings 14:21-31 ; 2 Ch 10 through 12. The incidents leading to the disruption of the kingdom are told in 1 Ki 11:43 through 12:24; 2 Ch 9:31 through 11:4.
1. The Disruption of the Kingdom:
Rehoboam was 41 years old (2 Chronicles 12:13 ) when he began to reign Septuagint 1 Kings 12:24 says 16 years). He ascended the throne at Jerusalem immediately upon his father's death with apparently no opposition. North Israel, however, was dissatisfied, and the people demanded that the king meet them in popular assembly at Shechem, the leading city of Northern Israel. True, Israel was no longer, if ever, an elective monarchy. Nevertheless, the people claimed a constitutional privilege, based perhaps on the transaction of Samuel in the election of Saul ( 1 Samuel 10:25 ), to be a party to the conditions under which they would serve a new king and he become their ruler: David, in making Solomon his successor, had ignored this wise provision, and the people, having lost such a privilege by default, naturally deemed their negligence the cause of Solomon's burdensome taxes and forced labor.
Consequently, they would be more jealous of their rights for the future, and Rehoboam accordingly would have to accede to their demand. Having come together at Shechem, the people agreed to accept Rehoboam as their king on condition that he would lighten the grievous service and burdensome taxes of his father. Rehoboam asked for three days' time in which to consider the request. Against the advice of men of riper judgment, who assured him that he might win the people by becoming their servant, he chose the counsel of the younger men, who were of his own age, to rule by sternness rather than by kindness, and returned the people a rough answer, saying: "My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions" (1 Kings 12:14 ).
Rehoboam, however, misjudged the temper of the people, as well as his own ability. The people, led by Jeroboam, a leader more able than himself, were ready for rebellion, and so force lost the day where kindness might have won. The threat of the king was met by the Marseillaise of the people: "What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O I srael: now see to thine own house, David" (1 Kings 12:16 ). Thus the ten tribes dethroned Rehoboam, and elected Jeroboam, their champion and spokesman, their king (see JEROBOAM ).
Rehoboam, believing in his ability to carry out his threat (1 Kings 12:14 ), sent Adoram, his taskmaster, who no doubt had quelled other disturbances, to subdue the populace, which, insulted by indignities and enraged by Rehoboam's renewed insolence, stoned his messenger to death. Realizing, for the first time, the seriousness of the revolt, Rehoboam fled ignominiously back to Jerusalem, king only of Judah and of the adjacent territory of the tribe of Benjamin. The mistake of Rehoboam, was the common mistake of despots. He presumed too much on privilege not earned by service, and on power for which he was not willing to render adequate compensation.
2. Underlying Causes of Disruption:
It is a mistake, however, to see in the disruption the shattering of a kingdom that had long been a harmonious whole. From the earliest times the confederation of tribes was imperfectly cemented. They seldom united against their common foe. No mention is made of Judah in the list of tribes who fought with Deborah against Sisera. A chain of cities held by the Canaanites, stretching across the country from East to West, kept the North and the South apart. Different physical characteristics produced different types of life in the two sections. Old jealousies repeatedly fanned into new flame intensified the divisions due to natural and artificial causes.
David labored hard to break down the old antagonisms, but even in his reign Israel rebelled twice. Northern Israel had produced many of the strongest leaders of the nation, and it was not easy for them to submit to a ruler from the Judean dynasty. Solomon, following David's policy of unification, drew the tribes closely together through the centralization of worship at Jerusalem and through the general splendor of his reign, but he, more than any other, finally widened the gulf between the North and the South, through his unjust discriminations, his heavy taxes, his forced labor and the general extravagances of his reign. The religion of Yahweh was the only bond capable of holding the nation together.
The apostasy of Solomon severed this bond. The prophets, with their profound knowledge of religious and political values, saw less danger to the true worship of Yahweh in a divided kingdom than in a united nation ruled over by Rehoboam, who had neither political sagacity nor an adequate conception of the greatness of the religion of Yahweh. Accordingly, Ahijah openly encouraged the revolution, while Shemaiah gave it passive support.
3. Shemaiah Forbids Civil War:
Immediately upon his return to Jerusalem, Rehoboam collected a large army of 180,000 men (reduced to 120,000 in the Septuagint's Codex Vaticanus), for the purpose of making war against Israel. The expedition, however, was forbidden by Shemaiah the prophet on the ground that they should not fight against their brethren, and that the division of the kingdom was from God. Notwithstanding the prohibition, we are informed that "there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually" (1 Kings 14:30 ; 2 Chronicles 12:15 ).
4. Rehoboam's Prosperity:
Rehoboam next occupied himself in strengthening the territory which still remained to him by fortifying a number of cities (2 Chronicles 11:5-12 ). These cities were on the roads to Egypt, or on the western hills of the Judean Shephelah, and were doubtless fortifled as a protection against Egypt. According to 2 Chronicles 11:13-17 , Rehoboam's prosperity was augmented by an immigration of priests and Levites from Israel, who came to Jerusalem because of their opposition to the idolatrous worship instituted by Jeroboam.
All who were loyal to Yahweh in the Northern Kingdom are represented as following the example of the priests and Levites in going to Jerusalem, not simply to sacrifice, but to reside there permanently, thus strengthening Rehoboam's kingdom. In view of the fact that Rehoboam added to the innovations of his father, erected pillars of Baal in Jerusalem long before they were common in Northern Israel, and that he permitted other heathen abominations and immoralities, it seems that the true worship of Yahweh received little encouragement from the king himself. As a further evidence of his prosperity, Chronicles gives an account of Rehoboam's family. Evidently he was of luxurious habit and followed his father in the possession of a considerable harem (2 Chronicles 11:18-23 ). He is said to have had 18 wives and 60 concubines, (2 Chronicles 11:21 ; the Septuagint's Codex Vaticanus and Josephus, Ant. , VIII, x, 1 give "30 concubines").
5. Shishak's Invasion:
One of the direct results of the disruption of the kingdom was the invasion of Palestine by Shishak, king of Egypt, in the 5th year of Rehoboam. Shishak is Sheshonk. I, the first king of the XXII d or Bubastite Dynasty. He is the same ruler who granted hospitality to Jeroboam when he was obliged to flee from Solomon (1 Kings 11:40 ). The Septuagint (1 Kings 12:24 ) informs us that Jeroboam married Ano, the sister of Shishak's wife, thus becoming brother-in-law to the king of Egypt. It is therefore easy to suppose that Jeroboam, finding himself in straits in holding his own against his rival, Rehoboam, called in the aid of his former protector.
The results of this invasion, however, are inscribed on the temple at Karnak in Upper Egypt, where a list of some 180 (Curtis, "Chronicles," ICC ) towns captured by Shishak is given. These belong to Northern Israel as well as Judah, showing that Shishak exacted tribute there as well as in Judah, which seems scarcely reconcilable with the view that he invaded Palestine as Jeroboam's ally. However, the king of Israel, imploring the aid of Shishak against his rival, thereby made himself vassal to Egypt. This would suffice to make his towns figure at Karnak among the cities subjected in the course of the campaign.
The Chronicler saw in Shishak an instrument in the hand of God for the punishment of R. and the people for the national apostasy. According to 2 Chronicles 12:3 , Shishak had a force of 1,200 chariots and 60,000 horsemen to which Josephus adds 400,000 foot-soldiers, composed of Lubim, Sukkum and Ethiopians. No resistance appears to have been offered to the advance of the invading army. Not even Jerusalem seems to have stood a siege. The palace and the temple were robbed of all their treasures, including the shields of gold which Solomon had made. For these Rehoboam later substituted shields of brass (2 Chronicles 12:9 , 2 Chronicles 12:10 ).
6. His Death:
Rehoboam died at the age of fifty-eight, after having reigned in Jerusalem for 17 years. His son Abijah became his successor. He was buried in Jerusalem. Josephus says that in disposition he was a proud and foolish man, and that he "despised the worship of God, till the people themselves imitated his wicked actions" ( Ant. , VIII, x, 2).
Recommended for You
More on Christianity
World Religions - Main pages
IBSE, (in the public domain) with minor edits.