When King Solomon died, his son Rehoboam prepared to assume the throne over all Israel. He arrived at Shechem, located roughly sixty miles (100 km) north of Jerusalem, for an assembly of representatives gathered together to anoint him as 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 their own Northern Kingdom. Rehoboam was left as king of only Judah, which, along with the tribe of Benjamin, was the bare minimum to maintain and preserve God’s temple and the regal line of David.
King Solomon had done a tremendous job of building up the nation of Israel, including the construction of a magnificent temple, but all this had placed a tremendous burden on the people. Much of the labor was done under conscription, with conditions that were virtually slave-like, including even the use of whips by task masters. The people did not mind doing hard work, they just wanted better working conditions. It seemed a very fair thing to ask the new king at his coronation – 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 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 become the first king of the Northern Kingdom, the people made this very reasonable request to King Rehoboam. To his credit, Rehoboam did ask for three days to consider the matter and to seek advice from his counselors. This sounded very favorable to the people, who felt they were beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel for their harsh labor conditions.
First, Rehoboam asked his father Solomon’s former counselors for their advice. These elders were presumably familiar with the intense struggles that it took to build up the nation, and the hardships these had placed upon the labor force. They advised Rehoboam to be gentle and reasonable 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 would give young Rehoboam much better advice than his young contemporaries. These advised him to come down hard on the people and to use even more force than Solomon in order to keep them in line. Unfortunately, Rehoboam chose to follow this latter group’s 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 of this response, 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, they set before them their own king, Jeroboam.
At first, Rehoboam became so angry with their rebellion 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 apostasy of King Solomon. Rehoboam then stood down and resigned himself to being only King of Judah rather than of all Israel. The consequences of following bad advice can be monumental.
Who do you turn to when you need wise counsel? God will often place good people around us who we can use as wise sounding boards to help us discover the right direction to pursue. It is important for us to use discernment when we choose such counsel, as there are also many around us who would offer us poor, unfruitful, or ungodly advice.
Father God, guide our thinking and our decisions in the day ahead. We ask You for divine wisdom to help us to make good choices to achieve serenity and peace for us and for those around us. May we pursue the godly way. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.