Today’s reading begins with Rehoboam’s foolish dealings with the people of Israel and concludes with Jeroboam’s insistence on continuing on the path away from God.
Chapter 12 of 1 Kings is always a great reminder of the treacherous nature of pride in a leader. Rehoboam was the son of King Solomon and was installed as King after Solomon’s death. In this chapter we are presented with the story of how the people Israel come to Rehoboam and insist that he lighten their burden and not place them under the same weight of labor like that imposed by his father, Solomon.
At first glance, it seems like Rehoboam is taking the right path. He seeks counsel from the elders of Israel about what he should do. The elders of Israel counsel Rehoboam to lighten the load of people and they will be loyal and true and follow his leading. Rehoboam then decides that he should seek some additional counsel from his lifelong friends. Rehoboam’s friends tell him that he should be even more exacting and demanding of the people of Israel and prove to them that he is a stronger leader that his father.
As can be the case with young and inexperienced leaders, Rehoboam decides that he will play the role of the tough guy and prove his strength as a leader by burdening those he leads instead of serving those he leads. Obviously, when the people tell you that they are tired of working it’s not necessarily because they are lazy or disrespectful. Rehoboam thinks otherwise and blows off the request of the people with a statement that always reads to me as a bit, well, suggestive:
” ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs.’ ” 1 Kings 12:11
As a result of his ignorance of the will of the people, the text is clear as to what happened:
“So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, ‘What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.’ So Israel went to their tents….So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.” 1 Kings 12:15-16, 19
Foolish and presumptuous leadership never works out well.