During the reign of Solomon, there was a man named Jeroboam, who grew to prominence in Solomon’s court. God instructed Jeroboam that he would use him as a form of judgment against Solomon for his idolatry. Understandably, Solomon viewed him a threat, and Jeroboam was exiled, winding up in Egypt. When Solomon died, he attempted to return to Israel. Taking with him a delegation, he met with the new king to attempt to secure a peace between them. In addition to being allowed to return home, several grievances were lobbied, including the heavy taxation Solomon inflicted upon the people to be lessened. When Rehoboam spoke with his fathers trusted advisors, they counseled restraint, or at least to deal with them in a civil manner. One can see here that God gave these men wisdom, in attempting to give wise counsel to the King.
Rehoboam decided to seek a second opinion. He went to those who he had grown up around (by their very nature, these tend to be sycophants), and asked for their advice. Rather than counsel wisdom, they counseled pride. They saw here a chance for Rehoboam to make a name for himself. If his father ruled with an iron fist, he should rule with a fist of titanium. Of course, greater taxation also meant greater wealth for these advisors. They were counseling not service to the people, but their exploitation for their own personal benefits. Like Nimrod and the tower, they wished to exalt themselves above everyone else. Their advice wins the day. When the King returns to Jeroboam, he states the following:
And the king answered the people roughly, leaving the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying: My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke: My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions.Hearing this, Jeroboam launched a rebellion against Rehoboam. When Rehoboam sent an emissary to stop the rebellion, that emissary was stoned. Jeroboam was then made King of the new Kingdom of Israel, whereas Rehoboam became known as the King of Judah (for only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the house of David.)
Why would God promise David a successor forever, but then allow this civil war? God once again was doing this as a warning to Judah. The hope was that Rehoboam would realize his sinful actions, and direct his heart towards God. Jeroboam was to be God’s instrument in bringing the people back to their calling which Solomon had abandoned.
During all this, Jeroboam has a problem. When looked at from a political perspective, this is indeed a problem. All of the faithful went to worship at Jerusalem. Jerusalem was in Judah. The people could be unduly influenced by Rehoboam during their stay, and they could defect from the newly established Kingdom. Rehoboam could also restrict their ability to go to Jerusalem, or even worse harm the followers. A king has to be ready for all possibilities.
Rather than trusting in God (who assured him a stable kingdom if he served God), Jeroboam decides to compromise. He sets up his own rival places of worship. He makes a bronze bull, but claims it represents Yahweh. In his heart of hearts, he did not think he was committing idolatry. Yet he certainly was not trusting in God.
He then sinned even further by making his own priesthood. The law he followed was crystal clear: the priests come from the tribe of Levi. Yet most of the priests were in Jerusalem. At this point, he exalts himself above the law, a very grave sin, just as his ancestors had committed time and time again. Since he did the exact opposite of what God had commanded him, Jeroboam was informed that just as he was going to be used in judgment against Rehoboam, so another would be used in judgment against him and his entire household. When he died and his son became King, his son was assassinated by one of his guards, who then proceeded to wipe out every descendant of Jeroboam.
Rehoboam was little better. He seemed to compete with Israel in their depravity. At this time, Judah was invaded by the Egyptians, who were able to secure all the wealth of the temple and Rehoboam’s servitude. At this point, Judah, once set to bring the entire world to God, was now a vassal of the wicked. All of this was due to their sins.