THE FOOLISH YOUNG KING
‘He forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him.’
1 Kings 12:8
Now that Rehoboam ascended the throne, the event was hailed by the national leaders as an opportunity for presenting a Petition of Rights, and Shechem was chosen as a place which might be the Runnymede of Jewish liberties. How this crisis was met by the king is described in the Lesson.
This was a turning-point in history. The Augustan period of Jewish monarchy, under Solomon, only lasted forty years, from 1015 b.c. to 975 b.c. Then began a period of steady decline, during which the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel stood side by side, ending in the captivity of Babylon, in 722 b.c. Although the immediate cause of the disruption is described here, we must remember that behind it was the jealousy constantly felt by the great tribe of Ephraim, which availed itself of this opportunity for asserting independence of Judah. This proud tribe recalled the prophecies of Jacob and of Moses and the recognition of its greatness by Joshua. Possessing, also, a more central and a more fertile district than Judah, it resented the supremacy of that rival tribe in providing as it did the king, the seat of government, and the sanctuary of the whole nation. Rehoboam’s folly, therefore, gave the occasion for a revolt already threatened, which any wise king would have tried to avert by special courtesy and consideration. Notice here—
I. Bad advice has wrecked many a life.—Rehoboam took bad advice, and his kingdom was rent. Young people will always have the same two kinds of advisers that this young king had. Their older friends will counsel them to be patient, moderate, generous, and kind—they have lost the pride and sternness out of their hearts in the experiences of life. Then they will have advisers of their own age, who are proud, hot-headed, self-conceited. Sad is it for those who follow such advisers.
II. Those who would rule over others must serve them.—Rehoboam is an example of those who try to govern others by tyranny. If he had really loved the people and had been disposed to serve them, sympathising with them in their burden-bearing, and showing them kindness, they would have continued loyal to him. Those who are placed over others in any way, to govern and direct them, should learn a lesson here. ‘By love serve one another.’
III. Sin is a terrible destroyer.—It was sin that rent this kingdom in twain. Solomon received it from David as a united kingdom. But he forsook God, and thus wrought the ruin of his country. Whenever we let sin into anything we are doing we seal its doom. We see here also how the sin of one man leaves its blight upon succeeding generations. The evil that men do does not stop with themselves or with their time.
IV. We must not conclude that God approved of Jeroboam’s course because he permitted him to become king of the ten tribes, or because this result was in punishment of Solomon’s sin.—On the other hand, the holy seed was in David’s line, and the rending of the kingdom was the preservation of the true religion. Then the rebelling kingdom was founded in sin. It cut itself off from the Temple and the worship of God. It was based on idolatry—the worship of golden calves. Its advantages in numbers, in territory, in all the ordinary elements of strength, availed not to make the kingdom secure. As we read on we shall find that Jeroboam stands in all the story as the author of a terrible evil. He is called everywhere ‘Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.’
The circumstances which led to the partition of the land of Israel were foreseen and permitted by the Eternal; and, indeed, were foretold as a result of Solomon’s apostasy. Still, the guilt of Rehoboam was none the less. And his folly and infatuation in listening to the youthful counsellors who urged him to severity of language and of conduct, may be to all readers of this passage a practical warning which may be useful to them in many circumstances of life.
I. Bad counsel.—Occasions occur in the experience of all men when they will not act upon their own judgment, when they will seek and perhaps take the advice of others. But we are all exposed, and the great and powerful are peculiarly exposed, to unwise and pernicious counsels. Such advice may be owing to—(1) Inexperience. Some of the young men, whom Rehoboam was so foolish as to consult, may have advised him as they did because they knew no better, because they had no experience in State affairs, and little of human life. (2) Flattery. When kings ask advice, unprincipled men will give such counsel as they suppose will be acceptable, as will minister to a monarch’s vanity. (3) Pride. It is a foolish thing to despise and to treat unreasonably those who are in an inferior and dependent position, simply in order to gratify the feeling of personal superiority. Yet this is often done.
II. Good counsel.—(1) This often proceeds from those mature and experienced. So it was on this occasion. The venerable counsellors who entreated the young king to act with consideration and leniency, had seen something of policy, and knew what was likely to concilitate and unite the people. (2) It may be unpalatable and displeasing. He who will advise honestly must be prepared sometimes to offend and to alienate. (3) If it be rejected, events will justify it. Time shows what is wise and what is injudicious and short-sighted. (4) If it be accepted, the wise counsellor will have his reward.
III. Application.—(1) Let those who seek advice seek it in the right quarter. Especially should this be done when religious teaching and guidance are desired. (2) Let those who give advice do so faithfully and candidly, as those who must give account to God. To lead a soul astray is a fearful responsibility; to guide a fellow-pilgrim into the way of life is matter for everlasting rejoicing.
(1) ‘A judge, when in the company of a young gentleman of sixteen, cautioned him against being led astray by the example or persuasion of others, and said, “If I had listened to the advice of some of those who called themselves my friends when I was young, instead of being a Judge of the King’s Bench, I should have died long ago a prisoner in the King’s Bench.”’
(2) ‘The son of Solomon had the enormous disadvantage of being reared in the midst of luxury. He and his young men, arrogant young aristocrats, contrast with Saul and his young men, whose hearts God had touched, the latter at the springtime, the former at the autumn, the sere and yellow leaf, of Israel’s greatness. His time of crisis and judgment has come; and he is tested by the eternal test of compassion, the principle, as our Lord taught, of God’s judgment in all ages. Like the unfaithful upper servant to whom his lord comes unexpectedly, he is cast out of his high place.’
(3) ‘The counsel of the young men expresses the absolutely false theory of government, that the king is the master, not the servant, of the people. Rehoboam attempted to govern by pride and force—which always fails when the people are fairly intelligent. Pride provokes pride, and force produces reacting force. Men are so made that they can only be governed by an inner law, by impulses, not from without, but from within. Hence the power of reasonableness, humility, and love. No service is so absolute, and yet none is so free as that of love to Christ.’
(4) ‘In the Life of Rev. F. D. Maurice occurs the following: “A striking incident occurred in the giving up of No. 5 Russell Square. There was, at the end of the garden behind the house, a stable and coach-house, which, having an independent entrance into a mews, had been let by my father for a term of years to a sub-tenant, a working carpenter. Having received an offer for the lease of the house, my father had arranged the matter himself, without consulting his solicitor. As soon as he reported the facts to his lawyer, he was told that he had done a very rash thing; that his sub-tenant might give him a great deal of trouble, as he could not fulfil the contract he had made by giving possession. ‘You are completely in his hands, so you had better leave me to go and make the best bargain I can with him.’ ‘Very well,’ said my father, ‘you shall do so, on one condition—that before you do anything else you tell him exactly how the case stands, and let him know the advantage he has.’ Remonstrance being useless, Mr. Burgess, the solicitor, gave his promise, and went down to see the tenant with small hopes of success. He delivered his message, as in honour bound, and was at once met by the tenant with an astonished inquiry, ‘Did Mr. Maurice tell you that you were to tell me that?’ Mr. Burgess assured him that he had only carried out instructions which certainly were not in the ordinary way of business. ‘Well, now,’ replied the tenant, ‘that is what I call the act of a real gentleman, and I will give up the stables this day or any day, if it will serve him, and will not take anything for doing so. If a man treats me like that, I would not meet him any other way but his own for my life.”’
A FUTILE ENDEAVOUR
‘And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin, … to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.’
1 Kings 12:21-24
I. We must not suppose that the sentence which affirms that this great calamity of the rending of the kingdom was from the Lord is an isolated one, or that it can be explained into some general notion that all men’s doings, good or evil, may be attributed to an omnipotent Ruler. In III. The setting up of the calves shows us why the separation of the kingdoms was a thing from the Lord.—It asserted the real dignity of Jerusalem as the place in which it had pleased God to put His name; it asserted the real unity of the nation to be, not in a king, but in the King; it showed that the only basis of any political fellowship of the tribes lay in that name which was revealed to the first father of them.
—Rev. F. D. Maurice.
(1) ‘Learn the duty of submitting to Divine judgments. The Lord forbade Rehoboam to go to war to crush this rebellion, announcing clearly that this rending of the kingdom was a judgment upon sin. When we have done wrong and are suffering, it is our duty, in patience and humility, to accept the penalty, and submit ourselves to the righteous hand of God.’
(2) ‘It is interesting to notice that while the kingdom of David had failed of its best through man’s fault and sin, it was not altogether cast off. The vessel had not come out what the potter first intended it to be—it had been marred on the wheel; but he made it again another vessel, not so fine as the first would have been, but still a good vessel. The kingdom had a second chance. From the seed of David came at length the Messiah. There is encouragement in this for all who miss their first and best chance. They may try again, and their life may yet realise much honour and beauty. When we think of it, most of the worthy lives of good men in the Bible were second chances. They failed, and then God let them try again. David himself, and Peter and Jonah and Paul are illustrations.’
(3) ‘A man succeeding to the throne, in the prime of life, ought to have had clear notions of the policy he meant to pursue, especially as he had been brought up at the court, and in the home, of the wisest king of the age. Instead of this he seemed dazed and helpless, turning hither and thither for advice. Feebleness of character, like that, has serious issues. A well-meaning youth, who adapts himself to the society he happens to fall into, is in moral danger. Gird yourselves early in life to earnest thought and prayerful resolve.’
(4) ‘The house of David had already grown corrupt, having passed its splendid prime, and was now about to suffer the fate of corrupt things, to fall in ruins. It is a natural Divine law. The only eternal things are righteousness and love and the worship of the true God, and the only lasting are those in which the Spirit of God is. The revolution sprang, as always, from the people, who suffer most from the weight of a tyranny. The later government of Solomon had apparently been oppressive. The accumulation of wealth and the growth of luxury in the hands of the king and nobles had their usual consequences in heavy burdens and misery upon the common people. Great possessions and vast riches in a nation are signs neither of health nor of progress.’
AN EASY RELIGION
‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.’
1 Kings 12:28
These were the words of Jeroboam, to whose name is attached the awful record, ‘who made Israel to sin.’ Doubtless his scheme as a piece of policy appeared admirable; nothing seemed more fatal to his new state than that the people should go up to Jerusalem and give their allegiance to Rehoboam, King of Judah. But in truth this policy resulted in failure and disaster. And who can be surprised at the result?
This is an appeal made to the people’s sense of ease and comfort. These long pilgrimages were burdensome, and therefore was it said, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.’ What is there, then, that you cannot have here? Still for us there is Jerusalem here on earth, where the soul may be brought into true union with God; still is there a place where God will come to the soul if only the soul will come to God; and still is there the tempter, who says it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.
And so it comes to pass that the means whereby we obtained peace are laid aside, or changed, or modified—the study of our Bible, prayer, Holy Communion.
I. The study of our Bible.—Oh! it is too much to go up to Jerusalem. The Bible is hard to read and understand. ‘It is too hard for you,’ says the tempter, ‘to make its pages all your own. You have not the leisure, the mental capacity.’ So it may be, and the very word ‘Bible-student’ seems an old-fashioned word, and books which touch lighly on the subject are substituted. That is the theological study of the many in the present day. It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Oh! how can true peace be thus found? Oh! how can men’s souls touch Jehovah’s? The wells of salvation from which we might draw all that we require are neglected, because it is hard work to draw the same, and from brooks we may lap with our hands as we halt on our journey.
II. It is too much to go up to Jerusalem in the spirit of prayer.—You are so busy, so tired, that you cannot give much time to prayer. Just some brief form which you commit to memory. ‘That will do,’ says the tempter; and the Lord’s Prayer and our short petition for what we want is all that some offer up. Oh! how do we fulfil the command, ‘Pray without ceasing’? Souls that must die if they be not united to God, how can true union be thus sustained? It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem, and attain the peace which comes from union with God before the mercy seat. If work is so hard and so pressing that we have no time to pray, then the great God has given us such work to do as will crush us down. Can that be? Nay.
III. And at Holy Communion.—Is it not true that hundreds stay away from this Jerusalem? It makes too great demand upon you; if you become a communicant, your whole life must be changed. Thus, though the many hear the sermon preached, only the few come to the altar. It is too much for the others to go to Jerusalem.
We know this is so; we see it around us. But the many go forth again into our clattering streets, into their comfortable homes, where loving faces greet them, into society, with its pleasant life and easy goal, and the spiritual fades and the masterful present rises again, and hearts that were touched with a desire to reach the true Jerusalem, the hearts that felt it was worth living, and Oh! worth dying for, once more hear the voice of the text, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.’
Brethren, the golden city is a reality over all those worldly forces which press so strongly upon us, and will reign over all. We are living, but we are dying; and it is now for us in time to gain such an insight into that which makes for our hereafter and for the day of God’s presence and the new Jerusalem.
(1) ‘Thus God’s service became a matter of personal convenience and social enjoyment, rather than a religious obligation and a spiritual privilege; and it was not long before the sanctuary at Dan, the farthest removed from Jerusalem and all of its hallowed associations, became the fashionable resort of the multitude.
To be sure, all this did away with the great altar and its sacrifice for sin, with the laver at its side, and the need of “renewing by the Holy Ghost” in order to enter into God’s service. It ignored all need of “the bread” and “the light” and “the intercession,” taught by the tables of shewbread and the candlesticks and the altar of incense; and it had no place for an ark, wherein was kept the law, and which was covered by a mercy seat, and whereat forgiveness was obtained because an atonement had been made. None of these things were needed in the new theology of Jeroboam.’
(2) ‘Jeroboamism did not die with Jeroboam. For more than two hundred years after its originator was buried it was fostered by each of his successors, and essentially the same epitaph as his own fitly belonged on the tombstone of each. It is seed which takes very kindly to the soil of human nature in all ages, and among all people. It is springing up even in our own day, and its beauty is greatly admired. The same kind of intellectual, worldly-wise, but religious men are busy scattering the seed more and more widely.’
I. Jerusalem shall no longer be the centre of worship for the Ten Tribes, but they shall sacrifice at the shrines of two golden calves, placed in convenient positions, so as to make religion easy, and save people the trouble of a journey.—Thus gradually the danger of their desiring to rejoin Judah and Benjamin will die out. Such was the clever policy of Jeroboam. Having lived in Egypt he was acquainted with the worship of Apis, the sacred Bull of Memphis. The dedication festival of the Golden Calf in Bethel was to be a red-letter day in the life of the usurper, and would create an enthusiasm for the new king—so it was vainly thought—which would make his throne secure.
II. Nothing shall be neglected which may render the ritual worthy of the occasion.—It is the grand inauguration of the new religion; it is the high day of idolatry; it is the installation of a fresh Church as well as being a political celebration. It is the crowning of the hopes of the adventurer, as well as a precaution for the security of his crown. It is the climax of his plans, and the realisation of his earlier dreams. Imagine Jeroboam’s feelings on the morning of the day. Would he not say to himself something like this? ‘At last I grasp success. After to-day there will be no more wavering in my followers. I have provided new gods for the crowd; I have appointed new clergy of a low type who will be completely under my thumb; I have altered the dates of festivals, so as to break entirely with the past; I have established myself as head of Church and State; behold in me the union of King and Archbishop.
‘Then how wisely I have selected Bethel as the scene of to-day’s function. It has around it a holy atmosphere. It breathes religion. Here Abraham builded an altar in the olden times; here Jacob saw the vision of the ladder and the angels; here Samuel came annually to offer sacrifice; here Deborah lived, who gave freedom to her oppressed people. So that historical and religious memories cluster round Beth-el; indeed the very name—the House of God—seems to sanction it as a centre of religious worship. The service there will be a kind of set-off to the dedication of Solomon’s Temple; and all will be well.’ Such may have been the musings of Jeroboam, as he arrayed himself in royal and priestly garments, ready for the grand ceremony.
III. Beware of a religion which appeals to your love of ease.—Jeroboam knew what he was doing when he said, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.’ The golden calf is accessible and will save you trouble and expense. Men like religion made easy and which is kind to their vices. It is not too much to go by train to the theatre, the dance, the cricket match, the football match, or the golf links, but to walk a quarter of a mile to church is ‘too much for you.’ Very often also as men grow rich they learn the worship of the golden calf. An income of £200 attends church, but an income of £2000 stays away. Men need God’s help till they grow rich and then they feel independent of Him. The passbook from the bank and the shares and stocks in the paper are more studied than the Bible; and the summer-house in the garden is the shrine of a little quiet Mammon-worship while the wife and children ‘have gone up to Jerusalem.’ London bows down to the golden calf and carefully observes the ritual of money-making.
Rev. C. H. Grundy.
THE GOLDEN CALVES
‘He set the one in Beth-el, and the other put he in Dan.’
1 Kings 12:29
Jeroboam had the courage and capabilities of the ruler, but he lacked confidence in the Providence of God. He gave himself up to finessing in religious matters that wrought his own undoing and his people’s shame. He knew that he owed his position, not only to the suffrages of the people, but to the election of God, and yet he fell into the very sin which had resulted in part of Rehoboam’s kingdom being wrested from him.
I. Jeroboam’s sin.—This blunder is repeated, or rather aggravated, by Jeroboam, for he initiated a new religious cultus, which was the more mischievous because it was a specious representation of the Jehovah worship, while utterly alien to its central principle. Jeroboam could not himself trust to the wisdom of God to devise means whereby the hearts of the people should be kept loyal to their own chosen king. To obviate the necessity of the people going up to Jerusalem as often as occasion required, Jeroboam set up the calves, one in Beth-el, and the other in Dan, saying, ‘Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt!’ We see that Jeroboam takes counsel with himself and forgets what he owes to God, and what God could do for him; that in fostering the people’s loyalty to God he would be strengthening their loyalty to his own throne. He suffered the penalty of his folly, as all must who seek to circumvent right by the practices of expediency. He suffered in the direction of his fears, though not as he anticipated. The people never recovered from the evil effects of his example and influence. The idolatry he established laid hold upon their habits of mind and heart, so that its spell could only be broken by the nation becoming utterly disorganised, and carried into captivity. Going up to Dan and Beth-el was the beginning of a march that ended in disruption and bondage. Jeroboam’s expedient branded his name with infamy.
II. As an expedient.—This act of Jeroboam’s was wholly false and impolitic. Our acts have issues of which we little dream. The attainment of our purpose forms but a very small part of the consequences of our conduct. What may seem to us at any given time as an act of simple expediency, may in the long run prove to have been the beginning of irreparable mischief. We have to regard tendency, as well as consider the wants of any special occasion. Acts that we may think (as Jeroboam evidently did) will consolidate our power, may prove but the cause of its decadence and overthrow. We cannot step outside the bounds within which God would have us move without being involved in shame and loss. Whatever we substitute for God will bring about our ruin.
III. As a policy.—This act of Jeroboam’s overreached itself, it went too far. There must be no competition set up between God and expediency. The contest is unequal, and there should be no rivalry. What can the calves at Dan and Beth-el do? If they divert attention from the claims of the true God, they leave the real necessity of life unmet; if they turn the thoughts from the main issues of obligation to God, they render less stable all authority and power; if they satisfy the craving for the simple observances of worship, they cannot release the soul from sin. Business, culture, pleasure, success, these as expedients may serve a healthy purpose, provided they are not brought into competition with God; as a policy entered upon in order to supersede or ignore His claims, they are fatal to well-being. Jeroboam is not the only one who has set up idols.
(1) ‘It would seem as though the idea of the calf may have been taken from the great cherubims of Solomon’s Temple “in which the ox or calf was probably the principal form” (1 Kings 6:23). But back of this lies the thought of the ox, as being the plougher, the worker, the bread-winner for the family. The huge human-headed bulls in the palaces of Nineveh express the same thought. The strength and goodness of God in the provision for our daily life seem to be embodied in the ox. Nevertheless no good came of the injurious policy of Jeroboam, for this thing became a sin. Nothing that does this can help a nation’s prosperity. Money gained to the exchequer by the cultivation and sale of opium or liquor is not in the long run profitable. The first step was now taken in the down-grade. This royal road to worship ended ill, as all such short cuts are apt to do. The teaching of this well-laid scheme, in the light of what happened afterwards, is the folly of substituting policy for principle.’
(2) ‘The promise to Jeroboam was, “I will be with thee, and build thee a sure house.” The king ought to have carried his difficulty to God, but he did not. He revealed at once a godless heart. When Cobden, pleading in the early stages of his political career for the hungry artisans of his country, dared to say in the House of Commons that he came there supported by an army of prayers, he was received with derisive cheers. We have heard in our own times sneers at what have been called “Sunday-school politics.” Jeroboam belonged to the class which has no faith in religion as a factor in political life. His character was discovered at the first serious difficulty which threatened him as king.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Kings 12". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent