This is the first article in a new series that explores the practical lessons that we can all learn from the biblical record of the lives of the Kings of Judah.
Rehoboam was the fourth and the least significant of the kings of Israel and the first king of Judah. We ask ourselves why, and would have to conclude that the fault lay with him. At the commencement of our study this comes as a challenge to us all. It is all too easy to blame the difficulties we face and the lack of encouragement we have received for our failures in matters relating to our service for God, as if previous generations had better opportunity to do well, rather than facing up to the fact that the answer to our problems lies with us.
We will look at four aspects of this man’s life:
What a pedigree Rehobaom had when we consider his grandfather David and father Solomon! I have no doubt that he could not remember much about David personally but others would have recounted his exploits. Even today, David is still a revered national hero in Israel’s history. In all probability Rehoboam would have sung psalms that David, and indeed his father, had written as they went up to the house of the Lord. Rehoboam’s heart must have been stirred as he thought of his grandfather – a man who was tender-hearted, yet fearless and courageous on the battlefield.
And what of Solomon his father, the wisest man that ever lived, yet his only son was so unwise! Solomon, the king that kings and queens respected, was the man whose favour was much sought after and whose fame spread throughout the then known world.
No one suggests that these men were without fault, for their failures are highlighted in the word of God as a warning to us all. But if Rehoboam needed an example to follow as he sought to rule the people of God, surely there was none better than David, a man after God’s own heart. And if it was advice he required then who better to give it than his own father. Sadly, both of these great men and their legacies seem to have made little impact on the life of this young man.
We are particularly thinking in respect to the nation, Israel. David had subdued the nations on all the borders of the land. He could rule without fear. Solomon had literally put Israel on the map of world affairs with every nation acknowledging his glory and greatness; even the Lord Jesus corroborated this fact. The people had been well governed, albeit, latterly, Solomon’s lavish lifestyle would be a burden to them. In spite of this, Rehoboam’s task should have been a relatively easy one for there was no ‘credit crunch’, nor costly wars to finance. There was no civil unrest, although he ought to have recognized the possibility of it with Jeroboam’s exile to Egypt.
On top of this, we can think of the wonderful spiritual legacy that was left to him, for the ark of the covenant no longer dwelt under curtains but was now permanently housed in the temple in Jerusalem. This was the place where God had chosen to place His name and if the tabernacle was beautiful how much more the temple with its gold in abundance and ornate workmanship which well befitted the presence of the most high God. Had not his father sat in dire amazement at the dedication of it saying, ‘The … heaven of heavens cannot contain thee far less this house that I have built’, 1 Kgs. 8. 27, and did not David write in Psalm 122, ‘I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord’? What an appreciation these men had of the house of God and the God of the house. Oh, if only some of that enthusiasm had rubbed off onto Rehoboam then he could have been up there with them in God’s roll of honour. Instead, we see this great nation divided, the temple forsaken, idolatry being practised in the land and the legacy which Rehoboam was left sadly being frittered away. What a warning to all who read, for good days do not last forever. May God help us to be careful as to our actions lest we, likewise, destroy the great legacy which we, who gather to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ alone, have been left.
We read in 2 Chronicles chapter 10 that Rehoboam is about to ascend the throne after the death of his father and is immediately faced with a problem that could have disastrous consequences. The lesson is that with authority always comes responsibility. God was testing this young man to prove his fitness to lead His people, and, sadly, he failed the test. Jeroboam was recalled from his selfimposed exile in Egypt to speak on behalf of the ten tribes and if Rehoboam saw this as a threat to his being crowned he never showed it.
Israel’s request was simple: if you lighten the heavy yoke that your father laid on us and do not overburden us then we will be your servants. The problem seems to be that of excessive taxation, not an uncommon complaint even today. To Rehoboam’s credit he seeks advice of his father’s wise and experienced counsellors, but then chose to forsake it for the advice of his young companions. They may have been good young men but they lacked experience in dealing with great matters such as these and their advice was seriously flawed. But that advice was accepted by Rehoboam, who in turn spoke roughly to the people and treated them as of no consequence. How sad! That could only make matters worse and that attitude has the same affect even today, for leaders cannot ride roughshod over the people they lead.
The result, in this instance, was a divided nation; the southern kingdom was called Judah, which remained loyal to Rehoboam, and the northern kingdom Israel, which was by far the greater part of the nation, rebelled against him. This meant there was strife between brothers and sisters, and it is difficult to imagine that the people who were at peace with their national neighbours could no longer live at peace among themselves. Oh, the reproach that brought to them but, far worse, to the God they served! Was there not an Abraham among them who would speak up and say, ‘Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren’, Gen. 13. 8. Let all who read be slow to criticize the men of Rehoboam’s day for one feels there is a great need for Abraham-like men in our day.
In 2 Chronicles chapter 11, we find Rehoboam making ready for war with Israel, but we note that God sent His prophet Shemaiah to speak to him and warn him from taking this course of action since the circumstances were the Lord’s doing. Here we see the sovereign hand of God, as is the case in all our circumstances, and we do well to accept this simple fact. One has said, ‘God is behind everything and there is nothing behind God’. Rehoboam continues to strengthen himself and prepare the people to defend themselves and, while this may be a good practice, nevertheless one cannot help thinking that even behind this action lay a lack of trust in his God.
We note sad words recorded by the Spirit in 2 Chronicles chapter 12 about this man. When he had established the kingdom and strengthened himself, he forsook the law of the Lord. Now the forsaking of the advice of wise elder men had disastrous consequences but this action would be even more so.
In the fifth year of his reign, the Egyptians came against him, no doubt eyeing the treasures of the house of God. Once more, God sends Shemaiah to warn Rehoboam that this attack is a direct result of him forsaking the law of the Lord. We all do well to heed such a warning. We say to sinners that they cannot live as they please and not expect God to intervene, yet this is just as true concerning believers as well. That is why Solomon wrote, ‘The way of transgressors is hard’, Prov. 13. 15.
Shishak took away the treasures of the house of God; those things that had a spiritual value and were precious to God were lost, stolen by a man who could place only a material value on them. May God preserve us today from giving up that which is of value to Him!
It would seem as if God’s patience with Rehoboam paid off, for he humbled himself and acknowledged the Lord as righteous. He had no complaints about what God had done but rather he was contrite and the Lord granted deliverance. What a God we have, who in judgement remembers mercy! We thank God He is still the same today, for He is the unchanging God.
Probably the next three years were the best of Rehoboam’s life, but sadly behind all of Rehoboam’s actions, and left on the divine record, are these words, ‘He did evil, because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord’, 2 Chron. 12. 14. We are left with this challenge: ‘Is our heart right with God? Where do our affections lie?’ Surely, it becomes us all to say with Peter, ‘Lord thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee’, John 21. 17.