The Divided Kingdom audio (4MB)
About thirty years ago Jo and I were involved in Youth Adventure camping. In fact you could say it's how we met. You see we had mutual friends who where rock climbers and Jo and I often went climbing with them. Jo was a great climber: nimble flexible and brave. On the other hand my style was one more of brute force and great fear not to fall. One of the things you learnt very quickly when climbing was to rely on the protection you use to secure you to the rock face. One was to rely on the rope; the other was to rely on these little nuts and blocks that you’d wedge into the cracks. This protection meant that if you had a fall these things would hold you and stop you from wiping out on the valley floor.
This morning I want you to look at our reading and review the sorts of protection our two leaders of the Hebrew people put in place and what it says to us today.
First let’s look at Rehoboam.
King Solomon had died and his son Rehoboam moved to take over the throne. Remember Solomon had been a tough king but it would seem that while he was king the people under his rule shared his vision. Yes, things were hard, the people worked and toiled under his kingship but they shared his vision. Now the king was dead. Enter Rehoboam. As the son of Solomon he’s the natural successor but he makes a couple of fundamental mistakes. Let’s look at his leadership. Here he is taking over from his father and he starts off really well. He goes and seeks counsel from the elders. The same people who had advised his father. So far so good, but it’s what he does with that advice that is the worry. You see things were pretty tough at the time and the people of Israel were starting to lose the vision King Solomon had. The elders knew that Rehoboam was not the same man Solomon was, and couldn’t expect the people to follow him like they did Solomon. Rehoboam had an opportunity to relate to the people based upon who he was, not on who his father was. It was a simple but sound formula. He should show kindness and a servant's heart to the people, and they’d love and serve him forever. This was good advice.
I sense though, that even before the elders had given him the advice he was ready to reject it, because what does he do? He seeks a second opinion, not that there is anything wrong with a second opinion.
But in rejecting the opinion of the elders who had served his father, he rejected the style of leadership of Solomon and David. While neither David nor Solomon were perfect, each showed a commitment to God and compassion for God’s people. Rehoboam showed little concern for either. He was more interested in his position and exerting his authority, than in building a community in which the people could truly be God’s people.
So Rehoboam asks his mates. These men were much more likely to tell Rehoboam what he already thought. By turning to those likely to think just as he did, it shows that Rehoboam only asked for advice for the sake of appearances.
But what do the young men offer? The opposite advice to the elders. They suggested an adversarial approach, one that would make Rehoboam more feared than Solomon was.
The trouble is, in following the advice of the young men Rehoboam set Israel as a nation on the path of division and destruction over the next 400 years. Rehoboam clearly should have listened to what the people were saying. Now I’m not saying that leaders should always lead by popular vote, by what the people ask for or want, but a leader needs the wisdom to know that sometimes what the people want is actually what is best for them.
The issue with seeking advice is in understanding something about the person giving the advice. One of my favourite lecturers at Tabor, in class one day challenged us; his message was simple “before reading the theology read the theologian”. In other words before you take on board something find out a little about the person or persons writing it and a little about their background, who they are, where do they stand on other issues.
The saddest thing about this story is that because of Rehoboam’s foolish choices the northern tribes of Israel (that’s the 10 tribes other than Judah and Benjamin) reject Rehoboam as king and in doing so reject the house of David, Israel greatest king and the family line that is going to produce their messiah. This is not the first time the north and the south have had their disagreements but this time it is irreparable.
So now let’s turn our attention to the other leader in this story, Jeroboam.
Before we look at his leadership in detail tell me if something doesn’t sound familiar. The people of Israel were under the rule of a tyrant king who made them work as slaves, carrying out his demand.
Jeroboam was a reluctant leader, we read in verse 3 they had to send for him.
Jeroboam’s leadership of Israel was ordained by God in 1 Kings 11:29-39
He eventually leads the northern kingdom out from under Rehoboam’s rule.
If I have to add the Rehoboam strikes me as being a little like Pharaoh, does that help.
If you’re thinking that Jeroboam is a little like Moses then you’re right. But unfortunately what started out as a good idea ends up falling over. You see despite Jeroboam being told by the prophet Ahijah that God was about to “tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes”. Despite all that, Jeroboam lacks faith. He’s unable to trust God. At the time when the prophesy comes true Jeroboam didn’t trust that God had things under control.
Listen to how he starts his rule
Firstly he didn’t trust God to ensure Rehoboam would stay in Jerusalem (verse 25) he builds a new capital Shechem. Which seems fair enough but when we take a closer look at the language used, I think the NRSV use of the words “built” may not be as close to the Hebrew as the NIV where the word fortified is used. And what about Penuel. Well Penuel was fortified also as a strategic town that would ensure that Rehoboam would be unable to out flank Jeroboam should he attack.
He doesn’t trust God to ensure the people of Israel would remain loyal, are they totally committed or would they try to kill him if circumstances change (verse 27).
He doesn’t trust God choice of him as a leader, he worries that the kingdom “may well revert to the house of David” verse 26 and he still refers to Rehoboam as their master verse27.
He doesn’t trust God’s control; you see the fact that the kingdoms were divided did not mean that the northern tribes were exempt from their covenant obligations. They were still under the Law of Moses as much as the southern tribes, they still had to travel “to offer sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem” verse27. Jeroboam was not prepared to leave it to God to maintain his hold over the people of Israel.
So like Rehoboam, Jeroboam sought advice. The only difference was Jeroboam was even more foolish than Rehoboam. "It literally says, 'Therefore the king took counsel of himself.' "(Dilday) Here lies the downfall of Jeroboam.
You see for Jeroboam the worship of God becomes nothing more than political control. He put religion in the service of state, Ha can’t have people going off to the Temple at Jerusalem to worship, so he builds new worship centres within the Northern Kingdom in the far north of Dan and south in Bethel which is bad enough, but then the new Moses becomes the new Aaron. He has two Golden Calves constructed and they become the focal point for worship. Then in a final bid to control the people of the Northern Kingdom (or to keep them happy?) Jeroboam creates a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a festival of his own making. Then Jeroboam leads Israel in the new faith that he’s created.
So here we have a new king who sets up a new religion with its own symbols, its own priest and its own festival. It may not sound much like any religion that is around at the moment, or does it.
How many people do you know who believe in God but don’t feel the need to go to Church, or those who like to pick and choose the bits of worshipping God they like and leave out other bits. We all like a God who loves us and was willing to die for us but not many like the God who judges and condemns or who expects us to obey him in everything.
There are plenty of people out there that love the holiday or let’s say the festivals but not the reason for the season.
Jeroboam’s religion was a religion of convenience.
Jeroboam was unable to trust God; his own fears got the better of him and instead of trusting the one who put him on the throne, his fears make him try to secure his position without thinking about God. As we find out later in history the northern kingdom disappears and throughout the rest of 1 and 2 Kings the scripture regularly points back to Jeroboam’s religious innovations as the pattern of sin in Israel
The story of Jeroboam is one about a good man gone wrong, he protested about the abuse of Solomon’s power, only to be seduced by that same power. He was a man whose concern for the people changed until that he was only concerned about himself. Instead of leading his people to depend on God he led them to depend on him. In his own insecurity he opens the way for his and the nations destruction.
In both Jeroboam and Rehoboam I see two of God’s leaders who are unable to rely on the protection of God and in the end both suffer great falls.
One of the lessons we learn from the story of Rehoboam is the need to pass on faith in God carefully and deliberately from one generation to the next. You see David was the new era of history. The Scriptures shows him to be a man deeply committed to God, he moulded a nation from a loosely organized group of tribes into a people of God.
Solomon inherited these people as a stable kingdom and with God’s help simply had to organize the nation. But Solomon failed to maintain the nation as faithful to God and thus sowed the seeds of the later failure of the kingdom.
Sadly Rehoboam showed little thought for God or for the nation when he took over the leadership. Whether in nations, organizations, businesses, churches, or families, we need to be aware of the risk of becoming like Rehoboam. Are we and our children simply inheriting the traditions of our parents without knowledge, going through the motions or are we making them our own, embracing them and seeking God in them.
Are our children fired up by the faith of their parents? Are our children compelled to maintain a stable Christian faith and an ongoing relationship with God? Is that what we demonstrate to the next generations? Do they feel a need to walk as their parents do, with God, or do they try to make it on their own, their way? What are they committed to? Is it something beyond themselves? Do they seek to live without the guidance and wisdom of a larger community? Is their quest for independence constructive or destructive?
In Jeroboam I see a person of God who through his own doubts and fears is unable to trust God and so he changes the things of God into something far more palatable. In the end the truth of God is so watered down that it’s no longer truth but a creation of his own. He stands as a warning to us against taking ourselves more seriously than we take God.
So what does this passage have to do with us today? Well first I think that there’s a very strong warning to the leaders of the church. Our ministry team, our wardens and vestry need to be leaders who build the kingdom of God. They’re not building kingdoms for themselves. There’s a duty that they keep the church in the knowledge of God: who he is and where is God leading us; that our trust is well and truly secured in God, first and foremost and not the abilities, gift and personalities of the individuals.
But what about the rest of us, what about our leaders of Tom’s Crew, Clay, Rainbow Fellowship, Stomp, Living Stone, Mike Mates and Men’s Group or for that matter our own families. What legacy are we leaving for those we lead? Are we leading them into a strong and trusting relationship with the creator of the universe? Or have we created our own god? Are we leading them along a path that will lead in the end to despair and destruction or are we humbly leading them to faith and reliance on God?
Six years ago I left a long career in Banking and Finance. Part of my reason was because I saw a leadership that was more interested in the institution than people. Its leadership used the abuse of authority and threats to make people do what they wanted. I'd thought I would be able to bring Jesus and His style of servant leadership into the bank. But I was wrong.
Our challenge is to model ourselves on Jesus and not on Rehoboam or Jeroboam. How much more successful would they have been, how much more successful will we be, if we follow Jesus style of leadership. Jesus constantly, in his ministry, points not to himself but always back to the Father. Even His trust was not in himself but he trusted the Father: “not my will but yours be done”.