Case in Point


This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“Rehoboam: A study in failed leadership (article: Presbyterion)

Spring 1988

Immediately after the death of King Solomon about 930 B.C., with no powerful, charismatic king on the throne to hold all the tribes of Israel together, unity among Jacob’s descendants was tenuous. The rightful heir to the throne was Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. However, through a series of leadership lapses Rehoboam threw away the opportunity to lead a united nation and instead precipitated a division between the northern tribes (Israel) and the southern tribes (Judah). Simply put, there was a window of opportunity which was forever lost due to Rehoboam’s failure in leadership. The fact that this schism was part of God’s foreordained plan does not mitigate Rehoboam’s failure to provide godly leadership in a time of crises.

Exegesis of 1 KINGS 12:1-20

When Rehoboam ascended the throne in Jerusalem, it was important that all the tribes should recognize his legitimate kingship (cf. Deut 33). So he traveled to Shechem in the north to be crowned king of the northern tribes as well as the southern tribes headquartered in Jerusalem. However, before they crowned him king, the Israelites desired some political and economic concessions. They wanted Rehoboam to ease the economic and political repression Solomon had imposed. After conferring first with Solomon’s advisors and then with his own younger aides, Rehoboam not only refused to make any concessions but in fact promised a tougher and more repressive public policy. In reaction the northern tribes refused to crown Rehoboam king and instead repudiated him and David’s crown rights. In rebellion, the Israelites crowned Jeroboam, the renegade exile from Egypt, as their monarch! Furthermore, Rehoboam had so thoroughly antagonized his erstwhile northern subjects that they killed his labor representative and set up their own religious shrines and idols. Consequently, an absolute enmity was eventually established between the two regions of Abraham’s inheritance (cf. 1 Kings 14:30).

We will now take a closer look at the passage in order to observe King Rehoboam in action as he fails to exercise responsible leadership.

Verse 1: The fact that the tribes in the north (Israel) did not come down to Jerusalem to inaugurate Rehoboam as king should probably have signaled danger to the new king. When David was recognized as king over both Israel and Judah, he made Jerusalem the political capital, i.e., the “city of David” (2 Sam 5:1 -10). Later, Solomon would make Jerusalem the permanent spiritual capital as well when he built the temple there (1 Kings 6 and 7). So Jerusalem was the natural city in which to crown the successor to Solomon and David.

It was not uncommon for the people to gather together to anoint a king. That had happened for Saul (1 Sam 9:15), David (2 Sam 2:4; 5:3), and Solomon (1 Chr 29:22). The difference here is that the people were dictating to the king where to be anointed. And the symbolism of Shechem portended problems. Shechem was in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim (Josh 24:1) and Jeroboam was an Ephraimite (1 Kings 11:26)! Clearly, the Israelites seemed to be putting the new king on the defensive by making him come to unfamiliar turf to be crowned king. None of this should have been a surprise to Rehoboam who knew the history of tribal conflict between Ephraim in the north and Judah in the south. As early as the time of Gideon, Shechem figured in opposition to the godly line of rulers when Abimelech refused to follow the line of Gideon and was crowned king in Shechem. It bears noting that Abimelech was Gideon’s son through a Shechemite concubine (Judg 8:31-9:6). Later, while David was being crowned king of Judah at Hebron, Abner was being crowned king of Ephraim at Mahanaim (2 Sam 2:1-9). Further, in David’s later years Sheba, a Benjaminite from Ephraim (2 Sam 20:21), revolted against David’s rule (2 Sam 20:1).

Verses 2-3: Jeroboam “was a valiant warrior” whom Solomon recognized as a gifted leader. In 1 Kings 11:28 we read that the great king appointed Jeroboam “over all the forced labor” of the house of Joseph. In other words, Jeroboam was in charge of all public works projects in the northern tribes. Note that Joseph was buried in Shechem (Josh 24:32), and it was at Mt. Ebal that Moses spoke to the Israelites before crossing the Jordan River (Deus 27-28); so despite a rebellious past it was a hallowed region to all Israelites (Josh 24:30, 33). On his way from Jerusalem north to assume his new responsibilities, Jeroboam met the prophet Ahijah who foretold of his kingship over the ten tribes of the north as a punishment against Solomon for ,his apostasy. Solomon, hearing of this prophecy, sought to kill Jeroboam forcing him into exile in Egypt. He returned to lead the gathering at Shechem at which Rehoboam appeared. Consequently, the assumption can legitimately be made that Jeroboam had both the motivation and the following to lead the Israelites in revolt against the new king, the son of Solomon, his erstwhile benefactor and then enemy.

Verse 4: Rehoboam’s dilemma was this: Should he ease up in the face of opposition led by his arch rival Jeroboam and risk the appearance of weakness, or should he continue his father’s harsh public practices, force his leadership on the Israelites, and thereby demonstrate that he is the undisputed king?

It is important to see that the demand of the Israelites had nothing to do with redressing the spiritual defection of Solomon’s later years. The Israelites were not complaining about Solomon’s apostasy or his idolatry which should have caused national grief. What angered the Israelites was their onerous civic obligations. They were more concerned about the good life than they were about the godly life! They were angry over the oppressiveness and not the religious declension of their national leaders. They were apparently totally indifferent toward faithlessness in the national character. Their sudden spiritual collapse under Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28; 2 Kings 10:29; 17:15-16) is evidence of this uncircumcised national heart.

There is little question that Solomon used a heavy hand in public works administration. Samuel had warned the Israelites of the drawbacks of a human king, but the people had insisted on having one (1 Sam 8:10-22). In 1 Kings 9:15-19 we read of Solomon’s public projects which required conscripted labor and taxation from all the tribes. That was the darker side of Solomon’s rule. On the brighter side, the people lived in peace, prosperity, and respect under Solomon (1 Kings 4:20-21—”they were eating and drinking and rejoicing,” 24-25; 1 Kings 10:27). Even the Queen of Sheba publicly acknowledged the benefits of Solomon’s leadership (1 Kings 10:8-9). Furthermore, while the “sons of Israel” were required to work on these massive building projects, they were not slaves, but rather laborers, (1 Kings 9:20-22).

It is obvious, therefore, that the Israelites under Jeroboam were selective in their recollections when they focused on the negative “harsh labor and heavy yoke.” They seemed to have forgotten the manifold benefits and blessings of a strong, vital and secure monarchy.

Verse 5: In response to the demand of the Israelite assembly, Rehoboam did one wise thing. He gave himself some time to mull over his response. He replied, “Come back day after tomorrow for your answer.”

Verse 6: During this period Rehoboam consulted with his father’s advisors who had presumably benefited from Solomon’s great wisdom (cf. 1 Kings 10:6-8, 23-24; 3:9-13). The Queen of Sheba referred to these advisors in 1 Kings 10:8. George Robinson (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p. 2823) maintains that Solomon probably was no more than sixty when he died (1 Kings 3:7 and 11:42), so his “elders” may well have been of that age. It is to these wise counselors Rehoboam first turned for advice.

It seems Rehoboam may have had correct, but weak, instincts for he first turned to his father’s elders for direction. Later in his administration he will also act wisely (1 Chr 11:23). He may have been a young man of a certain courage and determination for he wanted to fight for his kingdom after the revolt under Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:21), though later he was found cowering behind the walls of Jerusalem when King Shishak of Egypt attacked Judah (2 Chr 12:2-5). Rehoboam may even have been faithful to Yahweh, though weak in his faith, since he did refrain from attacking the northern tribes because “the word of the Lord” told him not to fight (1 Kings 12:24). On the other hand, he could not or would not prevent Judah from apostasy and idolatry (1 Kings 14:22-24). It is worth remembering at this point that Rehoboam had a Canaanite mother, “Naamah the Ammonitess” (1 Kings 14:21 and 11:3)—a perverse paternal legacy! The emerging picture of Rehoboam then is that of a well-intentioned but weak king.

Verse 7: Solomon’s elders advised Rehoboam to do three things to head off a tragic rupture in the united kingdom: (1) “serve the people”; (2) “answer their petition” (i.e., address their concerns); (3) “speak good words to them.”

The last suggestion, “speak good words to them,” deserves comment. The Septuagint translates “good” as agathos which is something “beneficial in effect.” Andrew Bowling (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, I, 793) states that the Hebrew term used here (tob) can either have a practical sense, or suggest an economic benefit. The word is used earlier in 1 Kings to mean the right thing morally and spiritually (8:18), economic prosperity and well-being (10:7), and/or a moral and pious life before God (8:36). Consequently, the general meaning of “good” here seems to be that which benefits, pleases, and is agreeable to God. The elders’ advice, reported in verse 7 then means, “Do the right thing and tell them what they want to hear, that is, that the ‘hard service’ and ‘heavy taxation’ will be eased.” Solomon himself would seem to so counsel his son in Proverbs 15:1 and 20:3.

The general thrust of the elders’ advice seemed to be appeasement and some moderation of the harsh public policies of Solomon. And this came from the very men who counseled Solomon during the period of “heavy yoking”! These men were apparently wise enough to see that what was good for one era may not be good and beneficial for another.

On the other hand, the Solomonic elders were probably not unmindful of the political realities of the situation for their counsel made profound political sense as well: give in “today” so that you can rule “forever.” Or eat a little political crow today and feast on political pheasant tomorrow! These men knew how to rule a country. They knew that the people were ostensibly only asking for leniency and not independence from Rehoboam. By giving a little now, Rehoboam could satisfy the moderates, leaving the radical Jeroboam-backers isolated from the mainstream, and therefore without many followers.

Verses 8-9: However, Rehoboam apparently had his mind already made up for he turned to his own advisors to get their opinion. Rehoboam seemed to have consulted the Solomonic elders as a political ploy, to keep those loyal to Solomon in the fold.

As John Bright points out (A History of Israel, p. 210), Rehoboam turned to “young men, like himself, born to the purple” for advice. 1 Kings 14:21 tells us Rehoboam was forty-one when he ascended to the throne, so “young men” then is more than just the age of his trusted advisors. The reference may also be to the similarity of their thinking to his: probably they were “men who grew up with him” and were new to the power of the crown. We later learn that Rehoboam found it easier to be surrounded by “yes men” than to have independent critical thinkers as his advisors. Note the emphasis on “serving him” as opposed to serving “his father Solomon.” The Hebrew word translated “forsook” or “rejected” is azab which Carl Schultz (TWOT, p. 658) maintains has “three distinct emphases: to depart, to abandon, and to loose.” Clearly the results, as well as the implication, of Rehoboam’s actions indicate that he left the wisdom of Solomon behind as he turned to his own advisors for counsel. It is probable that Solomon, had he been consistent with his own advice and the advice of his counsellors, would have done what the elders suggested.

The phrase, “that we may answer this people,” seems to indicate an official group of advisors composed of these “young men” who thought like Rehoboam. There is no “we” when Rehoboam addressed the “elders,” perhaps indicating they were now detached from an official power base. The request for advice from Solomon’s elders seems all the more perfunctory and pro forma.

Verses 10-11: The first thing one is struck with here is that the young advisors accepted the Israelites’ complaint as true. They did not challenge the supposition of the request, that is, the harshness of Solomon’s policies. Clearly this statement by the Israelites should have been challenged and refuted by Rehoboam by pointing out the peace and prosperity enjoyed during the reign of Solomon which was brought about by higher taxes and some public labor service. This was a far lower price to pay than the death, destruction, and exile which was the consequence of the apostate reigns following Solomon. Nevertheless, the negotiating agenda had already been staked out by the Israelites.

It is interesting to see the “young men,” those supposedly loyal to Rehoboam, distance themselves from the responsibility of decision-making by telling him “you shall say,” whereas Rehoboam was looking for “we may answer” response!

The counsel from the “youngsters” was harsh, imprudent, and provocative. They told Rehoboam to reply that the weakest part of his body (“littlest finger”) was stronger than Solomon’s strongest part (“loin”). A better translation of “loin” might be “waist.” What the young advisors were poetically suggesting was that Solomon was a mighty king but his power and might was no match for his son’s. Therefore, the people should not trifle with the new king. A raw and dangerous power play!

To show that Rehoboam intended to use his presumed might, he was counseled to say further that while Solomon put a “heavy yoke” on the people, Rehoboam would impose (“load”) an even heavier yoke of taxation. While Solomon kept the people in line with whips, Rehoboam would add barbed wire to the whips (“scorpions”) to give added pain, suffering, and fear!

What the “young men” were apparently attempting was to show “all Israel” that they were the new power elite and would broach no opposition or resistance. However, they pulled back from personal involvement or responsibility for their power play. Clearly the advice given was insensitive to political reality and foolhardy in the extreme.

Verses 13-14: After three days, Jeroboam led the Israelites back to Rehoboam for his answer. Tragically, the new king had listened to the new power elite and not the wise men who were older and more experienced.

The Scriptures say Rehoboam “answered the people harshly.” They do not say he lied, or that he was evil or that he was wrong—only that he was “harsh.” At its extreme the Hebrew term can mean “cruel,” “violent,” “fierce” (TWOT, p. 818). Gustav Oehler terms Rehoboam’s response to the Israelites’ demands “perverse rejection” (Theology of the Old Testament, p. 385). Verse 13 implies then that he was “harsh” because he didn’t follow the softer approach of servant-hood counseled by the elders in verse 7.

Verse 15: Obviously, Rehoboam did not hear what the Israelites were really saying. Of course, the new king heard with his ears what the people were asking. But that is not what the narrator has in mind. He means that while Rehoboam may have heard the words he missed the point! He heard the sounds but missed the meaning! This is crucial in the narrative because Rehoboam should have heard not only the words but also the intent, the emotion, the conviction being conveyed by the people. Had he done so he perhaps could have averted the tragic split of the nation.

Verse 16: The Israelites were dissatisfied when Rehoboam did not grant them relief from the load of heavy taxation and forced labor. To repeat, Rehoboam heard the people with his ears, but he had not “listened” to what they wanted. They were actually communicating something other than a simple request. Their “request” was an ultimatum, to which Rehoboam and his young advisors apparently were oblivious. So if Rehoboam would not “answer” correctly the request of the Israelites, then they would “answer” correctly to Rehoboam! And they did “answer” by their own aphorism. (See Sheba’s words of revolt against David in 2 Samuel 20:1.)

With poetry, the Israelites rejected ownership and responsibility for David’s kingly rule and tradition. If they were to be treated as slaves (vs. 14), then they were going to act like slaves, that is, give no loyalty or show no patriotism towards the crown. If the grandson of David was going to be extremely self-centered and self-preoccupied, so would the Israelites! Loyalty would apparently get them nothing but the dreaded scourge!

Verse 17: However, not every one deserted Rehoboam. The Judeans in the south stayed loyal to the new king just as Ahijah prophesied they would in 1 Kings 11:36.

Verse 18: Rehoboam was not pleased with the response of the northerners so he apparently made an effort to woo them back, to placate their anger, by sending an emissary perhaps intending to negotiate a return. He used a third party intermediary to effectuate a reunion.

Whether Rehoboam’s emissary, Adoniram, is the same man who served David (2 Sam 20:24) and Solomon (1 Kings 4:6; 5:14) as director of forced labor is problematic because of the length of time involved in such a term of service. Nevertheless, the important thing is that Rehoboam sent a government official who was responsible for the very area of anguish for the Israelites (“who was over the forced labor”) to the Israelites to apparently seek a rapprochement. The fact that Adoniram even went on the mission might indicate there was some hope and expectation of success. It was clearly a suicide mission otherwise. It was a case of too little, too late. Adoniram was stoned to death by the angry Israelites. Rehoboam obviously did not expect trouble for he was caught by surprise by the reaction and had to “flee back to Jerusalem.” He had tragically misread the depth of the Israelites’ outrage.

Putting another face on Rehoboam’s intention, one could say that Rehoboam sent Adoniram to the Israelites not to seek compromise but to enforce compliance with the forced labor laws, thereby adding gross insult to injury. This interpretation would indicate that Rehoboam still did not understand the depth of frustration and anger being expressed by the Israelites. He may not even have been aware that a revolt had taken place; so the mission of Adoniram may be interpreted as business as usual. In any case, the Israelites would have nothing to do with the enforcement attempt and they killed the enforcer. In their fury the Israelites even threaten the king himself! S. K. Moisiman (ISBE, p. 2551) rightly points out, “Rehoboam presumed too much on privilege not earned by service, and on power for which he was not willing to render adequate compensation.”

Verses 19-20: Even accepting the providential hand of God in this episode, one cannot excuse or overlook the grievous attitude of Rehoboam as the cause of this utterly catastrophic turn of events in the life of the tribes of Israel.

Further, even if there were some premeditated scheme on the part of the Israelites to make Jeroboam king regardless of how Rehoboam answered, the fact is that Rehoboam gave them plenty of justification for revolt. There is some thought that Jeroboam was called back from Egypt not to lead an Israelite assembly request to Rehoboam (vs 3) but rather to lead them to independence from Davidic rule. In any case, we are now left with two kingdoms (note this first biblical reference to the “house of Judah” versus the “house of Israel” in vs 21 immediately following the rebellion narrative), and two kings—this bifurcation caused by Rehoboam’s mismanagement of the pivotal episode in the history of God’s people.

We now turn to look briefly at some modern management theories as they might bear upon this leadership crises in church history.

A brief integration of prominent management literature and Rehoboam’s actions in 1 Kings 12

Position Power Versus Personal Power

From the very beginning of the relationship between Rehoboam and Israel there is tension caused by the ascendency through lineage of the new king without regard for the opinion of his subjects. This is a clear power struggle. Gary Yukl defines power as “an agent’s potential at a given point in time to influence the attitudes and/or behavior of one or more specified target persons in the direction desired by the agent” (Leadership in Organizations, p. 18). At stake in the beginning is not Rehoboam’s capacity to exert power but rather his right to exert the power of Solomon. Put another way, the Israelites are not ostensibly questioning Rehoboam’s power as much as his unilateral authority to rule as Solomon ruled. Management theory maintains that there are two major sources of power or influence a leader can use over “target persons”: position power and personal power (see Amitai Etzioni, A Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations). Position power is that power which comes inherently from the administration or organizational position of the occupant of that position, regardless of who the occupant is. Personal power is that power which comes from the characteristics and attributes of the person who occupies a position, regardless of the position. Rehoboam was depending on his position as king and son of Solomon to rule Israel and not his personal power base. Indeed, 2 Chronicles 13:7 speaks to his lack of personal charisma and credibility among his followers. It is notable at this point that Jeroboam had the opposite power source, i.e., personal and not positional. Due to Rehoboam’s stupidity, Jeroboam’s power source catapulted him into the kingship, deposing the rightful king (cf. 2 Chr. 13:6-7; 1 Kings 12:2-3, 20).

Six Power Bases of French and Raven

Analyzing a leader’s power source in another way, one can use what numerous authors have elucidated as power bases or forms of influence which cause a follower to follow a leader. This power base typology was developed in J. R. P. French and B. Raven, Studies in Social Power. (See also Hersey/Blanchard, Management of Organizational Behavior, pp. 178-179; Yukl, Leadership in Organizations, pp. 38-39; and Ross Weber, Management: Basic Elements of Managing Organizations, pp. 187-188).

French’s and Raven’s six power bases are as follows:
1. Coercive power base (based on fear).
2. Legitimate power base (based on the position held by the leader).
3. Expert power base (based on the leader’s possession of expertise, skill, and knowledge).
4. Reward power base (based on the leader’s ability to provide rewards).
5. Referent power base (based on the leader’s personal traits).
6. Information power base (based on the leader’s possession of information).
Hersey and Goldsmith (Management of Organizational Behavior, p. 178) propose a seventh power base:
7. Connection power base (based on the leader’s “connections” with influential persons).

It is fascinating to see which of these power bases Rehoboam appealed to in order to gain control over the Israelites. Rehoboam’s response to the Israelites’ request in verse 14 (adding “yoke” and “scorpions”) was an appeal to coercive power. The sending of Adoniram in verse 18 might have been motivated from a similar power base. Reward power was behind the Israelites’ request for leniency (vs 4) because they assumed Rehoboam had the power to grant relief from the oppressive labor and taxing policies of Solomon. A legitimate power base is evident from the fact that Rehoboam was designated successor king to Solomon by the Lord in 1 Kings 11:13 (cf. 1 Kings 12:23). This power base was recognized by Israel because they “had come to Shechem to make (Rehoboam) king” (vs 1). Rehoboam’s connection to David and to Solomon also generated a power base as the son and grandson of previous kings (“son of Solomon”-1 Kings 12:23; “house of David”-1 Kings 12:16, 19).

Although Rehoboam later would “act wisely” (2 Chr 11:23) in public administration, it is evident that he did not act wisely in this particular instance. Combining this observation with the judgment of 2 Chronicles 13:7, it is clear that Rehoboam was without a referent power base. Finally, Rehoboam had access to an expert resource pool through the Solomonic elders, but he chose to disregard the expert opinion and thus lost that power source.

Management Systems of Rensis Likert

When Rehoboam sought the counsel first of the Solomonic elders and then of his own circle of advisors, he engaged in what Rensis Likert would term a “benevolent authoritative” system of leadership (The Human Organization). Likert develops four major systems of management ranging from System 1 which is “exploitive authoritarian” to System 4 which is called “participative group.” These systems range along a continuum of people-orientation with System 1 being least people-oriented. The two middle systems are “benevolent authoritarian” (System 2) and “consultative” (System 3). Rehoboam initially used a “benevolent authoritarian” mode because he sought the advice of counsellors. He maintained control of the decision and did not delegate the verdict to anyone, yet he did seek to inform himself of other opinions. However, as Rehoboam talked with his younger advisors, he moved left, to System 1, “exploitive authoritarian”; Likert would characterize his attitude towards the Israelites as being “hostility towards peers and contempt for subordinates.” Likert maintains that leadership is generally more successful as it moves right to the more participatory mode, rather than left to the more authoritarian style.

Continuum of Leadership Behavior (Tannenbaum and Schmidt)

Tannenbaum and Schmidt (“How to Choose a Leadership Pattern,” Leadership and Organization; cf. Hersey/Blanchard, pp. 85-87, and Yukl, pp. 204206) have a similar continuum which they call “Continuum of Leadership Behavior.” It also ranges from the far left—”Boss Centered Leadership” where the leader makes a decision and then announces it, to the far right—”Subordinate Centered Leadership” or laissez-faire style of leadership where the leader permits “the subordinates to function within limits defined by the leader.” Rehoboam would clearly fall within the category of “Boss Centered” leadership on the far left of the continuum. There is a sense, of course, where any king will fall at this point in the continuum by the very nature of his responsibilities and expectations. However, Rehoboam initially moved towards the right when he opened himself up to some advice from subordinates that, if it had been taken, probably would have saved the day for him and the nation.

Force Field Analysis (Kurt Lewin)

Another helpful leadership theory is advanced by Kurt Lewin called “Force Field Analysis” (“Frontiers in Group Dynamics: Concepts, Method and Reality in Social Science; Social Equilibria and Social Change,” Human Relations, 1947; Hersey/Blanchard, pp. 115-117, 269-272). Basically, Lewin’s theory is that in any given situation there are two major types of forces at work: driving forces and restraining forces. The amount of change possible in the situation is determined by the strength and number of these competing forces. A driving force is a force which pushes in a particular direction fora particular result. A restraining force is a force which resists change and fights to maintain the status quo. A leader’s role is to know who and what the competing forces are and either to increase or decrease, add or eliminate forces to move the situation (or organization) in the direction desired. In Rehoboam’s case a strong driving force was Jeroboam’s ambition and Ahijah’s prophecy concerning his kingship of Israel (1 Kings 11:30-38). Another driving force against Rehoboam’s kingship was the dissatisfaction of the Israelites over Solomon’s forced labor and taxation policies. A third driving force was the apparent cavalier ambition for power of Rehoboam’s young advisors.

On the restraining side, Rehoboam desired to remain king over a united nation. Second, the Solomonic elders desired the house of David to continue to rule over a united kingdom. A third restraining force is the inclination of the Israelites to grant Rehoboam the benefit of his position when they came before him with the grievance and then gave him three days to formulate a position. A fourth restraining force is the loyalty of Judah and Benjamin (1 Kings 12:21), the priests and the Levites (2 Chr 11:13-14), and all the faithful “who set their hearts on seeking the Lord God of Israel” (2 Chr 11:16).

The equilibrium between the opposing forces was only destroyed when Rehoboam chose not to heed the Israelite request and another stronger driving force was added—the rage of the Israelites. This new driving force destroyed the “force field” completely by pushing the equilibrium line beyond Rehoboam’s grasp and into the clutches of Jeroboam who then maintained equilibrium for twenty-two years (1 Kings 14:20)!

Transforming Leadership Versus Transactional Leadership (James M. Burns)

James M. Bums (Leadership) draws the distinction between transforming leadership and transaction leadership. Burns defines transaction leadership as that relationship between leader and follower which is basically a contract between the two where both parties “exchange gratification” (p. 258). That is, one party “takes the initiative in making contact with others for the purpose of an exchange of valued things” (p. 19). On the other hand, transforming leadership is that leadership which is an “elevating force” (p. 166). The relationship can be characterized as more of a covenant than a contract in which it “raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspiration of both leader and led, and thus it has a transforming effect on both” (p. 20). (See also George F. Will, Statecraft as Soulcraft).

It would be expected that the son of Solomon would exercise transforming leadership, but such was not to be. Rehoboam failed to exercise such moral and uplifting leadership when the Israelites presented him with the contractual agreement: if you do this, then we will do this (vs. 4). The Israelites had thus reduced the relationship between themselves and the “house of David” from a covenant obligation to a contractual arrangement.

The fact of the matter is that Rehoboam never did ascend to transforming leadership. Rather, his was a perverse form of rule whereby he negatively influenced even the loyal Judeans, bringing them down. Though he ruled righteously for three years and led the Judeans in “the way of David and Solomon” (2 Chr 11:17), thereafter he led Israel to “forsake the law of the Lord” (2 Chr 11:17). Subsequently, there was a period of repentance for Rehoboam in which he led the nation of Judah into “good” times (2 Chr 12:12). But the overall evaluation of Rehoboam is given in 2 Chronicles 12:14, “And he did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the Lord.” Josephus writes that Rehoboam was a proud and foolish man and that he “despised the worship of God, till the people themselves imitated his wicked actions” (Antiquities, VIII, x, 2). Notice that the mention of Rehoboam’s apostasy follows immediately after the mention of his mother (2 Chr 12:15-16; cf. 1 Kings 14:21)! It took generations of heirs of Rehoboam to find a transforming king to lead Judah (e.g., sometimes Asa, 1 Kings 15, 22; sometimes Joash, 2 Kings 12:13; but preeminently, Hezekiah: “So there was great joy in Jerusalem, because there was nothing like this in Jerusalem since the days of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel” [2 Chr. 30:26; cf. 2 Kings 18-20]).

Situational Leadership (Hersey and Blanchard)

Hersey and Blanchard (Management of Organizational Behavior) offer a helpful theory they call “Situational Leadership.” Situational leadership can be defined as that leadership style which a “person should use with individuals or groups depending on the maturity level of the people the leader is attempting to influence” (p. 151). “Maturity” is defined in Situational Leadership as “the ability and willingness of people to take responsibility for directing their own behavior” (p. 151). Follower maturity consists of two dimensions: “job maturity (ability) and psychological maturity (willingness)” (p. 157). There is a maturity continuum (M1 to M4) beginning with “unable and unwilling to take responsibility” (M1) to “unable but willing to take responsibility” (M2) to “able but unwilling to take responsibility” (M3) to finally, “able and willing to take responsibility” (M4).

Turning to the leader, Hersey and Blanchard set forth two broad categories of leadership behavior: task-oriented behavior and relationship-oriented behavior. Task-oriented behavior is that in which a leader provides direction for people, that is, “telling” (Leadership Style #1) and “selling” (Leadership Style #2). Relationship-oriented leadership behavior is that which a leader engages in two-way communication with people, i.e., “participating” (Leadership Style #3) and “delegating” (Leadership Style #4).

The unique contribution of Hersey/Blanchard is their contention that a leader must adapt his style of leadership behavior to the maturity level of the followers. So a leader is forced to know the group well so as to judge where they are on the maturity continuum.

Having said this, what ought we to make of this Situational Leadership theory and Rehoboam? The Israelites were probably an M3, that is, able but unwilling to follow Rehoboam under the present circumstances. What was called for on Rehoboam’s part was a participating style of leadership behavior (S3). This would have the king more relationship-oriented than task-oriented with an emphasis on communicating with the Israelites and facilitating a commonly-arrived-at decision which would move the nation along the desired path for both parties.

However, Rehoboam misread the Israelites’ maturity level by treating them as M1 needing specific directions, organized and specified goals, clearly imposed time lines, and a mechanism for reporting back to him. Rehoboam used a highly task-oriented leadership behavior style (that is, “telling” or S1) which was totally ineffective and resulted in a breakdown of the organization. Hersey/Blanchard would call his style of leadership “inappropriate to a given situation and extremely ineffective” (pp. 97-98). That’s putting it mildly!

Theory Y, Human Potential Movement and Management by Objectives

Douglas McGregor (The Human Side of Enterprise) put forth the notion of “Theory Y” in leadership behavior and assumptions. These assumptions have been adopted into a concrete management system popularly called Management by Objectives (MBO) (See George Odiome, Management by Objectives; W. J. Reddin, Effective Management by Objectives: The 3-D Method; Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality; and Rensis Likert, The Human Organization). The core of MBO convictions can be summarized as follows:
1, Most people possess high level needs for power, autonomy, competence, achievement and creativity that increasingly are motivating those who have satisfied their physiological and security needs.
2. People will want to satisfy these needs through their work if provided an opportunity to do so.
3. The educational, competency and specialization levels of employees have increased to such an extent that they have substantial knowledge to contribute.
4. Organizations are facing increasingly complex and challenging conditions beyond the capacity of old-fashioned, centralized, authoritarian management.
5. People will work harder, satisfy their higher needs, manifest greater commitment, and perform better if they determine their own objectives.
6. Personal commitment and growth cannot be commanded by top management. It must be self-developed by individuals.
7. The best indicator of a superior’s performance is subordinate’s growth in capacity, aspirations and performance.

In looking at these seven core beliefs of MBO and how they relate to the episode with Rehoboam and Israel, it can readily be seen that the relationship between the Israelites and Jeroboam can be characterized by MBO belief #1. Unfortunately for Rehoboam, he didn’t perceive soon enough the expressed power and autonomy needs of the northerners.

The belief expressed in #4 surely applies to this particular administrative decision of Rehoboam. We see later where he decentralized and delegated some of his leadership and thereby accomplished some political success (2 Chr 11:23).

Conversely, belief #6 is evidenced by the reaction of the Israelites to Rehoboam’s foolish response: “And the king answered the people harshly … So the king did not listen to the people … When all Israel heard that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, ‘What portion do we have in David… (vss 13, 15 16)? In short, Rehoboam could not command a commitment to his goals. The Israelites’ commitment had to be self-generated and that opportunity was lost when Rehoboam gave his harsh answer.

Finally, MBO belief #7 is perversely illustrated in the response of the Israelites to Rehoboam’s harsh answer: “So Israel departed to their tents … Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. And it came about when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, [they] made him king over all Israel. None but the tribe of Judah followed the house of David” (vss. 16, 19-20). This indeed was an indicator of Rehoboam’s performance as king over Israel, that is, the Israelites aspired and performed in a quite unexpected way—they left Rehoboam!

Pastor Principle of Leadership (Howard Butt)

Howard Butt (The Velvet Covered Brick) advances what he calls “Christian leadership in an age of rebellion” in which Christians are to emulate Christ as “Servant-king” (p. 20) by being “velvet covered bricks.” The brick stands for authority and the velvet symbolizes submission to the Holy Spirit. Richard Mouw (Politics and the Biblical Drama) expresses the same thought when he states that a Christian can only lead if he is passive before God in order to be led by Him. Butt introduces what he calls the “Pastor Principle.” He writes that organizations demand leaders: “Leaders do not lead to lead; leaders lead to serve. They serve by leading; they lead by serving. In the Spirit of the Father and the Son” (p. 25). Obviously, Rehoboam’s example is not going to be found in Butt’s book!

Mouw’s view of relating kingly administration of God’s will to the peoples’ felt needs would be apropos for our passage as well. The godly king is called to administer God’s will in a transforming (as opposed to transactional) manner in which the people are conformed to the will of God through a just, merciful, and righteous ruling structure and administration. Psalm 72:6 speaks about this kind of godly king: “He (king) will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth” (see also vs 7; 1 Sam 12:14; Matt 9:36).

A key Scripture verse in this servant/leadership idea is Matthew 20:26: “… but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (see also Matt 23:11; Mark 9:35; and the awesome passage of Phil 2:3-11 which speaks of the great “servant-king” Himself, cf. 2 Cor 8:9).

Robert Greenleaf (Servant Leadership) postulates the same theory of leadership as Butt, but from a secular vantage point, deriving his view from a reading of Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East!

Myers-Briggs Indicator of Types

Finally, if one were to apply the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to Rehoboam’s type of leadership, it would give us a general understanding of how the new king’s management style would be evaluated in today’s management circles.

In evaluating an individual, M-B will mix and match eight stylistic preferences to arrive at four general types which will characterize an individual’s way of deciding things:
1. extrovert (E): relates more easily to the outer world of people and things than to the inner world of ideas.
2. introvert (1): relates more easily to the inner world of ideas than to the outer world of people and things.
3. sensing (S): rather work with known facts than look for possibilities and relationships.
4. intuition (N): rather look for possibilities and relationships than work with known facts.
5. thinking (T): bases judgments more on impersonal analysis and logic than on personal values.
6. feeling (F): bases judgments more on personal values than on impersonal analysis and logic.
7. judging (J): likes a planned, decided, orderly way of life better than a flexible, spontaneous way.
8. perceptive (P): likes a flexible, spontaneous way of life better than a planned, decided, orderly way.

With these eight categories or preferences in mind, I believe Rehoboam could be characterized as an extroverted thinking type with sensing and judging as auxiliary qualities. Or, to put it in the nomenclature of Myers-Briggs, Rehoboam is an ESTJ.

I’ve only touched on a few management and leadership theories as they pertain to Rehoboam. This is a classic scriptural illustration of gross mismanagement, of failed and flawed leadership which resulted in catastrophic tragedy. Each one of these theories could be used by itself to analyze Rehoboam’s actions. Indeed, 1 Kings 12 itself can be used as a guide to leadership principles. However one chooses to look at Rehoboam’s leadership decisions, there is enough authoritative material to provide ample illustrations for any current management/leadership theory.

A brief application of 1 Kings 12 management lessons

The Need for Follower Confirmation of Leader

Verse 1 of our passage sets the tone for any discussion of the leader-follower relationship.
The implication of this verse is that Rehoboam would not be the leader (king) unless the follower (Israel) “makes him” the leader! He cannot reign if there is no realm. This implication is born out in the case of other Old Testament leaders (1 Sam 10:24-25; 2 Sam 3:17-21; 5:1-3; 1 Kings 1:38-39). Consequently, the Old Testament Scriptures seem to indicate that any leader is leader only if the followers confirm or “make” his leadership.

Thus when Rehoboam went to Shechem to meet with the Israelites and be confirmed as their leader, this was not extraordinary but rather a biblically accepted procedure for leaders to be confirmed as leaders by their followers. Indeed, it appears from this passage that if a leader is to be effective and thus achieve his goals as leader, he needs the confirmation and affirmation of the followers. He cannot lord it over his subjects. Peter gives good counsel to Rehoboam and all leaders in 1, Peter 5:1-3.

After one becomes a leader of an organization, there is a period of peace but never calm because of the inevitable changes. Furthermore, there will be pockets of subtle opposition among members of the organization who still look elsewhere for leadership. One could call this the “Jeroboam Factor” in organizational conflict. This “Jeroboam Factor” of leadership opposition, however subtle within an organization, poses a persistent problem in small organizations. The ultimate solution to this “Jeroboam Factor” is to have the opposition “depart to their own tents.” Firing or publicly rebuking a Jeroboam figure can have beneficial effects and maybe the correct course of action.

But that is radical surgery on the organization! It would seem better for all concerned if a continuity of relationship could be maintained between followers and leaders. That may mean some changes of style on the followers’ part for which the leader could only be partially responsible, but it probably would also involve a different style of leadership on the leader’s part for which he would be completely responsible!

It appears from this passage that a biblically sound principle for leadership would be that when someone is elevated to management, business cannot be conducted as usual. Indeed, it would seem that one should not say, “There will be no immediate changes in operational or personnel procedures.” In order to gain the loyalty of the people it might be necessary to give the people some degree of participation in the elevation of the new leaders so that the followers feel they have some control over their lives, some ownership of the changes. Consequently, it may be necessary to broaden the peoples’ participation in management at certain points or give them certain unaccustomed-to benefits from the new leadership so they feel they are better off under the new leaders and that, in fact, they do have a stake, an “inheritance,” in the organization. This appears to be the course of action the Solomonic elders were advising.

The Need for Reflective Time Away From the Pressures of Leadership Decisions

A management principle coming out of this passage of Scripture is the need fora period of time away from the pressures of leadership. Here is an example of a biblical executive weekend retreat during which time the leader withdraws with his management team to seek their counsel (vss 5-6). The fact that Rehoboam rejected the counsel of the wise ones is irrelevant at this point. The fact is, Rehoboam did take time away to reflect. Practically, this would mean short conferences, management retreats, and “break-aways” for the organization’s leadership.

The Need for Honest, Critical and Forthright Counsel and Not Just Confirming Counsel

Rehoboam sought the counsel of two groups of advisors. He rejected one group’s advice and accepted the other group’s advice. In fact, it appears he rejected the first group’s advice before he received the counsel from the second group (vs 8)! Wise enough to seek advice from two groups with different perspectives and experiences, Rehoboam was foolish enough to follow the advice of the group with which he had a natural affinity. Contrary counsel will inform the leader concerning the nature and needs of the followers to which he would otherwise be insensitive or unaware. It is comforting to hear corresponding opinion, but these opinions may not enlighten the leader, and it is crucial for the leader to know the followers. As James Appleton stated in his June 1986 Fuller Seminary lectures: “In order to be effective a leader must learn more about the people, learn more about the situation and learn more about himself.” (For similar advice refer to Christopher Hodgkinson, The Philosophy of Leadership, pp. 210-211.) Wise counsel, even when contrary to the notions of the leader, will assist in this three-fold leadership goal.

Solomon had advice in this regard for both Rehoboam and today’s leaders:
“Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth.” (Prov 16:13; cf. also 26:28; 28:23; Ps 12:3)

The Need for Leaders Really to Listen to What Their Followers are Communicating

Solomon wrote: “A wise man will listen (hear) and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel” (Prov. 1:5). Before leaders can seek proper counsel they need to know what to seek counsel about. To put it another way, before they can get any answers, they need to know the questions. The only way a leader is going to find out what the followers want and need is by listening to what they are saying and doing. In this regard Solomon says: “He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame” (Prov. 18:13).

In Psalm 46:8-10 we have a biblical definition of listening which applies pointedly to Rehoboam. In this passage, listening (“being still”) is defined as observing (“come and see”), remembering (“He makes wars cease … he breaks the bow … he burns shields . . . .”), and understanding (“know”). In short, listening is not done just with the ears, but it also involves the eyes, as well as all the sense organs, and the mind of the individual. This is borne out in our passage with Rehoboam. If Rehoboam had been more observant, he would have known what was really going on among the Israelites (cf. James 1:19).

The Need for Leaders to be Uplifting and Encouraging to Fellow Leaders

The advice Rehoboam was given by the Solomonic elders contained this phrase, “. . . speak good words to them …… As I pointed out in the first section of this article, this means “edifying” and “encouraging” and “beneficial” words. Paul uses the same word (agathos) in Ephesians 4:29 when he writes: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (cf. also Col 4:6; Rom 15, and 1 Cor 12 on spiritual gifts). Note Solomon’s words on this subject: “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply, and how good is a timely word” (Prov. 15:23). If one subscribes to Howard Butt’s view of leadership as detailed in the Pastor’s Principle, then he sees edifying words as ministry tools to urge conformity to Christ’s image in Christians and to urge salvation to non-Christians.

Rehoboam rejected the milder and softer advice of the Solomonic elders for the harsh, threatening advice of the younger men. Our Great Leader did not use threats in His leadership: “. . . when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23). Paul commands leaders to forsake threats in dealing with followers: “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him” (Eph 6:9). It is sad that Rehoboam did not have a copy of the New Testament at Shechem. Still, he should have known better.

The Need for Leaders to Encourage Genuine Participation in Leadership Responsibilities on the Part of the Followers

Without any input into the public policy discussion of the united kingdom, the Israelites believed they had no “ownership” of the kingdom of Rehoboam. They had no voice in how their lives would be affected by the new king. So before they would confirm and recognize him as king, they wanted to extract from him a change in labor and tax laws. When Rehoboam foolishly refused to make any policy changes, even minor changes, the people realized the king was unsympathetic to their needs and that he had no intention of allowing them a voice in the counsels of power, so they revolted and established their own government in which they did have some control over their destiny. Paul’s admonition to his brother in Christ, Philemon, concerning Philemon’s salve, Onesimus, is instructive to a leader’s relationship with those with whom he works: “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me” (vs 17). Paul alludes to this self-determination in Colossians 4:1: “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you too also have a Master in heaven.”

The Need for Leaders to Serve Fellow Leaders “If you will be a servant to this people today, will serve them . . . then they will be your servants forever” (vs 7)

Thus ran the advice to Rehoboam by the Solomonic elders. In many respects, this is the key to biblical leadership, for if Rehoboam had proceeded this way, the division probably would not have taken place (disregarding for the moment the “turning” of history by the Lord in order to accomplish His will). Myron Rush (Management: A Biblical Approach, p. 15) defines biblical management as “meeting the needs of people as they work at accomplishing their jobs.” Mouw refers to a biblical perspective on leadership as “wounded leaders” doing their job and quotes Luke 22:25-27 in support of this conception. Ray Anderson, while defining Christian leadership in a more complex way than simply “service,” does write at one point that Christian leadership is “first of all being a servant, and then finding a promise that can be attached to a crying need” (Minding God’s Business, p. 81). Ted Engstrom and Ed Dayton define Christian leadership as “leadership motivated by love and given over to service” (The Art of Management for Christian Leaders, p. 27).

Regardless of how one precisely defines godly leadership, it seems clear from many passages of Scripture that service is an indispensable part of, and probably the foundation of, a genuine understanding and practice of any correct notion of leadership. A careful look at Rehoboam’s leadership style and activity can be enormously instructive for any Christian leader in any arena of leadership in today’s society. We only need to bend our will and our mind to learn and to be directed by God’s holy Word and His Holy Spirit.

(Footnotes available on request)


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