The United States and Russia have reached a tenuous cease-fire in the three-way civil war that has decimated Syria and killed between 300,000 and 500,000 people. Despite supporting opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, the two superpowers found common ground in their opposition to the Islamic jihadist groups seeking to further destabilize the country.
The long-standing Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad and backed by Russia, has been at war with U.S.-supported rebel groups. These groups, however, have been in the same territory as the Islamic jihadists, so that the Assad military can’t tell the difference and is haphazardly targeting them altogether.
The cease-fire affords both sides a chance to winnow out the rebels from the jihadists, so that the jihadists can be targeted and removed from the war. Despite Syria’s uncertain future, for now, both sides are celebrating just achieving a cease-fire long enough to isolate the jihadists.
Syria’s civil war originated in the pro-democracy protests of 2011, part of the “Arab Spring.” Assad’s father had ruled for 30 years before Assad became president in 2000. By 2011, there was no sign of a change in leadership. Protestors sought fair and democratic elections of their leaders, but Assad’s security forces opened fire on demonstrators, exploding a tense situation into a five-year civil war.
Government changes have often created instability and uncertainty. The people of Israel experienced similar turbulence when King Solomon died. King Solomon was a wise and successful king who carried out several large building projects during his reign. However, Solomon’s success was achieved, in part, on the backs of forced labor. The people felt mistreated and overworked, and when Solomon’s son Rehoboam became king, they pleaded with him for mercy.
Likewise, the Syrian people are seeking fair treatment and compassion from their leaders, but President Assad has seemed resistant to change. The people revolted when they saw no other way to achieve the justice they desired. The story of Rehoboam and the division of the kingdom of Israel shows us what happens when a government and its leaders refuse to have compassion on citizens.
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.