In our leadership series looking at Hebrew kings, we have how reached our 5th installment. Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, had everything ready-made for a great reign. His grandfather brought unity to the kingdom and peace by conquering their enemies. His father oversaw tremendous prosperity as nations traded with Israel and he built the Temple where God would be worshipped. Success was in his future - or was it?
If you are reading in the Bible, go ahead and turn to 1 Kings 12 or 2 Chronicles 12 to see what happens.
With the period of mourning for Solomon completed, the nation assembled around the 41 year old Rehoboam to anoint him as king. If you stop and think about it, he spent his whole life waiting for this moment. You can almost image the smile he had on his face and, surely, many so-called "friends" would have already been circling him for favors. He would have received some advice from his father (possibly the book Ecclesiastes) while also following the requirements of the law - writing a copy of the law by his own hand. The ornate ceremony began.
It was at this point, however, that the unexpected happened.
Instead of an immediate coronation, a dramatic shift occurred. We do not know how - maybe he was about to emerge in public with his stately garb when he was stopped - but what we do know is that some people wanted a conversation with the king to be. What must have been going through Rehoboam's mind? He was royalty - a son of David. He was the former king's son making him the rightful ruler whose time had come. He was supposed to make requests that others fulfilled - not having demands brought before him.
He consented to the meeting and, without a doubt, the next event caused his blood to boil as he seethed with anger. Emerging from the shadows was a man named Jeroboam who was with the representatives of Israel. You need to back up to 1 Kings 11 to see why this man would have tormented the soon-to-be king. Jeroboam was a capable leader for Solomon and was placed in charge of the laborers from two tribes. In returning home one day, a prophet met him and shared that God would use him to punish the house of David because of Solomon's sin. In short, the kingdom would be divided with him leading 10 tribes. If he chose to follow God, then he would be blessed with an enduring dynasty. When word reached Solomon of this prophecy, he ordered the death of Jeroboam (similar to how Saul acted with David's anointing); so Jeroboam fled to Egypt.
Jeroboam became a spokesman for Israel and stated their case: (1) statement of fact that Solomon had been hard on the people in both labor and taxes, (2) pledge of complete loyalty to Rehoboam if he would lighten the burden. You can imagine that Rehoboam needed some time to recover from the emotional let down of a delayed coronation and sudden appearance of an enemy. He asked for three days and it was given.
Rehoboam assembled his counselors to gauge their opinion. The older counselors urged him to add value to the people by listening to them and granting their wish. In a sense, they agreed with their statement of fact and focused on their commitment to follow him as their king. The younger counselors, who grew up with the son of Solomon, disagreed. They advised Rehoboam to add move value to himself because he was the king that they must obey. Any capitulation here would be a sign of weakness, so they wanted him to respond with power.
At the end of three days, everyone assembled and were ready to make Rehoboam king. He announced his decision that he would not be as hard as his father - he would, in fact, be harder. When the shock of this statement wore off, the 10 northern tribes rejected him as their king, announced Jeroboam would be their ruler, and then turned to leave. Rehoboam did not believe this to be the case and send his administer of labor to visit with them and these tribes responded by killing him. Now, the full revolt was complete and the kingdom was divided.
What we can take away from this story for our lives and leadership? I think we have 4 lessons here:
We all have daily choices that can either unite or divide and force compliance or build loyalty. Want to know which one you are doing? Go ask one of your biggest supports and one of your biggest detractors and then listen to the hard truths they share...