Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Davidic City

 Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Davidic City

Khirbet Qeiyafa overlooking the Elah Valley (photo courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa expedition and
Khirbet Qeiyafa overlooking the Elah Valley (photo courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa expedition and

Did you know that 7 seasons of excavations (2007-2013) at Khirbet Qeiyafa have produced a number of exciting finds leading some archaeologists to the conclusion that the biblical description of David’s kingdom is accurate? If you are a Bible-believer, it may have never crossed your mind to doubt the existence of David or his kingdom. However, that hasn’t stopped skeptical archaeologists and biblical scholars from questioning it! In the 1980s the new “literary” approach to the Bible advocated that the biblical text was written centuries after the events they purport to describe (actually the old “higher criticism” of the 19th-20th centuries frequently advocated a similar understanding). The events and people were (are) often considered to be literary creations. The biblical authors merely fabricated a past history that didn’t actually exist.

The discovery of the stele (stone inscription) from Tel-Dan in 1993 which specifically mentions the “house of David” was the first nonbiblical source ever discovered to refer to the Davidic kingdom.

House of David

"house of David" stele from Tel-Dan (photo taken from
“house of David” stele from Tel-Dan (photo taken from

This discovery was helpful in putting an end to the theory that King David was only a literary creation. However, a number of scholars continue to believe that David’s kingdom was insignificant. One prominent Israeli archaeologist summed up David’s kingdom this way: “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting.” (quoted from Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov/Dec 2013, 39, no. 6, in an article by Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel, and Martin Klingbell entitled “An Ending and A Beginning,” p. 44).

Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Elah Valley

The excavation of Khirbet Qeiyafa takes an important step toward demonstrating that David did in fact rule over a significant kingdom. While not all scholars agree (when do they ever!), there is considerable evidence that this city, that overlooks the Elah Valley, was an important defensive outpost from David’s time (1010-970 BC). As the map below shows, Qeiyafa is located at the junction between southern Judah and Philistine territory (the Philistine city of Gath, not on the map, is only 8 miles away).

Notice the strategic location of Qeiyafa in relation to Philistine territory. (map taken from
Notice the strategic location of Qeiyafa in relation to Philistine territory. (map taken from

The Elah Valley is the famous location of David’s battle with Goliath and it is the valley which provides access from Philistine territory to Judean territory. Thus it is a significant area, and Qeiyafa’s location would have been vital in protecting Judah’s southern frontier.

This photo shows the valley of Elah with the cities of Sochoh and Azekah (1 Sam. 17:1-2), as well as the location of Qeiyafa.
This photo shows the valley of Elah with the cities of Socoh and Azekah (1 Sam. 17:1-2), as well as the location of Qeiyafa. (photo from

The reason Khirbet Qeiyafa is so significant is because there is basically only one occupational layer. This means that, unlike many cities in Israel, the site was not built upon by later generations (there is some small evidence of other occupations of the site, e.g., a Byzantine structure that dates from about 400 AD, but nothing significant that interferes with the basic city itself). Radiocarbon dating of ancient olive pits found on the site date it to the period of 1020-980 BC (David’s time). The city is constructed like other cities in southern Judah of this period (e.g., Beersheba, BethShemesh), a style which was unique to Judah (i.e., different from Philistine, Canaanite, or even Israelite construction). The discovery of two gate complexes (a southern entrance and a western entrance) leading into the city is unusual and has led the excavators of Khirbet Qeiyafa to identify it with the biblical city Shaaraim (which means “two gates” in Hebrew) referred to in the story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17:52).

Khirbet  Qeiyafa Ostracon

One of the exciting discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa was made in 2008 when an ostracon ( a piece of ancient pottery) was discovered with what may be the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found. The first photo above shows the area where the ostracon was found (see the yellow circle in the photo). Unfortunately, it has proven hard to translate because it is only a fragment of a larger inscription. However, scholars believe the words “judge” and “king” are among the words on the ostracon.

The ostracon discovered at Qeiyafa which may be the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found.
The ostracon discovered at Qeiyafa which may be the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found. (taken from

The reason this is such an exciting discovery is that it provides evidence of writing, and therefore, of administration at Khirbet Qeiyafa. For a kingdom to be as advanced as the Bible describes David’s kingdom, there would have to be written documentation and administrative activity. This ostracon provides for that possibility.

The Administrative Building at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Besides the two gate complexes, Khirbet Qeiyafa has a massive defensive (casemate) wall around it. In the final season of excavation (summer 2013), the excavators uncovered a monumental administrative building in the central and highest part of the site. Although the building had been partially destroyed by a later Byzantine structure (mentioned above and seen in the photo below), the archaeologists were able to determine that the original building from David’s era covered more than 10,000 square feet!

The monumental administration building at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The area inside where the tree is located, is part of the reconstructed Byzantine building.
The monumental administration building at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The area inside where the tree is located, is part of the reconstructed Byzantine building. (photo taken from

The point of all this is, to build a city of this size and sophistication so far from Jerusalem, on the border of Philistine territory would have required a well organized and equipped government. Summing up the significance of Khirbet Qeiyafa, the archaeologists of this 7 year project state: “Khirbet Qeiyafa redefined the debate over the early kingdom of Judah. It is clear now that David’s kingdom extended beyond Jerusalem, that fortified cities existed in strategic geopolitical locations and that there was an extensive civil administration capable of building cities. The inscription indicates that writing and literacy were present and that historical memories could have been documented and preserved for generations” (Biblical Archaeology Review, “An Ending and a Beginning,” p. 46, see the full citation above).

Khirbet Qeiyafa (like the discovery at Megiddo mentioned in the last ariticle) continues to demonstrate that there is much to be learned from archaeology in Israel and that we shouldn’t be disturbed by some who claim that archaeolgy is “disproving” the Bible. In fact, it is interesting how frequently the biblical record finds corroboration in the archaeological evidence. The archaeologists of Khirbet Qeiyafa (Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel, and Martin Klingbell) are moving to another important biblical site this summer: Tel-Lachish. Like Khirbet Qeiyafa it is located in the southern Judean foothills. Although this city has experienced the archaeologists’ spade on several other occassions, the Davidic time period (11th-10th centuries BC) has received relatively little attention. It will be interesting to follow the progress of this dig and see what else can be “dug up” that relates to, and will deepen our knowledge of, the time of David.

(if you would like more info on Khirbet Qeiyafa I recommend Luke Chandler’s site found at Luke personally dug at Khirbet Qeiyafa for 5 seasons. Also, if you google Qeiyafa, you will find many other interesting photos and articles).

Tel Megiddo


 Tel Megiddo

Model of Tel-Megiddo
Model of Tel Megiddo

Did you know that recent excavations at Tel Megiddo have uncovered a massive Canaanite temple complex that dates to the 4th millenium BC (3500-3000)? This is an extraordinary find as archaeologists believed that Canaan during this period only consisted of small towns and villages with cities only apprearing in the early 3rd millenium. The details of this find and its interesting ramifications can be found at the Biblical Archaeology Society’s website ( Unfortunately, you may need to have a membership to view the article, but you can also see a brief report by one of the excavators at the following site: Revelations from Megiddo.

The photo of the Canaanite altar below (the round stone structure in the middle of the picture) gives bible readers an idea of what a Canaanite altar looked like and the enormity of its size.

Canaanite altar and temple complex area at Tel Megiddo. Photo from 2006. Recent excavations have exposed more of this area.
Canaanite altar and temple complex area at Tel Megiddo. Photo from 2006. Recent excavations have exposed more of this area.

But some of you might say I’ve gotten ahead of myself. What is so important about Tel Megiddo anyway? Tel Megiddo is most popularly known by the name given in Revelation 16:16 – “Armageddon” (mountain of Megiddo), the place where the last battle is to be fought between the Lord and his enemies (But see my more recent article entitled: Where Will the Battle of Armageddon Be Fought? for a different solution!). Actually Tel Megiddo has experienced many battles over the centuries, and even though the city was destroyed in the 4th-5th century BC, battles have continued to be fought in its vicinity up to modern times (this includes Napolean, and General Allenby’s battle with the Turks in 1917 during WWI).

History at Tel-Megiddo

Tel Megiddo’s location at the head of the Jezreel Valley guarding the way of the Via Maris (way by the Sea), the ancient trading route between Mesopotamia and Egypt, made it a key player in international politics in ancient times. Archaeologists have uncovered between 20-25 layers (depending who you read!) of civilization spanning 6 millenia.

This photo shows an example of the number of layers of ancient Megiddo
This photo shows an example of the number of civilization layers at Tel Megiddo

Although Joshua initially defeated the king of Megiddo (Josh. 12:21), Megiddo did not fall under Israelite control until probably the time of David. The Bible tells us that Solomon fortified Megiddo and made it one of his royal cities (1 Kgs. 9:15). Although some dispute this, many scholars believe that the remains of the northern palace and the city gates can be dated to Solomon’s building activity.

Remains of the northern palace at Megiddo
Remains of the northern palace at Tel Megiddo
The gate complex at Megiddo
The gate complex at Tel Megiddo

Megiddo is also the place where two kings of Judah died. The ungodly Ahaziah died there after being wounded by King Jehu of Israel (2 Kgs. 9:27), while the godly King Josiah was killed in battle as he attempted to block Pharaoh Neco who was advancing to help the Assyrians against the Babylonians at Carchemish (Syria) in 609 BC (2 Kgs. 23:29-30; 2 Chron. 35:20-24).

The Ever-Changing Nature of Archaeology

There are a number of excellent websites that have more thorough articles on Megiddo such as the Jewish Virtual Library (, or you can just google “Megiddo.” My purpose here is first, to introduce people to this interesting site, and most importantly, to show how new excavations continue to transform knowledge in the field of archaeology. Some archaeologists will assert that archaeological data frequently contradicts the biblical account. But archaeology is an ever-changing field as new discoveries are made. No one thought that ancient Canaan of the 4th millenium had any significant cities. This recent discovery changes a former archaeological dogma into what is now known to be an incorrect assumption. There are thousands of ancient mounds yet to be investigated with the archaeologist’s spade, not to mention the fact that even those sites that are being  (have been) excavated are only partially uncovered. This research is incredibly exciting, as new information is constantly being uncovered about the world of the Bible, but with so much more to yet discover, we should also be cautious about accepting as solid fact, every theory that is offered by archaeologists.

Next time I will look at a site (Tel-Qayifa), and a discovery from another site (an inscription from Tel-Dan), that has challenged liberal archaeological theories concerning the nonexistence of David and a Davidic kingdom.

(All photos by Randy & Gloria McCracken. Permission is granted to use these photos free of charge for educational purposes only)

Teach the Text Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

Teach the Text Commentary on 1&2 Samuel

1&2 Samuel Teach the Text Commentary Series
1&2 Samuel Teach the Text Commentary Series

Robert B. Chisholm Jr., 1&2 Samuel, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013).

General Observations on the Teach the Text Commentary Series

The “Teach the Text Commentary Series” was commissioned to help the busy pastor and to fill a void in commentaries that are both scholarly, and yet practical. The aim is to present the “big picture” of a biblical book by dividing it “into carefully selected preaching units, each covered in six pages” (p. ix). There are 5 main areas of focus within these 6 pages: 1) Big Idea; 2) Key Themes; 3) Understanding the Text (this is the longest section including such subjects as context, outline, historical and cultural background, interpretive insights, and theology); 4) Teaching the Text; and 5) Illustrating the Text (pp. xi-xii). It is important to keep this structure and the necessary restrictions in mind when evaluating each commentary in this series.

Such an approach is clearly not intended to be exhaustive. So is there room for a commentary series with this more generalized approach? I believe there is. My own classroom teaching experience has demonstrated to me the need for students to gain the “big picture” of a biblical book. It is important to be able to summarize the main themes and key ideas of a book. Oftentimes people read or study a biblical book and have no idea of how to summarize its main message(s). The “Big Idea” and “Key Themes” features of this series go a long way in aiding the reader to achieve this goal. Therefore, the structure of the Teach the Text Commentary series is not only helpful to the pastor, who may be consulting it for his weekly sermon, it is also beneficial for the beginning student.

Before making specific remarks on Chisholm’s 1&2 Samuel commentary, I would also like to add that the “Teach the Text Commentary Series” is attractively presented. Each hardback volume is printed on heavy-duty paper which is ideal for the many helpful maps, photos, and illustrations contained in each commentary.

Comments on 1&2 Samuel Commentary

Chisholm begins his commentary on 1&2 Samuel with a brief 7-page introduction. He summarizes these books by noting the three main characters (Samuel, Saul, and David) and by stating, “David is the focal point of the story” (p.1). Saul acts as a foil to David, while “Samuel’s support of David becomes foundational to the narrator’s defense of David” (pp. 1-2). The high point of the book is the Lord’s covenant with David, securing his dynasty and proving faithful even in the midst of David’s sin. Chisholm divides 1&2 Samuel into 7 sections based on “its major plot movements, revolving around the theme of kingship” (p. 4). His outline is as follows: 1) Prelude to Kingship (1 Sam. 1-7); 2) Kingship inaugurated (1 Sam. 8-12); 3) Kingship Fails (1 Sam. 13-15); 4) Kingship in Limbo (1 Sam. 16-31); 5) Kingship Revived (2 Sam. 1-10); 6) Kingship Threatened and Preserved (2 Sam. 11-20); and 7) Epilogue (2 Sam. 21-24). One potential weakness is that this outline is not clearly delineated in the commentary that follows. Perhaps Chisholm’s reason for ignoring this is because he does not find “clear-cut structural markers” in the text (p. 4), but sees the divisions above as related to plot development.

Chisholm packs a lot of information and insight into each 6-page unit of commentary. The information provided on historical and cultural background, though not found in every section, is very helpful for the beginning reader and student. Topics include foreign gods such as Baal or Dagon, divination, the Amalekites, or documents of the ancient Near East that have parallels with biblical material. This information enriches the presentation, as do the color photos that frequently accompany them. At times Chisholm includes side boxes that deal with special issues such as “The Problem of Genocide” or “The Legal Background of Tamar’s Request.”

Two characteristics of Chisholm’s exegesis that I found particularly helpful include his attention to certain words, and parallels and/or contrasts between biblical characters. Chisholm does an excellent job of paying attention to words or phrases found in 1&2 Samuel and demonstrating their connection with another incident in 1&2 Samuel (or the Former Prophets, meaning Joshua-2 Kings). For example, he notes that the expression “terror filled his heart” in 1 Samuel 28:5, in reference to Saul, only occurs one other time in 1-2 Samuel. It is found in the story of Eli’s demise as his “heart trembled over the fate of the ark of God” (p. 184). This kind of verbal connection suggests the author is comparing the circumstances of Saul and Eli. Similarly, Chisholm frequently points out similarities between incidents or characters in 1&2 Samuel with other biblical characters or incidents. One example is the similarities between the actions of Absalom in 2 Samuel 13-14 with Abimelech in Judges 9 (p. 252). This attention to biblical typology is extremely helpful when interpreting a narrative text (see my discussion in Family Portraits, p. 11).

Considering the constraints placed upon him by the commentary’s design (6 pages per literary unit), Chisholm’s overall treatment of the text of 1&2 Samuel is excellent. There is, however, one exception. Although 2 Samuel 2:1-5:5 can legitimately be viewed as a structural unit, treating it in the 6-page format does it a great injustice. This material is too important and too theologically rich to be skimmed over so briefly. Dividing this section by episodes, or even by chapters, would have been a better approach. This imbalance is all the more noticeable when the following section (2 Sam. 5:6-25), arguably less “meaty” than 2 Samuel 2-4, is given the full 6-page treatment. (For Chisholm’s reasoning on this see my interview with him which was conducted after this review.)

Perhaps the greatest challenge in writing a commentary of this kind is providing illustrations for the text. This is certainly a subjective task. Certain illustrations will ring true with some, while others will find them unhelpful. While I would not endorse the use of every illustration suggested in this commentary (and I’m sure the author would not expect me to! ), I do believe that Chisholm has done an admirable job in handling a difficult task (Another insight I learned from the interview with Chisholm was that he wasn’t responsible for any of this material). The editors themselves point out that this section of the commentary is intended to provide “general ideas” and to “serve as a catalyst for effectively illustrating the text” (p. xii).

In conclusion, Chisholm’s commentary achieves the aims of this series admirably. He is a scholar of high caliber and is a well-established expert on the entire corpus of the Former Prophets. Pastors, students, and others wanting to become grounded in the message of 1&2 Samuel will benefit greatly from this commentary. I used it for my own 1&2 Samuel class this past semester and will continue to do so in the future. I heartily recommend it to others.

(I am grateful to Baker Books for providing this copy of 1&2 Samuel, Teach the Text Commentary Series, in exchange for a balanced review).

Grace in 3D

Grace in 3D

Did you know that there is a depth of meaning to the word “grace” which is frequently overlooked by the modern church? In my last article, we noticed the connection between obedience and grace and I promised that we would further investigate the meaning of grace. Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor,” or “getting what I don’t deserve.” Although these are accurate definitions, they only communicate one aspect of the Greek word charis (grace).
We often find that a 3-dimensional representation of something is much more effective than simply seeing it in 2-dimensional form. Hence the popularity of new 3D movies and televisions. Similarly, it is disturbing to hear Christians speak of grace 1-dimensionally (the definition noted above), when in fact the New Testament authors’ usage encompasses more. Grace has been put on a diet by many well-meaning Christians and has lost its well-rounded meaning in favor of a more slimmed-down version. This is not done intentionally; it is usually the result of a lack of knowledge of the 1st century cultural context in which this word occurs. Recovering this context reveals that there are two other important aspects to the meaning of grace. Recapturing the 3-dimensional nature of this word, strengthens what is quickly becoming an anaemic theology of grace within the evangelical church, and, most importantly, allows us to walk more fully in the grace that God has bestowed.

Grace and Patronage

The Roman world of the 1st century was a world of limited goods. This means that a lot of things necessary for existence were in short supply. There were no shopping malls, large department stores, and there certainly was no eBay. This meant that people had to depend on others who could supply whatever their need might be. These people were called “patrons.”

Patronage (picture taken from
Patronage (picture taken from

Patronage was a way of life in the Roman world; everyone had one or more. Much can be learned from examining the concept of patronage, but, for our purposes, the most important thing is that the word “grace” was part of the everyday vocabulary. A patron was able to supply what I could never obtain on my own. This was called an act of grace, and it is the definition that we are most familiar with. For example, Paul talks about the “grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2) which we have received through God’s act of love in sending His Son to die for us “while we were still sinners” and “when we were [His] enemies” (Rom. 5:8, 10). Because of my sin, reconciliation with God is beyond my grasp. I don’t have the necessary resources in and of myself to make reconciliation possible, but Jesus, who lived a perfect life, does (Rom. 5:18-19). In Christ’s act on the cross I receive a forgiveness that I could never obtain on my own. That is grace, and it is the good news that was preached by the early church!
However, in the world of patronage, grace was much more than the act of giving what could never be earned, it was also the gift itself. Whether the gift was food, legal help, paying off debts, etc., it was called “grace.” There are a number of examples of this usage in the NT. For instance, when Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23), the word “gift” in Greek is charisma––grace. When Paul is speaking of the “gifts” of the Spirit given to the church in Romans 12:6, the word he uses is charismata, from which we get our word “charismatic,” as in charismatic gifts. Therefore, grace is not only the act of giving; it is the gift itself.
Third, and most important for our discussion, the word grace includes the meaning of giving thanks. We still use it this way today. When we ask someone to “say grace” we mean, “Will you give thanks for the food?”

Grace and giving thanks
Grace and giving thanks

Our English word “grace” comes from the Latin gratia and has entered Spanish and Italian in the forms of gracias and gratze which mean “thanks.” All these words are derived from the Greek verb eucharisto (notice the word charis––see e.g., Rom. 1:8). The important point here, is that everyone in the Roman world who received “grace” (meaning both the undeserved act, as well as the gift) would expect to give “grace” (meaning “thanks”) in return. The Roman philosopher Seneca pictured grace as a dance between 3 sisters which consisted of the act of giving (grace), the gift received (grace), and the recipient giving thanks (grace) for the gift. As long as each one of these ingredients was present, the dance of grace continued in a flowing unbroken way. No honorable person (see my article on honor under “Cross-Examination”) would ever consider not returning thanks for the gift received. This means that, although a person could never pay for the grace given, they were expected to respond with gratitude. Grace begets grace!
If a person could never repay their patron for the grace they had received, then what did giving of thanks consist of? In the Roman world, gratitude was expressed in several different ways: 1) The recipient of grace would freely proclaim the name of his benefactor and tell everyone he came into contact with about the generosity of his patron. This increased the honor of his patron. 2) Each morning a person would appear before his patron and find out if there was anything he could do for him or her that day. 3) One would always be loyal to their patron, defending them against accusations, and even going to battle with them if necessary. These, and other actions, were ways in which an individual could express thanks (grace) for a gift (grace) they could never repay (grace).

The Complete Circle of Grace

Hopefully it is not hard to see the parallels for the Christian. The Christian has received a gift (grace), they don’t deserve and could never repay (grace). This is where modern conversations about grace frequently end, but biblically speaking it is not the end of the grace-conversation. Just because we can never repay what God has done for us in Christ, doesn’t mean that there is nothing for us to do! Like the people of the ancient world, we should continually give thanks to our Patron (God). We give thanks by praising His name, and by telling others about Him (this is worship and evangelism). We seek Him out each day to see what He would have us to do, and we defend His name and even go to battle with Him, if necessary. All of these responses are ways of saying “thank you” for a gift we can never repay. Notice that all of these responses involve acts of obedience! This is why a life lived “under grace” is an obedient life (Rom. 6:14-23––see last week’s article). Why settle for a 1 or 2-dimensional view of grace when we can, and should, have it in 3D! For the doctrinal health of the church we need to restore this biblical 3D portrait of grace to our modern theology. Like love and marriage, grace and obedience go hand in hand.

Many of my insights on patronage and grace are indebted to David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture. Please check out his book on this link from amazon.

The Difference Between Legalism and Obedience (Romans 5-8)

The Difference Between Legalism and Obedience (Romans 5-8)

Did you know that Christians are called to be slaves of obedience? Many today resist this notion. It sounds too legalistic or works oriented. In fact, at first glance, it doesn’t sound appealing at all. Slavery suggests domination and control. We in the western world desire to promote freedom and don’t want to be enslaved to anyone or anything. Even Christians will quickly point to Paul’s admonition: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1–ESV). We will also point out, and rightly so, that Christians are “saved by grace through faith…not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). The Bible’s affirmation that we are saved by grace through faith, is an important teaching that sets Christianity apart from other world religions which often emphasize earning God’s favor through good works. However, this important distinction, along with a fear of sounding “legalistic” has caused some to shy away from the important biblical teaching on obedience. This article examines the difference between legalism and obedience.

Slaves of Obedience

The same apostle (Paul) who told the Galatians to stand firm in their freedom and not submit to a yoke of slavery, also tells the Romans that those who have come to Christ have become slaves of obedience and righteousness (Rom. 6:16, 18). In fact, the context in which Paul uses these phrases concerns his discussion that Christians are under grace, not under the law (Rom. 6:14-15). However, Paul maintains that the grace that we as Christians are under was achieved by one Man’s (Jesus’) righteous act (Rom. 5:18). Paul describes this act as an act of obedience that will make many righteous (Rom. 5:19). This obedient act that brings righteousness to many is the death of Jesus on the cross (Rom. 6:3-10). But Jesus did not stay dead; he was resurrected by the Father (Rom. 6:5, 9, 10). The example left by Jesus is therefore one of obedience through death which brings righteousness and life (Rom. 5:21).

Paul connects these same key words (obedience, death, righteousness, and life) with what happens to people who give their lives to Christ. First, we die with Christ and our old man is crucified (Rom. 6:3-6). Therefore, we are to reckon ourselves as dead (Rom. 6:11). Sin no longer has control over a dead person (Rom. 6:14). By this death, we are not only set free from sin, we are also imitating the obedience of Jesus who obediently went to the cross (Phil. 2:8). By grace we are transferred from the reign of sin to the reign of obedience leading to righteousness (Rom. 6:16). This is not to infer that our obedience makes us righteous; rather, it is the obedience of Jesus (his death) that makes us righteous (Rom. 5:18). But our decision to die with Christ is a form of obedience which produces the fruit of righteousness (Rom. 6:22). Thus, our lives become a mirror image of our Savior and of the gospel message! It would be a supreme contradiction if those who were delivered from sin continued to let sin reign (Rom. 6:1-2), and those who gave their lives to the Obedient One, refused to be obedient! Therefore, obedience is a natural outcome of grace and this is also why Paul speaks of “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26–ESV). This grace is enhanced through the gift of the Holy Spirit which enables us to live obediently so “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4–NKJV).

Legalism and Obedience Contrasted

On the other hand, Paul contrasts the obedient life of righteousness produced by grace with the life of sin under the law. This is because the law arouses sinful passions which lead to death (7:5). Although the law itself is good (7:12), sin takes advantage of the law through the weakness of our flesh and produces disobedience (7:8-15). This often comes in the form of hypocrisy by judging others while we practice the same things (Rom. 2:1-5; 21-24). This is why Paul can state that those under the law are lawless (6:19)! Legalism1This is the difference between legalism and true obedience. Legalism is proud and self-righteous (10:3), and results in robbing God of His glory (1:21). Obedience demonstrates humility through dying to self and surrendering control to God, which gives Him the glory. Simply put: legalism is the result of a hard heart, while obedience is the result of a humble heart.
In conclusion, the word “reign” is used frequently by Paul in Romans 5:12-6:23. Paul indicates that we will be ruled by something (much as Bob Dylan said years ago, “You Gotta Serve Somebody”). We will either be ruled by sin, or by obedience and righteousness––there are no other options. The problem is that we are not stronger than our desires. If we try to maintain our autonomy, we will become the pawn of sin. But if, on the other hand, we surrender our lives and die with Christ, we will find true freedom through a life of obedience. In the end, what we are ruled by determines our eternal outcome (5:21; 6:23), and that is the difference between legalism and obedience.
In our next article, I will look more closely at the meaning of grace.