With Solomon dead, we now come to the story of Rehoboam’s almost immediate bungling of his reign and the fracturing of Israel. The story is largely lifted from 1 Kgs 12.

As I was reading this chapter, I tried to think of how it would have come across if I had read Chronicles first, rather than Samuel and Kings. How would I have explained the sudden falling apart of a unified Israel, an Israel that had just seen two glorious, successful, wealthy, wonderful kings?

As it is, however, I’ve already read about Israel’s troubled beginnings – its first monarch who dies on the battlefield, David’s usurping of Ishbosheth’s crown, his son Absalom’s rebellion(s), Sheba’s rebellion, the succession dispute between Adonijah and Solomon, as well as the hint of David’s forced abdication. With those details in mind, it seems little wonder that Israel should fracture under a weaker king – particularly early in his reign, before he’s really had a chance to find his footing. (In fact, it may be that Solomon was only spared his son’s fate by David’s co-rule, lending his unsteady early years the authority they might otherwise have lacked.)

But in the 2 Chron. 10 version, the secession really seems to come out of left field. Even more so because of the Chronicler’s insistence that Solomon did not enslave Israelites (2 Chron. 8:7-10), or that the slaves he did make were not Israelites (2 Chron. 2:17-18). This leaves the people’s complaint in this chapter wholly without context.

And I’m not sure that was an accident. By letting them voice a complain while stripping the narrative of its base, the Chronicler makes the Israelites seem like whiny fools – even while doing nothing to spare Rehoboam’s reputation.

Rehoboam’s Tragic Coronation

While Solomon was crowned at Gibeon, where the tabernacle was being kept, Rehoboam’s coronation takes place at Shechem, though no reason is given for the choice.

Interestingly, we are told that Rehoboam went to Shechem because that’s where the people of Israel had gathered to make him king – implying that his succession was the people’s choice. Funny turn of phrase given that, before the end of the very same chapter, most of Israel would renounce him.

Division, by William Brassey Hole

Division, by William Brassey Hole

Among the people who have gathered to welcome Rehoboam as their king was Jeroboam son of Nebat. The Chronicler tells us only that he had been hiding from Solomon in Egypt, and that he came back when he learned of Solomon’s death. We have to turn to 1 Kgs 11:26-40 to learn that God had promised Jeroboam a portion of the united Israel. As a result of this prophecy, Jeroboam rebelled and Solomon tried to have him killed, prompting his escape to Egypt.

Jeroboam’s role in the crowd’s demands isn’t described. Instead, the crowd declares that Solomon had “made our yoke heavy” (2 Chron. 10:4), and they ask for a kinder, gentler touch from his son.

Rehoboam needs to mull this over, so he sends his people away for three days. During this time, he consults with the old men of Israel (those who had served Solomon), who tell him to listen to the people, to loosen up his grip, and they serve him forever.

Instead, Rehoboam decides to listen to the young men he’d grown up with, who tell him to tell the people that, “my little finger is thicker than my father’s loins” (2 Chron. 10:10) and to promise to replace Solomon’s whips with scorpions.

Unsurprisingly, the Israelites aren’t particularly pleased by this answer, so they make like bananas. Only Judah remains loyal to Rehoboam.

All of this, we learn, is according to God’s plan, as revealed to Jeroboam by Ahijah the Shilonite (narrated only in 1 Kgs 11:26-40).

Divergent

At this point, our narratives split. In 1 Kgs 12:20-24, Rehoboam amassed an army to subdue the rebelling half-nation. Before they can really get going, however, God speaks to Rehoboam through the prophet Shemaiah, telling him not to fight “your kindred the people of Israel” (1 Kgs. 12:24). And so without a single shot fired (or whatever the iron age equivalent might be – without a single sword rattled, maybe?), the Judahites give up their claim to Israel and all head home in time for brunch.

Here, however, Rehoboam sends a slaver – Hadoram – after them. The insult is rather clear to see, given the nature of the instigating complaint. The Israelites react precisely as you might expect: They stone Hadoram to death.

My study Bible claims that the 1 Kgs 12 version was changed because it “reveals the weakness of Judah”, referring to 1 Kgs 12:20: “There was no one who followed the house of David, except the tribe of Judah alone. The closest the Chronicler comes to this is to say that: “Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day” (2 Chron. 10:19).

I’m not sure I see the weakness angle, however. The Chronicler may have omitted the 1 Kgs 12:20 line, but he added the detail that Rehoboam was forced to flee from Jerusalem – the seat of his power.

Rather, I think the difference is one of focus. While the verse in Kings is seen from Israel’s perspective, with Judah as the oddity, the Chronicler’s version sees David’s dynasty remaining in the same position, but with Israel in ongoing rebellion. It is Israel that is the oddity – a nation that persistently refuses to acknowledge its true monarch. And that, I think, is more in line with the Chronicler’s overall motive than trying to save Rehoboam’s reputation.