I KINGS 12:1-19

OCTOBER 25, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)


            Last Sunday we considered the fourteenth Old Testament Essential. I know seven whole days have passed since then, but who remembers what the fourteenth essential happened to be?  You are correct. Last Sunday we looked at Wisdom Literature which included the Book of Proverbs. A proverb is a short, pithy statement packed with wisdom. Here are four proverbs, four pieces of counsel, that should have made it into the book of Proverbs but did not.


            - Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

            - Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won't have a leg to stand on.

            - Don't squat with your spurs on.

            - When you need to borrow money, borrow from a pessimist. He won't expect it back.


            Those for proverbs are full of good advice, and the book of Proverbs as a whole has some good things to say about advice.  For example, in the Book of Proverbs we come across statements like  “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice,” (12:15) and “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (15:22)         

            Our passage today centers around advice sought by one of Solomon’s sons, his oldest boy, Rehoboam, and the passage explains why Israel split into two with a king in the north and a king in the south. That, by the way is the fifteenth Old Testament Essential - The Divided Monarchy. Only two more to go after this.

            We pick up the action with Rehoboam, Solomon’s oldest son, traveling north from Jerusalem in the south to receive the ratification of his monarchy from the northern tribes. When he arrived in Shechem he was in for a big surprise. I Kings 12:1.


            Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come Shechem to make him king.  When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon) then Jeroboam returned from Egypt.


            Let me say something about Jeroboam. Well, first let me say something about the size of wine bottles. If you are into wine, you have no doubt heard of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. They have to do with the size of a wine bottle. A Jeroboam holds six bottles of wine and a Rehoboam holds six bottles of champagne, so in the world of wine, these two guys, Rehoboam and Jeroboam still live on. There are also wine bottle sizes named after other people in the bible like Nebuchadnezzar and Balthazar, but we are talking about Rehoboam and Jeroboam today, so back to them.

            Jeroboam did not have royal blood. He was one of Solomon’s sons. He was the son of one of Solomon’s servants, and when Jeroboam was a young man, King Solomon put him in charge of various public works projects. While overseeing his work force, Jeroboam became conversant with the widespread discontent among the blue collar crowd concerning the extravagances which marked the reign of Solomon. Influenced by the words of the prophet Ahijah (1 Kings 11:29–39), he began to form back room alliances with the view of becoming king of the ten northern tribes; but his efforts were discovered, and he fled to Egypt, where he remained under the protection of the pharaoh until the death of Solomon.


            And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” He (Rehoboam) said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.


            Solomon had indeed imposed heavy taxes on the people in order to build the Temple and to run his kingdom. The people, led by Jeroboam, had a legitimate gripe, and wisely, Rehoboam asked for three days so that he could consult with his advisors, both young and old. First, he goes to his father’s advisors… older men whom Solomon had trusted for good advice.


            Then King Rehoboam took the counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” They answered 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.”  


            If only Rehoboam would have stopped here, but he did not. He then went to his friends and asked for their advice. Unfortunately, these young bucks were a few quarts low in the wisdom and tact department.


            But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted with the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. He said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” The young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten if for us’; thus you should say to them, ‘ My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”


            Now, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that was probably not the smartest advice to follow.  Those were not words destined to make people happy with Rehoboam. Those weren’t the words a benevolent king would say. Those were the words of tyrants and bullies, yet those were the words to which Rehoboam gave greater weigh.

            And so, when the people of Israel reassembled three days later, Rehoboam shows off for his friends and as a result he loses more than half his kingdom and neither he nor any of his descendants would ever get it back again. From that day forward, north and south were never reunited again.

            Jeroboam ruled the north for 22 years and Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, ruled the south for 17 years, and lest you get the wrong idea Jeroboam was not necessarily the good guy and Rehoboam the bad guy. Actually, there are no heroes in this story. Everyone loses.

            Let me tell you what Jeroboam did shortly after he was anointed king of the north. After assuming the throne, Jeroboam faced an immediate problem. The temple was in Jerusalem, located in the south, in Judah, not in the north in Israel. And he knew that all Israelites, both north and south, were expected to go to the temple three times a year, during Passover, Pentecost, and the Festival of Booths. To circumvent this he had two altars built within his northern boundaries, one up in the north of his kingdom at Dan, and another at the southern part of his kingdom at Bethel. Then he did the unthinkable. He erected two golden calves that would be the focus of worship. By creating these alternate worship sites, he not only introduced idol worship as normative in the north, but also violated the law of centralization (Deut 12) in which God insisted that sacrificial worship only take place at the one place God had chosen.

            The northern kingdom of Israel lasted for a little over 200 years before being conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC and the southern kingdom, Judah, lasted for a little over 300 years until they were defeated by the Babylonians in 587 BC. You can read all about it I & II Kings. Of the 40 kings who ruled in the north and the south all but two practiced some sort of idolatry. Only two southern kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, are given unqualified praise.

            And the lesson from Rehoboam’s life? It pays to pay attention to whom we pay attention.

            Psalm 1 begins with the words, “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers.”

            A pastor was talking with a young man in jail. He was telling him that his family had hired a lawyer to get him out, but he wasn’t sure he trusted the lawyer his family chose. The pastor asked him, “Why?”

            The young man responded  by saying that the other guys in his jail block didn’t trust this lawyer. He said they didn’t think he ought to let the man represent him. And then he said, “They ought to know because they’d been to court plenty of times.”

            And the pastor thought to himself, “You’ve got to be kidding! There’s a reason why these guys are in jail! They weren’t smart enough to stay out to begin with and now that they’re in they aren’t smart enough to get out! And these were the men my friend wanted to rely on for advice?

            It pays to pay attention to whom we pay attention.

            Where do we get good advice, good counsel?  Well, one of the reasons Jesus created the church was so that we could look to each other for support and advice. When we listen to the counsel of fellow Christians, we at least stand a good chance of getting sound biblical advice.

            And did you note the first people Rehoboam consulted? They were older men. They were elders. Now, of course, these were not exactly “elders” like a church might have. They were older men whom Solomon had trusted for advice when he was King, and older people have always been the standard advisors in the Bible.

            When Moses was leading the people out of Egypt, he was helped by 70 elders of Israel, and these 70 Elders were often part of God’s dealing with His people because these 70 elders were recognized leaders and wise men in Israel. Later, elders of each city would sit at the city gates and they’d act as judges in civil disputes. (Deuteronomy 25:7).

            Who are our go-to elders today? Who do we seek out for counsel? I hope we have a handful of people we can identify. I consulted with some of mine last Sunday night. None of them are in this church. They worship elsewhere, not that I couldn’t have sought out a some of you. In fact, there are a couple of go-to people in this congregation that I often seek out for advice. But last Sunday night I was a group of people and I asked them about something in this church. Some decision I was facing and I asked them ... people who did not have a vested interest ... wise people in my eyes what they think I ought to do. "Here’s a challenge we are facing Anderson Grove. Here's what I'm thinking. What do you think? What advice can you give me?”

            And they shared insights, including a couple of things I had not thought about. Here’s the point: when we need advice we need to look to God’s people. That’s one of the reasons God formed the church. When we need serious advice look to our elders - people with a proven track record of honesty, and insight and wisdom.

            It pays to pay attention to whom we pay attention.  Amen.

[1] Some of the message borrowed from “The Man Who Listened to Fools,” a sermon by Jeff Strite.