I’m getting hungry right now, so my write-up of I Kings 12 will be brief.
Something I notice in I Kings 12 is that the people have power over the king. V 1 illustrates this: Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel were coming to Shechem to make him king. The people don’t come to Rehoboam to make him king—in his own city of Jerusalem. Rather, Rehoboam has to go to where the people have decided to have their coronation—in Shechem, which is located in the tribe of Ephraim. The same goes with Jeroboam. The people summon Jeroboam so they can crown him king of Northern Israel.
What’s puzzling is that Rehoboam doesn’t seem to recognize the people’s power. Here he is, going to Shechem at their summon to be crowned king over Israel. He should realize that, obviously, the people are the ones with the power, not him. Yet, for some reason, he decides that now’s a good time to become a tyrant, to impose heavier taxes and to whip the people into submission. Smart guy!
Yet, strangely, I can somewhat identify with Rehoboam and his young friends, the ones who advised him to lay down the law. I can imagine myself heading to Shechem to become king, thinking that I’m just going through the normal coronation procedure, without even being aware of the power dynamics that going to Shechem entails. My young friends are like, “Dude, you have all this power! Use it! You’re the boss!” Meanwhile, the older advisers are talking to me about serving the people and earning their devotion, which doesn’t sound all that attractive to me. And so I go with what appeals to my vanity and desire for power, as short-sighted and as stupid as my decision may be.
I thought a little about David, though. David didn’t go to the people of Israel, to the city where they wanted to have the coronation; rather, the people of Israel came to where David was, in Hebron, and they crowned him there (II Samuel 5:1). How did this happen?
A big reason was probably that the Israelites wanted David to rule them, after they had lost their own leadership: Ish-bosheth and Abner. There was a void, and there was no charismatic leader from their midst stepping into it. And so they figured that David was good enough and strong enough, and they sought his leadership. I think this was also how David managed to maintain or recover Israelite loyalty later in his reign. Absalom led all of Israel against David, but once Absalom got killed, Israel didn’t have a charismatic leader, so she returned to David. When David then snubbed Israel for Judah (Stopped in My Tracks, God in My Life), much of Israel revolted against David under the leadership of Sheba, a Benjaminite. Once Sheba got killed, however, a void emerged once more, and the Israelites wanted a strong leader. So they went back to David.
What comes to my mind from all this is that not everyone is charismatic. The impression I’ve sometimes gotten in Christian community is that we all have charisma and God will exalt us to leadership, in his own time, as he did for Joseph. But a charismatic person can arise who is not of God. And there can be a void in charismatic leadership, indicating that not everyone’s cut out for the task. So not all of us have to be chiefs. Many of us can go our way, planting our crops and thanking God for the harvest.