Sometime around 920 BC, according to the Old Testament record, the Kingdom of Israel, whose union had been secured by David and maintained by his son Solomon, split into its Northern and Southern halves under the reign of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.
Before the division of the kingdom, upon Rehoboam’s accession to the throne, the Israelites are recorded as giving the new king an ultimatum: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” The Bible narrates the king’s response:
Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.
They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”
But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?”
The young men who had grown up with him replied … Now tell them … my father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’”
Rehoboam took the advice of his young friends. Not to the elders’ surprise, the people did not, after being threatened with burdens and scorpion whips, elect to serve Rehoboam, and the kingdom fractured.
The temptation exists as always, among politicians and pundits as well as kings, to reject the wisdom of elders and inhale the zeitgeist of the young. In the time of Rehoboam, youth was bewitched by violence. Now it is drunk with modern individualism. Regardless of generation or era, the philosophy of youth is often hollow, glazed with the intoxicating sheen of moral certitude.
Young people are not wrong by necessity, and even the rashest juvenile has fits of wisdom. But across the wide gap that exists between today’s young adults and their parents and grandparents, our politics might do well to deign to age for wisdom’s sake—much more than the union of a kingdom could very well depend on whether we do.