Friday 1st November The State We’re In….The End of Empire
1 Kings 12: 1 – 15
Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, ‘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.’ He said to them, ‘Go away for three days, then come again to me.’ So the people went away.
Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?’ They answered him, ‘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 for ever.’ But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. He said to them, ‘What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, “Lighten the yoke that your father put on us”?’ The young men who had grown up with him said to him, ‘Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, “Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us”; thus you should say to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now, 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.”’
So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had said, ‘Come to me again on the third day.’ The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, ‘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.’ So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfil his word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.
People all over the country are feeling the strain. Work is crippling with long hours and low pay. Housing is poor. Food is scarce for many. People are barely getting by and they are being made to work ever harder by a leader who wants only to increase his own power and influence and the wealth of his followers. The leader is presented with legitimate demands by representatives of the people to improve their working conditions in return for greater productivity and loyalty and he takes advice from the wise old men who have seen it all before. They council mercy, but the bullish new leader, keen to show just how tough he is, listens to his younger advisors who are keen to get more as quickly as they can, and at any cost. They even countenance further enslaving their own people as well as the foreigners they have already forced into punishing jobs that the locals don’t want to do. And they say the Bible has nothing to say about current affairs!
Empire is attractive. At least for those who are in charge and those who benefit from the exploitation of others. But what happens when those who are at the sharp end decide that enough is enough?
What happens when a different story about who we are and what is important begins to take hold? A story that says that everyone belongs, that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. That the resources of the country should be for the benefit of all the people, not just some of them. It’s no surprise that when two groups of people see themselves in very different ways that separation would be on the agenda.
In Rehoboam’s time that’s exactly what happened. The Northern and Southern parts of the Kingdom split because people eventually decide that enough is enough.
As Burns wrote:
O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us, An’ foolish notion: What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us, An’ ev’n devotion!
God of all, not just me, not just people like me, not even of just the people I like, you have given us the power to see ourselves as others see us.
When we look hard enough our differences fall away and we see that we are all made in your image, precious and loved by you.
Open our eyes to each other and our hearts. Amen
The Rev’d Stewart Cutler is minister of St Ninian’s Church in Stonehouse – a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the Church of Scotland and the URC.
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