April 13, 2003
© 2003, J.W. Carter
Chapter 11 of the first book of Kings ends with the conclusion of Solomon's forty-year service as the King of Israel. Though his reign seemed to have started with his sincere attempt to follow God, his desire to honor God through the building of the Temple led to an obsession with construction that led him far from God's intended purpose. Solomon invested all of his great wealth and the great part of his time rebuilding all of the cities of Israel including not only the Jewish cities but also the pagan cities. Solomon also took for himself a thousand foreign wives and concubines. With these came their pagan practices. Toward the end of Solomon's reign, he had wandered so far into his obsession, he started building pagan altars to the gods of these pagan women, including one on a hill within sight of Jerusalem. God had promised through the prophet, Ahijah (1 Kings 11:29-39) that because he led Israel away from Himself, the land of the other 10 tribes would be taken from him, leaving the one tribe of Judah for Solomon's son, Rehoboam. Ahijah told Jereboam, a leader in Israel who had led previous uprisings against the king, that the nation would be divided, leaving Judah to Rehoboam and the northern ten tribes of Israel to him. When Solomon heard of this he sought to kill Jeroboam.
The stage for rebellion had been set by Solomon who, upon expending his resources in the building of the cities, forced those who were not Israelites into slavery and those who were into conscripted labor. Solomon had succeeded in placing the people of Israel into bondage, fulfilling a prophesy of Samuel.
What happened that Israel turned away from God so quickly? Was Solomon not known best for his great wisdom, and should not a wise man be able to keep from such error? One lesson that we can learn from this is that wisdom alone has little value in God's kingdom. The simplest obedient heart is honored by God, whereas the wisdom of Solomon, apart from God's input, brings only separation from Him. So, Solomon died, and left behind a nation that was united, but united in bondage and united in distain against the King.
And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king.
At this time the eleven landed tribes of Israel still existed. The twelfth tribe, that of the Levites, were not granted land, but rather carried the responsibility of serving as the priests to the nation. The other tribes were to pay a tithe to the tabernacle to pay for the maintenance of the Levitical priesthood. Shechem was the traditional worship center for the Israelites and was used before the tabernacle was moved to Jerusalem. It was here that the vast majority of Hebrews would come for the anointing of a King, particularly those who did not ascribe to Solomon's Temple, preferring to stay away from the opulence that came from their slave labor. However, the worship center was Jerusalem, and Rehoboam's travel to Shechem is indicative of his unfamiliarity or lack of concern for God's promise to David and to Solomon that He would abide in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Jeroboam had fled to Egypt following his unsuccessful uprising against King Solomon. Jeroboam remained in exile while those who would be his subjects remained in bondage to Solomon, the king of all Israel. When Solomon died, those people contacted Jeroboam and called for his return. Rather than come to Rehoboam in conflict, Jeroboam came to Rehoboam with a message of peace. The bondage that Solomon had pressed upon the people of the nation was done to appease his obsession with building, a nature that Rehoboam did not share. The huge expenditures on building would not continue under the reign of this new king, and so there would be no need to continue this forced servitude. The people of Israel were ready to follow a king who did not abuse them. They had lived under a cruel dictator for two generations and were ready for the change. Jereboam had the interest and the ability to bring peace to the entire nation by obtaining from Rehoboam a release from such bondage. All the people asked for was for the king to lessen their burden. They did not ask for it to be taken away. Even this request was reasonable, as it was commonplace for a new king to demonstrate some concessions as he took the throne in order to win the allegiance of the people. The people of "all Israel" trusted Jereboam and would follow his lead, and so he was an ideal spokesman for the people.
And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it, (for he was fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt;) 3That they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying, 4Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.
How would Rehoboam respond to such a request? Where would Rehoboam turn for answers to such important questions? He was about to be King, the one who make important decisions. One might think that Rehoboam would seek God's plan through prayer, or at least through the counsel of one of the Levites, or one of the prophets like Ahijah. It is evident that he did not obtain for himself the wisdom of his father, and it is apparent that he was fully aware of his limitations. To whom should Rehoboam turn for the answers to these questions?
Jeroboam was wise enough to know that he did not yet have the answer and would need some time to deliberate over the situation. He told Jeroboam to give him three days to make the decision. We might think that as a man of God, this meant that Rehoboam would go back to the Jerusalem palace and seek God's purpose in this situation. Though Solomon saw his father seek the heart of God on a regular basis, Jeroboam had no such role model. It is very evident that Solomon did not seek God's will in his building enterprise nor in his secular matrimonial marathon. Solomon depended upon his own choices, not feeling a need to seek God's help. Rehoboam did not have this confidence in his own wisdom, nor did he probably know that turning to God would be appropriate. So, who does he turn to?
And he said unto them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed.
The first source of counsel to whom Rehoboam turned was the wise old men of Israel. Short of ascertaining God's perfect will, there is probably no better source for a young man to turn to for advice than a group of wise, older men. These would be men who had no agenda in the outcome of the decision. These would be men who had been observing the nation of Israel from the days of David and are familiar with all of the issues concerning the nation. These are the men who have a love for their God, a love for the nation, and a love for God's people.
And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?
This is not what Rehoboam wanted to hear. What was the counsel of the elders? These men had watched the reign of Solomon. They had seen his obsession with building played out over the years and had watched Israel turned from a nation that loved its King to one who despised him. Where David's enemies rose out of the neighbors and his own family, Solomon alienated his own people and found enemies there. None of the least of these enemies was Jereboam. The old men knew that the nation was ready to follow a servant king like David. They knew that if Rehoboam would be a servant king, the people would follow him anywhere without any need for bondage or any other forced influence. So, their advice was for Rehoboam to return to the type of King of his grandfather who was a servant of the people. They counseled him to speak "good words" to them, or literally, counseled him to give them a favorable answer ... the answer they desired: relief from bondage, a bondage that was no longer needed by the king.
And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever.
Rehoboam was not satisfied with the answer given him by the elders. One might find this amazing as we look back with an understanding of his situation that he did not have. Rehoboam was a young and proud man who very much wanted to be the all-powerful king, yet he knew he was not all powerful. How would such a young king look to the people if he showed compassion rather than a firm hand? Would he be perceived as the weak man he was? Weakness breeds weak decisions. Without God, all people are weak, and without Him all of our decisions lack the true Power of Life. Because of his own apostasy, Rehoboam scoffed at the advice of the elders thinking them a group of fools.
But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him:
Often when seeking the answer to an important question, we make the same mistake by holding firmly to our own presuppositions. Rehoboam knew what he wanted to do. He already had in mind the type of King he would have to be: one who hid his weakness by his show of strength. This insecurity blinded him to the true security he would have received by following the advice of the elders, the same advice that the Holy Spirit would have given had he been willing to listen. Shedding oneself of presuppositions is difficult, but not impossible if those presuppositions are first acknowledged. Rehoboam had no interest in self-determination and was not concerned about any part of this situation except the best way to show his power as king. The elders did not provide any help.
Therefore, he turned to his peers, the young men with whom he shared youthful friendships. They were like him, and would thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to be a counselor to a powerful king. What they lacked in wisdom and knowledge they had in pride and ambition, a trait similar to that of Rehoboam. Note that Rehoboam would, in his insecurity, know that he had no influence over the elders, but would have total influence over these young peers. .Seeking their advice is tantamount to the children taking over the school.
What kind of advice did Rehoboam's peers give? Like Rehoboam, these were the words of weak and insecure people. One of the things I learned growing up as a physical runt in an inner-city environment is that there is no shortage of bullies in this world. I found myself the object of the attention of these bullies on many occasions and developed a firm resistance to any capitulation to their rantings. Such a close relationship with this unique group of people impressed upon me the one common thread from which every one was woven: insecurity. Often bullies are bred from those who are physically larger than their peers, but do not have a confidence to match, and in order to hide any hint of their true insecurity, they project their physical ability as bullies. By doing so, their secret insecurities are safely hidden.
And he said unto them, What counsel give ye that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter? 10And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my fatherís loins. 11And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
Rehoboam looked at the history and respect afforded his father and his grandfather, and felt profoundly inadequate. He probably did not know that both of his patriarchs felt this same inadequacy. David turned to God and gave him his heart. Solomon turned to God and was given discernment which he later distained. Rehoboam was not taught to turn to God for strength, or for an answer. So, Rehoboam was far more satisfied with the answer given him by his sibling peers: stand strong and impress everyone that you are The King. Show these people that you are not weaker than your father, Solomon. In fact, Rehoboam, show them that you are bigger and stronger than Solomon ever was. Do it, Rehoboam. You can show these people who the boss is. As a young man I used to enjoy knocking the pedestal out from under those bullies. I also learned to run fast. The truth is, understanding the inadequacy felt by the bullies, a feeling I shared with them, I usually befriended them (after a good knock-down drag-out that I would almost always win). Rehoboam instantly became that bully.
One of the characteristics of a bully is that he cannot see beyond his own nose. The elders, whose counsel Rehoboam rejected, saw the nation's history and had a true interest in its future. The young men saw only themselves. Rehoboam only saw his position as King and an opportunity to act in a fashion that he perceived as that of a strong king. He had absolutely no thought as to the impact of what his actions would be. At least under Solomon there was a reason for the labor impressed upon the people of Israel: building the nation. The building was completed. Now the only reason for such subjugation would be the heartless demand of a bully king. Loyalty for Solomon had been reduced to a loyalty to the nation and that was enough to keep the people under control. However, Rehoboam's selfishness and lack of concern for God or God's people enabled him to set fire to the tinderbox left by his father. To whom was Rehoboam speaking? Jeroboam was the leader of the northern nations. Rehoboam's words would have sounded to himself as the boasting of a might king. To Jereboam, these were words of war. Jereboam knew that the people would no longer subject themselves to such a king, and those few words from Rehoboam would destroy the united kingdom of Israel, and those words alone. It was by those words that the prophesy of Ahijah would quickly be fulfilled.
So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day. 13And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old menís counsel that they gave him; 14And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. 15Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the LORD, that he might perform his saying, which the LORD spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
What was the response of Israel to Rehoboam's threat? Rather than cower under the rule of this bully, they simply scoffed at him. By pressing the people from such a dishonorable motive, the people would no longer respect him as their king. Rehoboam's influence over these people lasted no more than three days after his anointing. The King of Israel was still fundamentally different from the neighboring kings in that he did not own the kingdom. The land was given to the tribes, and together they anointed a King in Saul, David, and Solomon. Rehoboam was never in a position to demand his sovereignty, and the people knew it. Consequently, without the shedding of a drop of blood, the nation was suddenly and irrevocably divided. Rehoboam was of the tribe of Judah, the home of the Temple of Jerusalem, the home of the City of David, where God promised to abide. As a Judean, Rehoboam did have authority in this tribal region. Any authority in another tribal region was his only by the choice of the people.
So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents. 17But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them.
A king cannot demand his sovereignty by hubris alone. A bully must have some power behind his words. So, when faced by the defiance of the people of the ten northern tribes, Rehoboam sent Adoram to them. Adoram was the commander of the tribute under the reign of Solomon. He was Solomon's strong man. Rehoboam would show them his strength by exacting the forced labor from them that he promised with Adoram at his side. However, he could not have expected the response of the people, again because he could not see past his own nose. Without purpose to their slavery, the people rebelled, killing Adoram. Rehoboam had all he could do to get the body of Adoram back into the royal chariot and run back to Jerusalem.
Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the tribute; and all Israel stoned him with stones, that he died. Therefore king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem.
Who would the northern ten tribes look to for leadership? Judah was now broken away as a single tribal land, and Israel was now identified by the ten northern tribes. When the people heard of what had happened to Rehoboam and Adoram, they called Jereboam into their midst and proclaimed him to be the King of Israel, replacing Rehoboam who had served only three days. However, Jereboam and the people were satisfied to let Rehoboam keep his own tribe of Judah and did not try to overthrow Rehoboam.
So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day. 20And it came to pass, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again, that they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel: there was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.
The apostasy of Solomon and Rehoboam resulted in the fulfillment of the prophesies: The nation would be torn away from the King. Rehoboam responded to this event by amassing his army in array against Israel in order to retake his kingdom by force, again by the model of the neighbor kings who owned the land in their domain. However, Rehoboam did not own the land, and he did not own these people. Such an act of aggression would be nothing more than cold-blooded murder, inspired by an enraged bully. God spoke to the prophet Shemaiah who communicated God's sensibility to the people. His proclamation went not only to the King, but also to all of the leaders of the house of Judah and those of Benjamin who resided in the land of Judah. The war was averted, and the nation permanently divided. This division of the nation would endure until each is taken into captivity about 400 years later by neighboring kings of Assyria and Babylon (Syria and Iraq), and the nation of Israel is utterly destroyed.
And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin, an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon. 22But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying, 23Speak unto Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and unto all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the remnant of the people, saying, 24Thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They hearkened therefore to the word of the LORD, and returned to depart, according to the word of the LORD.
Rehoboam never actually served as the King of Israel, except for the three days following his anointing. What caused him to lose the kingdom? What was the ultimate cost of his actions? Rehoboam had three sources of help when called upon to take on the task of leadership. One source was the wise elders who gave him excellent advice, but advice that he did not want to hear. Another source was his battery of "yes" men who would stroke his ego and enable his insecurity. The third source never entered his mind: to seek God. When we find ourselves making the myriad of decisions in life, to what sources do we turn for help? Like Rehoboam, we have the same three sources of help. We are surrounded by people who can offer wise advice that comes from a lifetime of experiences that have been lived within the comforting and guiding power of the Holy Spirit. These may not give us the answers we want to hear, and like Rehoboam, we are most likely predisposed to reject such wise advice. If we were so motivated, our own wisdom needed to accept their advice may preclude the need for it. The second source is those who would tickle our ears with what we want to hear. It is this group that will turn us away from God's direction and into one that, like to Rehoboam, makes a lot of sense when viewed in the heat of the moment, but is far from the correct solution. When all else fails, we might turn to God. Rehoboam would not turn to God until all else fails.
Of these sources, to whom should we turn first? We are instructed to seek God "where He is found." Our first source in time of crisis is found in the quiet shelter of prayer. It is here that we can seek God's strength to overcome the distraction and it is here that we can find peace in the knowledge of His will. At the same time, we can seek the advice of wise elders whose words should be consistent with what we hear from God. Had Rehoboam turned to this resource, the history of Israel would have been radically changed.