By J.R. Miller
1 Kings 12
The golden age of Israel closed with the death of Solomon. His empire was great, extending over wide limits. His revenues were very large. Everything in his kingdom was on a grand scale. He "made silver and gold to be as stones in Jerusalem." The palaces and public buildings were magnificent in their splendor. Yet the seed of decay was in the heart of it all. The rabbis say that while Solomon walked about in splendor--a worm was eating at the heart of his empire. This is another way of saying that the elements of corruption were in Solomon's kingdom. There were reasons. His heart had been drawn away from God by his heathen wives. At the same time the magnificence of his kingdom and the extravagance of his reign made it necessary to extort oppressive taxes from the people. Many of them also were drafted for forced labor. No wonder that they grew restive under these hard conditions. When Solomon died they were ready for the outbreak which followed. If Rehoboam had been wise, there might not have been an immediate rending of the kingdom from him--but in his folly--he drove the people to the extreme of rebellion.
Solomon largely outlived his fame. His reign became excessively burdensome to the people by reason of the heavy taxes they had to pay. His character also lost much of its charm through his departure from God. His aims were not lofty--as they were at the beginning. He was called in his earlier years, the wisest of men--but his later life was characterized by folly. His kingdom was no longer as secure and strong as it was, when he received it. Indeed, it was ready for disruption, and Solomon himself was responsible for its corrupt condition. It was a pathetic ending of his record that, notwithstanding the glory of his reign and the great things he had done--no word of commendation of him is given. All that is said of the close of his life is that he "slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father; and Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead."
Solomon did not leave behind him when he died--a sweet, fragrant memory in the hearts of his people. "When he was gone, the people came to Rehoboam, asking him to lighten their oppressive loads. Rehoboam promised them an answer in three days, and then sought advice.
First he sent for the older men, and they advised him to grant the request. Experience had made them gentle. "Show yourself their friend," they said. "Listen to their grievances. Take a kindly interest in them. Think of their good. Speak to them affectionately. Give them the relief they seek, and serve them in any way you can. If you do these things--you will win their love, and they will prove your faithful subjects."
This was good advice--but Rehoboam was not satisfied with it. The aged men were too slow for him. He turned to the young men of his own age, hot-headed fellows like himself, and sought advice of them.
When the people came to the king for his answer, Rehoboam, following the advice of the younger men, and replied to them roughly. His answer, indeed, was insolent and brutal. Such words as he spoke would have kindled the flame of rebellion, even if there had been no tinder dry and ready for the spark.
Rehoboam has many followers. We should learn the folly and wickedness of sharp, rude, and bitter words. Anyone sees how unworthy of a king, Rehoboam's speech was--but such words are unworthy of anyone's lips. They were insolent, contemptuous, haughty, unmanly, and cruel. We are all too apt, under provocation, to give rein to intemperate speech.
Destinies have been wrecked by following foolish counsel. Every young person needs a wise older friend to whom he may go with his life's serious questions. Happy is the young man or young woman who has such a counselor, and who will then accept the wisdom which comes of experience. But Rehoboam rejected the wise counsel of the aged men. He answered the people roughly: "My father was harsh on you, but I'll be even harsher! My father used whips on you, but I'll use scorpions!"
The consequence of Rehoboam's harsh words was the wrecking of his kingdom. The people turned away, saying, "What portion have we in David?" It took but a minute to give the reply which Rehoboam gave--but the harm done by it never could be undone! Burke said, "Rage and frenzy will pull down more in half an hour--than prudent deliberation and foresight can build up in a hundred years." We need not go far, nor seek long--to find other illustrations. Many people lose noble, helpful friends, lose them beyond regaining, by the petulant, ill-tempered words of a minute. Many lives with splendid possibilities become utter failures through uncontrolled tongues. When will men and women learn to put bridles in their mouths?
The matter of seeking advice is always a serious one. Some people too readily turn to others to ask them what they should do. We ought to learn to think for ourselves. Each man must bear his own burden. We never can get clear of the responsibility of choosing for ourselves. However, there are times when we may turn to others for advice. The young and inexperienced especially may receive valuable help from those who are older and more experienced. But in seeking advice we should make sure of the people to whom we turn. Bad advice has wrecked many a life.
Rehoboam had good advice from the older men--but rejected it. There are many who follow him in this regard--they receive good counsel from friends, from parents, from teachers, from godly men, from those who are wiser than themselves, and then ignore it. There are many who, like Rehoboam, reject the good advice--and take the bad. There was One Rehoboam seems to have missed altogether in seeking advice--he did not go to God for counsel. We should always ask God what He would have us do; He never advises unwisely. No life was ever wrecked by taking His counsel.
One lesson we get from Rehoboam's undisciplined course--is that those who would rule over others, must have achieved both self-control and patience in themselves. Rehoboam had achieved neither. He thought only of his own personal gain--the last element that should influence one in dealing with others. He lacked altogether that spirit of meekness, which Jesus said shall inherit the earth. We should keep SELF out of our work for God, out of all our work of love. Whenever SELF comes in--it mars everything. We should think only of our duty, not of the way our act may affect us. If Rehoboam had asked, "What course will be the best for the country and for the good of the kingdom?" he would not have acted so foolishly. He would have shown patience and kindliness, and would have lightened the heavy burdens under which the people were bending.
Those who rule over others, should love them and be ready to serve them. Rehoboam is an example of those who try to govern others by tyranny. If he had really loved the people and had been disposed to serve them, sympathizing with them in their burden-bearing and showing them kindness, they would have continued loyal to him. "Through love, be servants one to another" is the New Testament law.
We all need to guard ourselves at these points. We are apt to be unloving and harsh in our dealings with others, especially when our dignity seems to be hurt. Even parents need to keep a careful guard upon themselves in this matter, lest their consciousness of having authority should make them unjust to their children. Paul exhorts fathers not to provoke their children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Teachers have like temptation in enforcing authority. So have all who are placed over others.
It often happens that a man who has been very kind and brotherly as a fellow-workman, or as an equal among men, becomes tyrannical and intolerant when in a position of authority. We should remember that all power is of God, and we represent Him in whatever place of authority we occupy. We should rule, therefore, in God's name--as He would rule if He were in our place. In all our dealings with those over whom we are placed in the Providence of God--we should be gentle, sincere, loving--that we may look into God's face without shame.
Life has its turning points for all of us. This was the turning point in Rehoboam's career. He had before him the possibilities of a prosperous and successful reign. All hinged, however, on one word. Should he say yes--or no? If he had said yes, he would have won the people to himself and his kingdom would have been established. He said no, however, and he drove the people to anger and rebellion. Men are continually coming to turning points when all their future depends upon a single decision. Two paths lie before them. One leads to beauty, honor, blessing; the other leads to dishonor and sorrow. The decision of the moment, settles for us in which of these two paths we will walk. Many a man or woman by a careless word--throws away the hope of infinite blessing and good.
It is interesting to notice that while the kingdom of David had failed of its best through man's fault and sin, it was not altogether cast off. The vessel had not come out what the potter first intended it to be--it had been marred on the wheel--but he made it again, another vessel, not so fine as the first would have been--but still a good vessel. The kingdom had a second chance. From the seed of David came at length the Messiah. There is encouragement in this for all those who miss their first and best chance. They may try again, and their life may yet realize much honor and beauty. When we think of it, most of the worthy lives of godly men in the Bible--were second chances. They failed, and then God let them try again. David himself, and Jonah, and Peter, and Paul are illustrations.