Looking Back to See the Future

The mantra of the moment embraces the idea that we should never look back because all hope and promise are found in looking to the future. Or, to quote Satchel Paige, a baseball great from another era, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” In a past election cycle, youthful political neophytes repackaged the phraseology, lustily piping the words Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.

Such pop sloganeering gets people elected, but reality sets in when the past starts catching up to us. A more accurate phrase might be Look to the past, and you’ll find the future.

There’s a good illustration of this truth in Scripture, and it may be profitable for those interested in a sound and stable tomorrow.

Solomon, King David’s son, extended Israel to its largest proportions so far in a glorious era crowned by the Temple in Jerusalem that became one of the great wonders of the world. Upon his passing, he bequeathed the kingdom to his son Rehoboam, a decision that amplifies the potential pitfalls of nepotism. Rehoboam foolishly allowed the kingdom to be fractured into two entities, with the 10 northern tribes (Israel) seceding from the Davidic Kingdom.

But he rejected the advice which the elders gave him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him, who stood before him (1 Kings 12:8).

From a human point of view, the heart of the problem was Rehoboam’s failure to take advice from the people who knew best how to advise him. He first consulted the elders, men who had served Solomon. They recognized the failures of David’s son and the burdens the acquisition of wealth and expansion of the kingdom had placed on the people, and they offered commonsense, practical advice:

Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who stood before his father Solomon while he still lived, saying , “How do you advise me to answer these people?” And they spoke to him, saying , “If you are kind to these people, and please them, and speak good words to them, they will be your servants forever”(2 Chr. 10:6–7).

In other words, “Lighten up! Don’t continue to lay more on them than they and their offspring are able to bear. Learn the lessons of leadership your father had begun to neglect.” They counseled him to learn from the past and change the format for people-to-king relations.

The king, however, didn’t cotton to the advice of the men with gray heads. He chose to cast his lot with the young movers and shakers who aspired to craft the future minus the drag of the old-timers and their old-school ideas. Here is a taste of their advice:

King Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders, and h e spoke to them [the people] according to the advice of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges”(vv. 13–14).

If a man destined to lead a nation sat down and thought for decades how to fail his country and alienate his people, he could not have come up with a better plan than Rehoboam’s. The king’s propensity to take the advice of radical upstarts who had passed on acquiring experience, people skills, and knowledge of governing is beyond comprehension. But the fact is, Rehoboam listened to them. He bought into the folly of thinking that the road to the future was only open to inexperienced people with a dream—albeit a completely undefined one. Yet in the end, the dream was unattainable, and the road led to ruin.

The lessons are obvious. Chief among them is that rambling into the uncharted future with fresh faces and untested formulas often brings disappointment and destruction. And what can be said of Western societies holds true for Christianity. It is one thing to adjust contemporary Christian culture to certain generational nuances. It is another to insist on change for the sake of change.

We would do well to consider where we have come from and what got us where we are. The greatness of our Christian heritage was forged in the minds and hearts of deeply spiritual men and women; and their teaching, great hymnology, and definition of our mission on Earth must not be sacrificed on the altar of superficiality.

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