After the death of King Solomon, his son Rehoboam became king of the nation of Israel, all 12 tribes. But the kingdom would divide not long after the young king took the throne. In the failure of Rehoboam, there is something for us to learn about leading people.
Now, let me say from the outset that this passage is not primarily intended to be a lesson on leadership. I get that. This passage is here to show us how God fulfilled his words to divide the nation of Israel into two kingdoms because of the rebellion of Solomon. King Solomon disobeyed God’s commands not to marry women from other nations whose religions would lead him away from the Lord. Solomon, because of his attachment to these women, brought their idolatry into the land of Israel. This is why the kingdom was divided. (It would also make a great passage about why we do not intentionally marry someone who is not committed to Christ if we are believers.)
When Rehoboam took charge of the kingdom, his subjects were weary. They had worked under Solomon to build the temple of God and Solomon’s palace. He had arranged them into labor groups to help build and secure the kingdom. But the people had worked hard with little relief from the burden.
So, when Rehoboam took over, the people approached him with a request. They wanted him to lighten their load. They let him know that, would he give them a little more rest, they would be able to serve him better.
What should the young king do? What would a good leader do? Rehoboam asked counsel, a good idea. He asked two groups for their advice. The older counselors told Rehoboam that, if he lightened the workload, the people would love him and be faithful to him. The younger counselors told Rehoboam to crack the whip and make their workload even harder to show them who is boss.
1 Kings 12:14 – he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.”
And we see how Rehoboam responded. He let the people know that there will be no breaks. They will serve him or else. And, if you follow the story, you will see that the next thing that happens is that 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel leave Rehoboam and form the northern kingdom.
AS I said, this is about God’s plan for Israel. But we can learn something about leading others in the process. Bad leaders try to squeeze every last ounce of work out of people until they are wrung dry. Then they berate their followers for their fatigue, cast them aside, and look for new people to use. This is what Rehoboam was doing, and it was disastrous for him. And this is what many people who are in positions of leadership in the church do to their own detriment.
Have you served in such a church? Have you ever served under a pastor who only piles on the work? Have you ever found yourself just plain tired and wishing that the church, for a season, could give you a little time of rest and refreshing? That is a hard place to be.
Are you a leader in the church? How do you treat those you are trying to motivate? Do you concern yourself with their fatigue? Do you invest in your followers and insure that they take down-time? Or are you only worried about getting every last little bit of work out of them before they finally give up on you and the ministry?
Friends, may we lead with greater love and greater wisdom than Rehoboam. May we invest in our best so that they can continue to be solid and helpful leaders. May we not tire them to the point of burn out. May we not drain people dry and cast them aside. May we instead find, as the older counselors told Rehoboam, that there is growth and life in giving people relief. May we see that the work matters, for sure, but that the work will not get done at the hands of people who are scraping the bottom of their physical and emotional and spiritual barrel just to show up. May we love others by refreshing their souls long before we dry them out.