I know how to make it stop snowing! I can even stop a weekend blizzard! It has happened several times. All I did during a Saturday evening/Sunday morning snowstorm was make the decision to call off church; and sure enough, the temperature rose, the ice began to melt, and the clouds split with the storm mysteriously heading in an unexpected direction. I studied the forecasts and looked at the local weather radar, pulled back in the view and looked at the larger east coast image, and attempted a best decision. But when the warming sun arose on Sunday morning, several hundreds of people wondered why church was cancelled.
A situation such as I describe results from an inability to accurately step back from the situation enough to get an exact understanding of the future and what decisions to make. Hindsight is always 20/20, it is said. Accurate foresight is the challenge. Good vision and planning comes from evaluating the current circumstances of strengths and weaknesses, anticipating the future environment, and then charting a wise PATHWAY forward to lead into the unknown with the greatest wisdom available. This requires the ability to step back from the myriads of details, in order to gain a sense of the larger picture.
Our current preaching series that begins this weekend is a five-week effort to share with the church the work that the elders and staff have done in crafting a vision statement for the future of Tri-State Fellowship. This is our statement of the big picture. We are projecting what we would like to see, by God’s leading and grace, be the PATHWAY and outcome of the ministry of this church in the approaching years.
Today’s reading and devotional is from an Old Testament passage that I trust will give us some orientation for this type of thought process.
We drop into the very middle of Israel’s history today, to a time at the end of the reign of David’s son Solomon. This is at the end of the United Kingdom of Saul/David/Solomon – each of them having been the king of a unified Israel for 40 years a piece. Following this passage and its outcome, the kingdom will be divided as 10 northern tribes under Jeroboam continue on as the nation of “Israel,” whereas Rehoboam and the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin (a very tiny clan) will be known simply as “Judah.”
You will recall from Israel’s history that Solomon began well as Israel’s king, displaying a heart for God. But over time, his many foreign wives turned his heart away from God (summarized in the previous chapter). A part of God’s punishment for this spiritual declension would be that Solomon’s son Rehoboam would not inherit the rule over the entire nation. Instead, as foretold by the prophet Ahijah, 10 of the tribes would rebel and be ruled over by a man from the tribe of Ephraim named Jeroboam – who had to flee to Egypt for his life when Solomon learns of this prophecy. After the end of Solomon’s reign, we pick up today’s reading with his son Rehoboam ready to become the new king.
12 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone there to make him king. 2 When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard this (he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), he returned from Egypt. 3 So they sent for Jeroboam, and he and the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: 4 “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.”
Sectional differences between the north and south were nothing new, as several historical incidents made for some bad blood. The nation, including the newly returned Jeroboam, state their willingness to follow Rehoboam if he would lighten the taxation and conscriptions that marked the Solomonic era – which yielded great national expansion, but at a very heavy price.
5 Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away.
6 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.
7 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.”
8 But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. 9 He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?”
10 The young men who had grown up with him replied, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11 My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’”
Apparently the elders in Israel saw the unsustainable situation and advised a different and more conciliatory path than Solomon had taken. However, the younger crowd advised a more severe crackdown of centralized power and heavy-handed authority.
12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, “Come back to me in three days.” 13 The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, 14 he followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the Lord, to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.
The first temptation in seeking to apply this Scripture is to think that there is never any good advice to come from younger people. I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten some pretty awful advice a few times in my life from elderly people. Yet it is true that those who have lived longer have seen more things and garnered a larger sum of life experiences. If they are wise in evaluating all they have encountered, they likely are a greater resource for wisdom. Yet it could be counter-argued that younger people understand the current day and the culture more precisely. Hence, the truth is more likely found in another Scripture, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)
The phrase within this passage that is often forgotten is verse 15 where it says “this turn of events was from the Lord…” Simply stated, there was a big picture the young counselors failed to appreciate, but there was a bigger picture that it appeared everyone missed!
16 When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:
“What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, Israel! Look after your own house, David!”
So the Israelites went home. 17 But as for the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah, Rehoboam still ruled over them.
18 King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labor, but all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam, however, managed to get into his chariot and escape to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.
20 When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.
21 When Rehoboam arrived in Jerusalem, he mustered all Judah and the tribe of Benjamin—a hundred and eighty thousand able young men—to go to war against Israel and to regain the kingdom for Rehoboam son of Solomon.
22 But this word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God: 23 “Say to Rehoboam son of Solomon king of Judah, to all Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, 24 ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.’” So they obeyed the word of the Lord and went home again, as the Lord had ordered.
So the 10 northern tribes simply decided to “blow off” Rehoboam; rather, they helped us (or confused us) for millennia later by placing the dude with the rhyming name in his place – Jeroboam. Rehoboam sends the IRS tax man and task master (Adoniram) after the northerners, but they stone him! Back in Jerusalem, Rehoboam musters 180,000 warriors to wage war against the rebels and restore the nation. But a prophet named Shemaiah tells them, again, that this division is God’s doing. And this time, they obey and go home.
God’s picture is the biggest picture. We need to remember this as we move into the future. God is working His own master plan, and by His grace we have a part in it. Yet we too – even as a church family together – need to think about what we anticipate is the picture of the plan that is ahead for us. Where do we believe God is calling us, and what are the wise steps to take as we move in that direction?
That is what this series is about. As we live in increasingly difficult times of growing hostility in what is likely the approaching end of the age, how do we practically be God’s people in this place? We want to take the timeless truth given us in the past, and carry it wisely into the context of the day and trends portending the nature of the future. So come with us!
(Welcome to the beginning of the devotional series. These will post in the early morning of weekdays over the coming five weeks. You may view them on the sermon series web page at www.PathwaysTSF.org, catch them posted daily as a link on Facebook, or sign up to have them delivered by email to your phone or device. Most will be much shorter than today’s introductory writing.)