I Kings 12.1-15
Introduction: Why a Series on Rest?
This year for our annual Advent series we chose the theme of “REST.” We did this for a few reasons. First, the series is not some pretentious hipster thing or an attempt to be different just to be different. We are spending this Christmas season deeply exploring one phrase in Luke 2.14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” Second, we are the people with whom God is pleased, so we need to consider what it means for us to be a people of peace in the present age. Third, in our western American culture we are surrounded by people who have no idea how to rest before God. We have systems, structures, employers, spouses, and kids encouraging us to forsake God’s helpful mandate to rest. And we embrace their encouragement thinking we don’t need rest. We adopt the worldview of our taskmasters, and live as if we are slaves.
The series was broken up into 2 parts. First, what does the Bible say about rest and why it is important? Second, what does it look like to rest? We are now in part 2, examining 3 key spaces for rest: our church, our lives, and our world. Today is about answering the question, “How do we bring rest into our world?”
Theme: Resist the cycles of unrest, and seek to be instruments of God’s rest.
1. Cycles of Unrest—I Kings 12.1-15.
The older I get I have found it is SO important to remember the story of how we got somewhere. Friends, everything has an origin. When we divorce the way we look at someone or something from its historical context we can quickly loose sight of what is really going on. The question we should be looking to answer is, “How did we get here?”
This is SO important in understanding our text today. Therefore, please be patient with me today because I am going to try to cover hundreds of years of Israel’s history so we can understand one text in I Kings 12. When we understand that text I believe we will see the warning[s] God’s Word is offering us about bringing rest into our world—into the communities in which God has placed us.
Our text today talks about 2 different kings among God’s people. They both foolishly end up bringing UNREST into the world. The background for this starts in Deuteronomy 17. The text we are going to look at is telling us what the king ought NOT to do, while verses 18-20 tell us what a king should do:
“When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.—Deuteronomy 17.14-17
What this reveals to us is God knew when Israel entered the Promised Land that one day they would want a king like the “other” nations. While their motivations might have been sinful God wanted them to know the very idea is not sinful. Therefore, God gave them standards or expectations they should have for their king[s] in order to protect the people.
By the time we come to I Samuel 8 what God predicted happened. The people want to place a king over them, so the prophet Samuel explains what we will happen:
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”—I Samuel 8.10-18
The reign of Israel’s first two kings is full of unrest. Solomon’s (who was the third king) reign was set up by his father, David, to usher in a time of rest. Solomon chose to go a different way, so let’s look at some key texts that help us understand his choices:
And the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. And Solomon's import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king's traders would buy them from Kue for a price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver, and a horse for 150. Likewise through them these were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria.—II Chronicles 1.15-17
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.—I Kings 11.1-4
Kings were not supposed to acquire many horses from Egypt, but Solomon did. Kings were not supposed to acquire many wives (especially foreign ones), but Solomon did. Kings were not supposed to acquire excessive of silver and gold, but Solomon did. Solomon misused the wisdom God gave to advance his own life and make his nation a place of unrest. One scholar said this about Solomon’s reign:
“His desire for more created a restlessness that could permit no Sabbath rest for himself or any in his domain. And clearly Solomon is sketched out as the who would possess all of his available world in his insatiable need for more.”—Brueggemann, p. 9
Solomon worked the people like a taskmaster—READ I Kings 12.4. This verse takes place after Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, has just become king. The kingdom is on the verge of breaking apart because of the strenuous unrest. When Rehoboam sought his father’s advisors even they did not deny this claim—READ I Kings 12.6-7. Let’s see how Rehoboam respond to this—READ I Kings 12.8. The term “young men” here is not what you and I would think, but is more of a derogatory term. Rehoboam, and the men he grew up with, were probably in their late 30s or early 40s. So, when the author uses the term “young men” he means they are middle-aged men who still act immature and foolish. Rehoboam’s friends tell him the people are trying to take advantage of him. Rehoboam’s final answer to the people is—READ I Kings 12.14. Thus the pattern of unrest in Israel continues. The kingdom ends up being divided, and it never recovers.
2. Instruments of Rest.
As we consider this pattern we have to ask ourselves, “Is there something we can do to avoid this trap? Can we be instruments of God who bring rest into the world?” In some sense we have already talked about that by looking at how to bring into the church and our personal lives. But I would like to close out this series by looking beyond our own lives and the people here today. I think God’s desire for rest is missiological.
I gained some wonderful wisdom from Dr. Donald Whitney on ways we can resist being instruments of unrest, and seek to be instruments of rest instead. There 5 habits we should regular resist:
Resist worldly wisdom—this one is vitally important because it will affect the way we look at the second thing to resist. There will be attributes the world deems as wise, but would contradict the wisdom of God. For instance, we might deem someone as wise because they are older, but that could be an old ungodly foolish person. We measure every counsel we receive against the Word of God. Notice how Rehoboam did not pray, research what the Word of God says about his situation, or even talk to a prophet or priest (some type of spiritual counsel).
Resist inexperienced counsel—many of us are tempted to merely seek the counsel of our peers. Getting counsel from our peers is important, but it is incomplete. We should seek a variety of counselors. If we are doing that we will seek the wisdom of those who have come before us. Rehoboam rejected the counsel of those more experienced than him and chose to surround with counselors who would tell him what he wanted to hear. Paul warns us about this in II Timothy 4.3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Resist leaders who are bullies—these are leaders who use intimidation tactics to get us to follow them. These leaders twist the truth to suit their own ends. They will constantly make you feel like you are in the wrong or are crazy for thinking different. Rehoboam followed the intimidation tactics of his father, but took it to another level (I Kings 12.14).
Resist a mere comfortable safe life—look throughout the Scriptures and you will see God’s people are almost always mark as suffering servants. This is how Jesus defined His earthly ministry in Mark 10.45. The older counselors suggested Rehoboam adopt a suffering servant leadership model. The text does not speak directly to this, but I think it implies Rehobaom grew up in the comforts of the palace. He chose to do was most comfortable and safe for him. Service would require sacrifice. He would run the risk of being taken advantage of.
Resist listening to people rigidly—many of the tensions that arise today come from listen to merely the argument of someone while failing to listen to the spirit of the person. When we refuse to listen to their spirit we make the person into a mere commodity or inhuman. We divorce their knowledge from their experience. Rehoboam and his friends looked at the situation “logically” and chose to ignore the “spirit” of the people. They lacked mercy and compassion. We should not forget when speaking about the Sabbath Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt 12.7).
Those are the 5 habits we should resist so we do not usher in more unrest into the world. Now let me give you 4 habits you can seek to bring more REST into the world:
Seek godly wisdom—when we seek true godly counsel it will help us to better know what will lead to rest and what will make our unrest worse. The primary source for godly counsel is the Word of God. While there are many examples of ungodly counsel Colossians 2.16-23 demonstrates what ungodly counsel does. What it does it “pass judgment” on grey areas and makes them into “black and white” issues. The Pharisees were examples of this. They lingered around what appeared to be godly, but hated God. One can see this all throughout the Gospels.
Seek diverse experienced counselors—it is easy to surround ourselves with “yes men.” But when we seek diverse counsel it will require us to consider our decisions from different perspectives. Notice how Rehoboam did this, but it is easy to tell he did this as a formality and NOT from a genuine heart. When we seek diverse counsel it will make us mad, uncomfortable, and etc. This does not mean it is always right, but we should consider it. Experienced counsel allows to learn from others mistakes. Experienced counsel hopefully has suffered, and yet they have persevered.
Seek to suffer with people—many of us avoid getting into people’s real lives because they are messy. We live in our “palace” away from the real struggles of life. We avoid really getting to know the struggles of people different from us. For instance, many men do not seek to understand what it is like for a woman to grow up in male dominant society. When we genuinely seek to understand other people’s suffering their suffering usually becomes our suffering too. It is hard to deal harshly with someone when you have suffered with them. Jesus coming into the world was about Him coming into our suffering, suffering with us, suffering for us, in order to be REST to our weary souls.
Seek to be a servant leader—this is the mark of the Christian life. We seek to guide, protect, help, encourage, and equip our world through service. This does not mean we merely do work with our hands, but also with our mouths. It is important in this you seek to deeply understand yourself. Know the tendency of your personality. Know the way God has made you. Some of us will need to grow in learning what it means to SERVE with a prophet voice, but we tend to lean toward compassion. Others will need to learn what it means to SERVE with a priestly voice, because we tend to lean toward being direct. There is a time to be direct, and a time to be tender and slow. Learning to SERVE like Christ is learning when is the proper time to do either one. A tool I have picked over the years is listening to someone with the “Saint, Sinner, Sufferer” paradigm. If you want to influence people, if you want to be an effective communicator, then you will need to learn how to be an effective listener. Through the art of listening God will guide us to when it is time to speak and when it is time to be the hands and feet of Jesus. When we listen to God His Spirit will guide us when to be direct and when to be tender and slow.
As we seek to resist these 5 habits, and seek the 4 habits I believe God will teach us how to bring His rest into our world.