Reading Through the Bible, Sunday, April 10. 2 Kings 13-15

The days of the Northern Kingdom of God’s people (Israel), are numbered; a little over a hundred years are left.  That empire ends with this reading section.  The kings appear as follows:

Southern Kingdom

Amaziah (rules 29 years)

 

Azariah (also known as Uzziah – 52 years)

 

 

 

 

 

Jotham (16 years)

Ahaz (16 years) 724 B.C.

Northern Kingdom

 

Jeroboam II (rules 41 years)

 

Zechariah (6 mos.)

Shallum (1 month)

Menaham (10 years)

Pekahiah (2 years)

Pekah (20 years) 742 B.C.

 

End of the Northern Kingdom.  722 B.C.

 

Throughout the story of Israel, the persistent judgment of the kings has been that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord, “walking in the ways of” Jeroboam or the kings of Israel.

You cannot keep making the same mistakes and expect the same results.  This road is leading to a horrible end, but God is loving them every step of the way.  Jehoahaz follows in the sins of Jeroboam.  God’s anger burns against Israel and causes her to be oppressed, her strength sapped.  Despite the fact Jehoahaz doesn’t change his ways, he does pray, and God brings deliverance.  His son Jehoash is worse than his father, but he continues to call on the prophet Elisha.  He recognizes that with Elisha’s death, any hope of protection from the Lord dies too (that’s what that “The chariots and horsemen of Israel” comment is all about).  In other words, he exhibits a small amount of faith.  Despite the fact they don’t deserve it, God listens to their prayers and provides a blessing.

Though the word is unused in this section, what you see is God’s great love for His people – a people who have continued to shun Him and disobey Him.  God demonstrates His love right up to the day of destruction.

God is not far from any of us.  He seeks to help us and find ways to bless us, but His blessing does not necessarily mean approval.  If we persist on a dangerous road, He will walk with us to the edge of the cliff – but no further.  He will warn us all along the way.  But He will not force us off that road.

Reading Through the Bible, Saturday, April 9. 2 Kings 9-12

Are you lost yet?

Kings is a synchronistic  history: it moves back and forth between the kings of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah).  And about here, keeping them straight becomes a problem.  Perhaps a list might be helpful, beginning with the death of Solomon.

 

Southern Kingdom

Rehoboam (ruled 17 years)

Abijah (3 years

Asa (41 years)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jehoshaphat (25 years)

Northern Kingdom

Jeroboam (ruled 22 years)

 

 

Nadab (2 years)

Baasha (24 years)

Elah (2 years)

Zimri (7 days)

Omri (12 years)

Ahab (22 years)

 

 

Jehoshaphat becomes king of Judah in the fourth year of Ahab, and he began his rule well, doing what was “right in the eyes of the Lord.”  But his righteousness did not last.  During his reign, he made peace with Israel, and that meant he and his kingdom were influenced for evil by the Northern Kingdom.  Jehoshaphat even married his son, Jehoram, to Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah.  They had a son, Ahaziah.  Now the two houses were mingled.  Ahab was succeeded by his sons

Ahaziah (2 years) and

Joram (12 years)

And Jehoshaphat was succeeded by his son and then his grandson

Jehoram (8 years)

Ahaziah (1 year)

As you enter this reading, here are important points: (1) Israel and Judah have become allies.  (2) The King of Israel (Joram) is the uncle of Ahaziah (king of Judah).  (3) Both follow the rule of Ahab, who was the most wicked king in Israel’s history.  (4) God has both of them killed by Jehu, one of Ahab’s former bodyguards.  (5) Jehu becomes king of Israel and Ahaziah’s mother attempts to become Queen of Judah by killing her own grandson, Joash.  (6) Joash is rescued and hidden for six years while Athaliah rules as Queen.  (7) Athaliah is finally killed, and Joash becomes king at age 7.  These are dark days for Judah, but God acts to preserve her and her Davidic line.

Reading Through the Bible, Monday, April 4. 1 Kings 15-17

Diplomacy always involves compromise.  Nothing wrong with that — in and of itself.  It depends on what is being compromised.  If it is allegiance to God and His way, that kind of diplomacy will only result in failure.

Jereboam’s kingdom had been given to him by God with the promise He would also grant him a dynasty as “enduring as David’s.”  But Jeroboam, like so many before him, having been blessed by God, believed securing the blessings was up to his own devices.  If Israel returned to Jerusalem three times a year to worship, Jeroboam believed, his empire would fall apart.  So he created national gods and national shrines, an action so repugnant to God that the Lord killed Jeroboam’s son and ended his family line.  The northern kingdom, known as Israel, would never have an enduring line of kings.

The south didn’t fare a lot better.  Though the Lord was determined to preserve David’s house, the glory disappeared.  The temple, built so magnificently by Solomon was sacked by the Egyptians, never to regain its former glory.  The book of Kings continues from this point as a “synchronistic” history, swapping back and forth between the two nations as their fortunes unfold.  The kings in the south are all measured against David.

Who is your exemplar, the model against which your life is judged?  Who do you work to emulate?  Or . . . are you out to do your own thing, chart your own course, make your own way?  Be careful.  Your answer will determine whether you follow the kingdom of the north, or that of the south.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Sunday, April 3. 1 Kings 11-14

“But.”

“However.”

Whatever translation you are reading, after reading of all the glory of Solomon, when you come to 1 Kings 11, one of those words, or one like them, reveals that all was not glorious in Jerusalem.

Many of Solomon’s marriages would have been diplomatic ones – a king gives a daughter to another king as a gesture of goodwill.  A king would take such a daughter hoping that her father would not attack his land while his daughter and grandchildren were there.

But each wife from each surrounding nation had their own gods – gods of their country and culture.  It would not be diplomatic to deny those gods, and it served diplomatic means to build them temples, honoring the gods and the countries and peoples they represented.

It was just politics.  After all, Solomon probably reasoned, you can’t let your religion get in the way of governance.

But you can.  And should.

God has a way all people should live, even those who are not Christians.  Christians live this way to keep their promised inheritance.  Both Christians and non-Christians should live this way to avoid God’s wrath. When a politician claims to be religious, but does not govern according to his convictions, he essentially acts irresponsibly toward those he governs – inviting the judgment of God – or he demonstrates his lack of conviction toward God.

The result, as Solomon’s life shows, is the destruction of a nation, the result of God’s judgment.  After a reign of peace, Solomon closes his monarchy with mounting pressure from the north (Rezon in Damascus), the south (Hadad in Edom) and among his own people (Jeroboam).

Christians who engage in public service have a duty to do so with an informed Christian conscience.  We would not force people to become Christians, because such would be contrary to Christianity.  But we must govern Christianly.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Saturday, April 2. 1 Kings 7-10

Did God want a temple built?

David came up with the idea to build it.  God’s response was: “I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”  (2 Samuel 7:5-7).

In the building of it, credit most often goes to Solomon.  It is the temple “king Solomon built for the Lord.”  “He made,” “he lined,” he “partitioned,” “prepared,” “overlaid” and “placed.”  Not that Solomon personally did it, but the thing was, it was something Solomon did.  In fact, when the temple is dedicated, Solomon fairly well takes all the credit (1 Kings 8:20-21).  Admittedly, Solomon built the temple according to the Lord’s specifications, but there is no evidence that God ever asked for a temple to be built, nor that it was His idea.

Throughout, what the Lord wanted was for Solomon and his subjects to be faithful to the God who had given them the resources to build such a magnificent place.  Follow His decrees, carry out His regulations, be obedient.  The requirement is stated as Solomon begins the temple (1 Kings 6:11-13).  It is repeated when the temple is finished (1 Kings 9:4-9).

A temple might unify the people, exalt the reputation of Israel’s God, and be a focal point for worship, but its presence would not ensure God’s blessing.  Only obedience would do that, a point becoming more clear by the chapter to the exiled first readers of Kings.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Friday, April 1. 1 Kings 4-6

“You’ve come a long way!”

And it’s not all good.

That comes to mind when I read this section on Solomon.  Saul had no organized government to speak of.  David had certainly more organization, but Solomon, as the saying goes, “takes the cake.”

The first readers of Kings were exiles in Babylon and this look back at Solomon and the glory days of their nation had to be a bittersweet experience.  As “numerous as the sands of the sea,” “happy,” part of a huge empire that reached north and east to the Euphrates and south and west to Egypt.  “Now look at us” they could think.  “Prisoners in a foreign land, subjugated to pagans.”

But Kings wasn’t written just to look back on the glory days.  It was written to tell how the glory days were lost.  Though Solomon’s empire is portrayed as magnificent, within the portrayal are signs of decline.

Solomon not only worships the Lord, but also worships at the centers for Canaanite worship (3:3).  Note that while Solomon has divided the land into twelve districts, these do not correspond to the twelve tribes and their allotment of land.  Solomon collects for himself twelve thousand horses – an action prohibited by the law (Deuteronomy 17:16).  He taxed his own people heavily in order to pay for his monarchy and enslaved his own people to accomplish his building projects.  Israel had been warned this would happen (1 Samuel 8:16).  He spent seven years building the temple, and nearly twice that building his own palace.

What you are supposed to see is something great, grand, and wonderful – at least in the eyes of mankind.  Look at the number of people who sing his praises!  But in our hearts, we know that something is wrong with the heart of Solomon.  Success in the eyes of men is not necessarily the same as success in the eyes of God.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, March 31. 1 Kings 1-3

Like Samuel, the books of Kings were originally one book, separated when the Old Testament was translated into Greek.  Like Samuel, we do not know the author of Kings.  Also like Samuel, the most important question is: “Why was this book written?”

Though we do not have an exact date for the writing of Kings, it would have been no earlier than 560 B.C. and certainly after the death of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, a few years later.

Samuel ends with David, king of Israel.  Kings picks up with David’s last years, his death (cir. 928 B.C.), and the ascension of his son Solomon to the throne.  Chapters 2-11 deal with Solomon’s reign – most of it (chapters 5-8) focused on the building of the temple of God in Jerusalem .  At Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam became king.  Solomon’s reign had not served to unite God’s people, and at the ascension of Rehoboam, God’s people divided into two nations: a “North” (Israel), and a “South” (Judah).  From 1 Kings 12 to 2 Kings 17, the story is of two nations.  In 2 Kings 17, the northern kingdom is destroyed by the Assyrians.  In 2 Kings 25, the end of the book, the southern Kingdom is destroyed and its people carted off into exile in Babylon.

Kings is plain: the end of these nations was the result of their rebellion against God.

The people who would have first read Kings were Jews in Babylonian exile.  At that time, their kinsmen, the nation of Israel (northern kingdom), have not existed as a people for nearly 200 years.  We have to wonder then why so much of the book (27 out of 47 chapters) is devoted to this long-gone nation?  And why is there so much emphasis on the “prophets? (1/3 of the book is devoted to the ministries of Elijah and Elisha.)  Why are the reigns of the kings so disproportionate?  Omri, who founded Samaria, ruled 12 years, and was the greatest political mind of the Northern Kingdom only gets six verses.  Jeroboam II, who ushered in the golden age of the Northern Kingdom gets 7 verses.  Manasseh, who ruled Judah 55 years gets 18 verses.  But Hezekiah, King of Judah, known for his faithfulness to God, gets three chapters.

The first recipients of this book needed to know why they live in Babylon.  Kings tells them it is because of their sins, and the consequence of the sins of their forefathers.  They need hope for the future.  Solomon’s prayer at the temple dedication speaks of a time of exile for sin, and the possibility of return if the people will repent and turn to God (1 Kings 8:46ff).  The first readers needed direction.  The word of the prophets called people to holiness.  No one paid attention, and destruction was the result.  The Northern Kingdom was an example.  The Southern Kingdom is being given a second chance.  But if they do not heed the word of the prophets, their doom is assured.

As we read Kings, we need to hear its message afresh.  Neither politics nor the most astute political leaders can assure peace and prosperity or thwart the judgment of God when His people stop paying attention to His direction.  And not even the existence of a magnificent temple devoted to the Lord will protect them if the lives of those who worship there are characterized by rebellion and worldliness.  Four chapters are devoted to the building of the temple.  God burns it to the ground in one verse at the end of the book.  Within one generation of the writing of Kings, the exiles will return to Judah to rebuild.  Their future will be determined by their faithfulness.

So, by the way, is ours.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, March 30. 2 Samuel 22-24

“I’m pressing on the upward way.  New Heights I’m gaining every day.”

“There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus.  No not one!  No not one!”

These, and hundreds of others, comprise the songbook written by Johnson Oatman, who also wrote these words: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged thinking all is lost, count your many blessings name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

Martin Luther wrote: “The greater God’s gifts and works, the less they are regarded.”  Robert Morgan wrote: “If the birds only burst into song once a year, we’d all pay close attention, but because they are singing every morning, we scarcely bother to listen.”

Every child of God has the obligation to be reflective that he might be thankful.  As we enter the final chapters of Samuel we have a hymn of David’s thankfulness (reproduced substantially in Psalm 18).  What has God done?  How has he done it?  What has God become to David?  These are questions David answers in his hymn, and as we consider our own prayers, perhaps they, and David’s vocabulary, can be used to inform our own psalm of thankfulness to God.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Tuesday, March 29. 2 Samuel 19-21

As I read these chapters, the word “loyalty” comes to mind, for if there was anyone a paragon of loyalty, it would have to be Joab.  Joab knew Abner would be a threat to David, so Joab killed Abner.  Joab was distressed with David’s instructions regarding Bathsheba’s husband, but he followed them.  When David’s indolence threatened his monarchy, it was Joab who told him the hard truth.  Joab knew David’s stubbornness and disappointment with regard to Absalom, and he devised a way to encourage reconciliation between the two.  But when Absalom led a revolution to overthrow his father, Joab killed the boy.  When David’s grief left him incapacitated, it was Joab who spoke candidly to David: “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters . . . You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead.  Now go out and encourage your men.”

When you read, “therefore that David, on Absalom’s death, removed Joab as commander and put Amasa, Absalom’s commander in his place,” you have to wonder if David has lost his mind.

Joab could have objected, quit or deserted, but he doesn’t.  He seems to know he has done wrong, and he will accept his demotion and continue to serve his king.  When, however, Amasa proved himself unfaithful to the king, Joab killed him too.  The text does not say “David restored” Joab to his place as commander, but everyone knows Joab is in control once more.

When David decides to number his army, Joab is there to advise the King not to do it.  Joab knew it wasn’t something God wanted.  You can fault Joab’s actions, and you should.  David had a better feeling for the heart of God.  But you cannot fault Joab’s heart.  He only ever wanted what was best for David.  Jonathan is often regarded as David’s closest friend, but if the story is any indication, Joab acted closer.  It’s too bad David never seemed to realize Joab’s loyalty.  May we all be a friend like Joab, and may we recognize and hold close the Joabs in our life.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Monday, March 28. 2 Samuel 16-18

David’s own helplessness becomes apparent in chapter 16.  First, David’s most trusted and most respected advisor, Ahithophel, went over to Absalom’s side.  Second, David didn’t know who to trust.  Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, comes with news that his master has likewise gone over to the dark side.  We will discover later that Ziba is just an opportunist.  Third, David is bitterly and unreasonably opposed by some of his own people.  Shimei was upset that David and the house of Judah had replaced Saul and the house of Benjamin.  His objections were unfounded and came from nothing more than deeply felt prejudice – not truth.

But helpless or not, David knows who he is.  In his mind, David felt that all these problems might indeed be his own fault as punishment for his sin with Bathsheba.  But no matter.  David was determined not to make the problem worse.  Shimei may have been disrespectful, but he didn’t deserve to die.  Sometimes you just have to let events play out, take your lumps, and leave it in God’s hands.  That’s what David did, and God did not disappoint.  Ahithophel’s good advice, normally regarded as valuable as the word of God (vs.  23) was thwarted by an unexpected source – a Canaanite (Hushai was an “Arkite,” a descendant of Canaan – Genesis 10:17) and David’s throne was secured once more.