How quickly things can change! Last week we were looking at how the Israelites had been unified under a new king. The northern and southern kingdoms were unified and people were celebrating not only King David, but they were dancing in the streets as the ark of the covenant was returned to Jerusalem. God was now the centre of their nation once again!
David had a son, Solomon. Solomon became king and built a beautiful temple to hold the ark. But he also went on to build an even greater mansion for himself to live in. His father, David, was a good king, for the most part. But Solomon began to be slowly poisoned by the power and riches of the kingdom. By the end of his reign he began to lose the respect of his people.
When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, was installed as king, things were bad. Slavery was pretty much the norm as the kings now saw their people as more of a labour force for their own using as opposed to people who had much more to offer.
The people come to Rehoboam after he was installed as king and ask for leniency. They said, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.”
The people were tired of an oppressive king and seek a better life. Rehoboam needs time to consider this so asks for a few days to answer.
In those few days he approaches those who had worked with his father, Solomon, and asks what he should do. Solomon was the one who created this heavy yoke for the people, and those who were with him said that Rehoboam should lighten their workload. They told the king he should be a servant to the people and not expect the people to serve him. If he sets a good example, then the people will return in kind.
Rehoboam didn’t like that advice so asks his friends what he should do. They said quite the opposite, they suggest he should make the people work even harder! They even suggest he should insult his father’s memory by saying, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins.” This is a rather PG translation of the insult.
The king follows the advice of his friends, he makes life harder for his people, he disciplines them much more harshly.
The memory of the dancing in the streets when his grandfather was king has become a distant memory. Among other things.
One thing I noticed as I read this week’s reading, in light of what we looked at last week, is God appears absent, hardly mentioned at all.
So what are we to take from this reading? If God is forgotten as the centre and source of life for this community, what can we learn?
When Rehoboam tells his people he will be even harder on them than his father, the people turn their back on him. In fact, it was his promise of harsher discipline which caused the nation to split. Once again it is north and south as people begin to leave with Jeroboam and build new cities.
Cities which also are absent of God as Jeroboam, in an effort to keep people from worshipping in Jerusalem, builds false gods for the people to worship. He builds them because he is worried the people will decide to stay under the rule of Rehoboam as they travel back and forth from the temple.
So here we have it, the nation is split and God has been forgotten and false gods are now being worshipped. All of this in less than two generations since they were united as one nation under God.
King David, called a man after God’s own heart, lived for the Lord as the centre of not only the nation but of his life. His sons have lost that tradition, that meaning in their lives. Things were going so well in the nation they felt they could do it all alone without the Lord.
It’s a common theme in the Bible. Things are going well and the people decide they are fine on their own, doing their own things, living their own lives, celebrating what they have done. But then they begin to make poor choices; sin enters their lives and they fall away from God. Greed and pride slip in and take over.
Rehoboam sees the people as game pieces in his life. The more work they do, the more they obey, the more he gets out of it. His sins of greed and pride take over and he forgot how God had brought them to this place of health and prosperity.
In a nation which would still have strong memories of when they were separate nations, this proved to be a costly decision to make. Rehoboam received good advice from his father’s advisors, but he chose to follow a greedy path. A path that gave Jeroboam just what he was looking for, a reason to gain more power.
Once Jeroboam saw the opening, he jumped at the chance, the kingdom was split once again. This time for good, there would be no reuniting of the people. The northern kingdom becomes Israel, and the southern is Judea.
The split is solidified when Jeroboam physically blocks people from taking their pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his army. There will be no leaving Israel to head into Judea. And he builds the golden calves for people to worship instead.
Remember what happened to the other golden calf in the Bible? Remember how the Israelites built a golden calf while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments. Remember when Moses returned and saw the people worshipping the calf he was enraged and destroyed it.
Anyone remember the very first commandment?
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
They’ve broken the very first law, and it would create a division that would never be reconciled.
It’s hard when we see people turn their back on our God. A God who not that long ago appeared to be such a strong influence in our society as well. Our churches were full just a few decades ago, but now we’re seeing them close quickly and many are struggling to stay open as people stay away and choose other priorities in their lives.
Those were times when our grandparents were still active and in leadership of the church, and now we are here and the world has chosen other gods to worship. A time when God’s name seems invoked most often when people curse. A violation of the third commandment, you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.
Even the funeral industry is seeing huge changes in the way people say good bye to their loved ones. It hasn’t quite hit here yet, but there have been a few instances of it. Gone are the times of religious traditions in saying good bye to our loved ones when they pass away.
Now people are opting for alternate celebrations, held in halls or restaurants or even bars. There’s no seeking of understanding or reaching out to God for strength in difficult times. Often when people leave these events there is a feeling something is missing. Sure they’ve had a few drinks to honour their fallen friend, but they often describe a hole, a void, and they don’t know what it is.
God isn’t our centre anymore.
People are relying on other people for support. We look to our government more and more to bail us out of these troubled times. You could even say we go as far as worshipping our political leaders. This was quite evident in the passion people held during this last election. We look to these leaders to lead us and tell us what we need to do.
We’ve build a society which seems to be for the sole benefit for those who hold the pursestrings of our communities. And we’ve seen what the power we’ve bestowed upon them can do to their lives.
Look at any Canadian government that finds itself in power for a long period of time. At some point scandal begins to infiltrate them. It happened with the Liberals, it happened with the Conservatives, give them too much power for too long and it corrupts.
Did they go into office with that mindset, I don’t believe they did. They ran for office because they wanted to make Canada a great nation. But then they get caught up in making bad decisions. They follow bad advice from those close to them.
Just like Rehoboam.
When we look to our political or business leaders for guidance, when we treat them as gods, then we get in trouble.
We need to focus on the One True God.
What did Jesus say when he sat with his disciples and James and John asked for priority seating at the table of the Lord? Jesus said,
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45)
It sounds a bit like the advice given by the advisors of Solomon when Rehoboam came to them for advice. They suggested Rehoboam be a servant to the people. I wonder how things might have turned out for the people if he had followed their advice?
How does one become truly great?
Jesus says “Be a servant to others.”
It’s what Jesus did.
His entire life he was a servant to people. He worked tirelessly to improve their lives and point them in the right direction. He invited people to come to him and to know his Father.
While Rehoboam decided to increase the weight of the yoke on the people, what did Jesus have to say?
In Matthew 11 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
What would Jesus have to say to Rehoboam when he sought advice in how to be king?
What would Jesus say to our leaders today if they went to him seeking advice on how to make Canada and the rest of the world a better place?
What would Jesus have to say to us if we were to follow his example in a community and a world full of pain and suffering?
We need God to be our centre.
We long for God to take control of our lives, for when we try to do it on our own, control is often the last thing we have.
Who are we?
Who do we follow?
Who is our leader, our example, our friend?
Is it Justin Trudeau, Stephen MacNeil or Cecil Clarke?
Or is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and our Saviour?
He is the one who gave his life for us. He is the one who died on the cross for us. He is the one who truly turned the world around for the better. He is the one who cared for the weak and vulnerable. He is the one who can lighten our yoke and help us carry our burdens. No one else can.
Without Jesus, without God, the world is a place where sin is abundant. A world where pride and greed are rampant, and people are forgotten.
With Jesus, with God, healing can happen. With Jesus people are made to feel included and worthy. With God, anything is possible.
As we celebrate three special occasions today, our confirmation class, our amalgamation with Wilson and with our 109th anniversary, let us remember Jesus is here, Jesus will lead us, and Jesus will walk with us through good times and bad.
When we have decisions to make, when we need to consider options which can impact the lives of others in this world…
Let us seek to follow the one who gives life, Jesus Christ our Lord.