How Not To Be A Control Freak
Weaving the advice of others into something wise is a skill too many leaders lack as they succumb to showing who is in charge
Most decisions in life are of little import: what dress to wear, who to Facebook, where to eat with friends. The odd person is crippled by indecision, but few others are inconvenienced by the choices we make. Those who begin to wield executive power – the kind which materially affects others – can take time to acclimatise to the influence they possess. It can come as a shock when they are held to account for unforeseen outcomes and they perceive both the reach of their power and the depth of unpopularity this can inspire. This is why, though wisdom is needed in our ordinary decision-making, it assumes a special value when used by some.
In 2 Chronicles 10, we see the accession of Rehoboam to the throne of Israel. He came from a distinguished, latent dynasty: his father was Solomon and his grandfather, David. The kingdom, after an inglorious start under Saul, had established itself culturally and politically; Israel had become the regional superpower it always threatened to be. Yet there were incipient flaws. David’s rule had been spoiled by court intrigue and a chaotic family life; Solomon’s reign by the gross aggregation of wealth and women. David may have loved the Lord and Solomon cherished the gift of wisdom, but there were fault-lines of lust in the geology of the family that bode ill for Rehoboam’s time.
On assuming the throne, Rehoboam is faced with a contingent of people restive for change. Solomon had laid a heavy burden on his people; national wealth and power had been centralised. This may have impressed surrounding nations, but Israel had become a gravely unequal society, in contradiction of its founding story of liberated slaves. Leading the appeal for a different kind of rule was Jeroboam, a superintendent of Solomon’s work who saw the pain of others and seized the chance afforded by a prophecy of Ahijah to challenge the king, only to flee for his life to Egypt until Solomon’s death.
Jeroboam’s presence at the head of the delegation should have warned Rehoboam of the risk of making a foolish choice in how to rule his people and his initial response suggested he saw this. When asked if he would lessen the load put on the people by his father, Rehoboam asks them for three days to think it through. When faced with life-defining choices or complicated questions, it is a sign of strength rather than weakness to ask for the space to contemplate.
In consulting with his father’s advisers first, Rehoboam showed political maturity; the lust for a fresh start usually surrounds political successions. People feel catharsis in throwing off the detritus of old regimes, but the knowledge accumulated in years of power are often invaluable to a new generation if it is willing to listen. Perhaps Rehoboam sensed that Solomon’s people had more to offer than the previous king’s record indicates. Their recommendation that the son exercise a kinder, less oppressive rule suggests they had learned from Solomon’s mistakes and refused to be defined by his reign; they may even have advised the father as such but received short shrift.
For a moment, it looks like good sense will prevail, but he cannot resist listening to the advice of the politically immature cohort he had grown up with. Perhaps his loyalty to, and need of, this new generation’s energy and desire led him to take their advice instead. Their testosterone-fuelled impulse to out-muscle Solomon’s harsh and restrictive rule appeals to Rehoboam and he fatefully answers the people this way.
The story has resonance for us. The assumption that good leadership is strong and unyielding is axiomatic, but this rarely blossoms into the flower of God’s wisdom. The idea that assured leadership is malleable and responsive, even from time to time soft, is not credible in today’s schools of leadership. Any political leader taking his or her time to sift a response which does not fit within the immediate news cycle and which allows for shade and nuance is usually traduced. Rehoboam’s story shows the value of reflection on the advice of others; good leadership weighs up sometimes conflicting advice and moulds it subtly into a new shape.
Israel suffered for this decision; the kingdom fractured into two rival powers – Israel and Judah, the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom - leading to hardship, death and weakness before ambitious neighbours. At the time Rehoboam was sure he had the answer; he didn’t and God did not cover his mistake, providing us with a sobering reflection on human freewill. Rehoboam was not able to step out of the shadow of his father. He became more of the same, only worse when the situation screamed for less of the same, only better.
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