Conflict is a huge part of life, don’t you think? Resolving conflict is probably one of the hardest tasks ever! Hurt feelings, power struggles, and misunderstandings often fester into resentment and bitterness if left unchecked. In the case of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, the kingdom of Israel is torn in two. Their story is far from the pattern for resolving disagreements that we might hope to find in the Bible, isn’t it? Instead, there are some deep, troubling issues that this story exposes about the root cause of conflict.
The first issue I see has to do with unmet expectations. When the prophet Ahijah told Jeroboam that he would be the future king, Jeroboam expectations seemed to go into overdrive. But he apparently wasn’t listening closely – or perhaps only heard what he wanted to hear. In 1 Kings 11:29 Ahijah clearly demonstrates the division that’s coming by tearing his new cloak into twelve pieces and giving Jeroboam only ten of them. Those pieces represent ten of the twelve tribes of Israel. And as if that warning of what’s to come isn’t clear enough, Ahijah also, speaking on behalf of God, says, “If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you.”
This is heady stuff for a young man to hear! How easy it would have been, you know, to focus on “build you a dynasty” and totally miss that tiny little “if” that God keeps inserting into every conversation he has with his people. Just as Jeroboam had a choice, we have a choice. We know where Jeroboam’s disappointment led, don’t we? What about us?
The second issue I see in this story is selfish immaturity. How else can you explain why Rehoboam didn’t heed Jeroboam’s request to lighten the ‘heavy yoke’ Solomon had imposed on the people, disregarded the advice of the elders and sided instead with the foolish counsel of the young men he had grown up with?
When we read these Lower Story troubles we are reminded of our own, aren’t we? I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten myself in plenty of arguments through unmet expectations and my own selfishness! The good news, of course, is that we can always repent. The bad news is that the consequences will most likely still follow, as they did for Jeroboam, Rehoboam, and the nation of (a now divided) Israel. Was God in the midst of the trouble? Scripture tells us “for this turn of events was from the Lord” (1 Kings 12:13). And just like that, we see the Upper Story – the plan that only God knows from beginning to end – break in.