Rehoboam

(Liberator, or enlarger, of the people.)

(1 Kings 12:1-24; 14:21-31; 2 Chron. 10-12)

Contemporary Prophet, Shemaiah.

“In the multitude of people is the king’s honor:but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince.”—Proverbs 14:28.

Rehoboam was not what we call a strong character. He was, in the beginning of his reign at least, as his own son Abijah said to Jeroboam, “young (inexperienced) and faint-hearted, and did not show himself strong” against the troublers of his kingdom (2 Chron. 13:7, N. Tr.). Why Solomon should have chosen him as his successor is not clear. It is difficult to believe that he had no other sons; yet it is a fact that Rehoboam is the only one mentioned (1 Chron. 3:10). His father seems to have had misgivings concerning his ability to rule the kingdom (see Eccl. 2:18, 19; 4:13-16, N. Tr.). And it was probably not a question of favoritism; for Pharaoh’s daughter, and not Naamah the Ammonitess (Rehoboam’s mother), appears to have been his preferred wife. But if Rehoboam was his only son, he had no choice; so we read, “Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead.” Weakness and vacillation marked his reign from the beginning. His going to Shechem to be crowned was evidently a concession to conciliate the already disaffected tribes to the north. He might have succeeded in his efforts to allay the dissatisfaction caused by the enforced levy of labor by his father (see 1 Kings 11:28), had he wisely and humbly heeded the advice of the aged men who had been his father’s honored counselors. They, from long experience, knew the temper of the people well; and in petitioning for the lightening of their burdens, they were only doing what any people not reduced to the condition of slavery, or serfdom, might have asked. And had the newly crowned king granted them their reasonable demands, and been “kind to them,” and “pleased” them, and spoken “good words” to them, they would, as the old cabinet ministers said, have been his loyal subjects forever. But he forsook their wise counsels. Influenced by a handful of callow novices and young court favorites, who, like himself, thought more of the rights of the king than of his responsibility to govern righteously he replied with as rash and insolent a speech as was, perhaps, ever uttered from the throne to a civilized nation. The outraged people answer in the same spirit as the king; and we have the sad, portentous cry, “What portion have we in David? and we have none inheritance in the son of Jesse:every man to your tents, O Israel:and now, David, see to thine own house.” (See also 2 Sam. 20:1.)

Though truly thankful to God that we are privileged to live under a form of government which gives us fullest freedom, we have no quarrel with absolute monarchy. But while God enjoins subjection to the powers that be, tyranny over the souls and bodies of men is nowhere countenanced in His word; and rulers who attempt it must learn the results to their cost. There are many proofs of this in Scripture, as in history. Government is of God, and therefore of divine appointment; but God’s frown is upon all abuse of power.

Rehoboam found it hard to believe that the ten tribes had really refused his yoke. He flattered himself, no doubt, that they would not dare to rebel against his authority. It could not be possible, he might think, that these provincials should not readily and meekly submit to his chastening with scorpions. So he confidently sent to them Hadoram to collect the imposed assessment. This ill-advised act brings matters to a crisis, and the old collector-general, who had served in this office under his father Solomon and his grandfather David is stoned by the exasperated people. So the king, who had boasted so haughtily that his “little finger” should be “thicker than his father’s loins,” ingloriously “made speed to get him up to his chariot to flee to Jerusalem.”

It must have been evident to him now that the rebellion was a very real and formidable one, and not a mere passing wave of discontent that would quickly die away of itself and be forgotten. But such an immense loss, such terrible results occurring so unexpectedly, are not so easily submitted to. Force may yet avail. There is the army, one hundred and eighty thousand strong:these malcontents should soon be made to feel the effect of its invincible power. Might must make right, if right cannot be demonstrated in any other way. But “the God of peace,” who loves His people even when misguided and in error, warns the king of Judah (note the intentional limit of his title, 2 Chron. 11:3) by the word of the man of God, Shemaiah, saying, “Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren:return every man to his house; for this thing is from Me.”

Under the government of God this division of the kingdom was the punishment of the sins of Solomon (1 Kings 11:33), occasioned by the folly of Rehoboam; it must therefore stand. To fight, then, to bring back the unity of the nation, good as the purpose might seem, was to fight against God. Reho-boam ought to have been thankful that God’s love to David had left him even two tribes. And he appears to have been, for “they obeyed the words of the Lord, and returned from going against Jeroboam.” He now betakes himself to make sure what had been left him. He built, or garrisoned, fifteen cities within his decreased territory, “and he fortified the strong holds, and put captains in them, and store of victuals, and of oil and wine. And in every several city he put shields and spears, and made them exceeding strong.” The successful rebel may sometimes turn invader, and Rehoboam (wiser now) will guard against this. There was war between him and the insurrectionist leader Jeroboam all their days, and the son of Solomon had to guard vigilantly what remained to him.

The priests and Levites remained faithful to Jehovah, to His house and worship at Jerusalem, and to the house of David, which was by the election of God the royal one. They left the land of Israel, to dwell in Judah and Jerusalem. Others too, who had set their hearts to seek the God of Israel, deserted the cause of the secessionists, and flocked to Rehoboam’s standard. For three years all went well, and they walked “in the way of David and Solomon.” But their goodness (like all that is of the creature merely) was as the early dew and like the morning cloud, and passed quickly away. Subdued, no doubt, and humbled, by the loss of the greater portion of his kingdom, Rehoboam walked for a time in fear and dependence. But alas, even serious lessons like this are soon forgotten by most, and before five years had passed both king and people had lapsed so far into idolatry as to be brought to the very verge of apostasy from Jehovah. “And Judah,” we read, “did evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked Him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree. And there were also sodomites (men consecrated to impurity) in the land:and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel” (1 Kings 14:22-24).

And for this cause God sent Shishak king of Egypt against them. Solomon had joined affinity with Pharaoh by taking his daughter to wife; and whether this was merely to please himself, or that he expected to strengthen his kingdom by an alliance with so powerful a country, it all comes to naught, as do all such expedients where God’s word is disobeyed or ignored. Shishak overthrew Pharaoh, the father-in-law of Solomon, thus ending that dynasty, and Shishak became the “new king,” who “knew not” Solomon, nor his successor. Influenced probably by Jeroboam, he marched against Jerusalem with a vast army of twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen, besides an innumerable host of footmen. Realizing the utter hopelessness of his position, and not having faith in God, Rehoboam offered no resistance to the advance of Shishak. Huddled with the princes of Judah at Jerusalem, he awaited with them, in fear of his life, the coming of the Egyptian army.

It is now God’s time to speak to their consciences; and Shemaiah the prophet appeared before them with this message of conviction:”Thus saith the Lord, Ye have forsaken Me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak.” They humbled themselves, then, and said, “The Lord is righteous;” and a partial deliverance was promised them. God says, “I will not destroy them.” “The princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves,” says the Word. The princes took the lead, it would seem (from their being mentioned first), in this humiliating, yet becoming, confession; the king was slower, the roots of his former haughtiness still lingering unjudged within his heart.

Note what God says: ”I will not destroy them.” Shishak was only His whip, like the Assyrian at a later date, whom God, by His prophet Isaiah, calls “the rod of Mine anger,” and “a razor that is hired.” It is necessary, for blessing, in calamities like these, to see beyond the instrument, and know the hand that uses it. But though their lives were spared, they must become servants (tributary) to Shishak, “That they may know,” God says, “My service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.” Where true submission is, the Lord’s yoke is easy; and if His saints refuse to wear it, they must learn by humiliating and painful experience what the yoke of the enemy is like. So Shishak took away all the temple treasures, and those of the royal palace. He also took with him the five hundred shields of gold that Solomon had made; and Rehoboam made in their stead shields of bronze, and with these pathetically tried to keep up former appearances. It is like souls, who, when despoiled of their freshness and power by the enemy, laboriously endeavor to keep up an outward appearance of spiritual prosperity; or, like a fallen church, shorn of its strength, and robbed of its purity, seeking to hide its helplessness, and cover its nakedness, with the tinsel of ritualism, spurious revivalism, union, and anything that promises to give them some appearance of justification for saying, “I am rich, and increased with goods,” etc.

There is little more to say of Rehoboam. Whatever was in his father’s mind when naming him “Liberator,” or “Enlarger of the people,” he failed utterly to become either. He enslaved the nation to Shishak by his sins, and decreased the numerical strength of his kingdom by more than three millions through his folly at the very outset of his reign. He followed his father’s shameful example in taking many wives. He displayed wisdom, however, in distributing his sons over the countries of Judah and Benjamin, placing them in the garrison towns, and providing them food in abundance. He probably remembered and was desirous to avoid such scenes as had occurred at the close of his grandfather David’s life in connection with his sons. Would God that Christians had always as much spiritual wisdom as Rehoboam manifested natural wisdom in this. Were God’s people well fed with truth, and well taken up with the affairs of Christ in the various services of His kingdom, there would be less strife among us. But alas, it is still too often true that “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light,” Rehoboam’s wisdom was rewarded when, at the end of his seventeen years’ reign, his son Abijah quietly assumed the crown without opposition from his many brethren.

Rehoboam died at the age of fifty-eight. The Spirit’s last comment on his character is significant:”And he did evil because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord.” There we are told in a single sentence the whole secret of his failure, both as king of Judah, and servant of Jehovah, who gave him this exalted position, he applied not his heart to seek Jehovah. May God in His grace, help us to apply our hearts to seek first and always His kingdom and righteousness. Only so shall we be kept from evil, and preserved from making the record of our lives read anything like Rehoboam’s—one sad succession of decline and failure.