The first reading for today from 1st Kings takes place shortly after the death of Solomon. The King’s son and heir, Rehoboam, had received a request from his subjects-to-be and been advised by older counselors to reduce the onerous burden of Solomon’s taxes and corvee’s (forced labor) enacted to facilitate the building of the Temple. His young peers, largely dissolute, silver-spoon, palace nobles, urged him to show his strength and power by increasing those burdens, which he was determined to do. This, sadly, would cause the severing of the Kingdom, united under David, and strengthened under Solomon. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel, occupying the northern portion of the land would secede to form the new nation of Israel, alternatively called Ephraim after the predominant tribe. A leader named Jeroboam (no relation to Rehoboam) returned from exile to Egypt for his rebellion against Solomon would become king. The remaining, southern portion of the land under Rehoboam, based in Jerusalem, would be called Judah after the predominant tribe.
Rehoboam would mass his armies to subjugate the northern rebels but would be warned against attacking his kinsmen by the prophet Shemiah, and would relent, letting them go.
The Temple, the holiest place in Judaism and to which all Jewish males were required to make pilgrimage three times annually, was in the southern kingdom. Jeroboam feared that his new subjects, making these pilgrimages, would be drawn restore their loyalty to Jerusalem and would kill him.
Therefore, he built new major shrines in Bethel and Dan, incredibly housing golden calves, and other places of worship on various high places. He also appointed priests to administer these places who were not Levites or members of the priestly class, possibly for bribes.
A ‘man of God’ from Judah, a prophet, came to warn Jeroboam of the dangers of these actions. Apparently, while God would permit the political separation of His people, He would not tolerate the establishment of cultic practices, some in direct contravention of the covenants of Sinai. After initially responding to this warning, Jeroboam would persist in ‘his evil ways’ causing him and his house ‘to be cut off and destroyed from the earth.’ Jeroboam’s line of incredibly bad kings of the partitioned Israel, most of whom would be murdered, would end after only two hundred years, when the northern kingdom would be conquered and its people taken into captivity by the then ascendant Assyrian Empire, to disappear from history as the ten lost tribes of Israel.
If only Rehoboam had agreed to cut taxes!