Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
One of the facts I remember and retained from elementary school is that the purchase of the Alaska Territory by the United States from the Russian Empire was known as “Seward’s Folly.” $7 million for a frozen wasteland thousands of miles from Washington, D.C., right after the Civil War surely must have seemed bizarre (at the time, it was also called [President Andrew] “Johnson’s Polar Bear Garden” and “Walrussia,” among other things)(a few details from History.com). History has long since vindicated the wisdom of Seward’s vision.
Rehoboam’s folly was folly from beginning to end. Though God’s foreknowledge and providence caused Him to work through these events to keep His promise of bringing the Messiah, Rehoboam was no willing accomplice. Instead, he committed an inexcusable blunder that proved him to be an apple falling light years from his father’s tree. How could he be so foolish?
First, let’s quickly review what happened. Jeroboam hears about Solomon’s death, and he leaves his exile in Egypt to return to Israel. The nation had high regard for the son of Nebat and summoned him to go with a delegation of them to ask Rehoboam to lighten the yoke of taxation his father, Solomon, had levied on them in order to fund the building projects the chief of which were his own house and the temple (cf. 9:15). Rehoboam asked for three days to consider their request. When they return in three days, he not only refused their request but answered them harshly (10).
So what contributed to his foolhardy decision at the start of his reign? There are several implications. Cronyism appears to have played a part. He favored the flatterers from among his own friends and associates, “who grew up with him” (10).
Ego likewise factors in. Their flattering suggestion was to tell the people, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions” (10-11).
Akin to cronyism was his bias against the older, wiser counselors who served his father. It’s certainly not unique to Rehoboam to consider the counsel of the aged to be out of touch and irrelevant (cf. Job 12:12).
Then, there was a lack of empathy. Leadership is doomed where leaders fail to hear and grasp the plight of the people.
Finally, there was divine foreknowledge. God knew the arrogance and pride of Rehoboam and He used it to fulfill His divine will. The writer ends the paragraph, saying, “So the king did not listen to the people; for it was a turn of events from the Lord, that He might establish His word, which the Lord spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (15).
God’s people today do well to revisit the folly of Rehoboam in order to be reminded of the wisdom of impartiality, humility, empathy, and compassion. Failure to do so is foolish indeed!