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After the ten northern tribes had renounced their allegiance to King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, Rehoboam decided that he would force these renegades to submit to his sovereignty and to pay the taxes which were their reason for leaving. This would have pitted brother against brother in open civil war.
But God sent his prophet Shemaiah to intervene. Rehoboam was commanded in the Lord's name to abandon his attempt at a military solution. Shemaiah's surprising announcement seemed to oppose all God's previous promises. The prophet's assurance that God had permitted the incident sealed the revolt but left us with a dilemma: How could the division of a nation be God's doing if he had previously promised otherwise?
Having David's glorious kingdom divided into ten northern tribes and two southern tribes seemed contrary to every provision that God had so graciously given from the time of the patriarchs on. How could God apparently aid a cause that contravened his plan for Israel?
The Lord approved the revolt not as the author of evil or as the instigator of the rebellion but as the one who must chastise the house of David which had refused to walk in his ways. Solomon had flouted the will and law of God by taking scores of foreign wives. These wives had turned him from the Lord and exposed him to divine anger.
Rehoboam had only increased the guilt of the house of David. The tribes were already overwhelmed by taxation and unsatisfying treatment of their complaints. They had demanded that the burdens Solomon had placed on them be lightened, not increased. Instead, Rehoboam exacerbated the situation by deciding to tax them further.
The ten northern tribes already disliked and resisted the theocratic rule of the house of David. While they correctly detected Rehoboam's wrong attitudes toward his responsibilities as king, Rehoboam's treatment did not justify their actions. They chiefly rebelled against the God who had selected the dynasty of David and the tribe of Judah as the royal tribe. Apparently they felt such rule did not represent enough of their northern interests; the taxation issue was as good a reason as any for seceding (see 1 Kings 12:19-24).
Here we meet another passage where human freedom and divine sovereignty seem opposed. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in Chronicles. Once again we must note that the biblical writers did not always take time to spell out secondary causes; for what God permits, he is often said to do directly since he is ultimately in charge. What the North intended as a revolt against the South, and thereby against the plan of God, God used first to punish the house of David for its sin and second to reveal the North's sinful tendencies and spiritual bankruptcy. This latter fact is underscored by the number of northern priests and Levites who abandoned their pasturelands and property to come to Judah and Jerusalem. The northern king, Jeroboam, had rejected their priesthood! With them came all those who "set their hearts on seeking the LORD, the God of Israel" (2 Chron 11:16).
See also comment on GENESIS 50:19-21.