2 Kings 25

Details the utter destruction of Solomon’s Jerusalem. The walls are broken down, the houses burned, the temple destroyed. The last King, zedekiah, is defeated ironically on the plains of Jericho the scene of God’s first mighty victory for the chosen people in the promised land.

His children are slaughtered in front of him then his eyes put out and he’s slapped in chains. A governor is put into Jerusalem and all but very few of the Israelites are taken away, so Jerusalem is mostly a foreign population.

The book ends with a of note of mercy from the king of Babylon. The second last King has been carried away to Babylon. He is eventually released and allowed to dine before the king in the palace. He’s given a small income and lives out his days in dignity.

The message seems to be: this is not about the king of Babylon being the devil. He is the vehicle of judgement.

This is about God judging the evil of the chosen people.

It’s the sad end of a massive narrative that started with the promise to Abraham of a chosen people, though slavery in Egypt, rescue, the period of judges in the promised land then Kings in the promised land and now it’s all gone.

The people are not a nation again. The promise to Abraham will be realised in Christ’s people, not his literal descendants.

When Jesus will say “the kingdom of God is at hand” is will be a statement laden with all this history of failure. The kingdom will be spiritual.

Israel has another chapter or two in that story, amazingly enough, but it will never have the same hope.

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2 Kings 19

Despite overwhelming odds against lsrael, which Assyria has its eyes on, God promises victory.

The God-fearing King’s Hezekiah’s first moves are pure David. He reacts with grief – torn clothing, and goes to the house of the lord.

Isaiah reports with the voice of God that He will indeed be saved.

It’s interesting the ways God saves.

When the threats are military, sometimes he does displays of supernatural might. For instance the walls of Jericho or pushing back the Red sea.

Other times he does impossible odds fighting. Most of David’s victories including against Goliath are in this category. Often they whittle down the number of men they take to the battle to show how great God is.

But the quick fixes are God’s at his most pragmatic, when he just wants the silly war gone, he uses our most human vulnerability, our mind.

People get confused, or mistake a sound for an attack, etc.  Here the king will hear a rumour and leave.  It’s so easy for God. And he knows us so well.

We get three statements and a consequence.

A blustery trash talking brag by the Assyrian King’s messenger.

A humble prayer by the king.

A promise from God, via Isaiah which is full of warmth, safety and abundance.

Death comes to a bunch of the Assyrian soldiers overnight. The king hears a rumour and returns home, where he falls victim to court intrigue at his sons hands.

I suppose I’m feeling how hopeless it is to oppose God, even for the most fearsome power on earth. It’s like opposing comfort, safety, opposing love.

Suppose you found out the secret of the universe was abundant love, and you treated that as the enemy. We have nothing to be ashamed of in God.

2 Kings 17

12 tribes in the promised land are whittled down to one.

King Hoshea presides ineffectually over the end of the northern kingdom – all of Israel except Judah.

First he becomes a puppet king under the Assyrians, who are the Empire builders of the era, then he makes a feeble attempt to betray them with an alliance with Egypt. He is imprisoned and the people are exiled.

The writer retells all the ways in which the people have earned their fate since the time of exodus. They have at best treated Jehovah as one of many gods. Worst, and often, they have openly rejected him. He’s sent many prophets but it’s made no difference.

The Assyrians send various people to occupy the land and eventually send back an Israelite priest because lion attacks are viewed as a sign of Jehovah’s displeasure. The priest teaches the new residents of Israel the way of the lord as much as he can.

I don’t have a lot to say. The story has been heading here since, well since the people first left Egypt in a way, but definately since the kingdom split.

I have Christian friends on Facebook who almost daily link to what I think of as Christian apocalypse items…. About how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But I think it’s important to remember that God remains sovereign and his salvation is eternal.

This is one of those moments, like how the disciples must have felt after Jesus was crucified, when you wonder if God’s plans will ever work out. Yet, here we are.

There is reason to be passionate, but not to despair, to be busy but not overwhelmed.

Help me be functional father… I’m feeling  like I have more in than I can handle, but at the same time I’m aware that a have it very easy, and feeling a bit guilty too.

2 Kings 9

Children of  Ahab of Israel have power in both Israel and Judah. You’d think the promised land is close to being united again, however that is not God’s plan, in fact we’ve already been told that Ahab’s line will completely disappear, because he was the worst of the Kings, who introduced the Baal worship.

While they are still reigning, Elisha anoints Jehu to be King of Israel, from Jehosophat’s line, and he is instantly supported, and does relentlessly stamp out all Ahab’s line including Ahab’s corrupt wife Jezebel, who dies violently and ignominiously as predicted.

Jehu is not a Godly king mind you.  Elisha’s merely saw that he was the means by which judgment would come to Ahab’s line.

I read it all as sadness. The seeming overwhelming nature of evil.

2 Kings 8

We’re shown that the King knows all about some of Elisha’s miracles and believes them.

Elisha knows the truth about everything but cannot affect everything.  He cries when he meets a foreigner named Hazeal because he knows he will become a King who will visit much suffering on Israel.

He’s watching God’s judgment and the evil of men.

The godly King in the southern Kingdom, Judah is succeeded by a King married to one of Ahab’s daughters.  He allows Ahab’s calf worship – his reign is summarised by weakening of the empire, lands are lost to rebellion, and a repeat of the promise that God preserves a “lamp” – the line of David will not be allowed to fail.

The chapter ends with the reign of the next Judah King, who we are told only lasts a year. He isn’t dead yet, but wounded by the very foreigner, now King, mentioned above who Elisha wept when he saw.

Jesus, like Elisha, could sometimes only weep.

 

2 Kings 1

The Wild God

1 Kings and 2 Kings were written as one book. They continue seamlessly, 1 ended with bad king Ahab receiving judgment and 2 starts with his son, bad king Ahaziah receiving the same. 

The Judah kings perversely avoid Jehovah. Ahaziah is injured 2 years into his reign and sends envoys to enquire of the god Baal in a neighbouring land whether he will recover. 

Inspired by God Elijah intercepts the envoys to tell him he won’t, and remind him that Israel already has a God. 

The king sends three squads of 50 men with a commander to fetch/kill Elijah. He calls down fire on the first two, the signature move from the battle of the gods, Baal vs Jehovah, a story the king would surely know well.

The third squad of men are very polite and obsequious, pleading for their lives. Elijah goes with them and delivers his message to the king’s face. He dies.

It’s a simple ancient – and modern – story: pretending God doesn’t exist. 

The Israel kingdom kings are effectively like atheists. However having no belief wasn’t really an option in the ancient world. 

Elijah had proved dramatically that Baal wasn’t there. I think the kings actually liked that, a tame God, a God in a box, controllable. So they could get on with running the show.

A life threatening injury bought on thoughts of mortality, but still he tried, and failed, to avoid the wild God. 

1 Kings overview

Its common to point out that Kings was originally one book, but I do think 1 Kings has its own discrete message.  If Hollywood was making it as a franchise blockbuster I think the titles would be “1 Kings: rise of the prophets” and “2 Kings: fall of the kingdoms”.

The Bible’s narrative has had a pretty straight ahead drive from Abraham’s promise in Genesis through to this point, where we have the chosen people, the nation of Israel, in the Promised land, Canaan, with the presence of God in the temple, ruled by his holy law, the Torah.

If Kings hadn’t gone badly, the bible could have been a lot shorter. Everything that was promised in the first book has literally come true by the time Solomon finishes the temple. If humans were capable of obedience to God, happy ending.

But of course, we know now that a massive revelation was still to take place.  We now know that gods people live in all nations, that everywhere is becoming the promised land, that every believer is a temple with the presence of God, and that by grace and sacrifice, God’s love has satisfied the rule of the law and he is our true king.

Israel had only the dimmest shape of any of this at the start of Kings, its a huge pivot in the world’s understanding of the nature of God. The tragic trajectory of Kings put the world on the path to those revelations.

God speaks only twice really during the reign of Solomon – telling him to obey the law above all and worship only one God.  Among all the glitz of his time, there is a hollowness because he doesn’t quite do either.  The kingdom splits, polytheism becomes the cultural norm.  The northern kingdom – which doesn’t include Jerusalem and the temple – never has a King devoted to Jehovah.

And the most extraordinary thing happens, God speaks more and more powerfully through the prophets.  His message is sort of too big for one person – Elijah and Elisha are like a single powerful message from God (Elijah doesn’t die, but hands his mantle to Elisha and is swept into the sky).

After the depression and banality of the all too familiar politics and corruption of the Kings, God’s power and his voice, full of abundance, gentleness, clarity and fairness …is like rain in the desert.  In retrospect the message of Kings is clear: kingdoms fail but don’t panic. There is one, true, real God and he has bigger, more beautiful plans than we can dream of.

1 David brings divine authority to the politics of succession. Solomon named heir.
2 David’s advice, live for the law, be strong & courageous. 
3 Solomon speaks to god, asks for wisdom. The promised land promise has come true!
4 Celebrating Solomon – and Israel’s wealth and wisdom
5 Building the temple, splendour in every way, but a bit spiritually hollow
6 The glory of the finished temple… but God is more interested in hearts than buildings
7 Still on the theme of Solomon’s glory, his grand palaces. The law had said otherwise
8 The dedication of the temple – the fullest earthly realisation of God’s promise
9 God tells Solomon about his presence in the temple and the need for monotheism… 
10 Queen of Sheba praises the wealth of Solomon’s reign. fulfils & challenges the law.
11 Solomons death/faults – too many wives too many gods. Rebellion will follow
12 End of Israel-as-salvation. 10 tribes rebel and worship Golden Calves, like in exodus.
13 God is still acting, Rehoboam the rebel king hears and witnesses God’s power
14 the Kings pattern: the reigns of parallel kings, mostly ignoring God despite warnings
15 4 Kings: judgement for the north, the “lamp” of salvation from the south. 
16 Dynasties of northern kings, increasingly corrupt. God’s word remains in prophesy
17 Elijah comes with word of a living god, deeds of an abundant god.
18 Jehovah vs Baal, Elijah vs Baal’s prophets. Faith, clarity, knowledge.
19 Desperate after his victory fails to change things, Elijah is given comfort and help
20 Setting up the fall of Ahab, a prophet killing king. 
21 Stealing a vineyard is the catalyst of Ahab’s judgement, spoken by Elijah
22 King Ahab tries to avoid prophesy/God, but dies in battle. 

1 Kings 19

Elijah left the last chapter on a high, having destroyed the false prophets, running to reach and influence the king. But he seems to lose the political advantage and is again hunted as public enemy number one by Queen Jezebel.  He loses all hope.

Tired, hungry, he staggers one day into the desert and gives up. He tells God to just let him die. And if the lack of food doesn’t get him the Queen surely will.

God gives him food for strength enough to hide properly. Then 3 displays of his power, earthquake wind and Fire. Then silence out of which he listens to Elijah’s utter loneliness and hopelessness and then promises help and victory over Ahab and Jezebel.

The help comes first. Elijah shares his mantle with Elisha, who like Jesus’ disciples unhesitatingly leaves a busy and prosperous life to follow.

It’s a passage that should restore the hope of everyone who reads it. It details how caring God is. 

First he attends to the immediate physical needs, the good Shepherd, food and shelter. 

Then the reminder of his power, after which the intimate solace. God listens, promises. 

And the help. Is there anything more encouraging than other believers who share your sense of God’s mission? 

That’s our God! I pray that me and mine may know that God. If you are desperate, it’s worth crying to him.

1 Kings 18

The battle of the gods… Elijah challenges 450 prophets of Baal to get each God to supernaturally light a burned sacrifice with heavenly fire. I mean, timely lightning would have been ok, Baal was supposed to be god of the sky.

Turns out Jehovah is real, Baal is not.

Some things I hadn’t recalled from earlier telling of the story:

  • The people he describes as “hopping between the two Gods”, but Jezebel and Ahab, Queen and king, were actively massacring prophets of Jehovah.
  • When he wins, Elijah has the Baal prophets killed. This is consistent with the judgment God wants them to bring to Canaan.
  • I hadn’t noticed a sort of second miracle, Elijah magically runs to the kings destination, Jezreel, faster than the king can ride a horse.

The commentators mentioned how much faith it took to stand up and do the test. And it’s interesting that even after that, Elijah has to pray 7 times for rain. Faith on faith, never doubt!

I was also struck by the use of 12… 12 stones for the altar he called fire down to. 12 buckets of water poured onto it to make sure it was a miracle that it burned. Israel has been 10 tribes  in civil war with the other two for 50 years at that point, but Elijah knew the promise and the law.

We are called to be prophets in the sense of speaking truth in this world, and this story gives a vivid sense of the boldness and confident clarity you get by not only believing and having faith but by really knowing what God’s will is.

It’s an encouragement to keep reading and thinking as well as to speak out when the time is right. You speak truth best if you know a lot of the truth.

1 Kings 7

A detailed description of King Solomon’s palaces, which took 13 years compared to 7 for the temple.  It wound up looking something like this:

king-solomon

Very impressive!  It mentions that he also did all the required temple basins and stuff in gold, and carefully stored all the ritual items he inherited from David.

Its one of those bits  of the bible that don’t really talk about morality or spirituality or God. Its just a description. Of a rich guys house. Like the show Cribs, or Grand Designs, Ancient World edition.

But of course, in Deuteronomy it said the King should be one of the people, not grand. And last chapter, when God did speak, he said obedience to his law was the more important thing…

Saturday, a day requiring grace because I chafe at balancing my obligations with the tantalising prospect of unstructured free time.  But it usually works out OK.