The Folly of Unwise Counsel
2 Chronicles 10:1-19 (ESV)
Introduction: Example of Unwise Decisions
Many of us have probably done things that were not very wise. I imagine the wisdom, or lack of it, of a particular decision, is not always apparent to us at the time. My life is replete with instances of unwise decisions, some I would just like to forget. I am sure my wife could probably mention many of these, even some that I have conveniently forgotten. I do remember not too long ago, I brought home my father’s wooden gun cabinet. It had stood in my parent’s house for years without incident. This cabinet had a door that was framed in wood with a glass insert, which allowed you to see what was displayed inside. Well, I brought the cabinet home, late one night, and thought I would just leave it faced up on the back of our truck until morning. It was late and I just wanted to wait until the next day to bring it into the house. But I was thoughtful. I carefully covered the cabinet, front and back, with several comforters, feeling sure that would keep it safe. And safe it was…until…our 13lb cat, who we allow to roam outside, decided to jump onto the cabinet. Needless to say, the glass insert didn’t stand a chance, the glass was shattered, made a complete mess, and now I have to replace it.
As unwise as the gun cabinet incident was, it probably does not come close to this next story. When I was in college, I had a red 2-door Nissan Pulsar with T-Tops. I loved that car. I would often drive to school with the tops off, enjoying the cool brisk air running through the car. One night I decided to ride home from school with the tops off…so, while I was driving on Interstate 95, I decided to remove the tops from the car. I reached up pulled the handle to unlock it, and to my complete surprise the top proceeded to fly backwards off of the car and onto the road. I held onto it as long as I could, all of about 5 seconds or so, and finally had no choice but to let it go. Cruising 60mpg on the open road is not really conducive to removing the tops from a car. I wish I knew that at the time. I remember looking into my driver side mirror and seeing sparks emanating on the road from what used to be the roof of my car. Well, I pulled over and tried to find what was left of it, but it was nighttime and I could not find it. So, I drove on home, with half a roof on my car, got home, and proceeded through the living room in search of a flashlight. My father, who was sleeping on the couch, was awaken from my entering the house. He saw the commotion of my searching for a flashlight and asked what I was doing. Have you ever had those situations where you really wished you didn’t have to explain what you were doing? That was one of them. I told my father that was looking for a flashlight, and then continued my search. That answer did not satisfy him. So, he asked me why I was looking for a flashlight. I can still hear his response when I told him that I lost the roof of my car while driving home.
I am sure that if I had asked my father whether I should remove the T-Top from a car while driving, he would have lovingly imparted his wisdom to me and instructed me to not do such a foolish thing. I think wisdom is proportional to one’s age. The older you become, the wiser you should be. I hope that I am now wiser than I was when I was driving with half a roof. Of course, neither of these examples really had any consequence except for in my own life. As far as I know, neither the gun cabinet incident nor the T-Top incident was a threat to peace between me and anyone else or a threat to national security. However, the passage we read earlier is an example of how an unwise decision can have devastating impact on a nation. After his father’s death, Rehoboam, the new king of Israel, had an opportunity to keep the nation together and to earn the people’s trust. However, as we read, he chose a different path. The title of this sermon is “The Folly of Unwise Counsel”, but it could easily be “The Man Who Divided a Nation.”
Our passage this morning begins with “all of Israel” gathering for the coronation of their new king, Rehoboam. The use of the phrase “all Israel” here is quite deliberate and refers to all of the tribes of Israel. The whole nation came to celebrate their new king. Rehoboam had inherited all of his wealth, honor, and title from his father, Solomon, and was to be the ruler of God’s chosen people. Along with these however, Rehoboam had also inherited some of the promises of God. One promise was something he probably received with great pleasure. This promise was given to his grandfather David a few decades earlier in 2 Samuel 7:16,
“Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever."
Rehoboam probably felt very secure in this promise. After all, God had promised to establish David’s throne and had said that he would always have descendants that would rule in Israel. Some may consider this “job security”. Of course, we know that Jesus, a descendant of David, would eventually become the fulfillment of that promise, the King whose throne will never end.
Rehoboam also inherited another promise. This one had been given to Solomon because Solomon turned from God and worshipped other gods in his later years. Consequently, God told Solomon that he was going to tear the kingdom from him and give it to his servant. In 1 Kings 11:31-32, God tells us,
31 …Ahijah [the prophet] said to Jeroboam, “…for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes 32 but [Solomon] shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel,”
While Rehoboam inherited all of Israel, he was living under the promise that some day it would be divided. As God said, most of Israel would be torn away from either his or his descendant’s hand, and would be given to someone who was not from David’s lineage. I am sure that this second promise was not a very pleasant one to Rehoboam.
We read that this did happen to Rehoboam. What caused the promise of the kingdom being torn away to be fulfilled during Rehoboam’s reign? More importantly, why did it occur so suddenly in his reign? He had just been made king when these events occurred. Well, I think the passage reveals some things about this event and the mistakes that Rehoboam made. These mistakes stand as an example and a warning to us in how we should live our lives.
When Solomon died, the people of Israel were ready to support their new king. We already mentioned that “all Israel had come…to make [Rehoboam] king.” They only asked from their new king for some assurances. They said to Rehoboam,
4 “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.”
The “heavy yoke” and “hard service” which the people are referring to are most probably the forced labor and high taxes that Solomon imposed on them. Solomon had conscripted many people and laid many taxes, some to complete his various building projects, including the Great Temple in Jerusalem. Their request doesn’t seem to be particularly unreasonable.
In what appears to be the only wise thing he did, Rehoboam waited three days before replying to the people and then sought the advice of the elders who served with his father Solomon. They were no doubt familiar with Solomon’s practices, both good and bad, and had a lot of useful information and a wealth of experience to impart to Rehoboam. They advised him to react sympathetically to the demands of the people. They said,
“If you will be good to this people and please them and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.”
I like the way the passage in 1 Kings 12:7 renders this…
7…“If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.”
Perhaps to Rehoboam, this may not have seemed like very good advice for a new king of a nation. After all, shouldn’t the king be a strong leader? Should he ever be perceived as being weak? Maybe Rehoboam thought this. However, we know there is nothing weak about being kind to one another, even for a leader. We are even told to serve one another. Wasn’t it the King of Kings who came to serve? No, being a servant is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. Rehoboam apparently did not see this.
Instead, he turned to the young men with whom he had grown up. They, like him, probably had been born into wealth and may have had little compassion for the common people. These young men advised him to say,
11“Whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.”
This isn’t very compassionate at all. A scorpion was a painful whip with points on it and was a symbol of extremely severe treatment. This advice sharply contrasts the wise counsel of the elders and most likely shows the differences in age, experience, and perspective. Rehoboam rejects the advice of the elders and instead chooses to follow the advice of the younger men. It begs the question as to why Rehoboam did this.
- Was he not really interested in the advice of the elders?
- Was he only willing to accept advice if it matched his own will?
- And, did he really think that responding so harshly to the people was the best action?
Well, as we can expect, the response from the people was less than favorable. They answered him saying, “We have no portion in David, in Jesse’s son! To your tents, O Israel.” They had heard enough and were not willing to endure any more hardship. Their rejection is also poetic. It is the antithesis of the statement declared by Israel when they accepted David as king in 1 Chron. 12:18,
We are yours, O David!
We are with you, O son of Jesse!
When Israel rejected Rehoboam, they said,
What portion have we in David?
We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse
The N. tribes were no doubt discouraged by Rehoboam’s response. The people had come to their new king, stated their support of him, but wanted to relieve the burdens which their previous king had laid upon them. They were met with harshness and arrogance. One commentator I read said that Rehoboam “failed” to win the support of the N. Israelites. That’s an understatement! It was as if he didn’t even try to win their support. Rather, he tried to force it.
We should understand this. Something similar happened in American history. In the late 1700s, the American colonies tried to petition King George of England to lighten their yoke. They believed the rights of Englishmen who lived on the motherland were theirs to enjoy as well. The king answered them by trying to force their submission through military might. It was not that the American colonists failed to attempt a peaceful resolution. But, the American response to military submission was one which left England and her American colonies forever divided. King George could have taken a lesson from Rehoboam’s life.
So, Israel did split, and the N. tribes were torn from Rehoboam. After leaving Rehoboam for their homes, the N. Israelites appointed a man named Jeroboam as their king. You may recall his name. He was the one whom God promised through Ahijah the prophet that he would receive the 10 tribes of Israel after God tore them from Solomon. As if this is not bad enough, the situation worsens. The Temple is still located in Jerusalem which is in Judah, which was ruled by Rehoboam. Fearing that N. Israel may return to Rehoboam because the Temple is in Jerusalem, Jeroboam erected two new temples, one in Dan (north) and the other in Bethel (south). But he doesn’t stop there. He then made two golden calves and told the people that they do not need to worship God. Jeroboam even claimed that it was these golden calves which brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt.
The consequences of Rehoboam’s folly are devastating. His unwise decision not only brings about the division of the nation, but indirectly leads to the spiritual destruction of its people. Now, I am not suggesting the all of Israel’s problems that occurred after the split were the fault of Solomon and his son Rehoboam. But consider this, might the split of the kingdom of Israel have been avoided had Solomon managed to teach some of his earlier wisdom to Rehoboam and if Rehoboam had actually heeded this wisdom and the wise counsel of the elders? It just might have! The whole incident of Israel dividing raises questions about where the responsibility for the division lay. In one sense the northern tribes, unwilling to continue under the harsh conditions imposed on them, brought about the rebellion. But, in another sense Rehoboam and his young “unwise” advisors brought it about through their heartless and stubborn attitudes. There can be little doubt that selfishness and arrogance prevailed in Rehoboam.
The text maintains the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility that pervades Scripture. While God indeed punished Israel for Solomon’s idolatry, it was through Rehoboam’s unwise actions that brought it to fruition. Rehoboam did surround himself with counselors, even wise ones, but he did not heed the wise counsel that was given. Also, he asked the advice of both the elders and the young men. But did he ask the advice of God or pray for the direction of God? It may be said that God permitted him to have what he was set on doing, as God permitted the Israelites to have a king they were set on having. Rehoboam did not heed the wise counsel given to him, and hardened his heart like Pharaoh. And, we read the full effect of this in the last verse, which says the N. Israelites had been in rebellion for over 500 years.
What lessons can we learn from the life of Rehoboam?
1. We should seek God’s will and not our own – When we face those crossroads in our lives, or are presented with difficult decisions; seek God’s will through prayer.
2. Seek the advice of wise counsel – Some of the best assets God gives us are the wisdom and experience of our elders. We should take advantage of this valuable resource.
- Be thankful for wise counsel and be thankful for our elders. They are gifts from God
3. Humble ourselves before God – Do not allow pride to hinder wise decisions. The Bible says...
Pride goes before destruction (Prov. 16:18) and …One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor (Prov. 29:23).
The consequence of forsaking wisdom is to “eat the fruit of [our] way, and have [our] fill of [our] own devices.” Rehoboam certainly ate the fruit of his own decision.
We should be thankful we live in a country that has limited representative government. We can hire and fire our leaders, and should hold them accountable for their decisions. We should be thankful for good leadership, admonish bad leadership, and always pray for our leaders.
Jesus Lightens our Yoke and Gives Us Rest
For those of us who like the Israelites say their yoke is heavy and the work is hard, remember that there is one who is gentle, who came to serve, and to save that which is lost.
Jesus said, “28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
This is good news, thanks be to God. Amen!
Perhaps you are here today with a great burden and want to know how to relieve it.
Perhaps you are ready to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.
Perhaps you would like to know more about this savior who came to serve.
Please…come talk to me or to any of our deacons. We would love to tell you the good news that we know changes lives.
[Hymn of Response]
Thompson, J. A. (2001, c1994). Vol. 9: 1, 2 Chronicles (electronic ed.). Logos Libary System; The New American Commentary (250). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph, Biblical Literacy, p. 252.
The Pulpit Commentary: 2 Chronicles. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (123). Bellingham, WA.
House, P. R. (2001, c1995). Vol. 8: 1, 2 Kings (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (182). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
The Pulpit Commentary: 2 Chronicles. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (122). Bellingham, WA.
 Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)