Jeroboam and the Beginning of Division
The consequences of Solomon’s idolatry continued to accumulate. Jeroboam was an industrious soldier who came to Solomon’s attention. Seeing his diligence, Solomon appointed Jeroboam to oversee the workforce of the house of Joseph. Then the word of the Lord came to the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite. Ahijah met Jeroboam and declared that God would rend the kingdom—10 tribes—away from Solomon’s son and give it to him instead, and he informed Jeroboam that all this would happen because of Solomon’s idolatry.
Word of this transaction reached Solomon, and his reaction shows just how far from his wisdom Solomon had fallen: he tried to have Jeroboam murdered. What folly! If God has appointed a thing to happen, can a mere man, even one as intelligent and powerful as Solomon, frustrate the plans of the Almighty? Nevertheless, Solomon foolishly thought that he could end the Lord’s plan by dispensing with Jeroboam.
Solomon did have good reason to fear Jeroboam, though. Jeroboam was a “mighty man of valor” (an accomplished soldier) and very industrious—two qualities that make for a strong leader. But more importantly, Jeroboam was an Ephraimite who, as a result of his position managing the Ephraimite workforce, had no doubt cultivated relationships with the wealthy and powerful of that tribe. Given the longstanding rivalry between Ephraim and Judah (Solomon’s tribe), Solomon had every reason to view Jeroboam as a very potent rival to his throne. Indeed, there was more than mere rivalry between Ephraim and Judah. Even during David’s kingdom, the northern tribes of “Israel” were cautious and reluctant about accepting a king from Judah. Solomon’s hold on the northern tribes was thus perhaps somewhat tenuous anyway. They were probably willing to assert their independence from Judah any time they no longer liked the political arrangement, and Solomon would surely have been well aware of this.
That Jeroboam was able to flee to Egypt for protection also implies that the alliance Solomon had forged with Egypt through his marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh was now either failing or already defunct. The Pharaoh gave Jeroboam protection in the hopes of allying Jeroboam to Egypt. Thus, at the end of Solomon’s life we see foreign enemies in the north, southeast and south, and a rival to the throne being given protection by the powerful and influential ruler of Egypt.
In Ahijah’s declaration, we see that “the kingdom” was to be taken from Solomon and given to Jeroboam. “The kingdom” is further defined as “ten tribes.” Why is this? Solomon’s son Rehoboam would naturally retain leadership of his own tribe, Judah. But as a concession for David’s sake, God allowed one other tribe, Benjamin, to be subject to Solomon’s son as well. There is good reason for this. When David became king of all Israel, he moved his capital from Hebron, the Judahite capital, to Jerusalem, a city lying just within Benjamite territory but administered by Judah. This was as a concession to the northern tribes. By moving to Jerusalem, David became less “Jewish,” so to speak, and more “Israelite,” and therefore more acceptable to the northerners. If Rehoboam had lost all the other tribes—including Benjamin—he, as a Judahite, would likely have been forced back to Hebron at some point, probably under Israelite pressure, abandoning Jerusalem and the temple. By allowing Solomon’s son to continue to reign over Benjamin, God continued a powerful geographical motivation to keep Jerusalem as the center of Judah’s government and the seat of God’s worship.