2 Chronicles 11 – The Defection of the Levites
A. The reign of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon.
1. (1-4) A prophet prevents a civil war, allowing the northern tribes to secede.
Now when Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled from the house of Judah and Benjamin one hundred and eighty thousand chosen men who were warriors, to fight against Israel, that he might restore the kingdom to Rehoboam. But the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, “Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all Israel in Judah and Benjamin, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: “You shall not go up or fight against your brethren! Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from Me.”’” Therefore they obeyed the words of the LORD, and turned back from attacking Jeroboam.
a. When Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled from the house of Judah and Benjamin one hundred and eighty thousand chosen men who were warriors: This was the time of Jeroboam’s rebellion against the house of David. Rehoboam intended to keep the kingdom united by force.
b. To fight against Israel, that he might restore the kingdom to Rehoboam: Rehoboam intended to make war against the seceding tribes of Israel, but God spoke through a prophet and stopped him. To his credit – or perhaps due to a lack of courage – Rehoboam listened to God’s word through Shemaiah the man of God.
i. “Here is one Shemaiah, – some of you never heard of him before, perhaps you will never hear of him again; he appears once in this history, and then he vanishes; he comes, and he goes, – only fancy this one man constraining to peace a hundred and eighty thousand chosen men, warriors ready to fight against the house of Israel, by giving to them in very plain, unpolished words, the simple command of God…. Why have we not such power? Peradventure, brethren, we do not always speak in the name of the Lord, or speak God’s Word as God’s Word. If we are simply tellers out of our own thoughts, why should men mind us?” (Spurgeon)
2. (5-12) Rehoboam turns his attention to defense.
So Rehoboam dwelt in Jerusalem, and built cities for defense in Judah. And he built Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, Beth Zur, Sochoh, Adullam, Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, Zorah, Aijalon, and Hebron, which are in Judah and Benjamin, fortified cities. And he fortified the strongholds, and put captains in them, and stores of food, oil, and wine. Also in every city he put shields and spears, and made them very strong, having Judah and Benjamin on his side.
a. Built cities for defense in Judah: Stung by the civil war that more than halved his kingdom, Rehoboam set his focus on defense, building a series of fortified cities.
i. “The fifteen cities that Ezra lists lie towards Judah’s southern and western borders. Their choice seems to have been dictated by threat from Egypt (2 Chronicles 12:2-4).” (Payne)
b. In every city he put shields and spears, and made them very strong: Rehoboam sought to strengthen his kingdom and succeeded to some extent. Yet overall he neglected the spiritual things necessary to strengthen his kingdom.
i. “In these places he laid up stores of provisions, not only to enable them to endure a siege; but also that they might be able, from their situation, to supply desolate places.” (Clarke)
B. The defection of the priests, Levites, and the godly remnant from Israel to Judah.
1. (13-16) The godly of the northern kingdom migrate to the southern kingdom.
And from all their territories the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel took their stand with him. For the Levites left their common-lands and their possessions and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them from serving as priests to the LORD. Then he appointed for himself priests for the high places, for the demons, and the calf idols which he had made. And after the Levites left, those from all the tribes of Israel, such as set their heart to seek the LORD God of Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the LORD God of their fathers.
a. And from all their territories the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel took their stand with him: This was in response to the state-sponsored idolatry of Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12:26-33). These godly servants of the LORD refused to live in a kingdom where worshipping God as He commanded was against the law.
i. “They would not suffer them to instruct and assist the Israelites in the worship and service of God, nor to go up to Jerusalem to worship in their courses; and these priests would not join with them in the worship of calves, as they were desired and commanded to do; and therefore they willingly forsook all their patrimonies and possessions for God’s sake.” (Poole)
ii. “He attempted to adapt religion in the interest of the State, and thus destroyed both.” (Morgan)
b. For the Levites left their common-lands and their possessions and came to Judah and Jerusalem: This meant that since the days of Jeroboam the southern kingdom of Judah was made up not only of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, but also of a godly remnant from all the ten northern tribes.
i. Spiritually speaking, Israel was struck twice – by the ungodly religion of Jeroboam and by the departure of the godly and faithful. There were few godly people left in the northern kingdom.
ii. “Viewed even as a stroke of policy, this ejection of the Lord’s priests and Levites was a blunder. They went over in a body, almost, to Jeroboam’s rival, and thereby ‘strengthened the kingdom of Judah.’” (Knapp)
iii. “Note that the laymen followed the Levites to Jerusalem…it stresses again the people’s unity, with every tribe being represented.” (Selman)
iv. This migration of the godly did not end in the days of Jeroboam. “The expression ‘Jeroboam and his sons,’ i.e., his successors, indicates that migrations by the faithful to Judah was a process that continued down through the years.” (Payne)
v. “This remnant of loyal souls, gathered out of all the tribes, left their own country and went to Judah…. Exodus and emigration have very often been the ways of God’s advance in the course of time. Such movements have always been sacrificial, but they have been deliverances.” (Morgan)
c. He appointed for himself priests for the high places, for the demons, and the calf idols which he had made: 1 Kings tells us about the calf idols, which were false representations of the true God. However, we also learn here that Jeroboam established altars for the demons (that is, the pagan gods of Canaan).
i. “So he erected two sorts of high places, some for Baal, and some for the true God, whom he pretended and would be thought to worship in and by the calves.” (Poole)
2. (17) The true strength of Judah.
So they strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and made Rehoboam the son of Solomon strong for three years, because they walked in the way of David and Solomon for three years.
a. So they strengthened the kingdom of Judah: This was the true strength of Judah; the godly men and women from the northern kingdom who migrated to the southern kingdom to live there.
b. Because they walked in the way of David and Solomon for three years: Sadly, this period did not last longer because of Rehoboam’s general bent towards ungodliness.
3. (18-23) The family of Rehoboam.
Then Rehoboam took for himself as wife Mahalath the daughter of Jerimoth the son of David, and of Abihail the daughter of Eliah the son of Jesse. And she bore him children: Jeush, Shamariah, and Zaham. After her he took Maachah the granddaughter of Absalom; and she bore him Abijah, Attai, Ziza, and Shelomith. Now Rehoboam loved Maachah the granddaughter of Absalom more than all his wives and his concubines; for he took eighteen wives and sixty concubines, and begot twenty-eight sons and sixty daughters. And Rehoboam appointed Abijah the son of Maachah as chief, to be leader among his brothers; for he intended to make him king. He dealt wisely, and dispersed some of his sons throughout all the territories of Judah and Benjamin, to every fortified city; and he gave them provisions in abundance. He also sought many wives for them.
a. For he took eighteen wives and sixty concubines: Rehoboam obviously did not learn from his father Solomon’s error. Though he had far fewer wives and concubines (he was probably less able to support as many), he still had a heart that broke the command of Deuteronomy 17:17.
i. “By taking ‘eighteen wives’ Rehoboam willfully disregarded the law of God, both in respect to kingly abuse (Deuteronomy 17:17) and in respect to polygamous marriage…not to mention his disregard of the disastrous precedent set by his father, Solomon, from which he should have learned caution.” (Payne)
ii. “He was, however, the son of his father; and, even in the years of peace and prosperity, the animal nature came out in the multiplicity of wives and concubines, until he had practically established, as did his father, a harem on the pattern of the corrupt kings around him.” (Morgan)
b. Rehoboam appointed Abijah the son of Maachah as chief, to be leader among his brothers: This means that he appointed Abijah to be his successor; the crown prince and perhaps for some period of time co-regent.
i. “Abijah certainly was not the first-born of Rehoboam; but as he loved Maachah more than any of his wives, so he preferred her son, probably through his mother’s influence.” (Clarke)
c. He dealt wisely, and dispersed some of his sons throughout all the territories of Judah and Benjamin: This was wise because it kept his many sons apart and less likely to form an alliance against Abijah, who might be considered an illegitimate successor to the throne.
i. “It was true policy to disperse his own sons through the different provinces who were not likely to form any league with Jeroboam against their father.” (Clarke)