Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Jesse Lyman Hurlbut

The Breaking Up of a Great Kingdom

I Kings xii: 1 to 24;
II Chronicles x: 1 to 19.

dropcap image HEN the strong rule of King Solomon was ended by his death, and his weak son, Rehoboam, followed him as king, all the people of Israel rose as one man against the heavy burdens which Solomon had laid upon the land. They would not allow Rehoboam to be crowned king in Jerusalem, but made him come to Shechem, in the tribe-land of Ephraim, and in the center of the country. The people sent for Jeroboam, who was in Egypt, and he became their leader. They said to Rehoboam, "Your father, Solomon, laid upon us heavy burdens of taxes and of work. If you will promise to take away our load, and make the taxes and the work lighter, then we will receive you as king, and will serve you."

"Give me three days," said Rehoboam, "and then I will tell you what I will do."

So Jeroboam and the people waited for three days, while Rehoboam talked with the rulers and with his friends. Rehoboam first called together the old men who had stood before the throne of Solomon and had helped him in his rule. He said to these men, "What answer shall I give to this people, who ask to have their burdens made light?"

And these old men said to King Rehoboam, "If you will be wise to-day, and yield to the people, and speak good words to them, then they will submit to you, and will serve you always. Tell them that you will take off the heavy burdens, and that you will rule the land in kindness."

But Rehoboam would not heed the advice of these wise old men. He talked with the young princes who had grown up with him in the palace, and who cared nothing for the people or their troubles; and he said to these young men, "The people are asking to have their heavy burdens taken away. What shall I say to them?"

And the young nobles said to Rehoboam, "Say to the people this, 'My father made your burdens heavy, but I will make them heavier still. My father beat you with whips, but I will sting you with scorpions. My little finger shall be thicker than my father's waist.' "

On the third day Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam for his answer. And the foolish young king did not follow the good advice of the old men who knew the people and their needs. He did as the haughty young princes told him to do, and spoke harshly to the people, and said, "My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it, and make it heavier. You will find my little finger thicker than my father's waist. My father struck you with whips, but I will sting you with scorpions." Then the people of Israel were very angry against the king. They said, "Why should we submit any longer to the house of David? Let us leave the family of David, and choose a king of our own. To your tents, O Israel! Now, Rehoboam, son of David, care for your own house!"


Rehoboam spoke harshly to the people.

Thus in one day ten of the twelve tribes of Israel broke away forever from the rule of King Rehoboam and the house of David. They made Jeroboam, of the tribe of Ephraim, their king. In his kingdom was all the land northward from Bethel to Dan, and also all the tribes on the east of the river Jordan. His kingdom being the larger, was called Israel; but it was also called "the kingdom of the Ten Tribes," and because Ephraim was its leading tribe, it was often spoken of as "the land of Ephraim."

When Rehoboam saw that he had lost his kingdom, he made haste to save his life by fleeing away from Shechem. He rode in his chariot quickly to Jerusalem, where the people were his friends; and there he ruled as king, but only over the tribe of Judah and as much of Benjamin as was south of Bethel. The tribe of Simeon had once lived on the south of Judah, but some of its people were lost among the people of Judah, and others among the Arabs of the desert, so that it was no longer a separate tribe.

Rehoboam ruled over the mountain country on the west of the Dead Sea, but he had no control over the Philistine cities on the plain beside the Great Sea. So the kingdom of Judah, as it was called, was less than one-third the size of the kingdom of Israel, or the Ten Tribes.

David had conquered, and Solomon had ruled, not only the land of Israel, but Syria on the north of Israel, reaching up to the great river Euphrates, and Ammon by the desert on the east, and Moab on the east of the Dead Sea, and Edom on the south. When the kingdom was divided, all the empire of Solomon was broken up. The Syrians formed a kingdom of their own, having Damascus as its chief city. The Ammonites, the Moabites, and the Edomites, all had their own kings, though the king of Moab was for a time partly under the king of Israel, and the king of Edom partly under the king of Judah. So the great and strong empire founded by David, and held by Solomon, fell apart, and became six small, struggling states.

Yet all this was by the will of the Lord, who did not wish Israel to become a great nation, but a good people. The Israelites were growing rich, and were living for the world, while God desired them to be his people, and to worship him only. So, when Rehoboam undertook to gather an army to fight the Ten Tribes, and to bring them under his rule, God sent a prophet to Rehoboam, who said to him, "Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up and fight against your brothers, the children of Israel. Return every man to his house; for it is God's will that there should be two kingdoms."

And the men of Judah obeyed the word of the Lord, and left the Ten Tribes to have their own kingdom and their own king.