Then Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served Solomon during his lifetime. “What advice would you give me to say to these people?” he asked.
The elders replied, “If today you are willing to serve these people, show yourself to be their servant now by speaking with kindness and granting their petition, and they will always follow you.”
But Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders and turned to a group of young friends with whom he had grown up. “What is your advice?” he asked them. “How should I reply to these people who are telling me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?”
His friends replied, “Tell these people – who said, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter’ – tell them, ‘You think my father was well endowed? Why, my little finger is thicker! You think my father laid a heavy yoke on you? I’ll make it even heavier! Solomon scourged you with whips? I’ll scourge you with scorpions!’”
1 Kings 12:6-11
It appears we stumbled across a size queen. Imaginatively entering the passage I am dying to ask all the inappropriate questions: How do you know how big daddy was? Why is it important for you to be bigger? Oh the possibilities are limitless!
Arresting as the “father’s endowment/my little finger” image is, the impact of the ill fated advice is strengthened with the parallel image of whips and scorpions. First a size queen, now a practitioner of sadomasochism. It makes you wonder if Rehoboam and his young advisers were leather cubs in training.
While my imagination wants to play with these images they are not the import of the passage. This text is given as an explanation of the split between the Northern and Southern kingdoms of ancient Israel. It is noteworthy that the rupture of a unified Israel is portrayed in images of sexual aggression and dominance and the rebuffing of such violence.
To push the metaphor is to discern that underlying this passage is the issue of who owns our bodies - the issue of colonization. I understand this is an abiding concern for same gender loving folk of African-American heritage. Ugly and nasty was the use of slaves for breeding and the sexual relief of white masters.
A similar dynamic, although in a very different milieu, exists between certain aspects of religious institutions and queer people. The emphasis on the model of male-female coupling as normative is an attempt at sexual authority over the lives and bodies of queer folk. The attitude that natural feelings of affection and attraction are “unnatural” and “immoral choices” fosters the notion that the straight community can and should exercise authority over queer persons.
I used to view the split between the tribes of ancient Israel as a misfortune of history. No more! Rehoboam was a fool. He listened to the advice he wanted to hear, naïve and novice as it was. The ten tribes which rebelled did the right thing. They reclaimed their lives and bodies in the face of the political tyranny of a boyish, oversexed king.