Day 113: 2 Kings 24-25; Destruction and Exile of Judah

English: Map of the Assyrian Empire Português:...

English: Map of the Assyrian Empire Português: Extensão do Império Assírio Español: Extensión del Imperio Asirio Polski: Mapa Asyrii. Dostępna też polska wersja pliku: Mapa Asyrii.png For translations of this map, contact Ningyou. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have seen in the past two days, the decline of the kingdom of Judah.  After Assyria came and carried off the kingdom of Israel, Judah and King Hezekiah were able to hold out against the military might of Sennacherib through the providence of God.  Ultimately, though, because of the sins of Manasseh, Judah’s end was sealed.  Even though God relented from His wrath for the sake of Josiah.  In this time in history, a great transition of power was taking place.  Neco, Pharaoh of Egypt, who was actually installed by the Assyrian King, was asserting his power against the Assyrian Empire, which was rapidly loosing power at this time.  Though Josiah was killed when he went to meet Neco (whether he went to do battle, to help, or advise the Bible doesn’t say), Egypt’s campaign was one of the many from several different nations that led to the fall of the Assyrian Empire.

Here, however, is where we pick up the narrative today, with the rise of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire.  Sadly, I must quote Wikipedia here, for the sake of historical background: “Assyria finally succumbed to a coalition of BabyloniansMedesScythians, and others at the Fall of Nineveh in 612 BC, and the sacking of its last capital Harran in 608 BC.”

During this time of power transition, we read that Nebuchadnezzar came up to Jerusalem (likely with some military power behind him) and make Jehoiakim his servant.  Judah became what is known as a vassal state.  This meant that the leader of the nation chose to serve the king of the greater empire rather than be taken over and burnt to the ground.  The people of Israel, however, both Judah and the no longer existent Northern Kingdom, didn’t take well to serving anyone and rebelled.  It was at this time that Judah was attacked by several other nations.  When Jehoiakim dies, his son Jehoiachin takes over.  Unfortunately, the rebellion of his father only serves to bring the Babylonian army to Jerusalem.  This is the first time that Jerusalem falls, Jehoiachin is taken prisoner and his uncle, renamed Zedekiah, is set up as leader.

English: Map of the Neo-Babylonian Empire as o...

English: Map of the Neo-Babylonian Empire as of 540 BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is what is considered to be the first exile of Judah.  Nebuchadnezzar takes thousands of people, all of Jerusalem away in Exile.  However, this isn’t the end of Judah… at least not yet.  Zedekiah, set up as leader, decided after a short time that he didn’t like being ruled either and rebelled.  When Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army returns, they are ruthless and utterly destroy Jerusalem leaving only a few to work the land.

The narrative for today is a horrific end to the story of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people.  It leaves us with many questions about what happens next.  What about the Covenant?  What about God’s promise to David?  What about the fulfillment of them being a blessing to all nations?  These questions and many more plague our minds as we read of Judah’s destruction.  Some of these questions are answered, others will go unanswered for some time.

First, we do read that king Jehoiachin, who was taken prisoner during the first exile, isn’t tortured like king Zedekiah, but is put in prison and released to live in Babylon.  God has not forsaken David or his house, but has allowed for Jehoiachin to live and be provided for by, of all people, the king of Babylon.

Second, God is acting in accordance to the Covenant relationship with His people.  His actions are prescribed for at the end of the book of Leviticus.  Yet we are really only getting a part of the story here.  To date, our readings have been fairly chronological, proceeding throughout the passage of time.  However, from here on out, things change a bit.  What we haven’t heard much of in the books of Kings, and won’t here much of in the books of the Chronicles, is the words of the prophets regarding God’s work in this, and about Judah’s fate in exile.  There is much to be said about what has happened here that we have yet to hear.  Judah’s exile is not the end… in fact it is somewhat of a new beginning for them.  It could even be considered a new “wilderness experience” for them.  Many other thoughts and motifs come wrapped around this time of exile… we will talk about these in the coming days.

We believe that God cannot act in a manner contrary to God’s self, which means that God cannot forsake the Covenant that He has made with the children of Abraham, which is an everlasting covenant.  That means that God is still working, and therefore there still is hope.  Things may look pretty grim for the people of Israel and Judah, but there is hope.  However, we will have to wait and see what happens, filling in the gaps and looking to the future in days to come.

Day 112: 2 Kings 21-23; The Beginning of the End of Judah

The narrative of the Kingdom of Judah after Israel’s exile is that of stark contrasts in leadership and therefore the people’s following of God.  After we read about King Hezekiah, one of the greatest kings of God’s chosen people, we read about his son, Manasseh.  This is a narrative of contrasts.  Hezekiah did what was right in the sight of the Lord, undoing all that his fathers had done before him.  Manasseh, on the other hand, undid all that King Hezekiah had accomplished and led the people of Israel down a road from which they would not be able to return.

English: Manasses was a king of the Kingdom of...

English: Manasses was a king of the Kingdom of Judah. He was the only son and successor of Hezekiah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Manasseh was quite possibly one of the worst kings to ever rule over Judah.  I guess its one thing to inherit a kingdom of wickedness and just continue in it, but it is an entirely other thing to assume the throne of a kingdom that has been righted of its wrongs by your father, and then go after everything that had just been abolished.  Manasseh really had it made as far as the Kingdom of Judah was concerned.  His father had fixed everything, torn down all the idols and gotten rid of all the of the idol worshipers and such, yet he turned out wicked, incredibly wicked.  He shed innocent blood.  He rebuild alters and idols.  He even placed idols of Asherah in the Temple of the Lord.  In fact, he was so wicked that his actions provoked the Lord to anger in such a way that He pronounced the same judgment of Exile that He pronounced on Israel.

When Amon, the son of Manasseh, takes over, I’m sure you were hoping and praying that things would get better.  However, they didn’t.  Unfortunately, or fortunately I guess, Amon was assassinated by his servants after two years and was replaced by his 8 year old son Josiah.  Its pretty sad when people think that an 8 year old can run a kingdom better than  you can.

King Josiah hears the Law Photo Credit:

King Josiah hears the Law
Photo Credit:

Josiah is the contrast to both Amon and Manasseh.  Like Hezekiah, Josiah is a good king.  In fact, he is a great king!  Scripture says that he did not turn from the ways of the Lord to the right or to the left.  He put forth money to rebuild the temple and during that process, the priests discovered the book of the Law of Moses.  It is interesting to think that the people of God, even those living in Jerusalem and/or serving in the Temple of the Lord had somehow lost this very precious thing.  So they examine it and read it and when they do they are cut to the heart.  Josiah weeps before the Lord and tears his clothes.  He realizes instantly how sinful they have been.  Josiah then devotes the rest of his life to setting things straight.  He does again what Hezekiah did, which was undone by Manasseh.  The idols are torn down, the idol worshipers are removed.  He kills all the priests of the false gods.  AND… King Josiah reinstates the Passover!!!  We read here that it hadn’t been celebrated since the time of the judges… that would be several hundred years at least.  Do you remember what God said about the Passover when it was first instituted?  Exodus 12:14 says,

This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.

Seems like the people of God have forgotten their past, their history… their heritage.  It was God who got them to where they are now, and for hundreds of years they have just ignored it.  I wonder if this is something that has happened in the Church today… or even in our country.  I won’t go so far as to say this is a Christian nation, but I think that in many ways, it was believers that founded this country.  That’s not to say that we are perfect.  It was believers (some of them anyway) that committed some of the horrible atrocities against the native peoples of this land.  Yet many people came here seeking the ability and freedom to worship and serve God as they felt called.  Some 400 years later, the Church is in a steady decline and it seems that Christianity doesn’t matter anymore.  I wonder if we’ve forgotten our legacy… who brought us here… or why we are even here at all.

You see, the Church’s legacy isn’t America.  The Church’s history is not Western power or cultural influence.  The Church’s message is not the lights, the music, the “authentic community” or anything else that we can cleverly conjure up to make ourselves more relevant.  THE CHURCH’S LEGACY IS JESUS CHRIST.  He is our only message, our only hope, our only savior.  We are here today because of what He did for us 2,000 years ago.  Not because of what we have done, but because of what He did for us.  It is time we wake up and realize who we are… and whose we are…

Day 111: 2 Kings 18-20; Hezekiah, King of Judah

Ezechias-Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz and the ...

Ezechias-Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz and the 14th king of Judah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the narrative of Israel continues on… However things are forever changed in the land of Canaan.  Hezekiah has risen to the throne of Judah, another king in the line of David, and he is a good king.  As a matter of fact, Hezekiah is one of the best kings of Judah and Israel since king David.  King Hezekiah, we are told, does something that all the kings before him, even the good ones, does not do.  He is fully committed to the Lord and because of it, he tears down all of the high places, and rids the land of Judah of all the idols and false gods that have been present.  He even destroys the bronze serpent that Moses made in the desert some 500 or so years prior, recorded in Numbers 21.  The Bible speaks these words of him, words that we have not heard since the time of David,

He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.  For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses.  And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered.

The remainder of this story has to do with the continuing exploits of the Assyrian military and their quest to conquer the known world.  They were, in many ways, a prototype of the coming Empires to rule this area from the Middle East to Europe.  Egypt, in many ways, was the first of these prototypes and Israel, under the rule of King David and Solomon was the second, at least of what was mentioned in the Biblical narrative.

Unlike some of the kings that had gone before him in Israel and in Judah, Hezekiah looks to the Lord and to His power for protection against Sennacherib, the king of Assyria.  The reality of the sityation was that there was no possible human way that Judah could have stood up to the Assyrian Military might.  He was, for all intents and purposes, doomed, and Sennacherib knew it.  The king of Assyria taunted Hezekiah, mocking God and any other nation that would stand up to him.  Brave and pride filled words that may have been spoken a bit too soon.

Sennacherib's Siege on Jerusalem Photo Credit:

Sennacherib’s Siege on Jerusalem
Photo Credit:

Instead of caving to the pressure that Sennacherib was putting on Him, Hezekiah cries out to God who responds through the prophet Isaiah.  God does a mighty work in Judah by protecting them from the Assyrians, killing almost 200,000 of them in one night.  I think though, that this is not the main focus of this particular narrative that we have come upon.  What God says through Isaiah about Judah is simply amazing.  He recalls what Judah has done, how they have strayed from the presence of the Lord and have not followed Him… yet the Lord has been provoked to anger over the words of Sennacherib and He stands up for His Children for they have turned to Him in their time of need.

God goes even further to say that this has all been planned long ago, that all this would come to pass.  He planned that Assyria would rise to power, but he also planned that they would not take over Judah.  For God knows the actions and the evil that the Assyrians have done and He will not stand for it any longer.  It is interesting to see how God works in the ways that He does.  He has allowed for this situation to come about, for these things to happen in Israel and in Judah.  However, there is a limit.  One can only go so far, and Assyria has come to that point.

It kind of makes me think about some of the current situations we have found ourselves in today.  Bombings in Boston.  Explosions that level parts of communities.  War and rebellion in many countries.  Questionable leadership (no matter what party you support).  Yet God has allowed each of these things to happen for one reason or another.  I would not presume to know the mind of the Lord or speak for Him, but I do know that God has not changed and He still hears the cries of His people throughout the world.  Perhaps today we are reminded that our hope lies in God alone, and it is Him who we should seek in our time of need.  May we look to Him today, tomorrow, and always!

Day 110: 2 Kings 15-17; Destruction and Exile of Israel

We continue to read the narrative as it is laid out with the progression of kings in both the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Today, mostly, we focus on the Northern Kingdom.  There are a few kings of Judah mentioned, and some of them are good, Azariah (also known as Uzziah) and Jotham… and others are bad, really bad, like Ahaz who is considered to be one of the worst (however not THE worst) kings of the Southern Kingdom.  However, even in the face of the evil that they do, God is faithful to the promise and covenant He made with King David.

Spiritual State and the Kings of Israel Photo Credit:

Spiritual State and the Kings of Israel
Photo Credit:

Meanwhile, in the Southern Kingdoms, things are just getting worse and worse.  We read that God has indeed fulfilled His promise to Jehu by allowing four generations of his family to rule in Israel.  After that, person after person, plot after plot saw a very rapid succession of rulers in the north, each one as bad if not worse than the last.  Remember the chart that we referenced at the beginning of this saga of the divided kingdom?  The Northern Kingdom never recovers from the split.  Sadly, Jeroboam was actually the best king that there was in Israel.  And because of this, because of their unfaithfulness to the Lord, they are plagued by war, scandal, unrest and all other manner of unfortunate living that could take place with them.  They are constantly raided, constantly plundered, and constantly having to pay off attackers so that they don’t get attacked again.

Ultimately, God did not allow this to go on unchecked.  After a succession of kings that are all bad, Hoshea takes the throne, the final ruler of a doomed kingdom.  Sometimes Scripture can be kind of confusing when it comes to the actions that are taking place and the reasons for the actions, however, when we come to 2 Kings 17, Scripture is very clear as to all that happens and the reasons why.

And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.  And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city.  They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree,  and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger,  and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.”  Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judahby every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”

 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them.  And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal.  And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.  Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.

 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced.  And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.

When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin.  The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them,  until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

People of God Exiled Photo Credit:

People of God Exiled
Photo Credit:

Map of the Exile and Resettlement Photo Credit:

Map of the Exile and Resettlement
Photo Credit:

Therefore Israel is taken into exile.  Unlike what is to happen to Judah, which is depicted in this picture as well, the exile of Israel is permanent.  God has, in effect, removed them from His sight, or at least, that is what we read.  As part of this removal, the land of promise, or at least the Northern part of it, is given to the nations by way of resettlement.  This was very much a practice of the day, or rather it became the practice of these great empires, when they took over an area, to remove the native people of the area and resettle them, and then resettle the area with people from another area.  There are a great many reasons for this, however the main reason is the idea of national security.  People can rebel very easily when they know the cities that they are in and the land in which they live.  When you are in a foreign place and do not know your resources, you’re more likely to be compliant.

From a less practical perspective, the exile of Israel and the later exile of Judah, was about the covenant relationship that existed between the people and God.  There are a great many things that have come with this covenant.  One of them was the land that God would give to them as an inheritance.  The land was a gift, part of the promise, which as also based on the people actually being the people of God and following His statutes.  The Covenant stipulations for continued disobedience was clear in Leviticus 26:

“But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me,  then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins.  You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.  And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you.  And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas.  And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.  And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.”

There are many aspects to this, many things that come from the exile and it is difficult to know what to do with it all.  How does God fit into this whole picture as the God we know as “Gracious and Merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”  There is certainly some tension here, some things that may not fit well with the picture that we have of God.  Sometimes we want to dismiss this as just an Old Testament thing, and yet we believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  However, sometimes I think we also can be too quick to explain things away so as to get over our own discomfort and tension.  This is not the last time we will talk about exile.  Israel’s event sits as a warning to the people of Judah… a warning that is not heeded well…

Day 109: 2 Kings 12-14; Joash, Jehoash, Jehoahaz, Jeroboam II, and Amaziah

I was trying to come up with some sort of a witty name for today’s reading as it is much more of the same stuff that we have been reading, but I failed in my efforts.  So, today is simply more narratives about the kings of Israel and Judah.  Some of these kings are good, and others are not so good…

English: Amasias was the king of Judah, the so...

English: Amasias was the king of Judah, the son and successor of Joash. Русский: Амасия — царь Иудеи (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joash, king of Judah, we read, does good in the eyes of the Lord.  He seeks to repair the temple of the Lord.  Yet he doesn’t turn completely to the Lord and tear down the high places and stuff.  The same goes for Amaziah, the son of Joash, king of Judah.  Both were relatively good kings, but not so much so that they follow God completely.  There is a segment in the narrative of Amaziah in which we see him adhering to the law, not taking revenge on the sons of those who killed his father which is another example of how they followed the Lord and sought to do what was good in His eyes.  God’s response to this is to bless them, for the most part, and grant them victory of their enemies and peace for a majority of their reigns.

English: Jehoahaz of Israel was king of Israel...

English: Jehoahaz of Israel was king of Israel and the son of Jehu (2 Kings 10:35). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In sharp contrast to this, the kings of Israel are not so great.  Jehoahaz, Jehoash, and Jeroboam II, were all wicked kings in the sight of the Lord.  They are all the decedents of Jehu, which we read yesterday were promised to reign on the throne for a total of four generations because of the work that Jehu did for the Lord.  There is a bit of a bright side to these kings in that at times they seek after the Lord and the Lord grants them favor through victories and the like.  Ultimately, we read that God doesn’t wipe out Israel on account of the evil of any of these kings because of His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  I find the reference of these particular people to be quite interesting because it skips past more recent “versions” of the covenant with David and with Moses at Sinai, and references the original covenant that was put in place.  While I don’t know if it is abundantly relevant in this passage, it is a unique diversion from the norm of talking about the covenant and the promise in general and not necessarily naming names.

Another thing of importance in this story is the death of Elisha.  Though it comes with quite a bit less pomp and circumstance than that of his master Elijah, none the less, even this great prophet succumbs to mortality.  Yet even in death, it seems, God’s work through Elisha wasn’t quite finished.  There is a brief narrative of a dead man touching the bones of Elisha and being instantly revived.  You might be thinking, “great, another miracle from a prophet…” but I think there is something a bit deeper in this.  Remember back to the “holiness codes” when we talked about how people were not allowed to touch the dead lest they become unclean.  An event like this seems to call a Law like that into question in some ways.  Interestingly, as prophet who serves as the mouthpiece of God in that time and place, calling people to repentance and speaking for God (sometimes we refer to them as heralds of the Kingdom), acts even in death in a way contrary to the world of sin and death in which he lived.  We see here once again a dramatic foreshadowing of death bringing life in a very little way.  Without discounting the narrative at hand, anytime we see someone raised to life we ought to keep in the back of our minds the resurrection of Jesus!

P.S.  Did you notice the brief mention of Jonah here?  It is the only other place in the Old Testament where Jonah is mentioned outside of the book that bears his name.

Day 108: 2 Kings 9-11; Jehu, the Best Bloody King of Israel

English: Jehu was king of Israel, the son of J...

English: Jehu was king of Israel, the son of Jehoshaphat [1], and grandson of Nimshi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Legacy of King Jehu is somewhat of a double-edged sword, and our reading today reflects this is many ways.  He does a great deal of good in the land of Israel, but does it in a ways that is one whale of a blood bath.  Today’s reading is certainly not rated G or PG in nature, but I think that it lends itself to the reality of what sometimes needs to happen to rid evil from the land and from our lives as well.

This whole narrative begins with the anointing of Jehu, an anointing that is quite unlike all of the others.  Elisha sends his servant rather than going himself.  His instructions are basically to do the deed and get the heck out of there… “Do not linger” he says.  Whether Elisha is aware of what is about to take place or not, it is abundantly clear that the man Jehu is to be feared.  Our suspicions are confirmed when we read of the people that are look-outs and see him coming.  They say that he drives like Jehu, which indicates to us that Jehu has a reputation for bad driving, or perhaps wild behavior.  In any case, Elisha doesn’t risk himself and doesn’t want his servant caught in the cross-hairs (if you can call it that with bows, swords, and spears) either.

The resulting conflict is indeed bloody and swift.  Jehu wipes out the entire family of Ahab.  Scripture tells us that all of Ahab’s male relations, his friends, his priests, and anyone that was close to him.  Scripture is also very specific as to why this is done.  Unlike some of the kings anointed before him, Jehu takes the task he is given from the Lord rather seriously, perhaps maybe even to a fault?  I don’t think he was meant to kill the family of the King of Judah, at least not that I can remember, yet he does.  He almost seems like the perfect man for the job.  He follows the Lord’s command, carrying out what the Lord had proclaimed again Ahab, Jezebel, and all their family.  Through Him all the words of the Lord came true against Ahab.

He also takes out all the prophets of Baal, his worshipers and the house in which they worship.  The Bible says, “Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel.”  However, even to this credit, He still did not turn Israel around.  He left up the golden calves that were erected by Jeroboam and did not remove the idolatry from Israel.  Even with his failings though, the Lord looks favorably on him and says that the house of Jehu will reign for four generations, a promise that would not have gone unnoticed by the king, however evil he was.

English: Joas was the king of the ancient King...

English: Joas was the king of the ancient Kingdom of Judah, and sole surviving son of Ahaziah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, back in Judah, there are some royalty issues going on as well.  Jehu killed king Ahaziah and much of his family too.  In his stead his mother took control of the throne and sought to wipe out the entire royal family.  The actualization of this would have completely mitigated the Lord’s Covenant with Daivd.  Of course, this couldn’t and doesn’t happen.  One of the slain king’s sons was sneaked out by his sister, the only one of his line to remain alive.  How this got overlooked we’ll never know.  Only by the grace and power of God I imagine.  In any case, the Queen was even and Joash, also know as Jehoash was crowned king by those who were faithful to the royal family and God provides a good adviser for the 7 year old who would be king.  The Queen is put to death and Jehoash is crowned king at age 7.  Once again, God has shown Himself to be faithful to all that He has promised and has maintained the line of Kings from David for the sake of David and the Covenant that God made with him.

These stories often leave us with some uneasy feelings about how God can use something so seemingly evil to bring about His working and will in the world.  But I think, without over generalizing this story down to something smaller than what it is, we get a good picture of the wrath of God against the evil of the land.  We know that God is Love, but we also know that God is Holy and is completely opposed to sin.  We have seen time and again that God punishes His people when they sin through various means.  This is very much a part of the Covenant relationship that has been made with God.  But it is not a heartless beating, but rather like a Father punishing His child.  While this metaphor doesn’t work well due to all the death, perhaps it is better to look at the death as the working toward removing sin in the lives of the people.  Removing entrenched sin in our lives is often like going to war, having to struggle and cut things out of our lives in what can be a Spiritually bloody battle against the deceiver.  But even here we see God’s abundant faithfulness.  He does not leave His people to suffer alone with no hope, but instead brings someone that can do battle on their behalf… He has done this for us in Jesus Christ as well: God becoming human to taking on the sin of the world, to take it on himself… to do battle for us… and to overcome completely the oppression of sin and death in the world.

Day 107: 2 Kings 6-8; Elisha, Israel, and Syria

There are a variety of smaller narratives within the continuing meta-narrative of Elisha and God’s work through Elisha.  Today, however, we are going to look at Scripture from a bit of a different perspective: enactment.  The narratives of Scripture, especially the Old Testament, were passed down from generation to generation through Oral transmission.  Most were likely performed as a way of communicating the message and truth of God’s Word to continuing generations.  Seeing Scripture come to life in a physical way also draws our attention away from simply seeing words on a page, but clues us in to the human factor of what is happening, and also tends to also give us new insight as to what God is doing in the narrative that is being read.

So, our first enactment is called “The Bands of Aram,” and comes from 2 Kings 6:8-23.  This comes from the “WTSHebrewPlayers,” groups that perform Scripture at Western Theological Seminary in both English and Hebrew.  Remember, in watching this, to continually hold before you the question of how we see God in this Scripture.  All of Scripture is ultimately a testament to God, His work, His love, His Faithfulness, etc.  How is God at work in this narrative?

The reading for today contains a great deal of other narratives about the great works of God.  The other one that we are going to focus on today has to do with the transfer of power from Ben-Hadad, whom we have known as the King of Syria (aka. Aram), to Hazael.  Remember a couple days ago, when Elijah had gone to the mountain of God, He is commanded to go and anoint Hazael as “King over Aram.”  We never read that this physically takes place, but we do see here the faithfulness of God to His promise in making Hazael the king.

This narrative does leave a bit of discomfort in our hearts when we read it.  God has anointed and brought Hazael to power in Aram, yet Elisha has made it clear that this guy has nothing good in mind for the people of Israel.  Why is it that God appoints him then?  I think that we could come up with a variety of answers that would seek to… help us ignore the tension that we may feel here.  Yet, I think that there are some things that we just won’t understand.  Of course God is always true to God’s self.  God is always faithful to His people and always works in line with the Covenant relationship that He has with Israel and Judah.  And we see, as we read on from here, that the people of Israel, and now the Kings and people of Judah are not faithful to the Covenant, and for that God will punish them (even though we see once again that God will not wipe out Judah for the sake of David).  However, this thing that God knows is going to happen is awful, horrific even, but He still allows it to happen.  Perhaps this is just one of these times that we cannot have a simple answer for.  Maybe this is a time that we have to live in the uncomfortable nature of the narrative and trust that God is God and knows what He is doing.  God is always working out His will in His way… even if we don’t understand it… or approve of it…

Day 106: 2 Kings 4-5; Elisha's Ministry Begins

Elisha raises the Shunammite's Son Photo Credit:

Elisha raises the Shunammite’s Son
Photo Credit:

Elisha’s ministry begins with work that is much like the work of his predecessor Elijah.  When Elijah was in the wilderness, through the power of God he provides for a widow and her son making her flour and oil last during the drought that had come on Israel in that time.  Her resources do not run out for as long as the drought persisted.  We see Elisha do somewhat of the same, by the power of God, in helping a widow with her debts and to save her family.

Later in Elijah’s ministry, he raises a boy from the dead.  He does it in a rather peculiar way, by laying on him three times, at which time the boy wakes up and is raised to life again.  Elisha does much of the same with the young boy that he raises from the dead.  Though, instead of laying on him three times, it is only once and the boy wakes up, sneezes seven times, and then goes about his life.

In many ways, the prophets are at type of foreshadowing as well, heralds of the kingdom of God and of God himself to His people.  They are also shadows of what is to come in the life of Christ.  They often mirror the miracles of Jesus, like the feeding of a multitude, the raising of the dead, and the healing of diseases.  All these are symbolic of the work of the Lord, the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.  We see it in some ways with the prophets, and in numerous ways in the life of Jesus.  It isn’t simply a random thing, but almost like a direct attack on the brokenness of the world.  It is clear that things aren’t as they should be in this world, and we see here glimpses of what the Kingdom of God looks like: no more death, no more disease, no more hunger, etc.

The other major narrative in today’s reading is that of the healing of Naaman’s leprosy.  This is a very interesting story about a man from Syria, a nation that has been constantly at war with Israel, coming to Elisha, the man of God, for healing.  As we talked about yesterday and is times past, this narrative has a very specific baptism motif in it.  Naaman has to bathe himself in the waters of the Jordan River in order to be cleansed from his illness.  What is so also amazing about this story is the reversal of roles that takes place in this narrative.  Again, as we talked about yesterday, the people of Israel, especially the Northern Kingdom in this case, have abandoned God and turned to the gods and idols of all the nations around them.  Yet in the midst of Israel’s turning towards the nations for their faith, we see the nations turning to the God of Israel for their healing.  In some ways, this is what it looks like for Israel to be a light to the nations, a blessing to the Gentiles, and yet even the people of the nation of the Covenant and blessing do not even see it.

Sometimes this story makes me think about the people of God today, the Church, and the light that it is to be to the nations.  I wonder if we were to look at the Church, especially the Church in North America, if we were to see ourselves and turning to God for healing, for growth, for faith, or if we have turned to our own devices.  We often hear a great deal of talk about the Church becoming more relevant so that we can reach more people.  We talk about hot button topics to attracted an audience.  We surrender our ideals and our beliefs to the movements of culture.  We focus on making things more modern, more up beat, more this and more that.  We turn to these things because we think that those will be the things that make us better and make us more marketable, ways that we will reach more people.  Yet in this we often abandon our core message, the center of all that we are as a faith community and as believers.  It may seem cliche’ to say, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most relevant, most necessary, and most needed message of hope that our world needs today.  All else may be helpful, but it is only a means to an end.  The end is Christ, our Savior is Christ, and He (not media, lights, music, bands, art, pictures, etc.) is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Day 105: 2 Kings 1-3; Elisha Succeeds Elijah

English: Ahaziah of Israel was king of Israel ...

English: Ahaziah of Israel was king of Israel and the son of Ahab and Jezebel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We open the book of 2nd Kings right where we left off in 1st Kings.  These books, as you can imagine, are completely linked.  Really, it is just the book of Kings, yet they are divided up into two volumes.  2 Kings opens just after the death of Ahab, which we read about yesterday.  Ahaziah takes the throne after his father and we read that he is apparently clumsy or something and fell through the “lattice” and probably injured himself somehow.  In any case, rather than going to God with his concern about his injury, he decides to go to one of the gods of the philistines, Baal-zebub (interestingly sounding a lot like “Beelzebub”).  Elijah meets the messengers on the road and delivers the message that God has given him.  Ahaziah will die from his injury because he did not seek the Lord.  I wonder what would have happened if he had sought the Lord…

This act and the the narrative surrounding it brings forth one of the primary issues that plagues both Israel and Judah in this book, and really during most of the time of the kings: Idolatry and a lack of spiritual center.  The people of Israel, both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms are children of the Covenant, living with the promise that God as made.  God is very present among them and has revealed Himself in a very special way to these people.  Yet it seems that whenever there is trouble, the people of Israel go off looking to other gods for help.  Israel was meant to be the light of God to the nations.  They were THE nation through which all nations would be blessed.  Yet, instead of turning to their light in times of need, they look to the gods of the nations that surround them.  Ahaziah is a prime example of this.

The other narrative that we read about today has to do with the succession of Elisha as the Prophet of God.  There are many things that we can glean from this narrative.  Elisha is persistent and loyal, never refusing to leave his master’s side, even after being commanded three times.  I suppose there could be an interesting correlation to Peter’s Denial of Jesus here.  Elijah asks his faithful protegee what he can do for him before he leaves and Elisha’s request is bold!  “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me” he says.  What a request!  And it is granted by his seeing Elijah being taken away, or so Elijah says.  Isn’t it interesting that it takes two strikes for Elisha before the waters part for him.  I think it is important to see here that when he strikes the first time he doesn’t just give up, but he questions the Lord, asking where He is and why he hasn’t yet granted the request.  He is given no sign, no message that he had the power of the Spirit, but he strikes again in faith and the waters part.

Speaking of water, as we close for today, it was suggested the other day by a professor or mine that at any time in the Bible that we talk about water, especially when we talk about going through the water, our minds should move toward the idea of baptism.  We touched on this when we talked about Israel crossing the Red Sea and again when Israel crossed the Jordan River.  Baptism, a washing and cleansing with water, a foreshadowing of Christ’s baptism and His atoning death on the cross, a dying to the old self and rising in the new self, a fundamental re-identification of the person.  This motif, this idea of identity and baptism persists throughout the Bible.  When Israel Crosses the Red Sea they enter as a group of slaves and emerge as a chosen, rescued people of God.  When they cross the Jordan they go down as a Nomadic group of wanderers and emerge as a the nation of God.  Elijah passes through the waters and is taken away and Elisha does the same and takes on the role of his now departed master.  All these events happen though because of the power and will of God alone.  It is God’s might that holds back the sea, it is God’s will, call, and promise that makes someone His… and it will be God’s grace and love which bring Jesus to the cross as atonement for our sins and ultimately the way to be found truly in Him as members of His body.

Day 104: 1 Kings 21-22; Naboth's Vineyard and the Death of Ahab

I feel like today’s reading has called into question some things that I would otherwise have taken for granted about God.  However, before we get to that, let’s talk for a moment about Naboth’s Vineyard and what happens when Ahab takes it.

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Na...

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard Giclee. Print by Sir Frank Dicksee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We read that there is a Vineyard that King Ahab wants.  Naboth owns it and won’t give it to him because it is part of his “inheritance.”  What he means by this is that, likely, this was the plot of land that was given to him when the people of Israel entered and conquered the land of Canaan.  Remember that every tribe was given a plot of land and every family was given land within that land to call their own.  There are a great deal of laws that have to do with the possession of the land including things like the Year of Jubilee and laws that governed the sale/transfer of ownership of the land.  This land was very important to the people.  It was given to them by God as part of the Covenant promise that God made with Israel and therefore was to be kept in the families.  As I understand it, even when someone had to sell their land or had lost it somehow, it was to be returned to them after a period of time.  This is spelled out fairly specifically in Leviticus 25.  So it doesn’t come as a surprise then that Naboth is unwilling to sell his Vineyard as it is part of (or perhaps all of) his inheritance.  The land was sacred to him, given to him by God, and he didn’t want to give it up.  Likely it is that he knew the King wouldn’t honor the codes of the Law in returning it to him in the Year of Jubilee.

The other part of today’s reading had to do with the nature of King Ahab’s death.  Returning to my original statement, this narrative is a bit confusing.  We read a of a vision that the prophet Micaiah speaks to Ahab and Jehoshaphat prior to the conflict with Aram.  He talks about a decieving spirit sent directly from God to disceive the prophets that Ahab had so that he would wrongfully attack Aram.  In doing so, we read, God is ensuring that Ahab would end up dead.  This can be confusing because it seems to be out of character from God.  We don’t equate the word “decieving” with God often.  We belive the Lord God is the essence of truth.  Being decitful is considered to be sinful in most situations, so seeing God sending someone or something to decieve seems completely out of character.  Yet I think that we can understand that there is a bit more going on here than simply God lying to someone in order to get him killed.

English: The Death of Ahab (1Kings 22:29-40) Р...

English: The Death of Ahab (1Kings 22:29-40) Русский: Смерть Ахава (3Цар. 22:29-40) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, here we see very clearly that God is being true to Himself and His own words.  A couple times now there have been prophecies, which are words from the Lord, that have to do with the death of Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel.  In this action, God is ensuring that His word comes true, which happens despite Ahab’s attempts to hide himself.  We read that a random arrow strikes Ahab, likely a 1 in a million shot being that the king’s armor was much better than the normal soldier’s armor, and King Ahab dies exactly in the manner which God says… dogs and all.

So what do we do with things like this?  They do make us question things that we think we know about God.  Yet I think it is important for us to know that, as much as anyone tries to explain away the actions of God, we have to know that God is God and He is abundantly higher and greater than we ever are or will be.  “Who can know the mind of the Lord?” the Psalmist writes,  “Your ways are higher than our ways.”  We may not know or understand how or why God is working in the ways that he does, but we know that He is always true to Himself.  God cannot act outside the nature of God, and we know that the nature of God is first and foremost a God of love and faithfulness.  God is true to His own being always, and in all things will indeed be faithful to His people.