Last Thursday, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. By a slim majority, Britain’s voters are opting to end their 43-year-old membership in the economic co-op—a move popularly referred to as “Brexit”—or the “British exit.”
The European Union (EU) and its predecessor the European Economic Community (EEC) originally formed after World War II. Leaders at the time believed that increased economic cooperation would reduce the likelihood of war between participating countries.
The UK was fairly evenly divided on Brexit, with the vote to “Leave” taking only 52% of the total vote. And people felt strongly about it: More than 70% of the voting population turned out, the most since the UK-wide general election in 1992.
Debates about immigration played a key role in the national conversation. Britain’s departure may limit how many workers can migrate from poorer EU countries into Britain. However, the EU may respond by limiting Britain’s economic benefits related to the Union. Britain’s current Prime Minister David Cameron submitted his resignation shortly after the vote, leaving the logistics of Brexit to his successor, who will take office in October when Cameron leaves. Britain’s full withdrawal from the EU could take as much as 2 years.
In the contemporary Western world we’ve come to expect our governments to provide a high level of stability for society, so a change like Brexit surprises and scares us. Britain’s withdrawal has disturbed the world economy, and the fear of a looming recession is already building. Ideally, governments rule with peace and security, but not everything goes as planned.
In the Bible, ancient Israel was no stranger to dividing countries and unstable governments. The kingdom of Israel descended from ancestors who fought among themselves for land and power within the family. Abraham and Lot. Jacob and Esau. Joseph and his brothers. These divisions paved the way for another major split after the death of King Solomon—after the family had grown into a kingdom.
Solomon was known for his wisdom, but his building projects had exhausted his labor force. When his son Rehoboam ascended to the throne, he promised to be even more demanding. This infuriated Israel, so the ten northern tribes made their own Brexit. Everyone but Judah and Benjamin declared Jeroboam their king instead and became their own separate nation. The split created lots of uncertainty and instability, just like Europe is facing now, but throughout the Old Testament the story of the divided kingdom reminds us that God faithfully cares for those who commit their trust to him.
1 Kings 12:1-17
Rehoboam traveled to Shechem where all Israel had gathered to inaugurate him as king. Jeroboam had been in Egypt, where he had taken asylum from King Solomon; when he got the report of Solomon’s death he had come back.
Rehoboam assembled Jeroboam and all the people. They said to Rehoboam, “Your father made life hard for us—worked our fingers to the bone. Give us a break; lighten up on us and we’ll willingly serve you.”
“Give me three days to think it over, then come back,” Rehoboam said.
King Rehoboam talked it over with the elders who had advised his father when he was alive: “What’s your counsel? How do you suggest that I answer the people?”
They said, “If you will be a servant to this people, be considerate of their needs and respond with compassion, work things out with them, they’ll end up doing anything for you.”
But he rejected the counsel of the elders and asked the young men he’d grown up with who were now currying his favor, “What do you think? What should I say to these people who are saying, ‘Give us a break from your father’s harsh ways—lighten up on us’?”
The young turks he’d grown up with said, “These people who complain, ‘Your father was too hard on us; lighten up’—well, tell them this: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. If you think life under my father was hard, you haven’t seen the half of it. My father thrashed you with whips; I’ll beat you bloody with chains!’”
Three days later Jeroboam and the people showed up, just as Rehoboam had directed when he said, “Give me three days to think it over, then come back.” The king’s answer was harsh and rude. He spurned the counsel of the elders and went with the advice of the younger set, “If you think life under my father was hard, you haven’t seen the half of it. My father thrashed you with whips; I’ll beat you bloody with chains!”
Rehoboam turned a deaf ear to the people. God was behind all this, confirming the message that he had given to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah of Shiloh.
When all Israel realized that the king hadn’t listened to a word they’d said, they stood up to him and said,
Get lost, David!
We’ve had it with you, son of Jesse!
Let’s get out of here, Israel, and fast!
From now on, David, mind your own business.
And with that, they left. But Rehoboam continued to rule those who lived in the towns of Judah.