Summary: Solomon’s foolishness is repeated by his son who refuses to listen to the wise counsel of his advisers and instead turns to his younger peers who agree with him.
By Rev Roy Hamer
About thirty years ago Jo and I were involved in Youth Adventure camping. In fact you could say it’s how we met. You see we had mutual friends who where rock climbers and Jo and I often went climbing with them. Jo was a great climber: nimble flexible and brave. On the other hand my style was one more of brute force and great fear not to fall. One of the things you learnt very quickly when climbing was to rely on the protection you use to secure you to the rock face. One was to rely on the rope; the other was to rely on these little nuts and blocks that you’d wedge into the cracks. This protection meant that if you had a fall these things would hold you and stop you from wiping out on the valley floor.
This morning I want you to look at our reading and review the sorts of protection our two leaders of the Hebrew people put in place and what it says to us today.
First let’s look at Rehoboam.
King Solomon had died and his son Rehoboam moved to take over the throne. Remember Solomon had been a tough king but it would seem that while he was king the people under his rule shared his vision. Yes, things were hard, the people worked and toiled under his kingship but they shared his vision. Now the king was dead. Enter Rehoboam. As the son of Solomon he’s the natural successor but he makes a couple of fundamental mistakes. Let’s look at his leadership. Here he is taking over from his father and he starts off really well. He goes and seeks counsel from the elders. The same people who had advised his father. So far so good, but it’s what he does with that advice that is the worry. You see things were pretty tough at the time and the people of Israel were starting to lose the vision King Solomon had. The elders knew that Rehoboam was not the same man Solomon was, and couldn’t expect the people to follow him like they did Solomon. Rehoboam had an opportunity to relate to the people based upon who he was, not on who his father was. It was a simple but sound formula. He should show kindness and a servant’s heart to the people, and they’d love and serve him forever. This was good advice.
I sense though, that even before the elders had given him the advice he was ready to reject it, because what does he do? He seeks a second opinion, not that there is anything wrong with a second opinion.
But in rejecting the opinion of the elders who had served his father, he rejected the style of leadership of Solomon and David. While neither David nor Solomon were perfect, each showed a commitment to God and compassion for God’s people. Rehoboam showed little concern for either. He was more interested in his position and exerting his authority, than in building a community in which the people could truly be God’s people.
So Rehoboam asks his mates. These men were much more likely to tell Rehoboam what he already thought. By turning to those likely to think just as he did, it shows that Rehoboam only asked for advice for the sake of appearances.
But what do the young men offer? The opposite advice to the elders. They suggested an adversarial approach, one that would make Rehoboam more feared than Solomon was.
The trouble is, in following the advice of the young men Rehoboam set Israel as a nation on the path of division and destruction over the next 400 years. Rehoboam clearly should have listened to what the people were saying. Now I’m not saying that leaders should always lead by popular vote, by what the people ask for or want, but a leader needs the wisdom to know that sometimes what the people want is actually what is best for them.
The issue with seeking advice is in understanding something about the person giving the advice. One of my favourite lecturers at Tabor, in class one day challenged us; his message was simple “before reading the theology read the theologian”. In other words before you take on board something find out a little about the person or persons writing it and a little about their background, who they are, where do they stand on other issues.
The saddest thing about this story is that because of Rehoboam’s foolish choices the northern tribes of Israel (that’s the 10 tribes other than Judah and Benjamin) reject Rehoboam as king and in doing so reject the house of David, Israel greatest king and the family line that is going to produce their messiah. This is not the first time the north and the south have had their disagreements but this time it is irreparable.