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Everything was going wonderfully! Solomon had built the Temple for God and the nation of Israel was the strongest and richest and best nation around.
Then something sad happened. Solomon disobeyed. He married lots and lots of women from other nations who wanted to keep worshipping their false gods instead of the one True God, Yahweh. Solomon started setting up false gods to make his wives happy. So sad and yucky to God. God talked to Solomon twice and warned him, but he still disobeyed.
God had told Solomon what would happen if he disobeyed, so God did what He said He’d do — He took the kingdom away from Solomon. God said, “Solomon, because you have chosen to break your agreement with Me and have not obeyed My commands, I will rip your kingdom away from you. But because I loved your father David so much, instead of ripping it away from you now, I’ll wait and rip it away from your son when he becomes king. And because of My love for David and because I have chosen Jerusalem as My City, My home, I will leave your son a little piece of Israel to rule.”
Oh no! Not another disobedient and disappointing king! But God promised that one of David’s descendants would be the start of a forever kingdom. What’s going to happen now!? Looks like Solomon wasn’t God’s forever kingdom guy, huh?
It’s at this point in our story that things get pretty crazy. There are a lot of names and a lot of mess-making. But we’re going to try to make it as simple to understand as we can.
There are 2 ‘Boams in this part of the story: REHOboam, Solomon’s son. And JEROboam, one of the managers of Solomon’s work crews. I’ll call them “Rehoboam the son” and “Jeroboam the manager,” just to help you remember.
Jeroboam was manager over the work crews of a couple of the tribes of Israel (that means he was one of the bosses). One day a prophet came to Jeroboam the manager. They were alone walking down the road, and the prophet ripped up his brand new robe into 12 pieces.
He told Jeroboam, “Here. Take 10 pieces of this robe because you are going to be king over 10 of the tribes of Israel. God says, ‘Solomon disobeyed Me, so I am going to take away the kingdom from him. So Rehoboam the son will only be in charge of a couple of tribes — like Judah. But, Jeroboam the manager, you must obey My rules and commands or things won’t go well for you either!’”
“Wow, okay,” said Jeroboam the manager. After this he ran away from Solomon and waited in Egypt.
After Solomon died, Rehoboam the son became king of the whole land. But remember what God had told Jeroboam the manager? Ten parts of the family were going to him.
So Jeroboam the manager came back from Egypt to see what was going on. What Jeroboam found was that the work crews who had served Solomon had come to have a talk with Rehoboam the son, the new king. “Rehoboam the son, your dad Solomon was really hard on us workers, but if you are just a little easier on us, we don’t mind working for you.”
Rehoboam the son went to his dad’s advisors who were older and more experienced than him and asked them, “What is your advice about this?”
They answered Rehoboam, “If you’re kind to the workers, then they will keep working for you,” the older, wiser men suggested.
Then Rehoboam the son asked his buddies what to do. These guys were his same age, childhood pals he’d grown up with. They told Rehoboam, “You should be really HARD on the workers so that they think you are the strongest king ever. They don’t deserve your kindness.”
Who do you think Rehoboam should listen to? Well, he listened to his unexperienced, childhood pals (not a great choice!). Rehoboam the son told Jeroboam the manager and all the other workers, “No, No, No! I won’t make things easier for you. In fact, I’ll make things even harder for you!”
This made not only the workers but also 10 tribes of the family outraged. “We’re outta here! This Rehoboam guy doesn’t care a lick about us!”
What do you think God thought about all this? God actually wanted this to happen because He wanted Jeroboam the manager to become a new king with a fresh start and a chance to follow God with all his heart, just like David did.
But that didn’t happen. Jeroboam the manager did become the new king, but he didn’t follow God’s rules either.
So now instead of having 1 kingdom with 1 name and 1 anointed king, there are 2 kingdoms with 2 names and 2 disobedient kings.
Do you remember that the 12 tribes of Israel were called Israel because they were all descendants of Jacob and his 12 sons? They were supposed to be 1 big family — the Children of Israel. One big nation. But now, that big family is splitting apart.
So at this point in the story, when you hear the name Israel, we’re only talking about part of the kingdom. The part that Jeroboam the manager became king over was called Israel since it was most of the tribes.
Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, became king over the smaller part of the kingdom, and it would just be called Judah and it was mostly the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites.
And things don’t go well for either of them for quite awhile.
But there were still people who didn’t forget God, so don’t worry. God’s Big Plan will fix all this mess, mess, mess.