1 Kings 12:4
Your father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make you the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, lighter, and we will serve you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) We will serve thee.—It seems evident from the tone of the narrative, and especially from the absence of all resentment on the part of the king on the presentation of these conditions, that they were acting within their right; and whatever Jeroboam’s designs may have been, there is no sign of any general predetermination of rebellion. The imposition of the burdens of heavy taxation and forced labour on the people was against old traditions, and even against the practice of Solomon’s earlier years. (See 1Kings 4:20; 1Kings 9:20-22.) To demand a removal, or alleviation of these was perfectly compatible with a loyal willingness to “serve” the new king. The demand might naturally be suggested by Jeroboam, who, by his official position, knew well the severity of the burden.

1 Kings 12:4. Thy father made our yoke grievous — By heavy taxes and impositions, not only for the temple and his magnificent buildings, but for the expenses of his numerous court, and of so many wives and concubines, and the maintenance of so many chariots and horses. Thus they began with a complaint against the former government; and, as Solomon had so grossly forsaken God, it is no wonder if he oppressed the people. The burdens, however, of which they complain, could not be so heavy as they represented them, considering the peace and plenty which they enjoyed, (1 Kings 4:25,) and the vast riches he brought into the kingdom; and it is expressly said, (1 Kings 9:22,) that Solomon made no Israelite a bondman. But to those desirous of a change, a light cause seems sufficient. Make thou the grievous service of thy father lighter, &c. — They promise to submit to Rehoboam as their king, and be his faithful subjects, if he would promise to ease them of those burdens which his father had imposed on them.12:1-15 The tribes complained not to Rehoboam of his father's idolatry, and revolt from God. That which was the greatest grievance, was none to them; so careless were they in matters of religion, if they might live at case, and pay no taxes. Factious spirits will never want something to complain of. And when we see the Scripture account of Solomon's reign; the peace, wealth, and prosperity Israel then enjoyed; we cannot doubt but that their charges were false, or far beyond the truth. Rehoboam answered the people according to the counsel of the young men. Never was man more blinded by pride, and desire of arbitrary power, than which nothing is more fatal. God's counsels were hereby fulfilled. He left Rehoboam to his own folly, and hid from his eyes the things which belonged to his peace, that the kingdom might be rent from him. God serves his own wise and righteous purposes by the imprudences and sins of men. Those that lose the kingdom of heaven, throw it away, as Rehoboam, by wilfulness and folly.The complaint was probably twofold. The Israelites no doubt complained in part of the heavy weight of taxation laid upon them for the maintenance of the monarch and his court 1 Kings 4:19-23. But their chief grievance was the forced labor to which they had been subjected 1 Kings 5:13-14; 1 Kings 11:28. Forced labor has been among the causes leading to insurrection in many ages and countries. It helped to bring about the French Revolution, and it was for many years one of the principal grievances of the Russian serfs. Jeroboam's position as superintendent of the forced labors of the tribe of Ephraim 1 Kings 11:28 revealed to him the large amount of dissatisfaction which Solomon's system had produced, and his contemplated rebellion in Solomon's reign may have been connected with this standing grievance. 4. Thy father made our yoke grievous—The splendor of Solomon's court and the magnitude of his undertakings being such, that neither the tribute of dependent states, nor the presents of foreign princes, nor the profits of his commercial enterprises, were adequate to carry them on, he had been obliged, for obtaining the necessary revenue, to begin a system of heavy taxation. The people looked only to the burdens, not to the benefits they derived from Solomon's peaceful and prosperous reign—and the evils from which they demanded deliverance were civil oppressions, not idolatry, to which they appear to have been indifferent or approving. Thy father made our yoke grievous by heavy taxes and impositions, not only for the temple and his magnificent buildings, but for the expenses of his numerous court, and of so many wives and concubines, whose luxury and idolatry must needs be very costly. And Solomon having so grossly forsaken God, it is no wonder if he oppressed the people, and made their yoke most grievous, as they speak. But here the people’s perverseness is very observable, both in this, that they mention and aggravate only the grievances of the government, but take no notice of the vast benefits which they received from it; and in that, that they mind nothing but their outward pressures, and have no regard unto that abominable idolatry which he set up among them; being, it seemed, either leavened with it by his pernicious example, or grown careless and negligent of all the concerns of religion; by which, see how ripe they were for all those dreadful judgments of God which are now hastening upon them. Thy father made our yoke grievous,.... Laid heavy taxes upon them, for the finishing of his buildings, for the maintenance of his household, for keeping such a large number of horses and chariots, and for the salaries of his officers, and for the support of his magnificent court; though they had very little reason to complain, since this was for the honour and grandeur of their nation, and they enjoyed their liberty, and lived in peace, plenty, and safety all his days; and such an abundance of riches was brought unto them by him that silver was as the stones of the street; though perhaps the taxes might be increased in the latter part of his life, for the support of his vast number of wives, and of their idolatrous worship, and for the defence of himself and kingdom against the attempts of Hadad and Rezon; but, as most interpreters observe, what they find most reason to complain of, they take no notice of, even the idolatry he had set up among them:

now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us lighter; that is, ease them of their taxes, or lessen them:

and we will serve thee; acknowledge him as their king, give him homage, and yield obedience to him.

Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, {a} lighter, and we will serve thee.

(a) Do not oppress us with such high taxes, which we are not able to pay.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4. make thou the grievous service … lighter] Josephus says they naturally expected to gain their request, and especially as the king was a young man. The house of Joseph, i.e. the Ephraimites, are specially mentioned as having been engaged in the compulsory labour (see 1 Kings 11:28) in the previous reign, and over these Jeroboam had been in charge, so that he was conversant with their grievances.Verse 4. - Thy father made our yoke [see for the literal sense of the word, Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3, etc.; for its tropical use, Leviticus 26:13; Deuteronomy 28:48, etc.] grievous [Heb. heavy. Was this complaint a just one? It is one which occasions us some surprise, as the reign of Solomon had not only been glorious, but the people had apparently enjoyed the greatest plenty and prosperity (1 Kings 4:20, 25; cf. 8:66). Bishop Hall, Bahr, and other writers, consequently, who see in the fact that the ten tribes had chosen Jeroboam for their mouthpiece a settled determination on their part to revolt, affirm that their grievances were purely factitious. But we must not forget that, despite the unbroken peace (see Hall, "Contempl." 2:136) and general prosperity and affluence, the people had had one burden at least to bear which is always galling and vexatious, the burden of a conscription. It is by no means certain, though it is constantly assumed, and is not in itself improbable, that the taxes and imposts had been heavy, the passages alleged in support of that view (1 Kings 10:15, 25; 1 Kings 12:4, LXX.) being quite inconclusive. But while we have no right to speak of the, enormous exactions of the late king" (Stanley), we may be perfectly sure that such an establishment as his (1 Kings 4:22, 26) and such undertakings (1 Kings 6:14, 22; 1 Kings 3:1; 1 Kings 7; 1 Kings 9:26, 17, 18) would be extremely costly, and that their cost was not altogether defrayed by the presents of subject princes (1 Kings 4:21; cf. 10:10, 14), the profits of the king's merchants (1 Kings 10:28), or the imports of the fleet (1 Kings 5:21 [1 Kings 5:7]). But the people had certainly had to pay a more odious tribute, that of forced labour, of servile work (1 Kings 4:6, Hebr.; 5:14 [1 Kings 4:34]; cf. 1 Kings 9:21. מַס is almost always used of a tribute rendered by labour, Gesen.) It is quite true that Solomon was not the first to institute this; that David had exacted it before him (2 Samuel 20:24); that the burden was one with which all subjects of the old-world monarchies, especially in the East, were familiar; and that in this case it had been imposed with peculiar considerateness (1 Kings 5:14). But it is none the less certain, when we consider the magnitude of Solomon's undertakings, and the number of men necessarily employed in executing them, that it must have involved some hardships and created much dissatisfaction; such results are inevitable in all conscriptions. "Forced labour has been amongst the causes leading to insurrection in many ages and countries. It alienated the people of Rome from the last Tarquin; it helped to bring about the French Revolution; and it was for many years one of the principal grievances of the Russian serfs" (Rawlinson). But we may find instances of its working perhaps as more Eastern, more closely illustrative of the text amongst the Fellahin of Egypt. "According to Pliny, 360,000 men had to work 20 years long at one pyramid" (Bahr). In the construction of the great Mahmoudieh canal, by Mehemet All, over 300,000 labourers were employed. They worked under the lash, and such were the fatigues and hardships of their life that many thousands died in the space of a few months (cf., too, Exodus 1:11 sqq.; Exodus 2:23]: now therefore make thou the grievous [Heb. hard, heavy] service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter [lit., "lighten somewhat from," etc.], and we will serve thee. [Their stipulations seem reasonable enough. Bahr, who says, "We cannot admit the complaint of too hard tribute work to be well founded," and Keil, who maintains that "there cannot have been any well-grounded occasion for complaint," surely forget that both the aged counsellors (ver. 7) and also the writer of this book (vers. 13-15) manifest some degree of sympathy with the complainants.] Conclusion of the history of Solomon. - Notice of the original works, in which further information can be found concerning his acts and his wisdom (see the Introduction); the length of his reign, viz., forty years; his death, burial, and successor. Solomon did not live to a very great age, since he was not more than twenty years old when he ascended the throne. - Whether Solomon turned to the Lord again with all his heart, a question widely discussed by the older commentators (see Pfeifferi Dubia vex. p. 435; Buddei hist. eccl. ii. p. 273ff.), cannot be ascertained from the Scriptures. If the Preacher Koheleth) is traceable to Solomon so far as the leading thoughts are concerned, we should find in this fact an evidence of his conversion, or at least a proof that at the close of his life Solomon discovered the vanity of all earthly possessions and aims, and declared the fear of God to be the only abiding good, with which a man can stand before the judgment of God.
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