Again, reading from 1 Kings, this time chapter 12. In the passage, Rehoboam is succeeeding his father Solomon as King in Israel. There’s a curse on the house of David now because of the sins of Solomon (see previous post). Rehoboam is headed to Shechem to become King, and the people go to Jeroboam (which is a whole story and post in itself about challenges to leadership. We’ll see if I get to that.) So the people go to Jeroboam - who functions as their spokesperson to the new up and coming. They want Jeroboam to plead with Rehoboam to take it easy on them. Solomon laid a heavy burden of work upon their shoulders, and they want a break. So, Rehoboam can’t decided what to do. After all, he’s a new king, with new responsibilities, and he’s got huge shoes to fill. His dad was the wisest person ever to live! Anyway, he sends the people away for 3 days while he makes his decision. Here’s where it gets interesting. Rehoboam first goes to the wise men that were his father’s advisors. This is like President GW Bush going to people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and even Baker - advisors of his father. But then, he turns towards his buddies from growing up years, and asks their advice. The older guys say, “Serve the people, and they’ll serve you.” His buddies say, “Lay the burden even heavier on their shoulders. Don’t be a softy.” [paraphrases, of course] Rehoboam doesn’t know what to do, so he goes with the advice of his young buddies. Eventually, this backfires on him and the people turn against him, and the kingdom begins its demise (as God had predicted - again, as a punishment for Solomon’s sins.)
What I find so interesting about this passage is how it is translated and used today. So often this passage is taken to mean that what Rehoboam did wrong was to take the advice of the young bucks, the inexperienced, his friends instead of the seasoned, wised elders. He’s seen as giving into the peer pressure of his friends and making unwise decisions because of it. Often this is used in leadership situations to help young people understand that their youth will get them into trouble, and to make sure to follow the advice of elders.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the advice of elders. I think that respecting and learning from those who have gone ahead of us is very important. However, there is something about the passion, risk-taking, and bringing of a new day that comes through youth. God used youth all the time in the Scriptures to change whole nations and to change the course of history, often against the advice of the wise, elder advisors. So, at the risk of looking like a rebellious youth, let me share another interpretation of this passage.
If you read this chapter in its context, paying close attention to repetition and to detail, I think a better interpretation rises to the surface. I don’t think this chapter is about elders or youth or which ones you should listen to. It’s about listening, alright, but to someone else. When Solomon recieved his wisdom as an original gift, it was not from a wise person who gave it to him. It was not from great teaching, reading, learning, or schooling. In fact, when Solomon originally asked for wisdom, he asked the Lord:
I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is her among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong… The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. [1 Kings 3:7b-10]
And then, as you continue to read through 1 Kings, you notice that Solomon continued as a man of prayer. He didn’t get his gift and walk away. His greatest and most regular advisor, the one he trusted, the one who showed him the way to go was the Lord himself. He was a man of prayer. Several times in those first 10 or so chapters, we find Solomong - wisest and richest man in the history of the world - down on his knees in humble submission before the Lord seeking his ways. He is living up to the challenge his father David gave to him in chapter 2:
…be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: walk in his ways… that you may prosper in all you do. [vv. 2b-3]
So, Solomon is wise. Solomon is a man of God who seeks the wisdom of God on a regular basis. Solomon passes the throne on to his son at a time when the throne is being challenged by Jeroboam. And conspicuously absent from the first days of Rehoboam’s reign is any mention of speaking with the Lord, seeking the Lord, getting on his knees, or being a man of God. This passage has nothing to do with who has the best advice - old or young - it has to do with the importance of remaining close to the God who is the fountain of all wisdom. Whether you are young or old, have many responsibilities or only a few, the most important thing is remaining in a dynamic, living relationship to the living God who desires to give you his wisdom in all situations, a God who meets with you and speaks to you and lives in you and calls you to walk in his ways so that you may prosper in all you do.
A word to those of you who are young leaders: do be careful about listening to the words of your own generation. They are filled with confusing ideas, and the way forward is difficult. But be careful in listening to your elders as well. Often some of them have lost touch with the heart-beat of the Lord. Your best bet is to press into the heart of God, to ask for his wisdom, to listen to his voice, and to know Him deeply.
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