The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for to Shechem were all Israel come to make him king.2 Chronicles 10
1. And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for to Shechem [the chief city of Ephraim, of ancient dignity, even from patriarchal times, as of singular beauty and position] were all Israel come to make him king.
2. And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was in Egypt, whither he had fled from the presence of Solomon the king, heard it, that Jeroboam returned out of Egypt.
3. And they sent [i.e., "they had sent." This is given as the reason why he had returned] and called him [to the assembly. (Comp. 1Kings 12:20)]. So Jeroboam and all Israel came and spake to Rehoboam, saying,
4. Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore ease thou [lighten] somewhat the grievous servitude of thy father, and his heavy yoke that he put upon us, and we will serve thee [they were acting within their right. To demand a removal, or alleviation of their burdens, was perfectly compatible with a loyal willingness to "serve" the new king].
5. And he said unto them, Come again unto me after three days. And the people departed.
6. ¶ And king Rehoboam took counsel with the old men that had stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, saying, What counsel give ye me to return answer to this people?
7. And they spake unto him, saying, If thou be kind to this people, and please them, and speak good words to them, they will be thy servants for ever.
8. But he forsook the counsel which the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men that were brought up with him, that stood before him.
9. And he said unto them, What advice give ye that we may return answer to this people, which have spoken to me, saying, Ease somewhat the yoke that thy father did put upon us?
10. And the young men that were brought up with him spake unto [Heb. with] him, saying, Thus shalt thou answer [The advice of the young men is the language of the arrogant self-confidence which mistakes obstinacy for vigour] the people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it somewhat lighter for us [Literally, "And thou lighten from upon us"]; thus shalt thou say [speak] unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins.
11. For whereas my father put a heavy yoke [Heb. laded] upon you, I will put more to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions [Probably (like the Roman flagellum) a whip, the lash of which is loaded with weights and sharp points].
12. So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king bade, saying, Come again to me on the third day.
13. And the king answered them roughly [hardly]; and king Rehoboam forsook the counsel of the old men.
14. And answered them after the advice of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add thereto: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
15. So the king hearkened not unto the people: for the cause was of God [Literally, "it was a turning or turning-point (of events) from with God"], that the Lord might perform his word, which he spake by the hand of Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
16. ¶ And when all Israel saw ["Now all Israel had seen"] that the king would not hearken unto them, the people answered [returned] the king, saying, What portion have we in David? and we have none inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to your tents [this war cry was not new. (2Samuel 20:1)], O Israel: and now, David, see to thine own house. So all Israel went to their tents. [In these words, with which the Benjamite Sheba had proclaimed sedition and rebellion against David in the land (2Samuel 20:1), is expressed the deep-rooted aversion to the royal house of David so strongly, that it is manifest the revolt had a deeper cause than the pretended oppression of Solomon, since it had its proper ground only in the old jealousy of Judah, suppressed indeed under Solomon, but still not utterly extinguished, which resulted again from the untheocratic disposition of these tribes, from their disloyalty to Jehovah.—Keil.]
17. But as for the children of Israel that dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them.
18. Then king Rehoboam sent Hadoram ["Adoram" in Kings] that was over the tribute; and the children of Israel stoned him with stones [The sight of the man who had been the taskmaster of their oppression, stirred the multitude to a fresh burst of fury, venting itself in his murder] that he died. But king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem.
19. And Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day [Neither the compiler of Kings nor the chronicler saw fit to alter a phrase which no onger applied to the political circumstances of their own day (Comp. 1Chronicles 4:41, 1Chronicles 4:43; 1Chronicles 5:26)].
"And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for to Shechem were all Israel come to make him king. And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was in Egypt, whither he had fled from the presence of Solomon the king, heard it, that Jeroboam returned out of Egypt. And they sent and called him. So Jeroboam and all Israel came and spake to Rehoboam, saying, Thy father made our yoke grievous; now therefore ease thou somewhat the grievous servitude of thy father, and his heavy yoke that he put upon us, and we will serve thee" (2Chronicles 10:1-4).
A CAUSE so stated must succeed. There will be difficulty, but the end is assured. The reasonable always triumphs, due time being given for the elucidation of its purposes, and the manifestation of its real spirit. Violence can have but a short day; the tempest cries itself to rest. The speech of this man was a speech strong in reason.—"Ease thou somewhat the grievous servitude of thy father, and his heavy yoke that he put upon us, and we will serve thee." They wanted ease for service, for loyalty. Where there is no ease how can there be homage, thankfulness, devotion, or any of the high qualities of patriotism? How tempted men are, who are not themselves disquieted, to tell other people to bear their burdens uncomplainingly! We ought to hear what they have to say who feel the iron. Our inquiry should be, How does it suit you? What is the effect of the piercing iron upon the soul? How does manhood bear the heel of oppression? The sufferers should sometimes be admitted to the witness-box. There is a danger lest our personal comfortableness should disqualify us for judging the case of downtrodden men. Wherever there is weakness the Christian Church should be found; wherever there is reasonableness the Christian sanctuary should offer hospitality. The Christian sanctuary ceases to be the tabernacle of God amongst men when it shuts its door upon the cries of reason, the petitions of weakness, the humble supplications of those who ask for nothing exaggerated, but simply ask to have their misery mitigated somewhat, that their loyalty may be of a larger and better quality. The names are ancient, but the circumstances may be painfully modern. It is the peculiarity of the Bible that it is always getting in our way. It has a word upon every subject. Is there anything more detestable than that a man who has his own way seven days a week, whose footsteps are marked by prosperity, whose very breathing is a commercial success, should stand up and tell men who are bleeding at every pore to be quiet and contented, and not create disturbance in the body politic? If Jeroboam had come with a petition conceived in another tone it ought to have been rejected; it would have been irrational, violent, contemptuous: but the reasonableness of the request will insure its victory in the long run. How easy it is to think of Rehoboam as the foolish son of a wise father! But are we not unjust to the son in so regarding him? Was Solomon the wise man he is often made out to be? The answer would be Yes—and No. There was no greater fool than Solomon; and he attained his supremacy in folly because there was no man so wise. "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" If he had not been son of the morning some shallow pit might have held him; but being son of the morning, and detaching himself from the gravitation of God, the pit into which he falls is bottomless. Pliny says no man can be always wise. That is true philosophically, and experimentally; for all men have vulnerable heels, or are exposed to temptations to lightness of mind, amounting in some instances almost to frivolity; they are also the subjects of a singular rebound, which makes them appear the more frivolous because when we last saw them they were absorbed in the solemnity of prayer. Solomon himself is not wise in this matter of government. The history shows that the people were appealing, not against Rehoboam, who had yet had no opportunity of proving his quality as a king, but against his father—"Thy father made our yoke grievous." We are prone to copy the defects of our ancestors and our idols rather than their excellences. We are tempted in wrong directions. Folly has often more charms for us than wisdom. When Diogenes discoursed of philosophy the people turned away from him—but when he began to play frivolous music, or to sing frivolous songs, the crowds thronged upon him, and he said, "Ye gods! how much more popular is folly than wisdom!" Even there he spoke as a philosopher. A man may crowd the hugest building on the earth by folly: it is impossible in the overwhelming majority of cases to fill a church with a prayer-meeting. "Ye gods! how much more popular is folly than wisdom!" must be the verdict of many a sad-hearted man, whose words are light, whose discourses are revelations, but who is not listened to by the folly-adoring mob.
Rehoboam made a cautious reply, and therein he began well; he said to the petitioners: "Come again unto me after three days." This looked hopeful. King Rehoboam utilised the interval by taking "counsel with the old men that had stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, saying, What counsel give ye me to return answer to this people? And they spake unto him,"—as old men ought to speak, with a quaintness that amounted to pathos,—"saying, If thou be kind to this people, and please them, and speak good words to them, they will be thy servants for ever." Rich is the king whose old men talk in such a strain! They were patriots and philanthropists and philosophers; they were Christians before the time. Marvellous is the power of kindness. They will do most in life who are most considerate. They may be charged with sentimentalism by those who do not understand the power of human feeling, but they will be credited with philosophy by men who understand the genius of sympathy. What a message would this have been to return to the complaining people! When a king speaks "good words" they seem to be better than if spoken by other lips; when a king is kind he seems to add to his kindness by his very kingliness; the stoop of his condescension redoubles the value of his benefaction. If, when the people returned after three days, Rehoboam had spoken so, the welkin would have rung with the resonant cheers of a delighted, thankful, because emancipated, people. We have opportunities of this kind: let every man know that in proportion to his kindness will be the quality and the durableness of his influence. Kindness is not weakness. It takes omnipotence to be merciful, in the largest degree and fullest quality of the term. He to whom power belongs holds in his other hand the angel whose name is Mercy.
"But he [Rehoboam] forsook the counsel which the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men that were brought up with him, that stood before him. And he said unto them, What advice give ye that we may return answer to this people, which have spoken to me, saying, Ease somewhat the yoke that thy father did put upon us?" [Showing that he understood the message of the people perfectly: he correctly represented the popular will, and therefore he increased his own responsibility, because he was not the victim of ignorance.] "And the young men that were brought up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou answer the people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it somewhat lighter for us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins. For whereas my father put a heavy yoke upon you, I will put more to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions" (2Chronicles 10:8-11).
Woe to the nation whose young men talk so! A young oppressor is an infant devil. Young men talking so will ruin any occasion. This may appear to be a very advanced policy, a very spirited policy, home and foreign. It is a spirited policy: but what is the name of the spirit that inspires it? There are many spirits. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God." Yet there is something inspiring about this tone of the young men. This is making the nation take its proper place at the council-board of empires; this is making the country bloated in its ambition. What will the end be? Does a controversy of this kind begin in a question, and end in an answer? Or is there a reply? Are there such things in history as retorts, reprisals, rebounds, consequences? Let it be known, and laid down as the basis-principle of all action, social, ecclesiastical, and imperial, that there is no right of tyranny. Oppression has no veritable and reputable credentials. Men are not at liberty to take counsel whether they shall be gentle or ungentle. The law is unwritten, because eternal, that even righteousness must be administered in mercy. It might be supposed that the king had taken a most patriotic course in consulting the old and the young. He had done nothing of the kind: he had omitted to consult him who had called his house to the royalty. Rehoboam should have consulted the Kingmaker whose throne is on the circle of the earth, and whose sceptre toucheth the horizon, and whose will is the law of monarchy and commonwealth. All human consultation is a species of under-counsel, valuable within proper limits, and right as recognising the education, the intelligence, and the political instinct of the times; but all consultation to result in profoundest wisdom must be intensely, almost exclusively, religious. Kings should talk to their King. The greater the man the nearer should he stand to God; yea, he should be within whisper-reach of the Lord of lords, asking him in every crisis of national history what Israel ought to do, what the country ought to answer, what is the will of heaven. Rehoboam answered the people roughly, and forsook the counsel of the old men—"So the king hearkened not unto the people." The gospel never gives liberty to oppression. Employers may adopt this course if they please, but they will find it end in ruin. We must recognise the difference between employing cattle and employing men. A parent may adopt this course if he pleases, but his children will chastise him, sting him, with many a disappointment; or if he live not to see the wreck of their manhood, they will execrate his unfragrant memory. We ought to admit nothing into our policy, social, commercial, ecclesiastical, national, that does not live by virtue of its righteousness and nobleness; then we may face the light of day, and abide the coming of the great audit with perfect calmness, knowing that with what judgment we have judged we shall be judged. If we were in circumstances such as Jeroboam represented, if we were bearing heavy yokes, if we were steeping our pillows in our tears, if sleep forsook us because of pain, and if we heard that Christian ministers had been made aware of our distress, and had risen to say, We will inquire for you, and sympathise with you, and do what we can to mitigate your pain,—should we answer, Keep to your praying and your hymn-singing, and let our sufferings alone? Never! We would thank God that Christian ministers were so like their Master who came to undo heavy burdens and let the oppressed go free. The Christian minister who meddles with every thing but humanity is—a phenomenon.
The world has been educated by oppression. The Lord himself has used it as an instrument in his hands. A curious expression occurs to this effect in the fifteenth verse,—
"For the cause was of God." (2Chronicles 10:15)
Rehoboam had not taken him into account, but the Lord took the matter into his own hand: the Lord sent a strong delusion upon the man that he might believe a lie. If the Lord were working within four measurable corners the whole proportion of his ministry upon the earth would be altered, and everything related to it would undergo appropriate changes; but the Lord is working upon an infinite circle; all things work, together; the ministry of the universe is a ministry co-operative, and is not to be understood in parts and sections, but can only be understood by those who take in the whole circumference on which the Almighty operates: and that cannot be done here and now, it can only be seen when we are taken to a sufficient altitude, and he alone can take us to that altitude, and give us the vision we need, in order to complete our judgment. Meanwhile, here is a history in human development—"the cause was of God." Joseph was sent down to Egypt by the Lord. The Saviour of the world was not murdered by the Jews, except in a secondary and transient sense; he was delivered up from before the foundation of the world that he might make on the universe an infinite impression and reveal to the universe the law of life and the law of sacrifice. The Lord sends judicial blindness upon people even now, so that they claim to be sincere, upright, patriotic: but the Lord is working his own end and purpose. It is not for us to say who is or is not judicially blinded; there we should perpetrate a great mistake; it is for us to recognise the operation of the law, and in proportion as we feel that it may be ourselves who are infatuated, we ought to pause, and wonder, and pray. There is, however, one standard by which we may come to a judgment all but infallible: if we are impelled towards persecution, towards the impoverishment of others, towards contempt in relation to the weak and the helpless, we may lay it down as certain that we are not inspired by the spirit of love, which is the Spirit of God. If our movement is towards trust, liberty, leniency, philanthropy, beneficence, we are entitled to believe that this is the very logic of love, the rigorous reasoning of piety itself. This will apply to nations, to families, to employers, to all men to whom is remitted the question, Shall the policy be severe, or shall it be clement and hopeful?
Rehoboam will be punished: have no fear of that. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." You can make your whips thongs of scorpions, but upon your own back shall the lacerating lash be laid; you can play the fantastic trick before high heaven and make the angels weep, but the bitterness shall be yours; the triumphing of such a policy is short, the end of it is everlasting punishment. What could we do without such laws as these? They are the very ribs of the universe, the very security of society, the corner-stone on which God's fabric rests. We are not the subjects of accidents, the changing whims of statesmen; we are not dependent upon general elections for the grand issue of things: the Lord reigneth! Let us be true, and calm. One thing is certain amid all the conflicts of history, all the attritions and collisions of most vehement controversy, and that is, that the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ alone can rectify all relations, bring into rulership and eternal dominion the spirit of truth and love and mercy. We can but daub the wall with untempered mortar; we can but say, Peace, peace, where there is no peace. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can get at the heart of things; deal with causes, fountains, origins, and purify the spring of all life. Here the Saviour is gentle in his might, mighty in his gentleness; he says, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again": you must start afresh; there must not only be new doings, there must be a new doer; there must not only be an improvement in habit, there must be a regeneration in soul. When the soul is right the hands will take to the new policy with skill that might have been learned in heaven and that is inspired by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Almighty God, may we keep thy law, and walk in thy statutes, and be strong because of uprightness, and prosperous because of integrity. Spirit of the Living God, Spirit of Truth, Spirit of Light, dwell with us to this intent; then shall our whole heart be God's, there shall be no corruptness in our spirit, there shall be no frivolity in our speech, there shall be no selfishness in our solicitude, but our lives shall be consecrated unto the living God as with a perpetual oath. We thank thee for all thy law, for its severity and its gentleness; and its gentleness doth lure us to obedience. May we understand the purpose of thy law, and not shrink from it as from a hard thing, but rather say, This is our Father's word, it is the bidding of mercy, it is the sovereignty of love, it is the way of wisdom eternal. If we have come to this spirit of obedience, it is because we have been with Jesus and have learned of him: by nature we are wrathful, selfish, obdurate; if we have been softened, and brought into loyalty of desire, and partly into loyalty of action, this is a miracle of the cross, this is a triumph of the Son of God, wondrous indeed in our eyes. Show us more and more that obedience is mastery, that to submit is to conquer, that to be at one with God is to have all things under our feet. Reveal unto us the mystery of life day by day: show us nothing of tomorrow; we then should fall under the burden, and should lose all hope and heart. Come to us day by day, a breath at a time, a moment at once, and let not the intolerable light of accumulation burn and annihilate our vision. Help us to carry life's burdens bravely, hopefully, patiently; help us to count tears amongst our treasures; enable us to kiss the smiting rod, because it is wielded by a Father's hand; and when the burden and the rod are lost in the completeness of Christian manhood we shall praise God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, in one unbroken, unending song. Amen.