the Fifth Week of Lent
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
JUST by one insolent and swaggering word King Rehoboam lost for ever the ten tribes of Israel. And all Rehoboam's insane and suicidal history is written in our Bibles for the admonition and instruction of all hot-blooded, ill-natured, and insolent-spoken men among ourselves.
The beginning of it all was the domestic disorders and the cancerous immoralities of David's house. And then it was the heathen idolatry and the heathen immorality and the reckless and exasperating extravagance of Solomon's declining years. Prophet after prophet had been sent of God to Solomon because of his shameful apostasies, but it was all in vain. Solomon's old advisers besought his son Rehoboam, as soon as he had sat down on the throne of his father Solomon, to attend to the complaints of the people, and to lighten their terrible burdens. But Rehoboam shut his ears to the wisdom of the elders of Israel, and answered the oppressed people in the insolent and insulting words that the young men about him had put in his mouth. 'My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke; my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.' At that the long-suppressed shout rose and rang through the angry land, 'To your tents, O Israel! Now see to thine own house, David!' So Israel rebelled, says the sacred writer, against the house of David to this day.
One might well he tempted to think that the sacred writer had told Rehoboam's history wholly in vain, so often has his insane folly been repeated east and west since his fatal day. And in no land has his folly been oftener repeated or better written about than just in our own England.
I am solicited [says Queen Katherine], not by a few,
And those of true condition, that your subjects
Are in great grievance; there have been commissions
Sent down among 'em, which have flaw'd the heart
Of all their loyalties; wherein, although,
My good lord cardinal, they vent reproaches
Most bitterly on you, as putter on
Of these exactions, yet the king our master-
Whose honour heaven shield from soil!-even he escapes not
Language unmannerly, yea, such which breaks
The sides of loyalty, and almost appears
In loud rebellion.-I would your highness
Would give It quick consideration, for
There is no primer business.
Our own Henrys, and Jameses, and Charleses, and Georges-the books of the kings of Israel were eminently written for their learning. But preaching like Bishop Hall's Contemplation on Rehoboam-if the light that is at our kings' courts be darkness, how great is that darkness. And such servile preaching as Joseph Hall's too often was, went on till the kings of England lost, not their kingdoms only, but their own heads to the bargain. Take Joseph Hall away from court, and there is not a racier or a more sagacious preacher in England; but put James's lawn sleeves on Bishop Hall, and there are few in their hour of temptation who are more contemptible. How much more true and just and wise is Dean Stanley: 'The demands of the nation were just. The old counsellors gave such advice as might have been found in the Book of Proverbs. Only the insolence of the younger courtiers imagined the possibility of coercing a great people. It was a doomed revolution.'
Every morning, all the last wet summer, my children and I read an hour in the best story-book in the world. And having Rehoboam in my mind, we came upon this about Coriolanus: 'But on the other side, for lack of education, he was so choleric, and so impatient, that he would yield to no living creature: which made him churlish, uncivil, and altogether unfit for any man's conversation. They could not be acquainted with him as one citizen careth to be with another in the city. His behaviour was so unpleasant to them by reason of a certain insolent and stern manner he had, which, because it was too lordly, was disliked. And, to say truly, the greatest benefit that learning bringeth men unto is this: that it teacheth them that be rude and rough of nature, by compass and rule of reason, to be civil and courteous, and to like better the mean state than the higher. But Martius was a man too full of passion and choler, and too much given over to self-will and opinion, and lacked the gravity and affability that is gotten with judgment of learning and reason. He remembered not how wilfulness is the thing of all the world which the governor of a state should shun. For a man that wishes to live in this world must needs have patience which lusty bloods [like Rehoboam's young counsellors] make but a mock at.' Reading the same charming book another wet morning we came on this: 'Now, Cæsar immediately won many men's goodwill at Rome through his eloquence in pleading their causes, and the people loved him marvellously also because of the courteous manner he had to speak with every man, and to use them gently, being more ceremonious therein than was looked for in one of his years. How little account Cæsar made of his diet, this example doth prove it. Supping one night in Milan with his friend Valerius Leo, there was served asparagus to his board and oil of perfume put into it instead of salad oil. Cæsar simply ate it and found no fault, but reproved his friends who were offended: and told them that it had been enough to have abstained to eat of that they misliked, and not to shame their friend, and how much he lacked good manners who found fault with his friend.' The whole chapter, indeed, is one of Plutarch's masterpieces. Though the great republican does not like Cæsar, yet his instinct as an author and his nobility as a man compel Plutarch to extol continually Cæsar's exquisite courtesy, his noble urbanity, and his unfailing good manners.
True, there are neither kings, nor kings' sons, nor kings' counsellors, nor kings' chaplains here, but there are plenty of hot-blooded, hectoring, insolent, and ill-natured men. There are husbands, and fathers, and masters, and many other kinds and classes of men to whom this Scripture comes direct from God. Husbands especially. You husbands, never, all your days, speak an impatient or an angry or an insolent word to your wife. And it you have already lost your fireside, which it is worse to lose than a kingdom; if you have spoken not one angry and cruel word, but many, which cannot now be unspoken, it is not too late even yet. Even if things have been said between you and your wife that neither of you can ever forget, your whole life is not lost. At the worst, if you both like, if you are both able, meat may yet come to you both out of the eater; that is to say, out of your angry, insolent, heart-cutting words to one another. You may gather quietness, and self-command, and a bridle for your mouth, and a balm for two sore hearts out of the carcass of your all-but-dead tenderness to one another. When the next debatable matter comes up between you, let it not come up. Put your foot upon it. Keep your foot firm down upon it.
Prune thou thy words, the thoughts control
That o'er thee swell and throng;
They will condense within thy soul,
And change to purpose strong.
All Scriptures are not written for all men alike. Some men are already strong men and wise masters of themselves. There are men from whom you will never hear one angry, sulky, insolent word all their days. But there are other men whose lips simply spit hell-fire as often as they open them upon your heart.
One would think that if there was any one of the near relationships of human life more than another that would of itself absolutely secure kindness, and tenderness, and affability, and love, it would be that of a father. But, as a matter of fact, it is often the very opposite. You never see more impatience, and harshness, and sullenness, and sourness than you see in some fathers. Why is that so, I wonder? It is very difficult to explain and account for it. Let every silent, sulky, churlish father watch and examine the working of his own heart till he understands and overcomes this monstrosity in himself. It is against nature. But it cannot be denied that it is very common. It is not for nothing, you may be very sure, that Paul gives to fathers this, at first reading, somewhat startling counsel, not to provoke their children to wrath. The apostle must often have seen it done. He must often have suffered from seeing it done. He must often have felt sore in his heart for such unhappy children, else he would never have said what he says in his Epistle to the Ephesians. He must often have sat at tables where the children were incessantly corrected and rebuked and exasperated. He must often have seen all-but-innocent children nagged and worried into answers and actions the whole blame of which he laid on their fathers and their mothers. Treat your children, he says to us, as your Father treats you. For His name is merciful, and gracious, and long-suffering, and slow to wrath. Study your children. Command your temper towards your children. Do not worry, and vex, and insult, and exasperate your children. 'When they do right, make a point of praising them openly,' says Cecil. 'And when they do wrong, reprehend them secretly.' A word of encouragement, a touch of the hand, a smile even; how easy to a wise and loving father it is to bring up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and how happy it makes him and them. But how hard and impossible all that is to a churl and a curmudgeon.
And King Rehoboam consulted with the old men that had stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I should answer this people? And they advised the king, saying, If thou, wilt answer them, and speak good words unto them, then they will be thy servants for ever. But he forsook the counsel of the old men. The best sermon I know on that scene is to be read in a letter of Mr. Ruskin's to the editor of the Daily Telegraph. The editor had said in a leading article that it is the hardest thing in the world in these days to find a good servant. And that called out Mr. Ruskin the same day, I will not spoil his English. 'Sir,' he wrote, 'you so seldom write nonsense that you will, I am sure, pardon your friends for telling you when you do so. Your article on servants today is sheer nonsense. It is just as easy and just as difficult now to get good servants as ever it was. You may have them, as you may have pines and peaches, for the growing; or you may even buy them good, if you can persuade the good growers to spare them off their walls; but you cannot get them by political economy and the law of supply and demand. Sir, there is only one way to have good servants, and that is to be worthy of being well served. All nature and all humanity will serve a good master, and will rebel against an ignoble one. There is no surer test of the quality of a nation than the quality of its servants. A wise nation will have philosophers in its servants' hall, a knavish nation will have knaves there, and a kindly nation will have friends there. Only let it be remembered that "kindness" means, as with your child, so with your servant, not indulgence, but rare.' And then Mr. Ruskin winds up the whole correspondence with an apt and beautiful reference to Xenophon's Economics, and an advice to all his lady readers to get the old Greek book by heart, as the most perfect ideal of kingly character and kingly government ever given in literature, as also the ideal of domestic life.
No; there can be no manner of doubt that Mr. Ruskin is wholly right. Our servants would never leave us if we were sufficiently kind to them. Unless, indeed, it were to go to serve those who had sworn to be still kinder to them. And we would get two men's, two women's work out of each one of them while they are with us if we were only twice more kind to them. A word of recognition and appreciation; a word of trust and confidence and real respect now and then; a nod, a smile as you meet them in the passage or on the stair; once in a while to eat a meal or a part of a meal with them; to give them now and then the gift or the loan of a book that has done yourself real good to read, and to say so. O yes! the hearts and minds of men and women are neither better nor worse than ever they were. They live upon love, and esteem, and respect, and praise, just as much as ever they did. Just try them and see.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Rehoboam'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​r/rehoboam.html. 1901.