1 Kings 12 describes the reign of Rehoboam, who succeeds Solomon on the throne of Israel. But Rehoboam is immediately faced with an important decision: will he lighten the load of service Solomon heaped upon the people? With Jeroboam standing on deck waiting to lead a revolt, Rehoboam’s answer will determine not only the success of his administration but also the future of Israel as a united kingdom.
Rehoboam consults his father’s trusted advisors and their counsel is for the young king to speak “good words” (v7) to the people. In essence, these men see the wisdom in alleviating the burdensome load of the previous administration’s policy. But rather than heeding this sage advice, Rehoboam then turns to his younger advisors — “young men who had grown up with him” (v8). And they counsel the young king to ratchet up the intensity. “If Solomon’s reign was burdensome, then you must assert yourself as an even stronger force. You must not show weakness. You must demonstrate strength through discipline.”
Now, remember: these older advisors were men who counseled Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived! Instead of heeding their wisdom, Rehoboam opts for the strategic counsel of his childhood friends! Solomon’s first official decision in office (at least recorded in Scripture) was the wise ruling in the case of the two prostitutes in 1 Kings 3. We contrast this decision with Rehoboam’s first ruling and we see a monarch wholly unfit to rule over Israel.
We live in times where the voices of our elders are constantly minimized and marginalized. Youth is celebrated in our times — you need look no further than our magazine covers and billboards. Has any other culture tried so desperately to stem the tide of advancing age? Earlier societies considered wrinkles and greying hair as signs of esteem. Yet we’re obsessed with anti-aging products and plastic surgery.
All of which would be fine, I suppose, if we actually made room for wisdom. The problem with being young is this: you don’t know anything. Every society on earth has benefited from the wisdom and experience of elders, of those who teach us by their own scars and bruises. What happens to a society when the advice of its elders is consistently ignored? What happens to a people when the wisdom of its elders is lost? We shall soon find out.
In the book of Proverbs, much of the recorded wisdom is embodied in the voice of the father speaking to his son. It would be the height of arrogance for the son to ignore these pearls of knowledge. Yet, this is precisely Rehoboam’s failing as a leader. Can we learn from his example?