The high places ; i.e. Dan and Bethel ( 1 Kings 12:28-33 ). For the devils ; i.e. for the "hairy ones" ( שְׂעִירִים ). Reference is intended to the idolatrous wore ship of the "he-goats" by the Hebrews, after the example of Egypt, and the reference here is either literal or derived (Le 2 Chronicles 17:7 ). For the calves (see 1 Kings 12:28 ).
The discipline that resulted in obedience, accompanied with right and earnest endeavour.
The homiletic treatment of this chapter centres round two suggestions.
I. THE SIMPLE AND PROMPT OBEDIENCE OF REHOBOAM , IN CERTAIN RESPECTS , TO THE DIVINE MESSAGE OF PROHIBITION . Of which obedience on the part of Rehoboam we may notice:
1 . That it compared favourably with the conduct of those who, being bidden and encouraged in every way to go up to war, and to possess a certain goodly land, refused; and, being commanded not to go up, insisted on going ( Deuteronomy 1:26 , Deuteronomy 1:43 ), to their discomfiture and defeat.
2 . That the mere pride of war must have gone far to make such obedience difficult.
3 . That the somewhat juster pride of earnest desire to undo, if possible, his own mischievous doing, and to restore a united nation, must have contributed still further to the difficulty of that obedience.
4 . And it is very possible that a sensitive shame in the presence of those young counsellors who had helped to mislead him, but who for certain never offered to help bear the blame of the consequences, may have added some contribution to the difficulty of obedience. Yet Rehoboam's obedience was apparently prompt and unquestioning. Terrible recent experience had not been thrown away, but had so far gained some wisdom for him. And the prophet's distinct announcement that the Lord had recognized and adopted the situation as one for his intervening and overruling providence, must have lent consolation to a truly penitent disposition, saved from remorse had there been tendency thereto, while in no way palliating the sin of either king or people.
II. THE EARNEST AND RIGHT ENDEAVOURS OF REHOBOAM TO SHEPHERD ALL THE BETTER HIS LESSER FLOCK , HIS REDUCED KINGDOM . This was witnessed to in three leading and typical directions.
1 . Rehoboam uses all the means o/an outward kind that may " strengthen the things that remain. " Cities, and fences, and strongholds, and forts, and stores of food, and all armour are seen to and supplied.
2 . It was of deeper significance that he received only too gladly, welcomed out of a true faith then at least, all the priests and Levites who found indeed that Israel was not the place and Jeroboam not the master for them. To have the recognition of religion, the faith of religion, the presence of the practical ministries and ministers of religion, is the salt of the earth, the health of a people, the conserving of the soundness of civil society. Sin, and a grievous tale of it, were the woe of even Judah; but its core was never quite unsound, and its perpetuity was never broken; while rottenness was the very core of Israel, and Jeroboam and their staff was to be broken absolutely.
3 . The true, the devout, the pious of the country, those who "set their hearts to seek the Lord God, " were likewise received and welcomed at the true altar, at Jerusalem the city of the great King, with their sacrifices and offerings, renewing in the steps of their priests and ministers. We can imagine them pouring up to the city of their solemnities, like the regular health-bringing waters of some tidal river for Judah, who often mourned and was desolate and bereaved; but for themselves, to the drawing of fresh spiritual life, deeper faith, added strength of hope, kindled joy and love, as they offered their sacrifices, paid their vows, and frequented their temple. People and king were strengthened, as thus "they walked in the way of David and Solomon." We could wish it were written without the ominous, ill-sounding qualification of" three years." These things are certainly very observable of Rehoboam at this time, that a remarkable change had come over, not the spirit of his dream, but of his real working life. We hear no more of his young counsellors. They had been found out, and now were no longer clung to, even as "favourites" to whom royalty iniquitously insisted on showing partiality. We recognize no further indications of the hectoring and insolent spirit in which Rehoboam had allowed himself to answer the not unreasonable representations of those who had addressed him on the subject of lightening their acknowledged burdens. We learn of his desire and the beginning of his preparation to attempt to recover the nevertheless irrecoverable. He is divinely prohibited, and that, no doubt, to the saving of greater harm. He acquiesces in the prohibition, and with intensified zeal applies himself to the care of his diminished dominions. He would defend them from outer assault; and they are also the resort and the refuge and the religious home they should be, for all the upright in all the land. From our sight in this one chapter Rehoboam vanishes, emulating steadily for three years the best portions of the examples of his fathers David and Solomon. Unhappily, the end was not yet.
Fidelity to conscience.
This migration of priests and people from the other tribes of Israel to Judah and Jerusalem was a serious event in the history of the people of God, and it presents a striking and suggestive spectacle to all time. It is an early illustration of fidelity to conscience.
I. THE SEVERITY OF THE STRUGGLE . These servants of Jehovah, priests and people, had to triumph over great obstacles in order to take the step on which they decided. They had:
1 . To set at nought the commandments of the king. This was a more serious thing then than it would be now; it meant more rebelliousness in action, and it involved more danger to the person.
2 . To cut themselves adrift from old and sacred associations. They had to forsake their neighbours and (many of them, no doubt) their relatives; many had to leave their vocation or, at any rate, its exercise in familiar spots and among old and early acquaintances; they had to make little of those sentiments of which it is in our human heart to make much.
3 . To sacrifice material advantages. Of the Levites we read that they "left their suburbs and their possession" ( 2 Chronicles 11:14 ); and we may be sure that those who were not Levites, and who, consequently, would have a much greater interest in the occupancy and holding of the land ( Deuteronomy 10:9 ), made still greater sacrifices than they. The families must have gone forth "not knowing the things that would befall them," but knowing that they would encounter serious loss and discomfort, and would miss much which they had been accustomed to possess and to enjoy.
II. THE WISDOM OF THEIR CHOICE .
1 . They pleased God. God would accept and honour their fidelity, which was an act of faithfulness and obedience to himself.
2 . They retained their self-respect. This they would not have done if they had conformed to the false rites which Jeroboam had instituted and on which he was insisting; in that case they would have sunk far and fast spiritually, and would soon have lost all hold upon the truth. For we cannot dishonour the truth in the eyes of men and retain our own appreciation of it.
3. They took a course which ennobled them—a course by which they not only became entitled to the honour of their countrymen, but by which they committed themselves definitely to the service of God and confirmed their own faith in him. They did that for which their children and their children's children would "call them blessed" and noble.
4 . They added materially to the strength of the kingdom which bore witness to the truth ( 2 Chronicles 11:17 ), and helped to make durable its godly institutions.
5 . They became located where they could take part in the worship of God according to the requirements of their own conscience. Setting their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel, they came where they could "sacrifice unto the Lord God of their fathers" ( 2 Chronicles 11:16 ). They lost much temporal, but they gained much spiritual advantage. They sowed "not to the flesh, but to the Spirit." They left houses of brick behind them, but they came where they could build up the house of a holy character, of a noble and useful life. There are those in Christian lands who do not likewise, but otherwise. For some temporal considerations they leave the home where there is everything to illumine the mind and enlarge the spirit and enrich the soul, and go where all this is absent. Doubtless the removal from one town to another is an action in which many motives may and should have their force, but let spiritual considerations have a great weight in the balance.—C.
The strengthening of a kingdom.
I. THE ERECTION OF FORTRESSES . ( 2 Chronicles 11:5-12 .)
1 . Their object. To defend the frontiers of the kingdom, against both Israel on the north and Egypt on the south, for which last special need existed, considering the friendly relations which had subsisted between Jeroboam and Shishak. Shishak's invasion, which soon followed, showed Rehoboam's apprehensions not to have been baseless. Though wars are seldom justifiable, it is never wrong or unwise on the part of a prudent monarch to consult for the protection of his country and people.
2 . Their names.
(a) On the southern frontier: Bethlehem, mentioned in Jacob's time ( Genesis 35:19 ), two hours south of Jerusalem, the birthplace of David and of Christ ( 1 Samuel 16:1 ; Micah 5:1 ; Matthew 2:5 , Matthew 2:11 ), now Beit-Lahm. Etam , a town probably between Bethlehem and Tekoa, the present village Urtas, south of Bethlehem, near which is the spring called ' Ain Atan. Tekoa, now Tekua, "on the summit of a hill covered with ancient ruins, two hours south of Bethlehem" (Keil). Beth-zur ( Joshua 15:58 ), a town on the watershed, identified with the modern Beth-sur, a ruin midway between Urtas and Hebron.
(b) On the western boundary towards the Philistines: Soco ( Joshua 15:35 ), the present Shuweike in Wady Sumt, three hours and a half south-west from Jerusalem. Adullam ( Joshua 15:35 ), a very old Canaanitish town, that lay in the so-called Shephelah, or lowland, of Judah, probably to be identified with the present Deir Dubban, two hours north of Eleutheropolis. Gath one of the five chief towns of the Philistines ( Joshua 13:3 ), first subjected to the Israelites by David ( 1 Chronicles 18:1 ), and under Solomon ruled by its own king, who paid tribute to the Israelitish throne ( 1 Kings 2:39 ); according to the 'Onomasticon,' situated five Roman miles from Eleutheropolis, on the road to Dios-polis; otherwise not yet identified, though Conder looks for it in the direction of Tell-es-Safi. Mareshah ( Joshua 15:44 ), near to which Asa defeated the Ethiopian king Zemh ( 2 Chronicles 14:9 ), according to Eusebius, lay two Roman miles from, and in all probability is to be sought for in, the ruin Merash, twenty-four minutes south of Beit Jibrin (Eleu-theropolis). Adoram, shortened into Dora (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 14.5. 3), is the present-day Dura, a village seven miles and a half west of Hebron, surrounded by olive-groves and corn-fields (Robinson). Lachish, in the lowland of Judah ( Joshua 15:39 ), is probably the present ruin Lakis, three miles west-south-west from Beit Jibrin, situated "on a circular height covered with ancient walls and marble fragments, and overgrown with thistles and bushes" (Robinson, Ritter, Keil; Pressel in Herzog, 8.157; Reihm, 1.876), though Conder prefers to find it in Tell-el-hesy, near Egion. Azekah ( Joshua 15:35 ), east of Ephes-dammim ( 1 Samuel 17:1 ), has not been discovered.
(c) On the border of the Edomites: Hebron, originally Kirjath-arba, i.e. the city of Arba, "a great man among the Anakims" ( Joshua 14:15 ; Joshua 15:13 ; Joshua 21:11 ), afterwards a settlement of the patriarchs ( Genesis 23:2 ; Genesis 35:27 ), now called El-Khalil, "the friend of God," in the hill country of Judah, seven hours from Jerusalem, one of the oldest towns of which we possess knowledge, having been "built seven years before Zoan in Egypt" ( Numbers 13:22 ). Ziph, probably in the hill country of Judah ( Joshua 15:55 ), to be looked for in the present ruin Tall Ziph, an hour and a quarter south-east of Hebron.
3 . The equipment of these strongholds. Captains were appointed, provisions laid up, and shields and spears stored up in every city ( 2 Chronicles 11:11 ).
II. THE REFORMATION OF RELIGION . ( 2 Chronicles 11:13-17 .)
1 . The priests and Levites out of all Israel returned to the temple. The occasion of this falling away from Jeroboam was that he and his sons had practically renounced the religion of Jehovah, had set up "high places" of his own in Dan and Bethel, where Jehovah was worshipped in the form of two ox-images, or golden calves, in imitation, most likely, of the images of Apis and Mnevis in Egypt, or of the "calf" made by Aaron in the wilderness, the notion of which doubtless was also borrowed from Egypt ( 1 Kings 12:28 ). These calves and other images of animals the Chronicler calls she'erim (Hebrew), "devils" (Authorized Version), "he-goats" or "satyrs" (Revised Version), after which the Israelites had gone a-whoring in Egypt ( Joshua 24:14 ), and even in the wilderness (Le 2 Chronicles 17:7 ; Amos 5:25 , Amos 5:26 ). "In later times they appear to have connected with it [this worship] notions of goblins, in the form of goats, who haunted the wilderness and laid in wait for women" (Gerlach). Jeroboam, then, having set up this rival form of worship, had no further use for the regularly ordained priests and Levites, unless they would conform to the new cultus; and because they would not, he cast them out from their offices and would no more allow them "to sacrifice unto the Lord." It says a good deal for their conscientiousness and courage that, rather than renounce what they believed to be the true religion, or worship God otherwise than according to their consciences, they cheerfully abandoned "their suburbs and possession"—in modern phraseology, their residences and emoluments; Scottice, their manses and glebes. They were the first nonconformists in the northern kingdom.
2 . The pious worshippers of Jehovah out o/ all Israel returned to Jerusalem. These are described:
3 . Rehoboam and his princes returned to the service of Jehovah.
1 . The worthlessness to a kingdom of fortresses without religion.
2 . The worthlessness to a person of religion without sincerity and truth.
3 . The worthlessness to a state of a king without a God.
4 . The worthlessness to either state or individual of goodness that is not permanent.—W.