Listening to Wisdom

…the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.

They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. 

1 Kings 12:3-8

King Solomon had just died and his son, Rehoboam, was appointed to take the throne. Before he did, the people called on Rehoboam to lighten the heavy work load that had existed since the time of Solomon. Rehoboam decides to seek wise counsel from his elders.

The elders advise Rehoboam to become a servant leader. They advise him to listen and be in submission to the elders. They encourage him to lean into humility and compassion rather than pride and hard-heartedness. But Rehoboam arrogantly rejects their advice and seeks out the advice of his best friends and buddies that he grew up with.

He goes to his entourage, his friends from high school and college, and asks them what they think. They, of course, tell Rehoboam he was right to reject the wisdom of the elders. Instead of encouraging servant leadership, humility, and compassion, his buddies tell him that he needs to become even harder on the people. They tell him that to get these people in line he needs to become a tyrant. This advice aligns with Rehoboam’s arrogant view of himself and further puffs up the pride that was already swelling inside the soon-to-be king.

When Rehoboam announces that not only will he not lighten the load of the people but will make it heavier, he loses all but one tribe of Israel. Eleven tribes break away from Rehoboam’s rule and make Jeroboam their king. Only the tribe of Judah remained under Rehoboam’s rule. The kingdom of Israel was divided in half from this point on.

Rehoboam’s friends told him what he wanted to hear. They told him what soothed his own self-image and pride. Only the elders, the one’s with more experience and wisdom, were willing to tell him the truth. Only they were able to see clearly a way forward. Rehoboam’s inability to humble himself and submit to those with more wisdom was his ultimate downfall.

This is an important story for anyone leading an organization, business or church. Listening to the elders, the decision-making body, or the one’s with more experience is absolutely essential to leading well. Taking the posture of a servant leader–in humility and compassion–is essential to being an effective leader.

As leaders we must be grateful for our friends and their support, but we must also have the wisdom to see that they are often biased in their desire to advocate for us. It’s okay to go to our buddies from high school and college when we need encouragement but not necessarily when we need wisdom. In moments when we are in need of wisdom, we must seek out those with more experience, those who are older and have seen more than we have. Youthfulness has its advantages but wisdom isn’t often one of them.

Rehoboam could have ruled the whole kingdom of Israel. He was one act of humility away from keeping the kingdom united and ruling for generations. His own pride got in the way. His unwillingness to listen to the wisdom of the elders was his downfall. As leaders in our various spheres of influence, let’s not let this become our story. King David and King Jesus are two great examples of leading with humility and compassion. Let’s imitate their life of leadership.