King Solomon was dead, but the consequences of his sin were not. His kingdom was about to be torn in two and divided between two men with similar-sounding names: Rehoboam and Jeroboam.
Rehoboam was Solomon’s son, and he travelled north to the city of Shechem to be crowned king in his father’s place. It was important that Rehoboam win over the northern tribes of Israel there, for they thought that Solomon had pushed them too hard with his endless building projects. They appealed to their new king to “lighten the hard service” of his father and to lift the “heavy yoke” he had put on them. Rehoboam listened to advice from the wise elders who had served Solomon and to the counsel of his friends from his own generation. His elders encouraged him to be humble and kind while his peers advised him to be harsh and demanding — and Rehoboam foolishly “abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him” (v.8).
Rehoboam’s attitude sparked a revolt that effectively split Israel into the Southern Kingdom (two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, located in and around Jerusalem), over which he would rule, and the Northern Kingdom. There was already a man in place to rule the North — a former member of Solomon’s staff named Jeroboam (v.20; see also 11:26-40). Only the word of God through a preacher named Shemaiah kept the situation from turning into a full-blown civil war (v.21-24).
The two opposing kings represent two foolish extremes. Rehoboam was a man of pride who would not listen to wise counsel and did not care about his people. He was a haughty man who claimed to be more powerful than his father (v.10), but he is remembered as an impotent leader who was more concerned about keeping up appearances than being faithful to God (see 14:25-28). Jeroboam was the other extreme: a people-pleaser who led by popular opinion. He gave the people of the Northern Kingdom what they wanted. They didn’t want to go to Jerusalem to worship, so he gave them Penuel (v.25). They wanted idols to worship, so he gave them golden calves (v.28). Anyone who wanted to become a priest in his new religion could be a priest (see 13:33). Jeroboam’s leadership was equally as disastrous as Rehoboam’s because they both left God out of their decisions.
At the close of this chapter Israel is a broken nation. The people had followed their ungodly leaders into sinful lifestyles. At this stage in her history, Israel is a picture of the person who disregards God and His Word. They end up broken, hopelessly lost in sin, and desperately needing a Savior.