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CHAPTER XXIV.

A NEW REIGN.

1 Kings xii. 1-5.

"A foolish son is the calamity of his father."—Prov. xix. 13.

"He left behind him Roboam, even the foolishness of the people, and one that had no understanding."—Ecclus. xlvii. 23.

Rehoboam, who was Solomon's only son, succeeded in Jerusalem without opposition, b.c. 937.443443   "Rehoboam" means "enlarger of the people" (comp. Eurudemos); Jeroboam, "whose people is many" (Poludemos; comp. Thiodric, Thierry). But Cheyne makes it mean "the kingdom contendeth" (Kleinert, Volkstreiter). But the northern tribes were in no mood to regard as final the prerogative acceptance of the son of Solomon by the rival tribe of Judah. David had won them by his vivid personality; Solomon had dazzled them by his royal magnificence. It did not follow that they were blindly to accept a king who emerged for the first time from the shadow of the harem, and was the son of an Ammonitess, who worshipped Chemosh. Instead of going to Rehoboam at Jerusalem as the tribes had gone to David at Hebron, they summoned an assembly at their ancient city of Shechem, on the site of the modern Nablus, between Mount Ebal and Gerizim. In this fortress-sanctuary they determined, as "men of Israel," to bring their grievances under the notice of the new sovereign before they formally ratified his270 succession. According to one view they summoned Jeroboam, who had already returned to Zeredah, to be their spokesman.444444   So we read in the LXX. Cod. Vat., and (partly) in the Vulgate (see Robertson Smith, The Old Testament, p. 117). Unless Jeroboam had spontaneously returned from Egypt on hearing of the death of Solomon, there would hardly have been time to summon him thence. 2 Chron. x. 2 represents the matter thus. Possibly his name has crept by error into 1 Kings xii. 3. See Wellhausen-Bleek's Einleitung, p. 243. When the assembly met they told the king that they would accept him if he would lighten the grievous service which his father had put upon them.445445   In the LXX. the Ephraimites complain of the expensive provision for Solomon's table. "Thy father made his yoke grievous upon us, and made grievous to us the meats of his table." LXX. (Cod. Vat.), καὶ ἐβάρυνε τὰ βρώματα τῆς τραπέζης αὐτοῦ. Rehoboam, taken by surprise, said that they should receive his answer in "three days." In the interval he consulted the aged counsellors of his father. Their answer was astute in its insight into human nature. It resembled the "long promises, short performance" which Guido da Montefeltro recommended to Pope Boniface VIII. in the case of the town of Penestrino.446446   Dante, Inferno, Cant. xxvii. They well understood the maxim of "omnia serviliter pro imperio," which has paved the way to power of many a usurper from Otho to Bolingbroke. "Give the people a civil answer," they said; "tell them that you are their servant. Content with this they will be scattered to their homes, and you will bind them to your yoke for ever." In an answer so deceptive, but so immoral, the corrupting influence of the Solomonian autocracy is as conspicuous as in that of the malapert youths who made their appeal to the king's conceit.

"Who knoweth whether his son will be a wise man271 or a fool?" asks Solomon in the Book of Proverbs. Apparently he had done little or nothing to save his only son from being the latter. Despots in polygamous households, whether in Palestine or Zululand, live in perpetual dread of their own sons, and generally keep them in absolute subordination. If Rehoboam had received the least political training, or had been possessed of the smallest common sense, he would have been able to read the signs of the times sufficiently well to know that everything might be lost by blustering arrogance, and everything gained by temporising plausibility. Had Rehoboam been a man like David, or even like Saul in his better day, he might have grappled to himself the affections of his people as with hooks of steel by seizing the opportunity of abating their burdens, and offering them a sincere assurance that he would study their peace and welfare above all. Had he been a man of ordinary intelligence, he would have seen that the present was not the moment to exacerbate a discontent which was already dangerous. But the worldly-wise counsel of the "elders" of Solomon was utterly distasteful to a man who, after long insignificance, had just begun to feel the vertigo of autocracy. His sense of his right was strong in exact proportion to his own worthlessness. He turned to the young men who had grown up with him, and who stood before him—the jeunesse dorée of a luxurious and hypocritical epoch, the aristocratic idlers in whom the insolent self-indulgence of an enervated society had expelled the old spirit of simple faithfulness.447447   They are called yeladim, which surely cannot apply to men of forty, so that Rehoboam was probably little more than a youth, na'ar (2 Chron. xiii. 7; comp. Gen. xxxiii. 13). Their answer was the sort of answer which Buckingham and272 Sedley might have suggested to Charles II. in face of the demands of the Puritans; and it was founded on notions of inherent prerogative, and "the right Divine of kings to govern wrong," such as the Bishops might have instilled into James I. at the Hampton Court Conference, or Archbishop Laud into Charles I. in the days of "Thorough."

"Threaten this insolent canaille," they said, "with your royal severity. Tell them that you do not intend to give up your sacred right to enforced labour, such as your brother of Egypt has always enjoyed.448448   Herod., ii. 124-28. Tell them that your little finger shall be thicker than your father's loins,449449   "My little finger." Heb., "my littleness"; LXX., ἡ μικρότης μου. But the paraphrase is perfectly correct (Vulg., Pesh., Josephus, and the Rabbis). and that instead of his whips you will chastise them with leaded thongs.450450   "Virga si est nodosa et aculeata scorpios vocatur, quia arcuato vulnere in corpus infigitur" (Isodore., Orig., i. 175). That is the way to show yourself every inch a king."

The insensate advice of these youths proved itself attractive to the empty and infatuated prince. He accepted it in the dementation which is a presage of ruin; for, as the pious historian says, "the cause was from the Lord."

The announcement of this incredibly foolish reply woke in the men of Israel an answering shout of rebellion. In the rhythmic war-cry of Sheba, the son of Bichri, which had become proverbial,451451   2 Sam. xx. 1. they cried:—

"What portion have we in David?
Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse.
To your tents, O Israel:
Now see to thine own house, David!"452452   Or, "Now feed thine own house" (LXX., βόσκε, reading רעה for ראה); and the LXX. adds, "For this man is not (fit) to be a ruler, nor to be a prince." Evidently the revolt was the culmination of those jealousies which the haughty tribe of Ephraim had already manifested in the lives of Gideon, Abimelech, and David.

273

Unable to appease the wild tumult, Rehoboam again showed his want of sense by sending an officer to the people whose position and personality were most sure to be offensive to them. He sent "Adoram, who was over the tribute"—the man who stood, before the Ephraimites especially, as the representative of everything in monarchical government which was to them most entirely odious. Josephus says that he hoped to mollify the indignant people. But it was too late. They stoned the aged Al-ham-Mas with stones that he died; and when the foolish king witnessed or heard of the fate of a man who had grown grey as the chief agent of despotism he felt that it was high time to look after his own safety. Apparently he had come with no other escort than that of the men of Judah who formed a part of the national militia. Of Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites we hear no more. The princeling of a despoiled and humiliated kingdom was perhaps in no condition to provide the pay of these foreign mercenaries. The king found that the name of David was no longer potent, and that royalty had lost its awful glamour. He made an effort453453   Heb., "strengthened himself." to reach his chariot, and, barely succeeding, fled with headlong speed to Jerusalem. From that day for ever the unity of Israel was broken, and "the twelve tribes" became a name for two mutually antagonistic powers.454454   In fact, the δωδεκάφυλον became more of a reminiscence than anything else. Simeon, for instance, practically disappeared (1 Chron. iv. 24-43). The men of Israel at once chose Jeroboam for their king, and an event274 was accomplished which had its effect on the history of all succeeding times. The only Israelites over whom the House of David continued to rule were those who, like the scattered remnant of Simeon, dwelt in the cities of Judah.455455   1 Kings xii. 17.

Thus David's grandson found that his kingdom over a people had shrunk to the headship of a tribe, with a sort of nominal suzerainty over Edom and part of Philistia. He was reduced to the comparative insignificance of David's own position during his first seven years, when he was only king in Hebron. This disruption was the beginning of endless material disasters to both kingdoms; but it was the necessary condition of high spiritual blessings, for "it was of the Lord."

Politically it is easy to see that one cause of the revolt lay in the too great rapidity in which kings, who, as it was assumed, were to be elective, or at least to depend on the willing obedience of the people, had transformed themselves into hereditary despots. Judah might still accept the sway of a king of her own tribe; but the powerful and jealous Ephraimites, at the head of the Northern Confederation, refused to regard themselves as the destined footstool for a single family. As in the case of Saul and of David, they determined once more to accept no king who did not owe his sovereignty to their own free choice.


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