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1 KINGS XII. ; 2 CHRONICLES X. Who would not but have looked, that seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines, should have furnished Solomon's palace with choice of heirs, and have peopled Israel with royal issue? And now behold, Solomon hath by all these but one son, and him by an Ammonitess. Many a poor man hath a house full of children, by one wife ; while this great king hath but one son, by many housefuls of wives. Fertility is not from the means, but from the author. It was for Solomon, that David sung of old ; Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is his reward. How oft doth God deny this heritage of heirs, where he gives the largest heritage of lands; and gives most of these living possessions, where he gives least of the dead : that his blessings may be acknowledged free unto both : entailed, upon neither!
As the greatest persons cannot give themselves children, so the wisest cannot give their children wisdom. Was it not of Rehoboam that Solomon said, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun, because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me ; and who knoweth, whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? Yet he shall rule over all my labour, wherein I have laboured, and sheued myself wise under the sun. All Israel found that Solomon's wit was not propagated. Many a fool hath had a wiser son, than this wisest father. Amongst many sons, it is no news to find some one defective : Solomon hath but one son, and he no miracle of wisdom. God gives purposely so eminent an instance, to teach men to look up to heaven, both for heirs and graces.
Solomon was both the king of Israel and the father of Rehoboam, when he was scarce out of his childhood ; Rehoboam enters into the kingdom at a ripe age ; yet Solomon was the man, and Rehoboam the child. Age is no just measure of wisdom. There are beardless sages, and grey-headed children. Not the ancient are wise, but the wise is ancient.
Israel wanted not for thousands, that were wiser than Rehoboam; yet, because they knew him to be the son of Solomon, no man makes question of his government. In the case of succession into kingdoms, we may not look into the qualities of the person, but into the right.
So secure is Solomon of the people's fidelity to David's seed, that he follows not his father's example, in setting his son by him, in his own throne : here was no danger of a rivalry, to enforce it; no eminency in the son, to merit it: it sufficeth him, to know that no bond can be surer, than the natural allegiance of subjects.
I do not find, that the following kings stood upon the confirmation of their people ; but, as those that knew the way to their throne, ascended their steps without aid. As yet the sovereignty of David's house was green and unsettled ; Israel therefore doth not now come to attend Rehoboam, but Rehoboam goes up to meet Israel.
They come not to his Jerusalem, but he goes to their Shechem : To Shechem were all Israel come to make him king. If loyalty drew them together, why not rather to Jerusalem ? there, the majesty of his father's temple, the magnificence of his palace, the very stones in those walls, besides the strength of his guard, had pleaded strongly for their subjection. Shechem had been, many ways, fatal; was, every way, incommodious. It is an infinite help or disadvantage, that arises from circumstances. The very place puts Israel in mind of a rebellion. There, Abimelech had raised up his treacherous usurpation, over and against his brethren : there, Gaal against Abimelech : there, was Joseph sold by his brethren : as if the very soil had been stained with perfidious
The time is no less ill chosen. Rehoboam had all counsel, ere he bewrayed it ; for had he speedily called up Israel, before Jeroboam could have been sent for out of Egypt, he had found the way clear. A little delay may lose a great deal of opportunity. What shall we say of both, but that misery is led in by infatuation?
Had not Israel been somewhat predisposed to a mutiny, they had never sent into Egypt, for such a spokesman as Jeroboam ; a fugitive, a traitor to Solomon. Long had that crafty conspirator lurked in a foreign court. The alliances of princes are not ever necessary bonds of friendship. The brother-in-law of Solomon harbours this snake in his bosom, and gives that heat, which is repaid with a sting, to the posterity of so near an ally. And now Solomon's death calls him back to his native soil. That Israel would entertain a rebel, it was an ill sign ; worse yet, that they will countenance him ; worst of all, that they would employ him. Nothing doth more bewray evil intentions, than the choice of vicious agents. Those, that mean well, will not hazard, either the success or credit of their actions upon offensive instruments. None but the sluttish will wipe their faces with foul clothes. Upright hearts would have said, as David did to God, so to his anointed ; Do not I hate them, that hate thee? Yea, I hate them, with a perfect hatred. Jeroboam's head had been a fit present, to have been tendered unto their new king, and now, instead thereof, they tender themselves to Jeroboam, as the head of their faction.
Had not Rehoboam wanted spirits, he had first, after Solomon's example, done justice to his father's traitor, and then have treated of mercy towards his subjects.
The people soon found the weakness of their new sovereign ;
else they durst not have spoken to him by so obnoxious a tongue ; Thy father made our yoke grievous ; make thou it lighter, and we will serve thee.
Doubtless the crafty head of Jeroboam was in this suit, which his mouth uttered in the name of Israel. Nothing could have been more subtle : it seemed a promise ; it was a threat. That, which seemed a supplication, was a complaint: humility was but a veil of discontentment: one hand held a paper; the other a sword. Had they said, “Free us from tributes,” the capitulation had been gross, and strongly savouring of sedition : now they say, Ease us, they profess his power to impose, and their willingness to yield ; only craving favour in the weight of the imposition. If Rehoboam yield, he blemishes his father; if he deny, he endangers his kingdom: his wilfulness shall seem worthily to abandon his sceptre, if he stick at so unreasonable a suit. Surely, Israel came with a purpose to cavil. Jeroboam had secretly troubled these waters, that he might fish more gainfully : one malcontent is enough to embroil a whole kingdom.
How harshly must it needs sound in the ears of Rehoboam, that the first word he hears from his people, is a querulous challenge of his father's government ; Thy father made our yoke grievous !
For ought I see, the suggestion was not more spiteful, than unjust. Where was the weight of this yoke, the toil of the services? Here were none of the turmoils of war: no trainings, marchings, encampings, entrenchings, watchings, minings, sieges, fortifications: none of that tedious world of work, that attends hostility. Solomon had not his name for nought. All was calm during that long reign ; and if they had paid dear for their peace, they had no cause to complain of a hard match. The warlike times of Saul and David had exhausted their blood, together with their substance. What ingratitude was this, to cry out of ease !
“ Yea, but that peace brought forth costly and laborious buildings. God's house and the king's, the walls of Jerusalem, Hazar, Megiddo, and Gezer, the cities of store, the cities of defence, could not rise without many a shoulder.” True ; but not of any Israelites. The remainders of Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, were put to all the drudgery of these great works. The tasks of Israel were easy and ingenuous ; free from servility, free from painfulness. “But the charge was theirs, whosesoever was the labour. The diet of so endless a retinue, the attendance of his seraglio, the purveyance for his forty thousand stables, the cost of his sacrifices, must needs weigh heavy.” Certainly ; if it had lain on none but his
But wherefore went Solomon's navy every three years to Ophir? To what use served the six hundred threescore and six talents of gold, that came in one year to his exchequer? Wherefore served the large tributes of foreign nations ? How did he make silver to be in Jerusalem as stones, if the exactions were so pressive? The multitude is ever prone to pick quarrels with their governors; and, whom they feared alive, to censure dead. The benefits of so quiet and happy a reign are past over in silence; the grievances are recounted with clamour. Who can hope, that merit or greatness can shield from obloquy, when Solomon is traduced to his own loins ?
The proposition of Israel puts Rehoboam to a deliberation ; Depart ye for three days; then come again to me. I hear no other word of his, that argued wisdom. Not to give sudden resolutions in cases of importance, was a point that might well beseem the son of Solomon. I wonder that he, who had so much wit as to call for leisure in his answer, should show so little wit, in the improving of that leisure, in the return of that answer.
Who cannot but hope well, to see the grey heads of Solomon's secret council called to Rehoboam's cabinet? As counsellors, as ancient, as Solomon's, they cannot choose but see the best, the safest course, for their new sovereign. They had learned of their old master, that a soft answer appeaseth wrath ; wisely therefore do they advise him, If thou wilt be a servant to this people this day, and speak good words to them, they will be thy servants for ever.
It was an easy condition ; with one mouthful of a breath, to purchase an everlasting homage; with one gentle motion of his tongue, to bind all people's hearts to his allegiance for ever. Yet, as if the motion had been unfit, a new council table is called. Well might this people say; " What will not Rehoboam grudge us, if he think much to give good words for a kingdom ?"
There is not more wisdom, in taking variety of advice, where the matter is doubtful, than folly, when it is plain. The young heads are consulted. This very change argues weakness. Some reason might be pleaded, for passing from the younger counsel to the aged; none, for the contrary. Age brings experience ; and, it is a shame, if, with the ancient be not wisdom : youth is commonly rash, heady, insolent, ungoverned, wedded to will, led by humour, a rebel to reason, a subject to passion, fitter to execute than advise. Green wood is ever shrinking and warping; whereas the well-seasoned holds a constant firmness.
Many a life, many a soul, many a flourishing state, hath been ruined by undisciplined monitors. Such were these of Rehoboam ; whose great stomach tells them, that this conditionating of subjects was no other than an affront to their new master; and suggests to them, how unfit it is for majesty to brook so saucy a treaty, how requisite and princely to crush this prosumption in the egg: as scorning therefore, to be braved by the base vulgar, they put words of greatness and terror in their new prince ; My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins,
My father made your yoke heavy; I will add to your yoke. My father hath chastised you with whips ; I will chastise you with scorpions. The very words have stings.
Now must Israel needs think, “How cruel will this man's hand be, when he thus draws blood with his tongue! Men are not wont to speak out their worst : who can endure the hopes of him, that promiseth tyranny ?" There can be no good use, of an indefinite profession of rigour and severity. Fear is an unsafe guardian of any state ; much less, of an unsettled. Which was yet worse; not the sins of Israel were threatened, nor their purses, but their persons; neither had they desired a remission of justice, but of exaetions; and now they hear of nothing but burdens, and scourges, and scorpions.
Here was a prince and people well met. I do not find them sensible of ought, save their own profit. They do not say, “ Religion was corrupted, in the shutting up of thy father's days. Idolatry found the free favour of priests, and temples,
and sacrifices. Begin thy reign with God; purge the Church ; • demolish those piles of abomination; abandon those idol-mongers ; restore devotion to her purity.” They are all for their penny, for their ease ; he, on the other side, is all for his will, for an imperious sovereignty; without any regard, either of their reformation or satisfaction. They were worthy of load, that cared for nothing but their backs; and he worthy of such subjects, who professed to effect their misery and torment.
Who would not but have looked any whither for the cause of this evil, rather than to heaven? yet the holy God challenges it to himself; The cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying by Abijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam. As sin is a punishment of sin, it is a part of justice. The Holy One of Israel doth not abhor, to use even the grossest sins to his own just purposes : while our wills are free to our own choice, his decrees are as necessary as just. Israel had forsaken the Lord, and worshipped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians, and Chemosh, and Milcom. God owes them and Solomon a whipping : the frowardness of Rehoboam shall pay it them. I see Jeroboam’s plot, the people's insolence, the young men's misadvice, the prince's unreasonable austerity, meeting together, through the wise providence of the Almighty, unwittingly to accomplish his most just decree. All these might have done otherwise, for any force that was offered to their will; all would no more do otherwise, than if there had been no predetermination in heaven; that God may be magnified in his wisdom and justice, while man wittingly perisheth in his folly.
That three days expectation had warmed these smoking Israelites, and made them ready for a combustion. Upon so peremptory a resolution of rigour, the flame bursts out, which all the waters of the well of Bethlehem could never quench. The