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Often, when I am studying the Old Testament books of history, I marvel at how similar to today are the challenging situations faced by the people and their responses to those challenges. Although the types of challenges may be different, human nature hasn’t changed one bit. And, the choice in every situation back then or today is this: On whom will you rely? Will you rely on God and obey Him regardless of what the culture says? Or, will you rely on your own reasoning and side with the world?
One very good example from the Old Testament is found in 2 Chronicles 10-12. The political pressures on the people created a challenge for them that revealed their need to focus on the right things.
The challenge revealed the need to focus.
In 2 Chronicles 10:6-16, newly-crowned King Rehoboam chose the bad advice of his peers rather than the wisdom of the elders who were the advisors and leaders of people in his land. There was already bad blood between the northern 10 tribes and the southern two tribes (Judah and Benjamin). The farther away the tribes settled from the central point of worship first at Shiloh then at Gibeah and now at Jerusalem, the less the people were engaged in true YHWH worship. Eighty years earlier, the northern tribes took 7 years to embrace David as their king. Finally they did. David and Solomon maintained unity through victory over enemies, resulting in peace and prosperity. But, was it ever unity of heart to serve God together?
Here in 2 Chronicles 10:1-5, Rehoboam calls together all Israel including Jeroboam (whom God had chosen to lead the northern ten tribes already). What they say puzzles me. “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” I thought only the non-Israelites had done the harsh labor on all Solomon’s building projects. Apparently, that was not so. Perhaps the complaint was on high taxes to pay for all that building and Solomon’s extravagant lifestyle. What were they really seeking from Rehoboam? Did they really want to serve him and keep Israel united? Or, was this a trap? What was their focus?
Lose focus by listening to the wrong peer group.
Regardless, Rehoboam consulted the elders who advised him to be kind to the people and give them a favorable answer (2 Chronicles 10:7). “Endear yourself to them; stimulate a desire in them to serve you as king.” Did these elders know Rehoboam’s character well? Was his tendency to be harsh and unkind?
Rehoboam, who was 41 at this time—no 20-something like his father was at coronation—didn’t like that answer. He “rejected” it! Not even considered it. His mind was already made up. Then he consulted “the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him (2 Chronicles 10:8).” Men of his generation. Not teenagers but full grown men. Their advice was for Rehoboam to be even more harsh than Solomon had been. “Be the big bad king, Rehoboam!”
My first thought was that these peers were rich-kid, spoiled brats who were totally out of touch with the reality of the people. They weren’t supporting Rehoboam to be the servant leader that David’s support team did. Negative peer pressure. Only bad things happen with negative peer pressure.
My second thought was, “Rehoboam’s mother was an Ammonite (2 Chronicles 12:13).” Ammonites didn’t worship God. It matters who “your mama” is!
Rehoboam answered harshly to the northern tribes. They left for home, making Jeroboam their king, and began spiraling down toward pagan idolatry. This fulfilled the word of the Lord to Jeroboam (2 Chronicles 10:17).
God knew Rehoboam’s character. This was no surprise to God. God knew the nation was already divided in heart. His plan provided a leader for the northern tribes before this happened—Jeroboam. Yet, they remained a rebellious people. Chapter 10 ends with, “So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.” Though David had tried to be the priestly king for all the tribes, leading them to worship God with their hearts, many people just refused to change their hearts. But, God used that political situation for His good.
Regain focus through dividing the rebellious from the faithful.
In 2 Chronicles 11, we read that Rehoboam wanted to fight Jeroboam and get his people back. God said, “No!” “Do not go up to fight against your brothers. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.”
My limited scope of understanding doesn’t see how a nation divided is better than a nation united. But, I see God’s plan is to provide a remnant for Himself and root out the infection of the rebellious hearts.
Jeroboam (God’s own appointee!) didn’t want the people to go to Jerusalem any longer for their worship. So, he set up his own worship center, made goat and calf idols for the worship center, began sacrifices to them, and appointed his own priests. He set up a substitute religion! They were already prone to this. The opportunity sharpened their focus on God-substitutes. Didn’t God know Jeroboam’s heart?! Of course, He did. Jeroboam might have started out responsive to God’s call, but when placed in a position of power, his arrogance led him away from God.
But, those who wanted to stand firm with God did not put up with it. The priests and Levites from those northern tribes abandoned their ancestral properties and came to Judah and Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 11:13-14). “Those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices to the Lord,” strengthening the kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 11:16-17).
God allows suffering to help His people regain focus.
Rehoboam’s heart was no better than Jeroboam’s. According to 2 Chronicles 12:1, he “abandoned the law of the Lord.” For whom or what? You don’t leave one worship without replacing it. Probably for his own way of approaching life. So God abandoned them for a time and allowed Shishak, the king of Egypt, to attack Judah (verse 5).
Sadly, all those beautiful treasures of the Temple were carried away to Egypt. The Ark, too? All that work of Solomon destroyed in an instant!
Only after this did Rehoboam and Judah’s leaders humble themselves and turn to the Lord. God’s answer to their prayer was, “I will not destroy them but will soon give them deliverance…They will become subject to him, so that they may learn the difference between serving me and serving the kings of other lands (2 Chronicles 12:7-8).” Forsake God and become subject to another ruler. Ah ha! So, they may learn the difference…
Wisdom for us
The political situation leading to the divided kingdom, as awful as it looked, served to further God’s purposes for Israel. He does that today as well. God places His people in tough situations so they must choose whether to trust Him or rebel against Him.
We don’t like controversy or conflict. But, it is during those times that the “cream rises to the top.” The remnant of faithful God followers emerges. That kind of political pressure sharpens our focus and leads us back to relying on God more than on ourselves or worldly influences.