“And Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty and one years old when he began to reign: and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which the Lord did choose out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there; and his mother’s name was Naamah, an Ammonitess.”-I KINGS xiv, 21.
THE history of Rehoboam’s rash conduct at the commencement of his reign yields a lesson of deep significance; it is a history of the result of ruling without affection. He had succeeded to a glorious. heritage. His father and grandfather had consolidated the kingdom and extended the influence of Israel far and wide. The incident of the Queen of Sheba coming to learn the wisdom of Solomon shews that distant Abyssinia had heard of the fame and glory of the realm which owned the line of David for its monarchs.
Though the extent of Israel forbids a comparison with many ancient empires, or with the stupendous monarchies or republic of modern times, yet it had become a great and splendid kingdom for its epoch, and it had one glory peculiarly its own-one surpassing every other-the glory of being the depository of the Word of God. A thoughtful, wise, and prudent king had. a wide career for good before him, yet Rehoboam threw his opportunity away, and dwarfed his kingdom to a comparatively small sovereignty, entailing also many generations of quarrel, and conflict in which Judah vexed Ephraim and Ephraim weakened Judah. The adage “Divide and rule” was exemplified in many an invasion and disaster which Israel suffered, including captivity and exile and the numberless sorrows of contention and animosity where all ought to have been union and peace.
The circumstances suggest that there was a species of election in the succession of the kings. “Jeroboam and the congregation of the people came and spake to Rehoboam,” and proposed their terms, which were very reasonable. His father’s government had degenerated, and become burdensome to the subjects. With a new reign they desired new and easier regulations. Certainly this was a natural expectation, and with a new monarch, unfettered by old ties and associations, not a difficult achievement. The experienced counsellors of his father were strongly in favour of meeting the just wishes of the people, and the king took three days to consider the matter fully. At the end of that time, when the assembly of the people again demanded his answer, the monarch preferred the folly of reckless insolence to the wise courtesy at experienced age, and gave the bitter reply, “My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” Ten of the tribes, disgusted and outraged by so wild and rash a reply, refused their allegiance to a person so full of harshness and bitterness, and commenced under Jeroboam a separate national existence, adding another illustration to, the many which the history of other lands affords, that pride is the highway to destruction, and that the spirit which would usefully rule others must ever commence by ruling itself. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted, and he that exalteth himself shall be humbled.”
When all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them the people answered the king, saying, “What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel! now see to thine house, David:”
Of course kings rule, and the great have their privileges for the good of the universal people. When they forget this, and rule not for the public good, but for the gratification of self and selfish lusts, they destroy the reason and the basis or their exalted position, and justly forfeit the advantages they abuse. Monarchs, like the Sabbath, were made for man , and they ought in all their relations and activities, public and private, to remember that they are clothed with especial advantages that they may promote the general good. When they forget this they forget the very law of their being, and may most righteously be set aside.
So Rehoboam lost the greater part of his dominion, and so will selfish domination ever lead to its own curtailment and ruin. Oh, that men would learn that the true law of greatness and happiness is to minister to the happiness of others. The Lord Himself ministers to all. He serves the meanest insect and the feeblest worm; His angels are ministers serving each other and ministering to man. The reward an angel seeks who has bestowed some good on another, is to be permitted to do the like again. The ministries of loving usefulness one to the other are the very balsam and blessedness of society: they yield a sense of security, satisfaction, and peace, while they secure progress and fill the world with beauty and with good.
No one is wise, rich, or great for himself alone, but for the use which he can perform and the good he can communicate to others. The delight of the love of uses is a heavenly delight. “Love and wisdom exist and subsist in usefulness, and the use consists in a faithful, sincere, and diligent discharge of the duties of our calling.” What great and numerous delights therefore wait upon the office of a king, if in all his acts he is guided by the law, and animated by justice and judgment. What beneficence will abound in his kingdom, where freedom reigns protected by the power, and stimulated by the example of the just magistrate. How will the arts of peace flourish when all can feel that safety is ensured by the vigilant suppression of crime; and the constant smile of power on virtuous labour? A true king is a blessing to all his subjects, high and low: a selfish king is a universal blight. The one is like Solomo in all his glory, the other like the rash and miserable Rehoboam, a bane to his kingdom, an adept only at the baleful art of reducing a great state into small, jealous and opposing sections. On a wider sphere, however, must we now contemplate the sad state of things when love waxes cold, and hard vindictiveness takes the place of heaven-born charity. Israel was the type of the Christian Church. It was the type of that Church in its rise, in its mid-day glory and in its decay.
In the Christian Church there was a Divine David, a Divine Solomon: that is, Jesus was the Redeemer and the glorified Prince of Peace, and regarded by the Apostles and the majority of the Christians of the first three centuries as their All in all (Acts x. 36; CoL iii. 11), as the Father in the Son, THE DIVINE LOVE INCARNATE. He was succeeded by a harsh spirit in the Church, a bitter Rehoboam, Then first arose in the Christian Church harshness, the spirit of pride and the love of pre-eminence. This was for a time associated with the worship of Jesus but associated with disputes and bitterness concerning crceds which did. much to banish loving-kindness from the Christian assemblies, and instead of sympathy, gentleness, and devout spiritual-mindedness prevailing; there arose among Christians themselves, the old strifes with new names. Peace was again banished from the earth. Different modes of worshipping the Lord Jesus arose, some with more of ritual, some with less, some with semi-pagan rites, images, forms, and customs, but with Christian designations.
As there had been gods of different places, and presiding over different occupations and departments of life, so now there were introduced saints to be patrons of countries, cities, battles, trades, and occupations. St. James was supposed to fight desperately for Spain. St. George, who had been a soldier of very bad character in Cappadocia, was credited with being the champion of England. The old heathen worship of a queen of heaven, Ashtaroth, was continued, only devoted to the Virgin Mary. This state of things was symbolized and foreshadowed by the idolatry to which Solomon attached himself in his later years. But a time came when the proper liberty of the Lord Jesus was called in question altogether. Arius arose, and although he was combated and defeated in his attempt to set aside the worship of the Lord as Very God, yet, owing to the low, natural state of the Church, the worship of the Lord the Saviour, God manifested, was subordinated to the invisible and unknown God again. Jesus remained on the lips, but in the heart and in the conduct the God of the Church was the great and terrible God, whom men should fear and dread, and make other men fear and dread. This was the state of the Church represented by the reign of Rehoboam. Then came the idea of converting men by the persuasion of the sword, Then came crusades and persecutions, wars for religions, far more bitter than heathendom had ever waged, until it has been said with too much truth, that war is the normal state of Christianity. Truly of this degenerate condition of the Church may it be said as Rehoboam said, “My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins. And, now, whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips: but I will chastise you with scorpions.”
Let anyone read the terrible annals of France, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, or our own country even, and learn what cruelties Christians have inflicted upon Christians, and he will turn with horror and loathing from the cruel records and ask if this indeed be the religion of the merciful Saviour. Certainly it is not, it is the reign of Rehoboam, He was chastising the Church with scorpions.
This terrible condition of the Church, heathenism and cruelty gilded with Christian names, is clearly foreshadowed and foretold in the Word in many places, as well as here, by Rehoboam’s reign following Solomon’s in typical Israel. Our Lord said, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. xxiv. 12). Again,” When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place: whoso readeth, let him understand.” The abomination of desolation stands in the holy place when self-love stands in the centre of the Church, where the LOVE OF THE LORD JESUS alone should be.
The same impressive lesson was taught when the Lord said, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” For, what can be more manifest than that the SUN OF DIVINE LOVE, the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. iv. 2), had become darkened in the firmament of the Church, when the struggles for pre-eminence, with all its hates and animosities, its desolations and slaughters, had wasted the Church and so called Christian nations. Love was quenched in hate, revenge and massacre, The Church had become a pandemonium. Not the religion of Jesus, but the revenge of ferocity was there. In like manner, the moon of divine faith did not give her light. When love becomes cold, light becomes dim. Hear what a famous bishop, St. Hilary so-called, said of the Church when it had become political and merely natural: “It is a thing equally deplorable and dangerous, that there are at present as many creeds as there are opinions among men, as many doctrines as inclinations, and as many sources of blasphemy as there are faults among us; because we make creeds arbitrarily, and explain them as arbitrarily. As there is but one faith, so there is but one only God, one Lord, and one baptism. We renounce this one faith when we make so many different creeds, and that diversity is the reason why we have no true faith amongst us. We cannot be ignorant that since the Council of Nice we have done nothing but make creeds. And while we fight against words, litigate about new questions, dispute about equivocal terms, complain about authors, that everyone may make his own party triumph; while we cannot agree, while we anathematize one another, there is hardly one that adheres to Jesus Christ.” ” We make creeds every year, nay, every moon we repent of what we have done. We defend those that repent, we anathematize those we defended. So we condemn either the doctrine of others in ourselves, or our own in that of others; and reciprocally tearing one another to pieces, ” We have been the cause of each other’s ruin.” No friendly moon was shining then to light the spiritual traveller on his way. The darkness of folly had taken the place of the beautiful and blessed perceptions of true wisdom. The stars fell from heaven, and the powers of the heavens were shaken, that is, the blessed lights of Scripture, each verse shining like a star when truly regarded, became extinguished, or used only for selfish and earthly ends, the powers of heavenly virtue were all shaken and ready to perish. Then came the dark night or superstition and the terrible reign of ferocity. The dark places were full of cruelty. It was the time of Rehoboam and his successors. The reign of the Prince of Peace was over.
” Rehoboam was forty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem.” These figures intimate no doubt the literal times in relation to Rehoboam, and express them correctly; but they have also a spiritual and prophetic signification. Forty in Scripture is used to indicate a full state and period of tribulation, The rain in causing the flood fell forty days and forty nights: the children of Israel wandered forty years in the wilderness: the Lord fasted forty days. It was of Divine Providence that Rehoboam should be forty and one years old when he begun to reign, to indicate that when the Rehoboam state would come in the Church it would have endured a full wasting by tribulation; its spirituality would have departed, and a new condition had set in, a condition of the letter that killeth, of the letter perverted, materalized and misunderstood. Only when spiritual things had become desolated, and a state of superstition had set in was it possible to inaugurate the reign of cruelty in the Church. How terrible the change! The religion of meekness, of charity, of doing unto others as we would they should do unto us, of returning good for evil, of humility, of meekness and peace, was made into a reign of terror, of fires to burn heretics, of fiendish inquisitions, of massacre and death. Rehoboam was forty and one years old when he began to reign. Only when love to the Lord, true charity, and real faith had been fully wasted by persistent quarrels, and persevering bigotry, could hate and cruelty in the Church begin its rule.
The seventeen years he reigned in Jerusalem reminds us also of the seventeenth day of the month when all the fountains of the great deep were broken up in the days of Noah, and of the age of seventeen years attained by Joseph, when his great trials began. This number made up of ten and seven, in its spiritual sense implies the period of temptation and trouble for the good, who have however been mercifully prepared to endure it. His mother’s name was Naamah, an Ammonitess.
The Ammonites in the Church represent those who make creeds of trifles and are bitter for beliefs. Ammon originated in a dim cave and though near to the Israelites, the Ammonites were ever quarrelsome and opposed. No Ammonite was to come into the consecration of the Lord to the tenth generation (Deut. xxiii. 3). the Ammonites in the Church are the hairsplitters, the wranglers, those who neglect the sweet graces of charity, of deference, gentleness and peace, and are indifferent to integrity and genuine faithfulness to the duties of life. They are diligent to foment discord; ready to join in with the first dog that barks. Like the wasp which instantly perceives the slightest crack in the grape, and destroys the fruit, so the Ammonite fierce for his crotchet, however trifling it may be, destroys genuine religion in the bitter war of words; He strains at gnats, but swallows camels. He is ready to fight for what he calls his religion, but never attains the religion o! Humble love and genuine virtue. Concerning the Ammonites, thus saith the Lord, ” Hath Israel no sons’? Hath he no heir? Why then doth their king inherit Gad, and his people dwell in the cities?”
Rehoboam’s mother was an Ammonitess, to teach us that cruelty in the Church is born of the grim spirit of bigotry. The name Naamah means vehemently moving: and thus it denotes the eager energy of those who are fierce for their opinions, who disturb the world about their notions, but have little, very little to do with humility, wisdom, regeneration, and the thousand blessings at peace within and peace around.
And now let us gather the whole lesson to a close. The sum of it is this, woe comes to the Church when we depart from the sweet government of our blessed Saviour Himself, the Divine Prince of Peace, and let the spirit of despotism and domination take His place.
Of Solomon it is said, as the type of our blessed Lord, “He shall judge the poor of the people, He shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear Thee as long as the sun and the moon endure, THROUGHOUT ALL GENERATIONS. His name shall endure for ever: His name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in Him: all nations shall call Him blessed” (Psa. Lxxii. 4, 5, 17)· When the blessed Jesus is king in the Church His Holy Spirit descends “like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth: in His days do the righteous flourish, and there is abundance of peace” (ver. 6, 7). Why should we not all say “Reign for ever, Prince of Peace.” In Him is light, comfort, strength, and every blessing. What is there that the soul. cannot find by abiding in the Saviour alone? When He was on earth, the sick went to Him and were healed, the penitent went and had their sins forgiven, the lepers were cleansed, the lame were made to walk, and the dead were raised. He never directed the sorrowful soul to anyone else, for in Him was the Father of Mercy, from Him is His Holy Spirit. “
To the early disciples the Lord Jesus was all in all. He was their theme. He was their Guide, their Consoler, and their Helper. Let us now go back to Him. It was a sad thing for the Church that the easy yoke of the Redeemer was chanced for the grim rod of Rehoboam. Let us go back to Him, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and thus resume the longbroken connection, the centre of unity, love and peace.
How constantly He calls mankind to Himself ” Come unto ME all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. No man cometh unto the Father but by ME. Whosoever cometh unto ME I will in no wise cast him out. He that seeth ME, seeth Him that sent ME. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on ME should not abide in darkness. These things I have spoken unto you, that in ME ye might have peace.”
Even so, blessed Saviour, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, may Thy reign be perpetual! Govern and regenerate our hearts, diffuse thy love throughout our works and ways, raise us far above harshness and animosity, and let Thy Spirit of peace diffuse concord in our hearts, our homes, and throughout the world, that there may indeed be “one King over all the earth,” one blessed Lord, thy own reign, O Lord Jesus, and “His name One.”
Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)