The Bible addresses money, liberty, government, and even issues like… the debt ceiling. Whether its Washington D.C. or a family budget, all of us need to deal with our own overspending. Many are surprised at how relevant the Bible is to modern day issues. Others are surprised to see that issues on the national landscape have been on the historic horizon many times in the past. Many nations have been at a crossroads of decision asking questions like: Should we promote more liberty or more control by a centralized government? Should we tax the people more to gather revenue or tax people less and allow them to take responsibility for caring for themselves and others?
There is no place in the Bible more “ripped from today’s headlines” than King Rehoboam’s cabinet meeting in 1 Kings chapter 12. His father, Solomon was a extremely successful leader who led the nation into incredible historic success. His dad expanded government, over-committed the kingdom’s spending, and taxed the “little people” for many years. His father was known for his building projects, national attention, and global influence; however dad had slowly eroded the liberty and love of the people through high taxation and high control. The people were ready for a new administration. There was buzz in the community about the high hopes for changes and renewal under the new king. All of Israel came out to cheer on their new leader.
1 And Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone to Shechem to make him king.
The nation was divided over political partisan battles from the past. A nation that was once the United Tribes of Israel was now in civil war setting the North Against the South. Israel vs Judah. However, now was a time to change all that. So the King Jeroboam who had been in exile came to Rehoboam pleading with him to make this national defining point in history. A unifying moment for the entire nation.
2 So it happened, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard it (he was still in Egypt, for he had fled from the presence of King Solomon and had been dwelling in Egypt), 3 that they sent and called him. Then Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam, saying, 4 “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.”
The question is simple. The decision will set out a whole new course. Jeroboam asks Rehoboam if he will reverse course. Will he take the tax burdens placed on the people’s backs from his father and lighten the load? Will he stop all the government projects and plans that have necessitated the heavy yokes? Will he stop coercing and forcing people to follow him and instead increase liberty and individual responsibility. Jeroboam must know this kind of thinking would tap into fear, uncertainty, and insecurity in a man who was living up to his father’s reputation, so he reminds him that this new course of action would result in greater love and service to him, not less. “We will serve you.” Voluntarily out of love. Reheboam had a lot to consider. Would he lose control? Would he look like a failure for decreasing the size of government? What about all the programs and projects he’d been dreaming of?
5 So he said to them, “Depart for three days, then come back to me.” And the people departed.
The king had enough wisdom to at least take three days to consider this paradigm shift. He called together his cabinet members and they were divided. Some who had served under his father saw the consequences of his father’s policies. This older wiser and mature advisors said to him.
6 Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who stood before his father Solomon while he still lived, and he said, “How do you advise me to answer these people?” 7 And they spoke to him, saying, “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.”
There is the call for leader to serve their constituents. If you serve them, they will serve you. Speak good to them, and you will have their hearts forever. In other words, lighten the load. Take the yoke off them. Give them more liberty, individual prosperity, and responsibility. Apparently this exercise in getting advise was merely a charade because Rehoboam immediately responds:
8 But he rejected the advice which the elders had given him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him, who stood before him. 9And he said to them, “What advice do you give? How should we answer this people who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Lighten the yoke which your father put on us’?”
The king goes looking for advisors who will tell him what he wants to hear. He turns to the young men: the educated theorists who haven’t been in the trenches of experience like his father’s advisors. They respond. More control. More power. Show them who’s in control. Take away more liberty. Make sure the little people know who’s boss.
10 Then the young men who had grown up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you should speak to this people who have spoken to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter on us’–thus you shall say to them: ‘My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s waist! 11 And now, whereas my father put a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!’”
Whips swap for scourages. Government control and coercion to a whole new level. This testosterone speech, “My little finger is bigger than my dad’s waste” appeals to the king’s pride and desire for power. So he rejected the ideas of serving his people, shriking his government, and restoring freedom to God’s nation. He further risked this once in a life time moment to reunite the nation’s two bickering halves.
12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had directed, saying, “Come back to me the third day.” 13 Then the king answered the people roughly, and rejected the advice which the elders had given him; 14 and he spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!”15 So the king did not listen to the people;
This sounds a lot like politics in America and every nation today. Leaders who “do not listen to the people.” One person gets in charge from either party, consolidates power for themselves, doles out special favors to one particular group by taking away the prosperity and liberty of others; and the audience begins a revolt. The delicate potential for unifying the country came crashing to a halt. Rather than appealing to everyone to have an impartial rule of law, liberty, and conscience, the King chose control. The tighter he tried to control his people, the more people he lost. He should have adhered to the words of God, the elders of Solomon, and perhaps that great line from Princess Leia to Darth Vadar in Star Wars IV:
Princess Leia Organa: The more you tighten your grip, Lord Vadar, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.
For more information, check out www.godonomics.com Session 4 What Would God Say to FDR or Session 6 What Would God Say to the IRS? Or check out this video clip