Sunday, July 21, 2013

Reflections on 'Kings'

Kings - Melakim, ruled over the land of God and over his inheritance. The book tells the story of a people who lived to see the height of glory on earth, the ones who tasted the bitterness of sin and walked the road to exile. A king without his King is lost and those he leads go astray. From the first to the last of them, they were gathered to their ancestors. All that was left was a testimony of doing right or evil in the sight of the Lord.

‘Gathered to his ancestors’ – starting with King David, the kings are said to be gathered to their fathers at the end of life. Solomon is declared the rightful king over the kingdom – ushered into his reign on King David’s mule.
The maker or breaker of the rule of kings is their attitude towards their God. In commissioning his son after him, King David charged him with this:

‘…observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go’

The fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel and the blessing therein lies in keeping this command. Solomon asks for wisdom to rule God’s people – and God honours his request. ‘God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore…he was wiser than anyone else…’ ‘The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.’ ‘During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree.’

And the word of the Lord to Solomon was: “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfil through you the promise I gave to David your father. And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.”

These glorious days were marked by God dwelling among his people. At the dedication of the temple, “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.” It was as close a return to the garden as man could hope for, a time when God dwelt among men in the sanctuary on earth. An image of what the Israelites were blessed with at the time of Moses when the presence of the Lord walked before them.

Solomon prays for the people, ‘May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors.’

This was the climax in the time of the kings of Israel – the kingdom of Israel started well indeed. The Lord appears to Solomon and acknowledges his petition, and promises to uphold his people as far as they worship him alone and uphold his commands, decrees and laws.

‘King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.’ The rulers of surrounding nations pay tribute to him. The Queen of Sheba testifies ‘Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel.’

‘King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth’…

A good beginning

 And so it came to pass that Solomon took wives ‘from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.”….

He then followed other gods…

and ‘Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord’...

The fall of God’s people all over again – in seven days creation is complete and man gets to experience fellowship and rest with God – then they reach for what is forbidden.

In seven years of devotion, the temple of the Lord is built and the people experience the rest God intended for them, then Solomon turns to what is forbidden.

The beginning of the end is here.

God pronounces judgement. The adversaries of Israel are stirred up; Hadad the Edomite, Rezon of Zobah, and Jeroboam from within. As a garment is torn in the hands of the prophet, so God tore up the kingdom. Solomon reigned for forty years, just as his father did.

What became of Israel? Ten tribes given to Jeroboam – he fears that his people will turn back to Jerusalem and so he institutes false worship carried out by false priests; he makes two calves - The original sin of Israel all over again.

Two standards for good and evil unfold in the rule of kings – David, the king after God’s heart and Jeroboam, son of Nebat who did evil in the sight of the Lord. And so the first king of Israel becomes the standard for evil in the sight of the Lord.

A prophet of God is raised up and cries out against the altar in Bethel and the sin of Jeroboam. But even the prophet of God suffers under the hand of the Lord for disobedience – he too is devoured. It’s a devastating picture, a king forsaking his God, a prophet enticed to compromise, a nation gone astray after idols. God cuts off the house of Jeroboam for causing Israel to sin. Jeroboam’s infant son dies, although in him there was found something pleasing to God – therein an image of sin touching even the innocent; a picture of death and devastation.

King David is the standard for doing good in the sight of the Lord, but the house of Judah has strayed from this standard – for Rehoboam, (son of Solomon and an Ammonite) sins, and so Judah sins. Egypt invades and Pharaoh plunders; a reversal of the exodus begins. There was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually. Unity is no longer, peace is lost.

The house of Israel continues to sin before the Lord, Baasha kills Nadab and smites all the house of Jeroboam, reigning two decades and doing evil in the sight of the Lord. Jehu rises against Baasha, the people make Omri king, Zimri kills himself with fire – half followed Omri and half Tibni but Omri prevails and ‘sinned more than all those before him’. Then Ahab his son reigns and does evil in the sight of the Lord – he takes Jezebel as wife and serves and worships Ball. He builds an altar and makes a grove and he ‘did more to provoke the Lord than did all the kings before him…’

Kings come and kings go, and they outdo each other in the measure of sin against the Lord.

The voice of the prophet


God has not forsaken his inheritance – he raises a prophet from among Israel to proclaim the word of the Lord. He speaks against Ahab and smites the land with famine. The people see that Baal is no god, the Lord reigns at Mount Carmel and the victory is in his name. Elijah cleanses the land from the prophets of Baal, and prays to God to ‘turn their hearts’ – just as Solomon prayed to God to remember his people when they sin. The land is cleansed, Elijah asks for rain and the Lord answers.

When the prophet’s strength fails, the Lord answers – just as his father Moses made the journey, Elijah would go to Mount Horeb. The famine is over, time to plough the field Elisha! The oxen are strapped, is not the land ready? – stop Elisha, slaughter the oxen and feed the people, come now judgement is set, Hazael to rule over Aram, Jehu to reign over Israel and you Elisha to carry the mantle of the prophet – judgement is coming and who shall escape?

The king of Aram says to the king of Israel, ‘Your silver and gold are mine, and the best of your wives and children are mine’  and the king of Israel replies, “Just as you say, my lord the king. I and all I have are yours.” But the Lord delivers Israel from the hands of Aram, yet Ahab determines to withhold the Lord’s judgement and sets the king of Aram free – who shall escape the Lord’s judgement?

Israel has gone astray – justice is not found – the innocent blood of Naboth cries out, dragged from his rightful place and vineyard he is murdered at the word of Jezebel, and on account of Ahab’s seal. The elders of the land proclaim a fast ahead of an evil deed and the people bear false witness, who shall escape judgement?

The word of the Lord is spoken against Ahab and his descendants, against Jezebel who caused Israel to sin. The sins of Israel have spread to the house of Judah; Jehoram and Ahaziah, kings of Judah follow the ways of Ahab! Who shall escape judgement?

Ahab is killed in battle. As for Ahab’s descendants, Ahaziah his son lives enquiring of Baal and not the Lord; and after him Joram continues the wayward legacy - Israel sees famine never seen before – they eat their own young as they wait besieged by their enemy. Joram reigns until he is killed by the hand of Jehu – him and all the remaining descendants of Ahab. Jezebel is killed without a burial just as the word of the prophet foretold. Jehu rids the land of Baal worship…. only to replace it with the golden calf in Dan and Bethel! – the sins of Jeroboam are not dead.

Is there hope?

Where are the faithful men of Israel? The Lord declares to Elijah: ‘I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.’ Elisha receives a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Signs and wonders follow him. God has not forsaken the remnant of his inheritance. His arm alone delivers Israel from the hand of their enemies. He alone is faithful in answering the prayers of those who seek him. Kings who do evil in his sight turn to him in desperation; he sees the oppression of his people and he answers.

‘But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’

Even in the midst of judgement, his mercy endures forever.

Elisha dies and is buried. Jeroboam rules over Israel now – he did evil yet God responds to Israel’s cry of affliction:  ‘The Lord had seen how bitterly everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering; there was no one to help them. And since the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash.’ In Israel now, men assassinate evil kings and rule in their place – only to be assassinated themselves. The last king of Israel finally arrives, Hoshea, son of Elah – under his reign Assyria invades the whole land of Israel, subdues Samaria and takes the people captives to Assyria.

‘All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh King of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.’

A funeral dirge over Israel – retelling what was spoken by King Solomon – it ends with this: ‘They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.’


In Judah, Joash is made king by the prophet. Although young, he follows the wisdom of the Lord and heeds the instruction of the prophet. He reigns for forty years just as king David once did, and he did what was right in the sight of the Lord. Amaziah, son of Joash king of Judah – did what was right in the eyes of the Lord yet the high places remained and he fought against his brother Israel.

Azariah, son of Amaziah rules in Judah for fifty two years, he does what was right in the sight of the Lord. Then king Jotham ruled over Judah, and he did what is right in the eyes of the Lord, but ‘In those days the Lord began to send Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah against Judah’ – for the next king, King Ahaz, was ‘Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.’

And when he is afflicted by Israel and Aram, he does not seek the Lord, but seeks the king of Assyria instead – subjecting himself to the nations and even building a temple after their pattern - desecrating the temple of the Lord and placing the bronze altar that stood before the Lord in the new altar from Assyria.

‘Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.’

He withstood the pressure to yield to the king of Assyria ‘He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.’ In the face of oppression and the threat of a mighty domineering kingdom, King Hezekiah sought the Lord and the Lord’s prophet. In humility he spread his cause before the Lord in his temple – ‘Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.” God responded in strength and might: “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.” That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp.’ The king of Assyria went back to his land, and later died at the hands of his own sons whilst worshiping in the temple of his god.

Yet Hezekiah throws his pearls to the pigs – showing his tressures and all that was in his house to Babylon! – So the word of the prophet tells of the upcoming demise of Judah at the hand of Babylon. Manasseh reigns after Hezekiah and he does evil in the sight of the Lord ‘the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.’ Ammon follows Manasseh, in rule and legacy and later is killed.

Josiah: the light for David

‘He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.’

Josiah is a king who weeps before the Lord.

He is a king who draws to his God and who acknowledges the sins of those who came before him. And the word of the Lord comforts all those who are broken before him. He declares to Josiah through the prophetess Huldah “because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.” (22:19-20)

Like his ancestor Asa, Josiah did what was right in the sight of the Lord removing idols and bringing gifts into the house of the Lord. Josiah acts in accordance with what God requires of him. He performs a wide spread spiritual cleansing never seen before in the land of Judah, purging the land of idols and false worship. He reinstates the Passover observance as has never been observed in the days of the kings.

Josiah’s legacy is marked by this testimony: ‘Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.’

Even good kings perish just as good prophets perish. He dies in battle, and thus begins the judgement of the Lord upon Judah.

His son Jehoahaz is made king by the people, he did evil in the sight of the Lord, his reign lasting only three months and he is taken captive to Egypt by Pharaoh. His brother is instated in his place; the people are taxed to satisfy Pharaoh. Jehoiakim is followed by Jehoiakin – during their rule, Babylon invaded the land. Jehoiakin is taken prisoner to Babylon and the able people are taken captive. Zedekiah is appointed king over Judah by Babylon.

‘It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence.’

Zedekiah king of Judah rebels against the King of Babylon, Jerusalem is finally ransacked and he is taken captive to Babylon blind and shackled – the last thing he witnesses is the slaughter of his sons. The temple of the Lord was set on fire – and the people taken captive to Babylon‘So Judah went into captivity, away from her land.’

The book of Kings ends with the image of a subdued king, far from his land, subject to another ruler – ‘So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived.’

The kings were all gathered to their ancestors. As for the people of the Lord,

‘…. if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, …then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their captors to show them mercy; for they are your people and your inheritance, whom you brought out of Egypt, out of that iron-smelting furnace.”

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