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.


What if obedience doesn’t give me joy?

Oftentimes in the Christian life, we do not want to do something even though it is the right thing to do. It may be something that causes us to be uncomfortable or particularly humbled or work in an area of weakness. We simply do it because we know we are “obeying God,” even though it does not give us joy. I experience this. Some might answer this problem with, “Don’t do it if your heart isn’t right. After all, God cares more about your heart!” Others might say, “Just keep obeying. You’ll have joy in heaven.”  Neither of those help me, and I doubt they help you.

At the risk of oversimplifying, this might help. Obey until you have joy, then keep obeying. I do not believe that joy is only reserved for the next life, and I also believe God cares about heart-level obedience that manifests itself in external ways. Jesus prayed, “I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).  But he also said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). These are not at odds.

If you continue to obey, plead with God for your heart motivation to change and to experience true joy. I believe God will soften your heart. If you disobey, your heart motivation will not change, no joy will come from disobedience, and your heart can only harden more.

True joy lies in humility and insignificance. Remember the words of our Lord Jesus, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and the Apostle Paul, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Life Theology

How were people in the Old Testament saved?

David Murray, professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, answers this question when asked about preaching Christ from the Old Testament:

I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:

1. They were saved by obeying the law.

2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.

3. They were saved by a general faith in God.

4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.

Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin’s Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the blur that often surrounds this question.

Read the whole post to see thoughts from Murray, as well as Tim Keller and Don Carson, about some cautions when preaching Christ from the Old Testament.


Stop telling me how to be better. Tell me to live like I’m new.

“This stuff seems so easy to remember and do.”  That was what a friend of mine said during a men’s time before church a couple Sundays ago.  He, of course, is single (which is not a crime, mind you).  He was referring to what we had just learned from a sermon on DVD about being a godly husband.  I was sitting to his left and a tad behind his periphery.  As he went on, I was shaking my head.

One of our pastors, who leads the time, was smiling. He said, “James is saying, ‘NO WAY.'”  “You have no idea,” I said with a smile.

My friend went on: “Oh, I know. I realize it’s probably really difficult.  I’m just saying.”

Probably? I’m just saying…

Our little men’s group knows that being a godly husband is infinitely more than just dos and don’ts.  I’m reminded of that as I read The Masculine Mandate, by Rick Phillips.  It’s not your average book for Christian men. It’s more than that. It’s not chapter after chapter of stuff for a guy to do in order to be a better man, husband, and father. It’s a book with theology and wisdom about how to become what Christ has created men to be. It’s a book about being a redeemed man, husband, and father.  I’m tired of being told how to be better by some author who thinks he has the secret to a great marriage. Honestly, I just want to be challenged to live like I’m new — because that’s what I am.

I don’t have the book in front of me now, otherwise I’d quote Rick and stop rambling. Hopefully I’ll have time to review it when I’m finished.  But for now, I can say one thing — and I’m sure most Christian husbands would agree: I am continually aware of my inadequacies as a husband.  What’s encouraging is that life and marriage are not sprints. No, they are long marathons. I need a lot of grace to do this right, and what a joy that God gives grace beyond measure.

Before I sign off, I want to say something to my wife (I hope she reads this…I might have to tell her):

Carly, I want to say, in front of all five people who read this blog, that other than Jesus, nothing delights me more in this world than you. I apologize for not always showing that with my words, my actions, and my desires. Thank you for your grace, your forgiveness, and your patience as I become the man God has already made me to be. It’s a marathon, darling, and there’s no one else in this world I’d rather run it with than you.  I love you.


What Does Justification Do? (Part 1)

Part 2 in an 8 part series. View series intro and index.

Justification provides the forgiveness of sins

The first thing that justification does is forgives sin. We cannot be declared righteous or given Christ’s righteousness until our sin has been pardoned. Paul says in Romans 3 that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (v. 23), but that whoever receives Christ by faith is forgiven and “justified by his grace as a gift” (v. 24).

Further, Paul says in Romans 4:4-5, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” In other words, God provides undeserving sinners a pardon for their sin. He does not justify their sinful behavior, thoughts, and motives. Rather, he justifies them so that they might be forgiven of all the wrong they have done.

Christ rose from the grave for our justification (Rom. 4:25). But if Christ remained dead, we would still be in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17). Therefore there is a connection between justification and life. Because Christ is alive, all those who are in him are spiritually alive as well. To have your sins forgiven means you are spiritually alive. All those who do not believe to Christ are unforgiven and are still “dead in…trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).

To be continued.