Rehoboam’s blunder


“My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” Or so said King Rehoboam, beginning a rather unfortunate, if predictable, series of events.

We live in a society, like Rehoboam, confidently embracing ideas untethered from the wisdom of the ages. We can expect a similar return on investment.

It turned out people did not want to be scourged with anything—and certainly not with scorpions. So first the people outside Jerusalem rebelled. Rehoboam sent out a taskmaster to bring them into line. It didn’t work as Rehoboam expected. Rather, people stoned the taskmaster to death, thereby sending a rather unambiguous message back to the crown. The message wasn’t well understood. The king himself ventured forth to subdue his rebellious subjects. He was unceremoniously chased back to Jerusalem with his tail between his legs.

And that was just the beginning of Rehoboam’s woes.

Eventually he lost control of the northern 10 tribes of Israel. His little kingdom, in constant fear of its northern brethren, was so weakened that when the Egyptians invaded he gave them all they demanded—even the treasures from the temple his father Solomon had built. Rehoboam ended up an emasculated pawn in a vassal state of Egypt.

And yet all of this, and much more, could have been avoided if Rehoboam had simply listened to the right people. The old advisors told him to deal mercifully with his subjects. After all, his name meant “he who enlarges the people”. Why not begin his reign by doing just that? The people would love him in return. But the young men, surging with testosterone and pumped up on privilege, gave the opposite advice. They told him to be tough. Show some swagger. Let the little people know who’s boss.

Rehoboam chose the confidence of youth over the prudence of experience. He must have felt quite the big man when he delivered his scorpion line, along with boasting that his little finger was stronger than his father’s torso. Forget the old man. Throw out the dusty aged advisors. It’s a young man’s world and Rehoboam was at the reigns. Like a character out of an Ellie Goulding song, he was going to “burn so bright they’d see him in outer space, coz Rehoboam baby, was the star of the human race”. 

Until he wasn’t.

Are we in danger of repeating Rehoboam’s blunder?

We live in a society where youth is routinely prized over experience. Attributes like prudence, wisdom, perspective and thoughtfulness—attributes that often sharpen with age—are not the flavour of the day. We live in a society, like Rehoboam, confidently embracing ideas untethered from the wisdom of the ages. We can expect a similar return on investment. 

But it isn’t just our society at large. I get many compliments from church members that I have a “young team”, as if that is something good in and of itself. Why is having a young team better than having a team of experienced veterans? I’ve asked, and what I get are vague notions about creativity, exuberance, relevance and just all round wonderfulness. Yes. But are older people lacking in all these?

Of course young people can be creative but plenty aren’t. And some of the most wonderfully creative people on earth are old. Frank Gehry, arguably the most influential architect of our time, is in higher demand now than ever—and he’s 84 years old! His masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, was built when he was 68; his 8 Spruce Street, New York residential tower, which won the Emporis Skyscraper Award for “world’s best skyscraper”, was completed when he was 81 years old; his striking design for three towers in Toronto is so thoroughly original it’s currently the subject of intense public debate that will determine if it’s allowed to be built; and his controversial structure for UTS Sydney is currently under construction. Are you still going to tell me older people aren’t creative?

But just as importantly, why does society routinely assume open-mindedness and flexibility are more valuable than perspective and wisdom?

A well-balanced church values the creative, the experienced, the energetic, the prudent, the young and the old. And when people with experience, people with runs on the board, those who have built the house that we currently inhabit . . . when they speak, a wise person—whether old or young—listens carefully. If only Rehoboam had done the same. He would have kept his scorpions to himself, and by so doing, built a strong, vibrant legacy of a united nation dedicated to glorifying God.

Let’s not repeat Rehoboam’s blunder.

James Standish is editor of RECORD.