Home > Singapore Scene > A bible story that seems timely for Singapore after GE 2011

A bible story that seems timely for Singapore after GE 2011

I read this story this morning and was struck by the similarity between what Singapore is going through, and this period in the history of Israel.


Jerusalem

1 Kings 12

The Northern Tribes Revolt

   Rehoboam went to Shechem, where all Israel had gathered to make him king. 2 When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of this, he returned from Egypt,[a] for he had fled to Egypt to escape from King Solomon. 3 The leaders of Israel summoned him, and Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel went to speak with Rehoboam. 4 “Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.”

 5 Rehoboam replied, “Give me three days to think this over. Then come back for my answer.” So the people went away.

 6 Then King Rehoboam discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father, Solomon. “What is your advice?” he asked. “How should I answer these people?”

 7 The older counselors replied, “If you are willing to be a servant to these people today and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your loyal subjects.”

 8 But Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers. 9 “What is your advice?” he asked them. “How should I answer these people who want me to lighten the burdens imposed by my father?”

 10 The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! 11 Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!'”

 12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to hear Rehoboam’s decision, just as the king had ordered. 13 But Rehoboam spoke harshly to the people, for he rejected the advice of the older counselors 14 and followed the counsel of his younger advisers. He told the people, “My father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!”

 15 So the king paid no attention to the people. This turn of events was the will of the Lord, for it fulfilled the Lord’s message to Jeroboam son of Nebat through the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh.

 16 When all Israel realized that the king had refused to listen to them, they responded,

   “Down with the dynasty of David!
We have no interest in the son of Jesse.
Back to your homes, O Israel!
Look out for your own house, O David!”

   So the people of Israel returned home.


Singapore

Some background. The story is set after King Solomon had died. Rehoboam, his son, was the successor to the throne. Israel was made up of 12 tribes. Solomon belonged to the tribe of Judah, and Levi was a priestly tribe. God had intended to divide Israel into 2 kingdoms, the southern kingdom would be later renamed Judah and the other 10 tribes would form Israel. Jeroboam was the man God had picked to rule the northern kingdom.

At this time in the history of Israel, a new king would soon be crowned. Compare this to what is happening in Singapore – we just had a cabinet reshuffle, and PM Lee Hsien Loong had just been sworn in. This time however, his father, Retired MM Lee Kuan Yew, will no longer be part of the Cabinet. It’s almost like a fresh new mandate for him.

The similarity does not end there. Listen to the cries of the people. Observe the following:

and Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel went to speak with Rehoboam. 4 “Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.”

Doesn’t that sound like the cries of the opposition parties during the elections? No one can deny that Mr Lee Kuan Yew ruled with an iron hand. I am not complaining about the past. I am one of those who believe that when a nation is at a fledgling stage, especially where there are threats of unrest and civil disorder, a benevolent tyrant or fairly authoritarian democracy work better than total democracy. However as the nation matures, governance has to change. The powers-that-be cannot just focus on growing the nation economically and in areas of security and defense. The leaders need to look at the needs of the people, particularly those who are down and out. It is hard to inspire loyalty when the people feel ignored and dispensable, that they always need to be sacrificed for the sake of building a strong economy. The people need an alternative voice in parliament to sound their cause and to suggest alternative policies or help to fine tune existing ones. A wise government will consider their opinions and not simply deride them.

Rehoboam did the right thing. He consulted with his people. First he checked with the older and presumably wiser advisors. Their answer was similar to what Jeroboam and his group had said. Next he consulted with his peers, who told him to be even harsher than his father.

The thing to learn here is who you consult with, and then how to take a decision. For our Prime Minister, he really needs to sieve what he is going to hear from so many quarters, and pick the right advice. One way is to check the track record of his advisors. If these had been involved in policy making before, did their policies improve the lives of the people? It cannot be populist policies per se. It’s about effective policies that will bring good to Singapore without adding further burden to her people.

One example that comes to mind is the current revision of ministerial salary. The PM has done well to use an external committee to look into this issue. The appointment of Gerard Ee is probably a good idea. Gerard Ee himself is asking for opinions, which is not a bad thing in itself. His job is however made more difficult as more opinions mean more angles to consider. I do not envy his task, for whatever he comes up with, he will not please everybody. Nonetheless, it needs to be done, and ultimately it will not be about the amount per se, but the justification of the amount that will be key.

Next take a look at the attitude of Rehoboam’s peers.

10 The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! 11 Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’

This is where I am most concerned with. These young people, the elite of the day, called the people “complainers” and insinuated they were just lazy

those complainers who want a lighter burden.

Sounds familiar? Remember the elite girl who told us to “get away from her elite, uncaring face” or the presumably rich girl who told heartlanders to stay away from her exclusive Holland Village? This is really quite worrying. The young “elites” in our meritocratic society are most likely to end up being our leaders tomorrow. If  the young is conditioned only to chase success or wealth, to show disdain to the less able, exhibit a lack of compassion to those less fortunate than themselves, to desire to only associate with people of similar wealth, status or intellect, then our country is in trouble. We do not wish to be a welfare state, with the government handing out money at every turn. Therefore we must ensure that the young learn to care enough to look after the needs of society, to have a generous spirit and not just condemn the unable.

Finally pay attention to the result of Rehoboam’s decision. Ignore the people long enough, and the consequences can be dire. I have enough faith in my country and my leaders that this will not happen. Nonetheless it is necessary to sound the warning.

16 When all Israel realized that the king had refused to listen to them, they responded,

   “Down with the dynasty of David!
We have no interest in the son of Jesse.
Back to your homes, O Israel!
Look out for your own house, O David!”

   So the people of Israel returned home.

May this not happen to us, may we not be such a segregated, divisive nation. May we achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.

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