The Bible tells us that rebellion is as wicked, as vile, and as reprehensible as witchcraft. I Samuel 15:23. Elihu, in Job 34:37, said you can add rebellion to your sins. So many people do. In the Bible, we read of Judas Iscariot, Hymaneaus, Diotrephes, and others. Rebellion is common today: children rebel against parents, saints rebel against the church order and teaching and backslide, elders sometimes even rebel against the pastor and split the church.
Rebellion isn’t an instantaneous act; it’s a journey. There are usually seven steps to rebellion. I’d like to point them out – using Joab and Absalom. Rebellion is a particularly wicked sin because you can backslide alone but usually rebellion takes others down with you.
Joab was King David’s general. He was also David’s cousin. Many times he was loyal and faithful to David, but eventually got caught up in rebellion against David’s choice of Solomon to be successor-king. Absalom was David’s son. When Absalom’s sister was wronged, Absalom plotted revenge against Amnon. He was then banished from the kingdom, then returned, then plotted rebellion against David. His rebellion was nearly successful in driving David from Jerusalem, and gaining the throne for Absalom.
But anyone who goes down the road to rebellion will usually follow these seven steps:
1. Independent. The person headed for rebellion says he can decide for himself what is best. The church may teach against it; but this person says, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” As if God’s got to clear everything with them, personally. The church may teach against women wearing pants, or body piercing, or certain worldly entertainments and activities, but the independent person chooses to ignore the pastor’s teaching, and do it anyway.
Joab was like that. David met with Abner, with a goal of reconciling Israel and ending a civil war. Joab felt he knew better than David and killed Abner. II Samuel 3:17-30. Then when David decided it was best to banish Absalom, Joab schemed and brought him back. II Samuel 14:1-33. Later, when David specifically said not to kill Absalom, Joab felt he knew better, and killed him. II Samuel 18:12, 14. Finally, when David felt the Lord wanted Solomon to succeed him, Joab acted independently and supported Adonijah. I Kings 1:7.
Absalom’s journey to rebellion also started with this step. He never really submitted to David. When David didn’t do what Absalom thought should be done, he plotted and killed his brother, Amnon.
A person with an independent spirit never settles into church order and discipline. She refuses to conform; he picks and chooses what teachings he will accept and which ones to reject. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.” It means that a person who keeps himself separate by making his own decisions, countermanding the wisdom of their pastor, isn’t very wise.
2. Hurt and Offended. The second step in this journey is to become hurt and offended – like Absalom after his sister was wronged. Every child of God will be often hurt, but you don’t have to be offended. Jesus warned in Matthew 24:10 that many shall be offended – but you don’t have to be one of them.
The word, “offended” in that verse is from the Greek word: “skandalizo” – the part of trap upon which bait is hung. Be careful, the desire to be offended is just bait on a trap! Don’t take the bait! David refused to be offended when he was wronged by King Saul or when Shimei cursed him as he fled from Jerusalem. Those who are offended over their hurts are moving toward rebellion.
3. Passive. A person on a journey to rebellion starts to withdraw from their prior commitment to the Lord and their loyalty to the church. They resign from activities, etc. Where once they burned with passion; now their ardor cools. Jesus said in Matthew 24:12 that when iniquity abounds, love waxes cold. But we are supposed to be actively involved; not passive and hurt. We read in Judges 5:23: “Curse ye Meroz.” Why? Because they were passive; they came not to help when help was needed. And Jeremiah 48:10 says cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood. When there is a battle to be fought for the Lord, we need every soldier.
Absalom went through this stage before open rebellion. II Samuel 13:22 says, “Absalom spake unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad.” People taking this step develop an unnatural nonchalance; they “don’t care” what the church is doing; they “aren’t interested” in serving; they want to remain distant and uninvolved.
4. Fault-finding. The fourth step is to become hypercritical. They mull their offense in silence for a while, but then begin to speak out criticisms and express their grievances. Be careful when you criticize and complain. It can happen to anyone. It is easy to do; Miriam became critical of Moses.
This is a critical time; a dangerous step toward rebellion and insurrection. Judas Iscariot criticized Jesus for letting costly spikenard be put on Him to anoint Him for death. See John 12:3-6. Moving from withdrawn passivity to fault-finding is a big step in the wrong direction.
Absalom reached this step in II Sam 15:1-3. He was critical of David because there was no man deputied of the king, to right the grievances of the people.
5. Political. A person taking this step is seeking allies and gathering support. Politicians say whatever they have to say to gain supporters. They want others to agree with them, to feel sorry for their wrongs, and to “take on another’s offense.”
Absalom, in II Samuel 15:4-6, stole the hearts of the men of Israel through his political agitation and complaints. He convinced others that David wasn’t right, wasn’t doing right, and that Absalom’s grievances were legitimate. Those who have been offended always want the support of allies.
6. Deception. The next step is when the rebel deceives himself and others. Seeing that he has allies convinces a man (or woman) that their cause is just. Absalom deceived by his apparent success. And he deceived others – they thought he was right, that he should be king, that insurrection was God’s will.
Not everyone really knew what was happening. Some innocents were caught up in what was going on. Verse 11. It seems as if some innocent people always get swept into any conspiracy. They weren’t malicious; and if Absalom had not defected, they would have probably remained loyal to David all their lives. But your rebellion doesn’t just affect you; it affects others. Even if the rebellious repent, usually innocent lives are lost. You can rebel against the church, leave and take others with you, and even repent and come back – but will the others you influenced to leave make it back too? How are you going to explain to the Lord that your rebellion caused innocent lives to be lost?
Rebels always think they are right; and usually believe God with them. Absalom did. Be very, very careful in rising up against God’s established leadership. David may have had every “right” to rebel against King Saul, but he wisely chose not to do it. He refused to strike out against Saul, and was blessed. Just because you are “right” doesn’t mean you have to act – you might be better off suffering yourself to be defrauded. I Corinthians 6:7.
7. Open rebellion. The final step is open insurrection against the established order. It might be leaving the church, or splitting the church, or launching a social networking campaign against the church. The law of God forbids setting fire to the field. Exodus 22:6. The Bible says that “an evil man seeketh only rebellion.” Proverbs 17:11. Don’t take the bait; don’t fall into the trap of rebellion.
What to do?
What should you do if you find yourself with someone who is on this seven-step journey to rebellion?
A. Be careful who you associate with. Proverbs 22:24-25 says to make no friendship with an angry man; it may ensnare your soul. Don’t become one of the innocents caught up in a rebellion against God’s order.
B. You might have to become the north wind. Proverbs 25:23 says, “The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.” Rebellion is not so easily spoken where it is not easily heard.
C. What if you suddenly realize the person on this path to rebellion is the man in the mirror? First, analyze where you are on this path, and then get off it! Get back on right path. If you are independently ignoring the teaching of the church, start being loyal instead. If you are withdrawing into an unnatural nonchalance, get more involved. If you are criticizing, start praising. Etc.
Don’t keep going down the road. If you find yourself headed towards destruction, like driving 90 mph toward a cliff, if doesn’t do any good to slow down to 60 mph. If you are going to destruction, don’t change your speed; change your direction. Even if you have legitimate grievances – like David had about Saul – give them to God and submit (not to obvious sin, of course, but that is a whole different lesson). God can make right whatever isn’t quite what it should be.