When King Solomon died, his son Rehoboam prepared to assume the throne over all Israel. He arrived at Shechem, roughly sixty miles north of Jerusalem, for an assembly of the representatives of Israel who were gathered to anoint him as their king. What should have been a unifying event for the country ended up being a disaster, with ten of the twelve tribes of Israel splitting off to form the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Rehoboam was left being only the king of Judah, just enough to preserve God’s temple and the line of David.
King Solomon had done a tremendous job of building up the nation of Israel, including the construction of God’s magnificent temple, but this had all placed a tremendous burden on the people. Much of the labor was done under conscription with conditions that were slave-like, including the use of whips by task masters. The people did not mind doing the work, they just wanted better working conditions. It seemed a fair thing to ask the new king at his investiture – would he be willing to lighten up from the harsh demands that were placed on them by his father, Solomon.? After all, this Promised Land that they were all living in was a gift from God after He had freed them from slavery in Egypt – why should they live like slaves here?
Led by Jeroboam, the man prophesied by God to be the first king of the Northern Kingdom, the people made this very reasonable request to Rehoboam. To his credit, Rehoboam did ask for three days to consider and to seek advice on the matter. This all sounded very favorable to the people, who began to see a light at the end of the tunnel for their harsh labor.
First, Rehoboam asked his father Solomon’s former counselors for their advice. These elders were presumably familiar with the struggles it took to build the nation, and with the hardships it had placed on the labor force. They advised him to be gentle and soft in his response to the people.
6 Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” 7 And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” 1 Kings 12:6-7 ESV
Age does not always equate with wisdom. But in this case, it would seem that Solomon’s experienced advisors gave young Rehoboam much better advice than he would be given by his young contemporaries. These advised him to come down hard on the people and to use even more force than Solomon to keep them in line. Rehoboam chose to follow this latter advice.
13 And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke (through the prophet) to Jeroboam. 1 Kings 12:13-15 ESV
As a result, the people of the north rebelled against Rehoboam and the House of David. They would no longer listen to God’s king in the line of Judah, and instead set before them their own king, Jeroboam.
At first, Rehoboam became so angry that he intended to re-unify the nation by force. He called on 180,000 elite fighting men to prepare for battle against their brothers in the Northern Kingdom. But he was stopped by God, who told him that dividing the kingdom was His divine directive because of the apostacy of Solomon. Rehoboam then stood down and resigned himself to being only the King of Judah rather than king of the entire nation.
Who do you turn to when you need wise counsel? God will often place godly people around us who we can use as wise sounding boards to help point us in the right direction. It is important to use discernment when we choose counsel, however, as there are also many around us who would offer us poor, unfruitful, or ungodly advice.
It is good to start out our day with prayer. This helps us to allow God to guide our thinking and our decisions in the day ahead. We ask Him for divine wisdom to help us to make good choices to achieve serenity and peace for us and for those around us.