By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen
The point of this post is to present some lessons on leadership from some wise old men. It is based on something we read in the Old Testament, and it proves that the Bible’s historical narratives contain many practical lessons for everyone, including those who are in leadership positions of one kind or another.
The lessons are drawn from verses 1 – 14 of the 12th chapter of the Old Testament’s book called “1 Kings.” Here are the verses in bold print:
“And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king. 2 And it came to pass, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was yet in Egypt, heard of it, (for he was fled from the presence of king Solomon, and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt;)3 That they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying, 4 Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee. 5 And he said unto them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed. 6 And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people? 7 And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever. 8 But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him: 9 And he said unto them, What counsel give ye that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter?10 And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins. 11 And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. 12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day. 13 And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him; 14 And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” (These verses were quoted from the King James Version and were taken from this website: www.biblegateway.com.)
It is easy to see that Reheboam was a young and foolish king. Youthfulness does not always imply foolishness, but in his case the two went together. He was wise enough to know that he needed some counsel, and sought it from a good source: those who were older and wiser than he. But, not liking their counsel, he got a second opinion, which proved to be a bad one. Had he followed the counsel of the wise old men, things would have turned out much better for him, and for his people. The wise old men told him what to do to be a good leader, and what would be the results of following their counsel: “If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever.”
Before considering the counsel the wise old men gave to that young and foolish king, we need to know who those men were. Here is a helpful note from the NKJV Study Bible, published by Thomas Nelson. It says they were “….the chief government officials who had advised Rehoboam’s father Solomon (see 4:1 – 19).Their advice was to show moderation and temperance.” Now that we know who these men were, let’s consider the advice given to Rehoboam: First, he was to be a servant-leader. What a remarkable thing it is when a leader has a servant’s heart, which means he or she has the best interests of his or her followers in mind. How different this is from the man or woman whose goal it is to get to the top of the ladder of success, no matter who they must step on on the way up. As one carefully reads through the Bible, which is God’s infallible Word, one sees that servant-leadership is a common theme. In fact, it emphasizes being a servant to others, whether one is a leader or not. The Lord Jesus Christ made some very pointed statements about the importance of having a servant’s heart. For example, he said in Matthew 20:27, “….whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister,” meaning, “let him be your servant.”
Second, the young and foolish king was told to speak good words to his people. This was a tough assignment for a man like Rehoboam, but he was told do speak good words to his people. The wise old men did not mean he was to use flattery or deception. He was always to tell the truth, but he was to be a man who would speak to others in such a way that would be helpful to them. The apostle Paul said we are to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15) But what was the result of his following the advice of the young men? In verses 13 and 14 we are told, “13 And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him; 14 And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” As we sometimes say, “Some people just don’t get it!” I have heard sermons and read articles by Christian preachers and authors who, like Rehoboam, answer the people roughly. They are strong on truth, but weak on love and tact. Often, such persons have few friends.
If Rehoboam had had a servant’s heart, and had spoken good words to the people, a very remarkable thing would have come of it. He was told, “then they will be thy servants for ever.” The fact is, when leaders are known for love, humilty, and service, most people won’t object to their leadership.