This is an illustration from Boys Life magazine, from many years ago. It tells the story pretty well.
Jeroboam and the Egyptians
Solomon successfully carried on many major building projects, but he used forced labor to do it. The technical term is corvée (\ˈkȯr-ˌvā \) labor, although translations vary quite a lot.
This was not slavery but a form of taxation in which citizens were required to contribute so many days of labor per year for the king’s building projects. It’s usually found in societies where the common man does not have enough cash to be taxed.
It’s similar in theory to the modern military draft — you have to show up and provide the commanded service to the government, but once done, you are again a free man.
Jeroboam was over the corvée labor of “Joseph,” meaning either the two tribes coming from Joseph — Ephraim and Manasseh — or the northern tribes in general. Ephraim was an especially large tribe, and the other northern tribes were relatively small in population — perhaps because it took centuries for some of those tribes to conquer their allotted territories. As a result, “Joseph” and “Ephraim” became metaphors for the northern portions of Israel.
God was unhappy with Solomon, due to his idolatry, and so he made a promise to Jeroboam —
(1Ki 11:29-39 ESV) 29 And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had dressed himself in a new garment, and the two of them were alone in the open country. 30 Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes 32 (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), 33 because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did. 34 Nevertheless, I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of David my servant whom I chose, who kept my commandments and my statutes. 35But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and will give it to you, ten tribes.36 Yet to his son I will give one tribe, that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name. 37 And I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires, and you shall be king over Israel. 38 And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39 And I will afflict the offspring of David because of this, but not forever.'”
Solomon got word of this and threatened to kill Jeroboam, and so Jeroboam fled to Egypt.
Egypt, of course, had every reason to make an alliance with Jeroboam, since Israel had become wealthy and powerful by engaging in trade along the trade routes to and from Egypt. Egypt would want to control a piece of Israel so that more of the wealth flows into Egypt.
After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam became king. Rehoboam was famously a bad ruler.
(1Ki 12:3-11 ESV) 3 And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, 4 “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.”
Led by Jeroboam, the leaders of the tribes asked Rehoboam to provide a lighter “yoke,” that is, burden of tax and forced labor.
5 He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away. 6 Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?”
7 And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.”
8 But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. 9 And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?”
10 And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. 11 And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.'”
Against the wise advice of his father’s counselors, Rehoboam threated to increase the burden on the people. He was advised this way by “the young men who had grown up with him” — evidently young men of wealth and privilege who had no concept of what it felt like to be hard pressed by taxes and forced labor.
As a result, the northern tribes stoned to death the king’s taskmaster over the forced labor and rebelled against Rehoboam, anointing Jeroboam as their king.