In 2 Chronicles 13, we find Judah about to face off in battle against Israel. Following the glorious, climactic reign of Solomon, the kingdom by this point had split in two.
We know that Rehoboam took foolish counsel from other young men and answered the people harshly. When the overburdened people asked for a lightening of Solomon’s heavy-handed rule, Rehoboam doubled down, walked into a fight with his words, and divided a nation. One man’s folly ended the golden age of Israel’s national existence.
Some years later, Abijah (Solomon’s grandson and David’s great grandson) led Judah in battle against Jeroboam and Israel. The wide angle view of Abijah’s life was hardly the picture of obedience to God’s law, yet in this snapshot he seems to have been in the right.
As the battle neared, Judah was outnumbered, with 400,000 set against Israel’s 800,000. Despite the fact that Jeroboam’s armies surrounded and began to ambush Judah’s fighting men, Abijah’s troops would win a stunning victory. In the end, some 500,000 Israelites—chosen men, the most valiant warriors—were slain. The victory went to Judah because unlike Israel, it had not forsaken God.
Despite the “victory,” it was ultimately tragic—a civil war that cost nearly as many lives as the American Civil War. You could trace all the senseless carnage and shattered lives back to the failure of leadership displayed by Rehoboam. One man’s soft character led to the death of three quarters of a million of his own people and changed the direction of the nation forever.
Abijah’s speech before the battle focuses in on this aspect of Rehoboam’s character and past actions.
Hard Words About a Soft Man
As the two armies formed battle lines, Abijah told Jeroboam that he, Jeroboam, was able to revolt against Rehoboam and divide the kingdom because Rehoboam was “young and irresolute and could not withstand them” (2 Chronicles 13:7).
You might pass over a word like “irresolute,” as I almost did, except that I noticed the ESV gives us a footnote. As an alternate meaning, the Hebrew word being used denotes that Rehoboam was “soft of heart.”
While the ESV translates the Hebrew word rak as “irresolute,” it means “tender, delicate, soft.” It can mean “tender, delicate, especially in body, implying weakness of undeveloped character.” It can also mean “weak of heart, timid,” or referring to “soft words.”
Keep in mind, at this pivotal time Abijah is speaking about his father. Maybe Rehoboam passed on the lesson of his own failure to his son so that he would not repeat it. Maybe Abijah simply knew his history. In any event, the son didn’t miss the point made by a generation-impacting failure of leadership: one man’s soft character can destroy a nation. He wasn’t about to make the same mistake.
Rehoboam altered the fate of his nation because he was a soft man. His softness seems to have come from a number of factors: his youth, inexperience, and perhaps the circumstances of his upbringing. He was weak of character and delicate, likely because he was raised in opulence, wealth, and comfort. We also know that he wasn’t faithful to God’s Word. Soft men come from soft places and soft people.
It reminds me of something John Piper once said in Chapel at Southern Seminary. He warned the students that the pristine and decadent campus could destroy their souls because it was so “posh and nice.” Those are the kind of surroundings that can make men soft, cowardly, and compromising when they should be hard, resolute, and courageous to oppose evil. Piper’s words were an accurate foreshadowing of what would happen to the seminary because of Critical Race Theory and Woke Politics.
You can also think of the Spartans, who realized hard warriors came from hard training and a hard life. Or John, who didn’t grow up with white collar amenities but in a wilderness with sparsity and danger.
John: The Hard Man Par Excellence
Compare Rehoboam’s softness to what Jesus said about John the Baptist in Matthew 11.
Speaking to the crowds about John, Jesus asked, ““What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses” (Matthew 11:7-8).
I’ve talked about this before, but the word here for soft in the Greek is malakos, which also translates elsewhere to effeminate. Soft men in soft places (king’s palaces) wear soft clothing. They live in, fellowship with, and adorn themselves with softness. Their environment and friends are soft, and it seeps into their bones—much like xenoestrogens that soften plastic & human skin tissue.
Rehoboam was that son raised in a king’s house. He was delicate and, as a result, dangerous to his people. He lacked the courageous character to confront rebellion with competence. Ironically, a wise, hard man would have spoken a soft word and would have saved the nation; instead, a soft man spoke a hard word and caused horrendous national division, death, and destruction. Too often, soft men wrongly think “tough talk” will make up for their own insecurity, when it actually works to fan the flames of conflict. A wise man knows when to use a gentle word of appeal and when to roar like a lion.
There’s a couple of valuable lessons we can glean from this historical account.
First, soft men will get you killed.
Men of weak character put the people around them at risk, and this only worsens as timid-hearted men of delicate constitution rise in the ranks of leadership within a community, church, or government. Think of Captain Sobel in Band of Brothers, the petty and capricious disciplinarian of Easy Company who always got lost, tortured his men, and was wildly disliked.
What we should really be afraid of—what will really destroy any people—is not dangerous men, but weak men. Soft men are actually an incredible hazard to any community or organization.
This is particularly troubling in the church because we have been championing soft, effeminate men in the pulpits and pews for decades. We’ve been creating soft spaces to have an “intimate relationship with Jesus,” which has not surprisingly driven masculine men away. Our songs are erotic love songs to Jesus, which means that for men to sing them, you’re basically asking them to be homosexuals.
Timidity or weakness in the face of evil is a curse upon the people. We are innately aware that, when evil men rise, what we desperately need are brave men capable of tremendous (and controlled) violence. This is a blessing to the people. Men to protect society, defend the walls, and shed the enemy’s blood.
We don’t have to look very far to find modern examples of the dangers of this kind of timid, soft leadership. For example, there have been scores of pastors who have defended government tyranny, lockdowns, restricted worship gatherings, forced vaccinations, and mandates that have destroyed small businesses. Rather than standing in the gap for their people, these church leaders have exposed them to government tyranny and abuse. Weak leaders expose their people to destitution and destruction.
Second, men need to be on guard against softening agents.
If you grow up with wealth, ease, & comfort, the chances of you developing into a courageous, competent man of action is almost non-existent. This is one reason why America, perhaps the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, produces so few hard men, so few men of competence & courage.
Just as we should try to avoid xenoestrogens in plastics that leech estrogen (a softening agent) into our body, we should also be avoid soft places & people. Are your companions disciplined, bold, honest men who actively work to harden their minds and bodies? Or are they overweight, lazy, addicted to porn or electronics? Are your friends pushing you to get harder or are they pulling you into complacency?
If you have fat friends, studies show you are nearly 70 percent more likely to become fat yourself. This is why a gang of hard men is so vital—it will help you develop into a hard man, physically, mentally, morally, and otherwise. Choose your gang wisely.
Soft times produce soft men.
It shouldn’t surprise us that a generation raised on self-esteem, safe spaces, & widespread safetyism has turned out to be soft, timid, delicate little snowflakes. Our sons, like Rehoboam, were raised in the lap of luxury. They were coddled. They were protected from differing viewpoints. And we wonder why they, like Rehoboam, are so irresolute in the day of adversity.
On the other hand, hard times produce hard men.
If you were a wise father, you would expose your sons to hardship, trial, and adversity. Hard-ships produce hard men. As men carry the load of responsibility in trying times, they develop hard muscles & hard character. They aren’t squishy, but possess steely spines for standing tall in the hour of darkness.
Men, you have to find hard things and do them. Again and again. Put a pack on and ruck. Lift weights. Find endurance activities that mentally exhaust you.
We ought to be exposing our sons, in love, to hard experiences. We ought to be seeking out hard things for ourselves. Find activities and missions that stretch your body and put callouses on your hands and minds.
Third, a hard man knows when to speak softly.
The Proverbs tell us that a soft answer turns away wrath, and a wise man knows when to use it. Fundamentally, a strong man knows how to restrain himself, and so to measure his speech. He isn’t a loose cannon. He isn’t a man prone to angry outbursts. He knows when to be at DEFCON 2 or 4.
On the other hand, it is so often true that men of weak character (soft men) are constantly trying to blast people with their words. Why? Because they are threatened and insecure. Their only recourse is to control people with angry or manipulative words. They are the ones—like Rehoboam—who have to constantly remind others that they are, in fact, in charge.
A good example would be your marriage. If you have to tell your wife that you are the patriarch and she has to obey you—or else—you’ve already lost control of the situation and failed as a leader. Wise leaders know how to win people with their words and actions without having to demand obedience. Discipline, teach, and hold accountable. Come to agreements. Speak winsomely. Act decisively. Lead in such a way that obedience is compelling and freeing.
Fourth, hard men are a protection to their people.
We keep hearing that authentic masculinity is toxic, an unfortunate stain on the fabric of society. And the truth is, there really is a fake form of masculinity that is pretty toxic. It actually destroys communities, households, & churches. Let’s call it “Will Smith Masculinity”—slapping dudes in the face for “disrespecting” the same wife you allow other men to have sex with. It’s a strange mix of bravado, ill-directed violence, and disgusting sexual absurdities. All while failing to defend what you should, when you should, in the way you should.
But biblical, hard masculinity—the kind that stands up courageously to lay its life down in defense of its people in the face of evil—is inherently good.
The man who protects his wife by calling her to embrace modest attire is good. The man who refuses to let the state steal his children’s hearts and minds, thus protecting them, is good. The man who kills invaders is good. And he is a protection to his people.