at Ames UCC
on October 27, 2019
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
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I am going to offer two interpretations of this story, one I think you might like and one I think you might not.
Let’s start with what is happening in the passage: Three generations before, God had warned the people, the ancient people whose theological interpretation of their history we study for help in theologically interpreting our time, that kings mean war and poverty. They then experience, under Saul and then David and then Solomon, war and poverty. They also experience internal disunity.
After the death of Solomon, it doesn’t seem certain whether a united kingdom of Israel can hold. The people, as you heard in the story today, call on his heir Rehoboam to be a more gentle ruler than his father.
Rehoboam consults his father’s advisors who tell him to be a king who is a servant. Rehoboam doesn’t like that. Why be an absolute ruler and use that power for others? So Rehoboam goes to his own friends. They advise him to double down on his authority. Flush with their new power by proximity to the heir, they seem to want nothing more than to assert it with violence.
Rehoboam takes that juvenile advice and so the kingdom splits. Rehoboam rules only in the southern part of the kingdom, now known as Judah, and Jeroboam takes over the north, still known as Israel.
The first interpretation of this story, the one I think you will like, and that certainly gives me more emotional satisfaction, is that strong men are trouble. Leaders who surround themselves with sycophants and yes-men, leaders who only want to be affirmed and not actually counseled, are dangerous and un-godly. The only thing they can do is oppress and divide.
While accurate, this is also a bit of a finger-wag, and a not even veiled critique of some of the leaders of our own day. So I don’t know how well that it serves us. I don’t know how that interpretation helps us to serve God, because it isn’t an interpretation that reveals anything new, that gives us a new theological interpretation of our time. We could take one semester of world history and learn that same lesson.
here’s the second reading, which I am not so sure will satisfy. It begins with
a conversation I had last month when I had coffee with the lead pastor of the