8 But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. (2 Chronicles 10:8)
In an old cartoon, a twenty-something marvels, “You know, old people these days are so much smarter than they were when I was a teenager!” And the point isn’t that the boy’s elders necessarily got any smarter; it’s that he only realized how wise they had been all along as he got older.
How different the history of Israel might have been if Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, had realized that! Rehoboam started off well. He asked the men who had advised his father to advise him. They told him to ease up on the demands he put on the people. This was sound advice. After a generation of building projects—seven years on the temple and thirteen years on Solomon’s palace (see 1 Kings 6:38-7:1), the people were in need of a break. Building projects were not only labor intensive, they were also cost intensive, and Solomon had taxed his subjects heavily over the past twenty years.
So the advice of the elders was sensible. Rehoboam would win the hearts of the people if he gave them a break from the harsh demands of work and taxation. Moreover, if Rehoboam demonstrated that he would be a servant leader to the people of Israel, they would follow him forever.
How do you make decisions? Do you seek wise counsel from multiple perspectives, or only from those you know will tell you what you want to hear? Wise leaders seek the counsel of experienced advisors.
It’s worth noting that, according to verse 8, Rehoboam had already rejected the elders’ advice before he ever even heard an alternate perspective. So of course the young men told him what he wanted to hear!
Twice (verse 8 and verse 10), the text emphasizes that the next group Rehoboam sought for advice were the young men who had grown up with him. Verse 8 adds the additional detail that these men had “attended him.” Likely, these young men knew Rehoboam would be the next king of Israel, so they were well practiced in sucking up to power. In all probability they also reasoned that if they appealed to the king’s ego, they were more likely to gain favorable status in the new administration. Politics truly hasn’t changed all that much in four thousand years!
The young men advised Rehoboam to power up on the people, essentially telling them, “If you thought my father was harsh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” He promised to increase their workload and to make their punishments more severe. Like many tyrants and dictators throughout history, Rehoboam and his young friends seemed to think that oppression was strength and compassion was weakness.
Most of us will probably never be high ranking government officials. But if you manage people on any level, or even if you are simply a parent leading your own children, ask yourself which of these two leadership styles reflects the way you lead people in your sphere of influence?