Rehoboam: The Scorpion King

There’s nothing quite as important as a first impression. Now depending on the personalities involved, you may be able to recover to some degree, but first impressions are rarely forgotten. In the Scriptures, we find that one of Rehoboam’s first acts as king (insofar as the Bible records for us) was an absolute train wreck. The newly minted, son of Solomon, could not have exemplified a lack of wisdom better than his first opportunity to manage people. As we consider the life of Rehoboam, we learn about a mixed figure, who believes in God, but clearly not enough.

If you remember, Rehoboam is the son of Solomon. As David’s grandson, Rehoboam was crowned king. But the kingdom was doomed to be violently ripped away from the family of David because of Solomon’s sins. Jeroboam was anointed as king over the remaining 10 tribes of Israel, leaving Judah to the sons of David.

What did Rehoboam do that was so foolish? He trusted his younger friends instead of the elders. Now we cannot begin with the assumption that all elderly people are godly. You likely know some elderly people who are immensely godless. In the same way, you likely know some younger people who are like Josiah and Timothy. Sadly, in Rehoboam’s case, we find no godly counselors among the young.

Why did Rehoboam need godly counselors? Solomon had overworked the people, and they sought a lightened load from their new king. The elders encouraged Rehoboam to heed the workers request, and in doing so, secure his legacy with them. But his younger cohorts advised him to crush the request like a bug. Rehoboam went with the latter option saying, “My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” (1 Kings 12:14 ESV)

As soon as Rehoboam uttered these words, his kingdom was torn. The people rebelled in murderous rage. The king fled in fear. The outcome is immortalized for posterity’s benefit in 1 Kings 12:19, “So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.” (ESV)

One observation we ought to make from this text is that God is always faithful to His word. God had promised Solomon that his line would be punished for his idolatry. God spoke through the prophet Ahijah and fulfilled His promise down the last mark. He even informed Rehoboam of this reality in 1 Kings 12:23-24.

We also learn that Rehoboam’s great tragedy stemmed from his success. We learn about his hubris from these haunting words, “When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him.” (2 Chron. 12:1 ESV) His godlessness was visualized by the horrifying atrocities committed in Israel (1 Kings 14:22-24). God even used Egypt to plunder His own people as punishment (1 Kings 14:25-26).

What do we learn from this tragedy? We are never more likely to abandon God than when we are doing well. We see this every day from individuals who are too busy for God, whose lives are going so well that they don’t see a need for anything else. Every time we place ourselves in the driver’s seat of our hearts, spiritual catastrophe is sure to follow. In other words, God grants us the desires of our hearts. If you want to live without God, you may just find that He’ll give you what you desire most. Our pride must be rooted in God’s work and character. Pride rooted anywhere else is certain to fail us, and leave us hollow.

Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he became king. He had more than enough time to familiarize himself with God’s Word. He should have known better. However, he listened to his friends and cared more about what they thought, then what the older and more experienced counselors said. We have a cautionary tale then of the dangers of embracing popularity over wisdom and truth.

Today we learn of our own need for humility, wisdom, and courage. Humility to admit that we do not know everything that there is to know. Wisdom to admit our need godly counselors and teachers. Courage to stand against the deluge of stupidity that regularly flows out of the mouths of fools. These gifts are ours but only in Christ who “became to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30) Why only in Christ? He is Wisdom personified and no man can come to the source of wisdom, that is, the fear of God, apart from the work of Christ, David’s greater Son.