I recently watched the movie Schindler’s List, which I hadn’t seen since before I met Christ. It’s interesting and exciting to see how old things seen through this new lens are so much richer.
In the movie, there is a particular scene in which Schindler is trying to persuade ruthless SS officer Amon Goeth that real power is showing mercy. The latter attempts a change of behavior (e.g., refraining from executing a Jew who couldn’t sufficiently clean Goeth’s bathtub) but ultimately cannot shake the need to dominate with unrestrained force and brutality.
A similar scene plays out in this section of 2 Chronicles. The people have been overburdened by King Solomon’s penchant for building and creating, a situation that his son Rehoboam has inherited, and they approach the new king with a request: “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you” (2 Chron. 10:4).
Rehoboam (fragment of wall painting) by Hans Holbein the Younger
Although he is advised by some wise elders to lighten the load of work heaped upon the people, King Rehoboam instead heeds the advice of his peers and announces that he will rule even more harshly than his father (Solomon). Ten of the tribes rebel and crown their own king, becoming Israel, and Rehoboam takes two tribes (Benjamin and Judah) to form Judah. The split kingdom is invaded five years later by Egypt.
What might have happened if Rehoboam had listened to the elders? Surely the kingdom wouldn’t have split, leaving it vulnerable to plunder and desecration. Why does human nature so often equate mercy with weakness?
We know the answer is sin. We want to be in control and to let others know it. We see repeatedly throughout the Old Testament a cycle in which the people turn away from the Lord (or “forget” him) and follow their own paths, incur God’s judgment, and then experience restoration. We see this pattern with the long line of kings who forsake God and abandon his law once their kingdoms are established.
They enjoy political power, wealth, multiple wives, numerous children, and fame, yet they all ultimately fail. Only the king who arrives not on a stallion but on a donkey, not in wealth but in poverty, can free us from this endless cycle once and for all:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)