“If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.” – 1 Kings 12:7
Decisions based on pride and insensitivity lead to division. When King Solomon died he was succeeded by his son Rehoboam. His inauguration was to take place at Shechem. But right out of the box young Rehoboam was faced with a critical decision. Jeroboam, (an enemy of his father - 1 Kings 11:26-40), led the assembly of Israel to challenge Rehoboam. They said, “Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you” (1 Kings 12:1-4). Solomon had expanded the kingdom of Israel to its greatest boundaries. He had built the magnificent Temple, his own house, the Milo, the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo and many other building projects (cf. 1 Kings 9:15-28). While he didn’t utilize forced labor to do this work (1 Kings 9:22), he did lay heavy tax burdens on the people. Wisely, Rehoboam asked for three days to think about it his response (12:5).
Rehoboam first consulted “the elders who stood before his father Solomon while he still lives” (12:6). He first went to those who knew his father and had served with him. Their counsel was, “If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (12:7). In other words they counseled Rehoboam to be a servant leader. Jesus said the key to greatness is being a servant (Mat. 23:11). The counsel of the elders was spot and prudent. They also advised Rehoboam to answer the people and speak “good words to them.” “Good” (טוֹב - ṭôwb, tobe ) here means pleasant, bountiful, cheerful, proper types of words. Rehoboam shouldn’t respond haughtily but humbly. He was being advised to empathize and be sensitive to the needs of the people; to be gracious and willing to listen. The elders told Rehoboam if he would just respond in a good way with good words to the people, “then they will be your servants forever.” If he responded as a servant of the people and not a tyrant, the people’s hearts would melt before him and he would win them forever. Not only that, but we know that God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). If Rehoboam responded in humility, God would be on his side. This was good wise counsel from his father’s elders.
What the elders were really advising Rehoboam was to love the people. David loved the people. He was heartbroken when his poor decisions adversely impacted the people (cf. 2 Sam. 24:14). Solomon started with a concern and love for the people he ruled (1 Kings 3:9). Loveless decisions are always poor decisions. In the New Testament John wrote, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). Rehoboam had it in his power to relieve the burden of the people. In refusing to do so he exhibited loveless leadership. A good leader has compassion. A godly leader leads in the love of the Lord.
Unfortunately Rehoboam “rejected the advice which the elders had given him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him, who stood before him.” (12:8). The advice of his young friends was to answer the people, “My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s waist!” (12:9-10). In other words, “You think my father laid a heavy burden on you? Wait until you see what I do; you haven’t seen nothin’ yet!” This was a purely prideful response. Rehoboam and his young friends probably reasoned that to show compassion and sensitivity was to expose weakness. Perhaps they thought if I give in to them with this then it will only lead to more requests. They saw leadership as rule, authority, power, and control. They were more concerned with keeping power and lordship over the people than they were serving God by serving the people. They were so wrong.
It’s not surprising that Jeroboam and the people didn’t respond well to the rough answer of Rehoboam. Not only did they completely reject his decision, but when they saw that he was unwilling to listen to their request and be fair, they said, “What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now see to your own house, O David!” (12:16). When King Rehoboam sent Adoram to collect the taxes, the people stoned him and it began a civil war that resulted in the ten northern tribes separating from Judah and Benjamin in the south.
What a lost opportunity! The unity of the nation was at stake. And the loyalty of a people to their king and king to the people hung in the balance. Even more importantly, the relationship of Israel to their God was about to be adversely impacted. And all was lost because of pride and a lack of love. Tragic! Humility and love are indispensable to leaders and decision making. Nothing good comes from pride. Nothing is gained by a lack of love.
Decisions based on pride and insensitivity lead to division. “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well advised is wisdom” (Prov. 13:10). “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Rehoboam’s proud harsh response to the people led to a foolish decision. A fool is someone who fails to factor God into their life equation (Ps. 14). Rehoboam consulted the elders of his father and his young friends, but he never consulted God! If he had maybe the Lord would have brought to mind the inspired proverb of his father that states, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). But God spoke to him and told him not to fight against those who had separated themselves from him (12:22-24). The consequence of the decision must take its course. This situation was linked in part to Solomon’s forsaking of God (1 Kings 11).
The division caused by pride was like a cancer. Jeroboam, concerned that he would lose people if they went to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship, erected an alternative altar in the northern area of the tribe of Dan and at Bethel. Two golden calves were made and outright apostasy and false worship was encouraged (12:25-35). Pride led to division. Division led to apostasy. Human relationships were severed by pride and insensitivity. And relationships with God were and added ultimate consequence. Nothing good ever comes from pride.
Is your life characterized by broken relationships and division? If so, it doesn’t mean you are necessarily the culprit or cause. Sometimes we are victimized by pride and lovelessness. But just in case, ask yourself a few questions. Are you more concerned with maintaining control than being compassionate? Are you looking to serve or be served? Are you proud or humble? “He who has a proud heart stirs up strife, but he who trusts in the Lord will be prospered” (Prov. 28:25). Remember, “If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (12:7). Those are wise words. Pray about it. Servant or lord, what’s your choice?