I’m currently wading my way through Chronicles, and recently read 2 Chronicles 10, where Rehoboam took over the Kingdom from his father Solomon. It’s a tragic period of Israel’s history, where Rehoboam abandoned the way of his Father (whose life is depicted fairly positively in Chronicles; less so in Kings), rejected the wisdom of the elders, and inflicted pain and suffering on his people, which quickly led to the division of the Kingdom.
I reflected the other day on how this story (particularly as it is depicted in Kings) is like a reverse Exodus. But I was also struck by how Rehoboam’s response to the cry of the people reminded me of a saying from Jesus.
The people came to Rehoboam and pleaded:
“Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.”(2 Chronicles 10:4)
Rehoboam sent them away for three days whilst he considered their request, taking (and then ignoring) advice from older advisers who had been around in the time of Solomon. After three days, his reply was:
“Whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.”(2 Chronicles 10:11)
This response is utterly unlike the response of God in Exodus, who heard the cries of His oppressed people and intervened in a remarkable display of compassion, might, and steadfast love.
It is also utterly unlike the response of God revealed in Christ, who said:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”(Matthew 11:28-30)
Because of the ungodly response of Rehoboam, the Kingdom was divided into two. The ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom retained the name Israel, and two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, became known as the Kingdom of Judah, the house of David.
‘So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.’(2 Chronicles 10:19)
- People plea for mercy
- The King refuses to listen
- He responds by giving them ‘scorpions’
- The Kingdom is divided against itself
This is a tragic turn of events. In 2 Samuel 7 God had promised through the prophet Nathan:
“The Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son… Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”(2 Samuel 7:11-14, 16)
Solomon was the son of David who built the Temple, whose Kingdom – the house of David – was meant to be established forever. And yet no sooner has Solomon died than the Kingdom is divided through the hubris of Rehoboam. The promises of God to the house and son of David seem to have been lost.
When reflecting on this, the particular New Testament passage that came to mind for me was Luke 11, where Jesus told his disciples:
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”(Luke 11:11-13)
The links between the passages are more than a superficial glance may suggest. It’s not just that both passages mention scorpions (or that there’s a nice yoke/yolk pun to be made! The joke doesn’t translate across languages, but I like to think that’s a little Easter Egg (yes, another pun intended!) that God popped in there for future English speakers!)
Jesus’ words come in the context of him teaching his followers how to pray, and also – by implication – the character of the One to whom they are praying. He teaches them what we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer (v1-4) which invites us to address God as Father, and to pray for the coming of His Kingdom. Jesus follows this prayer with a series of parabolic encouragements that God is eager to hear our requests, and we can be confident He will answer them for our good.
Immediately following this, Jesus heals a mute person, and is criticised by the onlookers for being in league with Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Jesus points out the foolishness of their argument by saying:
“Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? … But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”(Luke 11:17-18a, 20)
To my mind, the imagery of scorpions followed by a discussion of a divided Kingdom is an echo of Rehoboam’s folly, which led to the divided Kingdom. And given that a major theme in Luke’s gospel is that Jesus is the new David, come to establish the Kingdom (and arguably Acts may see the church as the new Solomonic Temple?) I think it’s not too much of a stretch to think that Luke wants us to see Jesus as reversing the curse of Rehoboam!
The promises made to David’s Son, Solomon, were not ultimately fulfilled by Solomon, or lost through Rehoboam. They were about David’s true son Jesus, who has come to establish the house of David as an everlasting house. He has come to reveal the heart of God; to carry our heavy burdens; to establish God’s united Kingdom, and to rescue the lost sheep of Israel.
In God’s Kingdom:
- If you plea for mercy
- Of course your loving Father will listen
- He won’t give you a scorpion
- His Kingdom is not divided against itself
So, since the context of Jesus’ saying was his instructions on prayer, how should this reflection affect the way we think about prayer?
Simply, we should not approach God as if we were approaching Rehoboam. We are not approaching a tyrant – a Pharoah-like figure. We’re not approaching a fickle king, who wants to boast about his power, rejecting wisdom in order to boost his ego. We’re approaching a king who has a long track record of goodness. We’re approaching a Father.
In fact, the very reason Jesus was able to call God ‘Father’ is because he, not Solomon, was the true inheritor of the promises of 2 Samuel 7. It is to Jesus that God says “I will be his father, and he will be my son” (2 Samuel 7:14). And it is because of Jesus that we get to share in that relationship calling his father ‘our Father.’
When we approach our Father in Heaven, we don’t have to submit our prayers and then wait three days in uncertainty, unsure whether He will respond with kindness or cruelty. The ultimate ‘three days’ have passed. We have our answer. Jesus is alive! His Kingdom is everlasting, because he has overcome the grave.
‘If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’(Romans 8:32)