Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone there to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard this (he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), he returned from Egypt. 1 Kings 12:1-2
Is there an event in your past where you got something disastrously wrong? - something which changed the whole course of your life? You look back now, shake your head and say, “How could I have been so stupid? If only I could turn the clock back!”
Yes? Well, let me introduce you to someone you have a lot in common with. Meet King Rehoboam of Israel.
Rehoboam was a son of King Solomon, and we read that after Solomon’s death “Rehoboam... succeeded him as king” (1 Kings 11:42).
So far so good. But a problem arose in the shape of a man called Jeroboam. This man had impressed Solomon as “a man of standing” (1 Kings 11:26), and so had been promoted by the now-dead king.
As far as we know, Jeroboam was entirely loyal to Solomon. But before Solomon’s death he had an encounter with a prophet called Ahijah (you can read about it in1 Kings 11:26-39). Very briefly, Ahijah told Jeroboam that he was destined by God to rule over ten of the twelve tribes of Israel. In other words, God’s chosen people would be torn in two, with Jeroboam ruling the major part, and Rehoboam left with just Judah and Benjamin.
King Solomon got wind of this and tried to kill Jeroboam. So he ran off to Egypt to save his skin. But many people in Israel, it seems, had decided that he was their man.
And now - and this was the new King Rehoboam’s problem - he came back to confront him at the head of a massive army. “Your father was a great king,” he told Rehoboam, “but he was also a hard man, even a cruel man. We’ve had enough of that! However, all you have to do is promise to be easier and gentler with us your people, and we will serve you loyally.”
And this is where Rehoboam made his big mistake. He asked the advice of the older men in his court, and they urged him to go along with Jeroboam’s reasonable demands.
But then he turned to his own contemporaries - his cronies, you could say - and they said just the opposite: “Tell them... My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:11). Give them a hard time, Rehoboam! Crush the opposition out of them!
By taking this advice King Rehoboam succeeded in splitting the kingdom in two, just as Ahijah the prophet had said. In the years to come both Israel, the northern part, and Judah, the southern part, went from bad to worse.
There is a vital lesson we can learn from Rehoboam’s folly. It isn’t just that we should be willing to take advice from others when faced with a big decision. No; Rehoboam took advice, all right! But it was the wrong advice.
He failed to see that true authority calls for justice and humility, not for the iron fist of power. He chose to dominate rather than serve. Just think... he could have become a prototype of Jesus himself, the Prince of Peace. Instead, he sowed poisonous seeds of discord which ruined the people of God for centuries to come.
All right, not many of us are called on to make decisions about how to govern a nation! But when we do have decisions to make, especially decisions that affect the lives of people other than ourselves, may God help us to make those decisions in the humble spirit of Jesus!
There is something we can learn from Jeroboam too. He was promised the lion’s share of God’s people, so the question arises: should he have been prepared to quietly bide his time after Rehoboam’s rough rejection of his request?
If, as seems to have been the case, Ahijah was a true prophet of God, what need was there to take matters into his own hands?
This is something we can all be in danger of doing. Instead of praying and then patiently working towards what we believe is good, we try to force God’s hand, so to speak.
But God has his own ways of working out his purposes. The wise person is the one who says, with Jesus, “Not my will but yours be done.” Is that you? Is it me?
While I have stressed the foolishness of Rehoboam’s handling of this crisis, we mustn’t leave him without pointing out a happier ending. We are told in 2 Chronicles 12:12 that he later “humbled himself” and “the Lord’s anger turned from him.”
I hope that’s an encouragement to any of us who feel we have “messed up big time”.
God is forgiving. God can restore. All is not lost.
Lord Jesus, save me, I pray, from folly and pride, and teach me to order my life in the light of your great love and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Amen.