The Story of Rehoboam and the Story of God

The story of Rehoboam is a sad tale. You can read about his seventeen year reign in a handful of chapters (see 1 Kings 12:1-24 [parallel 2 Chron. 10:1-19; 11:1-4]; 14:21-31 [parallel 2 Chron. 12:1-16]; 2 Chronicles 11:5-23).

If you were to read his story as the average, American evangelical pastor would preach it, you would leave telling yourself to be more virtuous, more committed to God, and more respectful of your elders. Basically you would say, “Don’t be like Rehoboam.”

But that is a deadly trap. Why? Because you will wake up in three days having forgot about the moral cues and motivation will be lost.  How then should we read the story of Rehoboam?

Remember that there are three levels of Old Testament narrative. The bottom level is the individual narrative; the middle level is the narrative of God’s covenant with Israel; the the top level is the metanarrative of God’s redemptive plan. This top level must always be on our minds. If we only stay at the bottom level, we will equate what Rehoboam didn’t do to what we should do; thus we will become moralistic.

Insights into the bottom two levels are probably easy enough for anyone with a working knowledge of the Bible to discover. The top level, however, is where we see Jesus and it gives us a framework to view the Bible as a unified story.  To get to the top level, we ask questions like, “Why is this story in the Bible?” “How does this point to Jesus?” “How does this story help the progress of God’s redemption in creation?”

After some hard thinking, Lord willing, you will come to something like this:

  • Rehoboam falls short of what Israel was longing for in a king (cf. 1 Sam. 8). Thus his failures urge Israel to yearn for a true King who will not place heavy burdens on them as an overbearing dictator (cf. Matt. 11:28-29), but will rather be a servant who is willing to suffer, even unjustly, for his people (cf. Isa. 52:13-53:12; 1 Pet. 3:18).
  • Rehoboam’s apparent humility leaves Israel longing for a King who is truly humble and meek and will not dishonor God by forsaking the glory of his name (cf. John 17:4-5).
  • The priests in the story who fail to honor God for longer than three years leave the people Israel hungry for a true Priest who is able to faithfully go before God on their behalf (cf. Heb. 4:14-5:10).
  • Rehoboam (and Jeroboam, together) leave Israel desiring a true and better kingdom that will not be divided and cannot be shaken, and is ruled by one great king who is faithful and true and will always act in the best interest of the people (cf. Heb. 12:28; Rev. 19:11-16).

This is “Christ-centered hermeneutics.”  Christ is the focus and goal of every passage. I hope this helps you avoid simply “reading” the Bible, trying to find a command to obey, but rather challenges you to seriously engage God in the great story he is writing in history and see Christ as the hero.

When that happens, you will worship Christ and then (and only then) will you by grace be empowered by the Holy Spirit to love God and obey his commands as you ought.