Tag Archives: Ancient Israel

Old Testament books, I & II Kings: Easier reading but why read it?

Midway through the second book of Kings, I am finding that I can understand the reading without being totally dependent on study notes.  I really was unprepared for the ease of reading these two books after struggling with so much of the ancient literature.

Still, I maintained my discipline by reading the Wesley Study Bible’s notes.  And then I began wondering why was it necessary to consider these two books for permanent inclusion in the Bible.

You might wonder why question such a decision, but just in case you are not familiar with the books of Kings, I will provide a bit of a spoiler.  These two books are written as a historical narrative (a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end in chronological order).

The narrative style makes the reading more familiar for me, at least.  I can understand going from point A to point B and on to point C.  It makes sense.

But one of the challenges continues to be the lineage.  For one thing, not being schooled in Hebrew or the ancient languages, I struggle with the spelling of the names.  The list of fathers, sons and a few wives (notice no daughters) visually seem so similar—maybe one letter difference such as Amaziah and Ahaziah.  

Now add to the lineage, there is the geography of the narrative.  The ancient Middle Eastern setting is not a strength for me; in fact it is challenging even knowing the 21stcentury geography.

Remember that the chosen 12 tribes have split into two ‘countries’:  Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judah, the southern kingdom.  Mix in the lineage of the various names and trying to remember whether that family was from Judah or whether it was from Israel further complicates the comprehension of the narrative—which, as you may remember I stated, is easier reading.

The narrative itself tells of all the acts that these leaders did, not only to their own people; but to those that they battled and conquered.  The list of killings is extensive, but add to the basic killing some of the violent and horrible behaviors used by the kings and their protégés and one might think the ink used to write the narrative is actually the blood of victims.

Woven into the battle-filled narrative are the evil behaviors that separated the faithful tribes from God.  There is trickery.  There is worshiping foreign gods.  There is “doing what is evil in the eyes of God.”  And that brings me back:  Why is this narrative part of the Bible?

Maybe one reason is the stories of Elijah and Elisha. The prophets’ stories are woven into the narrative of the leaders (and notice the similar spelling) and are stark contrast of those who remained faithful to those who ‘did evil in the eyes of God’.  

As a brief refresher, and to simplify what I have been reading, here is how Elijah is identified on Britannica.com:

Hebrew prophet who ranks with Moses in saving the religion of Yahweh from being corrupted by the nature worship of Baal. Elijah’s name means “Yahweh is my God” and is spelled Elias in some versions of the Bible. The story of his prophetic career in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Kings Ahab and Ahaziah is told in 1 Kings 17–19 and 2 Kings 1–2 in the Bible. Elijah claimed that there was no reality except the God of Israel, stressing monotheismto the people with possibly unprecedented emphasis. He is commemorated by Christians on July 20 and is recognized as a prophet by Islam.  [accessed on May 27, 2019]

Needless to say the entry on the website Britannica.com is somewhat simplified, but it helps explain the importance of including him in the narrative of Kings.  

Prior to Elijah’s death, Elisha enters into the narrative.  He was a student of Elijah and in the end became his successor.  To summarize his role in the narrative, it is helpful to turn to Britannica.com again:

Elisha, also spelled Elisaios, or Eliseus, in the Old TestamentIsraelite prophet, the pupil of Elijah, and also his successor (c. 851 BC). He instigated and directed Jehu’s revolt against the house of Omri, which was marked by a bloodbath at Jezreel in which King Ahab of Israel and his family were slaughtered.

The popular traditions about Elisha (2 Kings 2–13) sketch a charismatic, quasi-ecstatic figure, very similar to Elijah. Like his mentor, Elisha was a passionate exponent of the ancient religious and cultural traditions of Israel, which both felt to be threatened by the ruling dynasty of Omri, which was in alliance with Phoenicia. (King Ahab’s wife, the Tyrian princess Jezebel, was then trying to introduce the worship of Baal into Israel.) As a prophet, Elisha was a political activist and revolutionary. He led a “holy war” that extinguished the house of Omri in Jerusalem as well as in Samaria (2 Kings 9–10).

Though Elisha recruited Jehu to revolt against and succeed Ahab, it was Elijah who was instructed to anoint Jehu as Israel’s king (1 Kings 19:16). This is characteristic of the relationship between the two prophets; in popular estimation Elisha always remains partly in the shadow of his master. The story of the beginning of his apprenticeship (1 Kings 19:19–21) and the account in which he becomes Elijah’s heir and successor (2 Kings 2:8–18) both feature the prophetic “mantle.” In the first, Elijah casts it upon his pupil; in the second, Elisha picks it up. The mantle, cultic garment of the prophet, carries connotations of power and authority.  [accessed on May 27, 2019]

Why am I including all the background on the two prophets when I first stated that it was much easier reading the narrative of the books of Kings?  Return to the second part of the title/headline:  WHY?

As a 21stcentury Christian who has both the Old Testament and the New Testament to read, the narrative of the kings does not line up well with our understanding of the law as taught by Jesus Christ.  The violence, the evil, and the bloodshed in the narrative seem counter-productive in understanding God’s law since the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I believe that the story of the prophets that is woven into the kings’ narrative is needed to grasp the significance of God’s effort to maintain the relationship with the twelve tribes of Moses. As the narrative creates the timeline, the lineage, and even the geography of the tribes history, magnifies a few important points:

  • God maintains his promise to David despite the generations separating the kings/ people from David;
  • God’s time certainly does not match our time; He is eternally patient;
  • God sends messengers into our lives, but we have to be alert to them or even to the possibility that prophets and/or angels are trying to be heard yet today;
  • God is with us even at our worse; it is up to us to become aware of this and ask forgiveness—even if it means more than once.

Finally, buried in the Wesley Study Bible (p. 469) is a quote from John Wesley’s own notes on Kings:

Wesley argues that such divine actions should be understood in terms of divine mercy rather than in terms of the failure of divine justice (Notes,13:23). 

That statement caused me to stop and ponder again how easy it is to think that when bad things happen, it is God’s judgment for something we did wrong.  As I visit with others who struggle to understand their own relationship with God, I discover that if life has not been easy or there is tremendous illness and/or pain with which they must deal, there is a real fear that these maladies are due to God’s divine judgment.  This then leads them to fear they have not been good enough to join God and Jesus in eternal life.

Wesley’s note places an entirely different light, so to speak, upon the reason why we read the narrative in Kings. We need to realize that the generation after generation that God waited for the faithful to return to him is a picture of God’s divine mercy, not divine judgment.

Now I can answer the question:  “Why do we read the narratives of Kings?”  

We read the narrative because we learn what divine mercy is.  We read the narrative because humanity has done wrong over and over and over again yet God continues to wait for us to return to him.  God is patient.  God is willing to forgive us when we learn that he waits for us.  

Bad things do happen to good people.  Life is full of reasons why, but God does not send bad things while he waits on us.  He patiently waits for us to accept his love, his grace.  He is divinely merciful.  All we have to do is accept his presence and his love.  He is waiting.

Please join me in a prayer:

Dear merciful God,

Time and time again we behave poorly.

We ignore all the lessons shared in the Bible.

We chose to act in ways that do not follow

     the greatest commandment ever taught:

     “Love one another.”

Forgive us of our doubt, disbelief, or denial.

Forgive us for hurting others,

     physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Forgive us for our own self-judgment

     separating us from your love.

May we find peace knowing your divine mercy.

May we shine in the light of knowing your love.

May we offer grace to one another so they too

     experience the joy of faithfulness.

In the name of you, our Father, 

     In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,

          And through the Holy Spirit, God within us,

Amen.

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Connecting then to now

given on Sunday, July 20, 2014:  Scripture reference is Hosea 4:1-14 (NLT)

Okay, I admit that reading and understanding the prophets can be difficult. Yet I know that Hosea 12:6 speaks to Christians all around the world as much today as it did—or should have—in 735 BC. Yes, that is the time frame for the book of Hosea that we reading now over 2 ½ millenniums later!

That little phrase from that one verse in one chapter of the entire Bible is so power packed: . . . hold fast to love and justice. Those six words are buried, in one sense; but even the entire verse is worth memorizing and holding fast to now as much as it was then:

But as for you, return to your God,

Hold fast to love and justice,

And wait continually for your God.

The question today is how do we connect the lessons from the Bible, even the Old Testament ones, to our lives today.

Today we live in a fast-paced world where communication really has neither any geographical nor time limits. What is going on in Israel right this moment is in our own homes within only a few seconds. The typhoon in the Pacific Rim region of Asia is reported right along with the weather for our Kansas City viewing area the instant we turn to the weather apps on our smartphones or pick up the remote and tune in to the Weather Channel or local news.

Today’s world may appear very different from the ancient world recorded in the Bible, but the people are still people. The same life challenges that affect our lives affected their lives. Tempting us are the same things such as wealth, material belongings, power, titillating relationships, feel-good experiences, and the list goes on and on. There is no difference now in how God asks us to live our lives than there was in 735 BC or even before that.

One would think that studying the history of man, there would be no reason to repeat the same sins generation after generation. Still, we need God and we need to hold fast to love and justice and wait continually for your God.

In today’s scripture, Hosea 4:1-14 (the NLT), we can read it as though it were ancient history, and we can read it again as though he is speaking of our world today. We are connected to then even though it is now:

Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel!
The Lord has brought charges against you, saying:
“There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
no knowledge of God in your land.
You make vows and break them;
you kill and steal and commit adultery.
There is violence everywhere—
one murder after another.
That is why your land is in mourning,
and everyone is wasting away.
Even the wild animals, the birds of the sky,
and the fish of the sea are disappearing.

The verses written for the people of Israel are as timely as if they were written this week for the people in our communities. We see the very same sins/crimes now. Humans are humans no matter whether then or now. The behaviors are the same whether in our own homes or whether it was written over 2500 years ago in a country on the other side of the ocean. The temptations are the same. The outcomes are the same—war, broken relationships, meanness, bullying, robbery, killing, erosion, and the list continues to grow.

Even God’s anger and reaction are the same:

“Don’t point your finger at someone else
and try to pass the blame!
My complaint, you priests,
is with you.[
a]
So you will stumble in broad daylight,
and your false prophets will fall with you in the night.
And I will destroy Israel, your mother.
My people are being destroyed
because they don’t know me.
Since you priests refuse to know me,
I refuse to recognize you as my priests.
Since you have forgotten the laws of your God,
I will forget to bless your children.
The more priests there are,
the more they sin against me.
They have exchanged the glory of God
for the shame of idols.[
b]

God recognizes that the leaders (priests), the very people who were born to lead the people in worship and to teach how to live, were at the root of the problem. He clearly blames them for all the people doing all the wrong things.

Granted, now we might not place all that responsibility on the clergy of our churches, but when this was written the priests were the spiritual and sometimes political leaders of the tribes. Still, the leaders then were just as susceptible to temptation as they are today. We can create quite a lengthy and colorful list of today’s leaders both political and religious who have or can lead the people away from God. God told the ancient leaders words that leaders now need to hear:

“When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
So the priests are glad when the people sin!
‘And what the priests do, the people also do.’
So now I will punish both priests and people
for their wicked deeds.
10 They will eat and still be hungry.
They will play the prostitute and gain nothing from it,
for they have deserted the Lord
11     to worship other gods.

The faithful Israelites began following the conquering Assyrian customs that included idol worship to Baal. Temple prostitutes were part of that tradition. The results then are the same now:

“Wine has robbed my people
of their understanding.
12 They ask a piece of wood for advice!
They think a stick can tell them the future!
Longing after idols
has made them foolish.
They have played the prostitute,
serving other gods and deserting their God.
13 They offer sacrifices to idols on the mountaintops.
They go up into the hills to burn incense
in the pleasant shade of oaks, poplars, and terebinth trees.

“That is why your daughters turn to prostitution,
and your daughters-in-law commit adultery.
14 But why should I punish them
for their prostitution and adultery?
For your men are doing the same thing,
sinning with whores and shrine prostitutes.
O foolish people! You refuse to understand,
so you will be destroyed.

Reading the scriptures is fundamental to remaining faithful to God. How else can we hold fast to love and justice if we do not have the words of Hosea to guide us, then we cannot stay connected to God. In this prophet’s words, we are taught to remain faithful. The analogy of Hosea’s personal marriage to a prostitute is to Israel remaining faithful to God. Hosea listened to God, married Gomer, dealt with her prostitution, yet followed God in remaining faithful and confronting her. His waiting was rewarded, and Gomer too healed.

The key continues to be in Hosea 12:6:

But as for you, return to your God,

Hold fast to love and justice,

And wait continually for your God.

Life is never easy, but following Hosea’s prophecy and God’s instructions to Hosea, we can remain faithful and our lives will be rewarded. The history books tell us of those who failed to follow this advice, and the news continues to report such failures. Then is never far way from now; so return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.

Closing prayer

Dear God, father of Hosea and all your children,

Guide us through the days filled with such terrible sins.

Teach us how to hold fast to love and to justice.

Reveal to us the false gods in our lives.

and when we stumble and fall into sin,

show us the way out so we may return to you.

Strengthen our resolve so we can hold fast

to love and to justice.

Give us patience while we wait for you

with the gift of your grace and eternal life.

–Amen.

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