Israel Rebels Against David’s House

January 15, 2023 / No. 4176

The nation of Israel was the church of the Old Testament.  But there is a difference between the church of today and the church then, of course.  With the nation of Israel, the church was instituted as an earthly kingdom made up of a particular ethnic people, the seed of Abraham.  Today the church is instituted as a separate entity, freed from any particular nation or people.  It is made up of people out of every nation and people of the earth.  Nor is the church today limited to any geographical location as was Israel.  But God established His covenant in Christ with the kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament.  Paul points this out in Galatians 3:16, where he writes that God established His covenant with Abraham and his seed, that is Christ.  That this is the same covenant established with the church today becomes evident in Galatians 3:29:  “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Similarly, the nation of Israel was governed by means of appointed officebearers:  prophets, priest, and kings, while today the church is under the authority of elders, pastors, and deacons.  These have replaced the Old Testament offices.

We bring this matter to the foreground in our broadcast today because only in light of this truth can we properly understand the account we will study.  I refer to the account of the split that took place in Israel between the ten northern tribes and the two southern tribes.  This is found in I Kings 12.  Again, I cannot read this entire chapter, so you will have to follow along in your Bibles if you can:  I Kings 12.

On the basis of the truth that the nation of Israel was the Old Testament church we will discover the sin of the ten tribes breaking away from David and service in the temple.  Also on the basis of this truth we will find the gospel in the account before us.  If we cannot find the gospel in it, then the telling of this account makes a quaint story but has no significance for us and the church today.  That significance for the church today is:  when a church or denomination of churches today departs from the blessed truth of God’s covenant in Christ, when churches depart from the proper worship of God, then, like the nation of Israel, they will be led down the road of apostasy.  When Christ and salvation in Him alone remain the focus of the church, and when the church worships God alone in the way He commands us in His Word, then God is faithful to His church.  Departing from these, the rebellion of the nation of Israel led to the ultimate destruction of the ten tribes.

Rehoboam was the fourth king to reign over the twelve tribes of Israel.  The first was king Saul, who consolidated the twelve tribes into a united kingdom.  The second king was a man after God’s own heart, king David.  With him and his royal line of kings God established His covenant.  Christ would be born in his generations.  The third king was David’s son Solomon.  It was on account of Solomon’s sin that the event we consider today takes place.  Rehoboam was the son of Solomon.  It was his foolish refusal to lower taxes that the kingdom of the twelve tribes would now divide into two.  Such is what we consider today.

I.   The Rebellion

The occasion for the division of the kingdom really begins long before the event in I Kings 12 transpired.  After Saul and his house had been rejected on account of Saul’s disobedience, God had placed David on the throne of Israel.  David loved God and therefore ruled over the nation of Israel on behalf of God.  With David, as we will find, God established His covenant, His bond of fellowship and love.  He promised David that out of his royal line the Messiah, Christ, would be born.  David’s sons in his generations, therefore, would always reign as kings over God’s people.  For this reason, God placed David’s son Solomon on the throne after David’s death.  Solomon reigned in wisdom over God’s people.  Under him the kingdom of Israel reached its greatest extent.  Solomon reigned over a kingdom that extended from the River Euphrates in the north to the river of Egypt in the south.  He also built the immaculate temple in the city of Jerusalem that finally took the place of the tabernacle built by Moses in the wilderness.  God now had come to dwell in that temple in all His glory.  To that temple of Jerusalem everyone in Israel had to travel in order to worship Jehovah.  It was the place of God’s abode.

But Solomon, during his reign, committed a horrible sin.  He married many wives, most of whom were pagan.  If it were not bad enough that Solomon sinned by marrying more than one wife, and then wicked wives besides, Solomon now also began to worship their gods with them!  He even built temples for these gods near to the city of Jerusalem.  This once wise king had now become foolish in his sin.  For this reason, God told Solomon that He was going to take a large part of the kingdom away from him and give it to another.  He would leave Solomon a small part only because God would be faithful to His promise to David.  Already during Solomon’s reign, God sent the prophet Ahijah to a man named Jeroboam.  Jeroboam was a mighty man of valor that Solomon had placed as ruler over the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, tribes of major influence in the north of Canaan.  Now Ahijah prophesies that God would rend ten tribes from the house of David and would give them to Jeroboam.

Solomon soon heard of Ahijah’s prophecy and immediately sought to kill Jeroboam.  Jeroboam escaped to live in Egypt while Solomon was still alive and reigned.  So, the occasion for the split we read in I Kings 12 began already while Solomon was alive.  Jeroboam only needed the proper excuse or reason to force the split in the kingdom of Israel . This excuse he found when Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, was to be crowned in Shechem as the next king of Israel.

You see, Solomon had taxed the people of his kingdom heavily in order to build the temple and other grand buildings.  The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh sent for Jeroboam to return because these tribes already had in mind to rebel.  It is obvious from the chapter we read that Jeroboam would now spearhead that rebellion.  In fact, he was probably the mouthpiece for Israel.  The demand was placed before Rehoboam in Shechem:  lower the taxes.  Rehoboam asked for three day’s time to think about this demand placed before him—and we can be sure it was a demand and not a request.

During the three days, Rehoboam first of all called for the advice of the old counselors that stood before Solomon.  They advised that Rehoboam give in to the demands of the people.  “If you speak good words to them, they will be your servants forever.”  Lower the taxes.  But this is not what Rehoboam wanted to hear.  He did not like the attitude or demands placed on him by Jeroboam and those who followed him.  So Rehoboam went to the younger men who had grown up with him and were chosen as his counselors.  They gave the advice he wanted to hear:  raise the taxes!  And punish those who do not pay with a sorer punishment than did Solomon.  When the people returned to him after three days, Rehoboam answered them roughly.  He did not even speak persuasively and gently.  You want the taxes lowered?  I will tax you even more!  If you do not pay, I will chasten you with a whip that has hooks on the ends of the cords!  We are reminded, of course, that this foolishness of Rehoboam was sovereignly directed by God to bring about the punishment against Solomon for his sin.  Soon the punishment on the house of Solomon would be carried out by means of Jeroboam.

We may not, however, overlook that Jeroboam orchestrated this rebellion.  He probably spoke the words of our text in verse 16:  “ What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse:  to your tents, O Israel:  now see to thine own house, David.”  Ephraim and Manasseh, with their powerful influence over the northern tribes of Israel, were looking for a reason to secede from the union.  Ephraim had never liked the powerful tribe of Judah and the precedence that she seemed to have in Israel.  Although Jeroboam was of the tribe of Judah, his allegiance was to the northern tribes, since he had been given charge over the house of Joseph.  Besides, as we learned, Ahijah the prophet had spoken the words of prophecy directly to Jeroboam.  God said through Ahijah, “I will give you, Jeroboam, ten tribes, and I will leave only Judah for the house of David.”  In this tribe, Jerusalem was found, “the city,” God said, “I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel.”  Jeroboam knew he would win the hearts of the ten northern tribes of Israel.  And he did.  Ten tribes out of twelve seceded from the great nation that David had established.  Judah and Benjamin alone were left to Rehoboam.

Was the action of Jeroboam and Israel justified?  Can we perhaps say that it was not a rebellion?  If God willed it, then Jeroboam was only following after Jehovah’s will, after all.  What he did for the ten tribes perhaps did not constitute rebellion, but a legitimate leaving of the house of David.  God always, according to His sovereign will and purpose for all things, leads the actions of men in the way He chooses.  But this does not mean that He approves of the motives of men’s hearts.  For these God holds men responsible.  What Jeroboam and the ten tribes did was contrary to God’s revealed will:  the fifth commandment demands of us to honor those in authority over us.  The ten tribes should have bowed before the will of their king, adverse as it was.

II.  The Sin

The sin the northern kingdom committed was heinous.  It had horrible consequences that left the kingdom of Israel spiritually desolate from its onset.  Israel’s sin was twofold.  We find the first of these in the very words spoken by the people in verse 16:  “what portion have we in David?  Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse.”  The ten tribes were not rebelling so much against Rehoboam as they were the house of David.  What portion do we have in David?  We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse (David was Jesse’s son).  See to your own house, David!  The ten tribes were not rebelling against this particular king but against the line of David, with whom God had established the kingdom and through whom God kept covenant with the nation of Israel.

God tied together the covenant and its promises with the house of David.  The nation of Israel would be blessed through David’s royal line.  This was true because the Messiah, Christ, was going to be born out of David’s house.  Ultimately Christ would be the king that would reign forever over Israel.  God promised David in II Samuel 7:11, “I will establish the throne of Christ’s kingdom forever.”  That God’s covenant and its fulfillment was tied together with the house of David is evident from Psalm 89:3, 4:  “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations.”  God’s promise to establish the throne of David forever was not told him in secret so that it would be hidden from the people.  Everyone in Israel was fully aware of this.  The split in Israel cannot be understood properly unless we realize that God’s covenant with the nation of Israel was established, preserved, and would ultimately be fulfilled through the house of David.  The nation of Israel was God’s inheritance in David, the son of Jesse!  She would receive salvation through that king, her Messiah, to be born out of the line of David!

The sin the ten tribes committed therefore was in essence this:  they rejected Christ and turned away from God’s covenant.  We have no portion, we have no part, in the covenant that God established with the house of David!  We do not want the inheritance given to David and his house.  This was no rejection of Rehoboam as a king.  It was a rejection of God’s covenant as God had established it with Israel through the line of David.  Worse, it was a conscious rejection of the Messiah whom everyone knew was to be born out of David.

The ultimate sin of Israel, then, was that they no longer looked in faith for salvation in Christ.  That was not true of all those who belonged to the ten tribes.  God always has His elect few in the church that apostatizes.  But certainly what we learn here in this history is that the church that consciously turns away from God’s covenant and its promises will be led down a path that can only end in destruction.  The church or denomination today that turns from the Christ of the Scriptures to embrace a Christ that is born out of man’s vain imagination rests under God’s just judgment.  The kingdom of Israel had now shown itself to be an apostate church that was an empty shell, still insisting that they dwelt in fellowship with God while rejecting the very reason we share in fellowship with Him, that is, Jesus Christ.

I explained a moment ago that the sin of the ten tribes was twofold.  The first sin is that this people had rejected Christ by departing from the house of David.  The second sin is that this nation forsook Jehovah to serve idols.  You see, Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem was the place where Jehovah dwelt with His people.  With the dedication of this temple, God came down in all His glory and took His place on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies.  The temple was God’s dwelling place, the place where the worship of Jehovah was conducted.  The people were prohibited from worshiping God anywhere else.  They could not build other temples or worship God in the high places as the pagan nations around them did.  God dwelt in Jerusalem in the temple.  Jeroboam knew this.  After he was anointed king of the northern kingdom of the ten tribes, he reasoned to himself that the people would return to the house of David by worshiping in the temple.

We learn in I Kings 12:28, 29 that Jeroboam had two calves engraved.  He set one up in the south of his kingdom in Bethel.  He set the other one up in the far north of his kingdom in Dan.  He also built shrines or places of worship in these cities for the worship of Jehovah.  He then explained to the people, “Here are the gods that brought you from Egypt.”  These two calves represent Jehovah, the God that has brought us from Egypt.  Jeroboam committed two terrible sins in what he now did.  First, he forsook the proper worship of God in the temple.  He forsook the place of God’s abode, where Jehovah Himself chose to dwell with His people.  Then second, Jeroboam instituted for Israel false worship, a worship that was expressly prohibited by God.  God instructs His church, “do not make any graven images in order to worship me!”  Jeroboam did this.  By doing so he turned the kingdom of Israel into a worship of idols that followed her from the beginning to the end of her history.  Israel never departed from the idol worship of Jeroboam the son of Nebat who made Israel to sin.

Again, this comes to us today as a warning.  When the church worships God in a way God has not commanded in Scripture, it violates the second commandment.  When churches today become involved in will-worship, that is, worship that caters to the will of man and not the will of God revealed in His Word, they walk the path of slow destruction.  It was sin for Jeroboam and Israel to leave the house of David and the house of God in Jerusalem.  Israel had become an apostate church.

III. The Demise

When a church turns from the Lord and begins to worship Him in the wrong way, sin only increases.  Jeroboam appointed priests of the lowest of the people who were not sons of Levi to serve the altars built to these gods.  They offered sacrifices to these calves just as pagans offered their sacrifices to their heathen gods.  Jeroboam even went so far as to appoint another feast to replace the Passover feast.  The worship of Israel degenerated quickly.  Soon this nation would forsake Jehovah to worship other gods.  Such is God’s punishment on the church that forsakes God’s covenant and the Christ of the Scriptures.  In His just judgment God leads them deeper into the ways of sin until they meet with their demise.  It was true then. It is yet true today.

This serves as fair warning to us as a church of Christ.  We must be careful not to deny in any way the Christ that bought us.  We must seek to dwell in fellowship with God, faithful to our calling in God’s covenant; and we must worship God in truth as He has revealed it to us in His Word.  In this way we will be blessed with God’s favor and fellowship.  God preserve His church today in His grace that we not depart from the seed of David, our Lord Jesus Christ.