Solomon, Rehoboam and Jeroboam: Hero or Pharaoh?

I’m currently reading my way through 1 and 2 Chronicles, having just completed 1 and 2 Kings. I’ll level with you; it’s not my favourite stretch to read! And whenever I come across a line saying “more details about this king can be found in the Book of x” I thank God that book didn’t make it into the canon as well!

That said, I am really enjoying seeing some things in it that I haven’t before. And one such observation last week was the parallels between the story of Solomon, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, and the story of Moses.

There is plenty about Solomon’s story which is good and celebratory. In fact, Chronicles depicts his life more positively than Kings does, whilst pointing the reader to other sources which will fill in all the other details. In some ways, Solomon is depicted in ways that echo the story of Moses. Particularly with the building of the Temple, which is filled with the Glory of God, such that the priests are unable to continue their work, which is just like Moses’ own experience at the Tabernacle (2 Chronicles 7; Exodus 40).

But Moses is not the main character of the Exodus story who Solomon resembles. Arguably he is more like Pharaoh.

Solomon made an allegiance with Pharaoh the King of Egypt by marrying his daughter (1 Kings 3:1; 2 Chronicles 8:11) and he went on to gather horses and chariots for himself, even importing them from Egypt at great cost (1 Kings 10:26-29). In the narrative of Kings, this seems to be the turning point, after which we are told his heart had departed from God, and God raised up people against him (1 Kings 11). God had already warned Solomon what would happen if he and the people abandoned Him. Israel would become a byword, be destroyed, and people would say:

“Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house? Because they abandoned the LORD their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the LORD has brought all this disaster on them.”

(1 Kings 9:8-9)

The references back to Egypt and the Exodus are important.

Even before this warning, Solomon was showing some Pharaoh-like tendencies. He had drafted 30,000 Israelites into enforced labour, in order to build the Temple. This was in addition to 70,000 burden bearers, 80,000 stonecutters, and 3,300 officers who ruled over the workers (1 Kings 5:13-18). Significantly, these enslaved workers did not only build the house of God. They also built a house for Solomon, and,

‘all the store cities that Solomon had, and the cities for his chariots, and the cities for his horsemen, and whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion.’

(1 Kings 9:19; also 2 Chronicles 8)

The only time prior to Kings/Chronicles where the building of ‘store cities’ is mentioned is Exodus, where like Solomon, Pharoah

‘set taskmasters over [the Israelites] to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses.’

(Exodus 1:11)

Like the Exodus story, God raised up a new leader to rescue his people from their oppressor. The prophet Ahijah told Solomon that God was raising up Jeroboam, and that He would tear the Kingdom away from Solomon, making Jeroboam king over 10 of the tribes. Just as Pharaoh tried to kill Moses, Solomon sought to kill Jeroboam. Whereas Moses had to flee for him life from Egypt, Jeroboam in an ironic twist had to flee from Israel to seek refuge in Egypt! (Exodus 2:15; 1 Kings 11:40) Just as Moses remained in Midian until the death of Pharoah, Jeroboam remained in Egypt until the death of Israel’s ‘Pharoah’ Solomon (Exodus 2:23; 4:19; 1 Kings 11:43). So far so good; it seems we have a new Moses-figure in the story!

When Jeroboam returns, he finds that Solomon’s son Rehoboam is now on the throne, and when he pleads with Rehoboam to lessen the yoke imposed by his father, Rehoboam acts the same way Pharaoh had previously, increasing the workload (1 Kings 12:14; 2 Chronicles 10; Exodus 5:9). Consequently, just as Ahijah had prophesied, the Kingdom was torn apart, with the 10 Northern tribes following Jeroboam, and the 2 remaining Southern tribes staying under the rule of Rehoboam. Whilst the latter remained in the cities, the former – like their counterparts in the Exodus story – ‘went to their tents’ (2 Chronicles 10:16), and in fact it’s not too long before Rehoboam and the tribes of Judah are plundered by Egypt, just as Israel had previously plundered Egypt (2 Chronicles 12).

Just when it seems that the story has divided neatly depicting Rehoboam as the new Pharaoh and Jeroboam as the new Moses, it all goes wrong again. Jeroboam acts less like Moses and more like Aaron, erecting two golden calves – double that of Aaron – and using almost identical language when he tells the people:

“Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt”

(1 Kings 12:28)

…before instituting a new festival, which is a twisted version of the Festival of Booths. Like Aaron, who just decided and announced ‘tomorrow shall be the feast’ (Exodus 32:5) we’re told that the date of Jeroboam’s feast was ‘devised from his own heart’ (1 Kings 12:33).

So the story of Solomon and his successors turns out to be something of a reverse Exodus. For a people who, since Deuteronomy 18:15-18, had been longing for a prophet like Moses, they find themselves with Pharaoh after Pharaoh, and a would-be Moses who ends up more like an Aaron.

The cycle of disappointment makes you wonder, will there ever be anyone to fulfil the prophecies of the New Moses? Will anyone be able to bring about a Second Exodus? And to answer that, I refer you to the gospel of Matthew…


Photo by Jeremy Zero on Unsplash

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