THE SPECTACLE OF THE BOY WHO WOULD BE KING

1 Kings 12:26—33

According to the musings of King Solomon, the son to whom he left the kingdom was not at all wise—

And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.  (Ecclesiastes 2:19)

Rehoboam’s folly, which led to the dismantling of the Kingdom, was the result of his father’s sin.   As we consider Hebrew history up to this point, some salient points need to be raised.

1.  Judah, Israel, and the Church:  History Synchronized

The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are vitally important to both Jews and Christians.  To Jews, these books are the source of their history, both their political and religious history.  For Christians, these great historical accounts provide an important understanding about what it means to be God’s chosen people; people elected to be His instrument of salvation in the world and the responsibilities that come with such a position.

The Israelites upon entering Canaan, the Promised Land, had a unique destiny to fulfill.  In fulfilling that destiny and realizing God’s purpose for them, God’s destiny and purpose for other nations would also be realized.  At the very heart of this destiny and purpose was a dedication to God, manifested in holiness and obedience to His Word and Law.   Only to the extent that the people evidenced obedience through holy living could they be the instrument God intended them to be.

The Historian and Chronicler approached the history of his people with this view in mind.  It becomes apparent when we read and study the historical books of the Old Testament that the people rose or sank to the level of their king.  The united kingdom under David and most of Solomon’s reign is recognized as a very special time in Hebrew history when the people, led by these two mostly Godly kings fulfilled their special destiny.  They were strong on the inside, that is, the moral and religious side of Jewish society was sound, for David’s heart had been completely right with God and Solomon, despite his sin, loved the Lord.  Outwardly there was peace, prosperity, and rest throughout the nation.  The Temple had finally been built and it was so magnificent it attracted the attention of people far beyond the borders of Israel.

Anybody from the outside looking in would have to conclude that the Kingdom of God, manifested through God’s people, was gaining a victorious foothold in the sin-cursed world and that the first Messianic prophecy (Genesis 3:15) was being realized.  However, because of the stubborn root of sin in the human heart expressed in actions and relationships, the peaceful and effective influence of Godly people began to wane.  The result of this waning witness for God was the splitting up of the united kingdom of Israel into two parts, the Northern Kingdom, which retained the name of Israel and was made up of ten tribes and the Southern Kingdom, made up of two tribes and named for the larger one, Judah.

There are a number of reasons why the united kingdom split.   The 12 tribes of Israel had, for generations, acted by and large like spoiled children and rarely got along with each other.  Jealousy and envy caused much strife among God’s chosen people.  Excessive taxation was another major reason for the breakup, as were the many political appoints handed to those from the tribe of Judah.  Yet those were all really secondary causes, for the division of the kingdom of Israel was ultimately a judgment of God upon the “house of David” because of Solomon’s idolatry.  No doubt God had forgiven Solomon when, near the end of his life, he came back to his senses and to the Lord.  But it was too late; God’s punishment could not be assuaged.

The importance of having the right political leadership cannot be overstated; a nation, be it Israel or America, rises or sinks to the level of that leadership.  Depending on societal mores and conditions in the land, led by those “at the top,” the effectiveness of sound Christian witness can be impacted positively or negatively.  It doesn’t matter whether there is a “D” or an “R” after the name of your political choice; what does matter is whether or not that person is a person of integrity, who at the very least respects the Church and the cause of Christ.   Self-centered, power-hungry, and arrogant leaders result in an angry, disillusioned, and despondent citizenry.  Such was the case with Rehoboam.

2.  The boy who would be king, verses 1—5

There is a lot going on in the opening verses of chapter 12.  Rehoboam went to Schecem to give “all Israel” the chance to anoint him as King of Israel.  However, if we read the account carefully, instead of joyfully proclaiming this young man king, while they recognized his claim to the throne, but put stipulations on him,  The new king should have been anointed in Jerusalem, the capital of the Israel (the kingdom was still united), the fact that he was willing to accommodate the people to this extent shows us something of Rehoboam’s character, and is also suggestive that the people may have other ends in mind.

The problem was, of course, Jeroboam, son of Nebat, for he had already been God’s choice as king—

Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes.’” (1 Kings 11:26—40, verse 31 cited)

Jeroboam, who had fled to Egypt to escape Solomon, was confident that the time was right for him make his move to secure the throne, so he returned as the people’s voice in political negotiations.  He wasn’t all that interested in the people, he was interested in gaining their support so that he could take the throne.

The first problem that faced the young King of Israel was the everlasting problem of excessive taxation.  It cost a lot to build the Temple, fund its activities and run the Kingdom the way Solomon had, but now the people were feeling burdened by those heavy taxes.   During Solomon’s time, the people paid the taxes but they knew their king was endowed with divine wisdom and that he was following the will of God; their money was being well-spent.  But they had lived through his decline; they witnessed his idolatry and his frittering away of the gifts God had given him.  People will tolerate a lot from their leaders, but they do not like arrogance and disingenuousness, and they saw that in Solomon and perceived those weaknesses in his son.

Those assembled, including Jeroboam, presented their complaint concerning the heavy taxation to Rehoboam—

“Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”  (verse 4)

At this juncture, Rehoboam did a wise thing:  he called in his father’s advisors—

Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.  (Proverbs 13:10)

This was a good thing to do; Rehoboam took time to consider the people’s wishes.  But here was the beginning of the end for the young king.  First, it is stated nowhere that he would inquire of the Lord, only of his father’s advisers.  A person’s initial response to a matter usually betrays what is in their heart.  Both David and Solomon would have sought the Lord and Godly counsel.  Rehoboam may have had the family name, but he had none of its traits.

The advisers suggested to the king that the people’s complaint was justified and then they gave him some sage advice—

“If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”  (verse 7)

But Rehoboam, because of pride or arrogance or perhaps because he preferred the riches pouring in, revealed what was in his heart by ignoring the Godly advice.  Instead of listening to men with a proven track record, the young king turned to young men just like himself.  It is a truism that a person is known by the company he keeps, and if the advice of these young men shows us anything about Rehoboam, it is that he was terribly unwise—

[H]e followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.”  So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.  (verses 14, 15)

Rehoboam chose tyranny rather than theocracy.  He chose to rule Israel his way, not God’s way.  All this was in fulfillment of the prophecy given to Jeroboam through Ahijah, 1 Kings 11:29—39—

I will take the kingdom from his son’s hands and give you ten tribes. I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name. However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel.  (11:35—37)

3.  A note of secession, verses 16—24

God’s Word was fulfilled through the arrogance of Rehoboam—

When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:  “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son?   To your tents, Israel!  Look after your own house, David!”    So the Israelites went home. But as for the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah, Rehoboam still ruled over them.  (verses 17, 18)

The Israelites to the north were deadly serious:  they stoned Adoram, the tax collector, and Rehoboam went back to Jerusalem as king of the two southern tribes.  Rehoboam’s unwise decision in not listening to Godly counsel enabled Jeroboam to take the 10 northern tribes and establish his kingdom, as God knew.

King Rehoboam sought to reunite the kingdom by force, but the Word of the Lord came to a man by name of Shemaiah—

But this word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God:  “Say to Rehoboam son of Solomon king of Judah, to the whole house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people,   ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.’ ” So they obeyed the word of the LORD and went home again, as the LORD had ordered.  (verses 22—24)

To his credit, the young king finally listened to the Word of the Lord because it was made clear to him that what was happening was of the Lord.

King Rehoboam had a lot on his plate.  During his reign, the glorious and sprawling kingdom built by his grandfather and father fell apart quickly.  The Syrians to the northeast became aggressive and were a real threat to Israel.  The Philistine cities in the southwest, who had been vassal states, threw off the vassalage and rebelled.  The states to the east of the Jordan—Ammon, Moab, and Edom—could no longer be controlled by Judah.  And so the repercussions of the division of the kingdom were felt far and wide and affected the surrounding nations.

As a man of God named Saul would learn many centuries later, a human being cannot “kick against the goad.”  In other words, what man—king or otherwise—can come up against the will of God?

The division of Israel is chock full of lessons, some good and some not so good.

  • Regardless of one’s standing before God, if you rebel and deviate even slightly from His will, there will be consequences, and those consequences are always devastating and hard to endure.  For the child of God, there is always grace, mercy, and forgiveness and consequences.
  • The consequences almost always appear natural but are supernatural in origin.  God was behind everything that happened to Israel, but on the surface, these things were man-caused, not God-caused.
  • Sometimes it is difficult to discern the working God because sometimes the working God appears negative, not positive.  But regardless of what He is doing, the result will always be His will being accomplished.
  • Isn’t it better to swallow our pride and get control of our wills and submit to God’s will in the first place?  Because, let’s face it, God’s will will always be accomplished whether we are willing participants enjoying His blessing, or dragged along, kicking and screaming and ultimately doing ourselves harm?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:1, 2)

(c)  2010 WitzEnd


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