Thursday, March 7, 2013

Reading the Bible for Lent: Kings and Chronicles

{I'm attempting to read the whole Bible during Lent this year, and blogging my way through it. The Bible is an old friend, but we fight sometimes. Ever hear of quitting something cold turkey? Well, this is my way of starting something cold turkey, if that makes sense. I'm facing it head on, with my eyes open, and a new way of reading. My hope is to read the entire text through the lens of Jesus (I'm figuring out what this means as I go along) and attempt a balance of honesty and charity, both of which I've lacked in the past. See also: The PentateuchJoshuaJudges and Ruth, and More on Judges, and 1 & 2 Samuel.}

I'm feeling like my posts are starting to resemble book reports, so for this one, I thought I might just share a list of interesting bits of story, anecdotes, and details I found while making my way through the books of Kings and Chronicles.

First, here's how the handy notes in my Bible describe these books:
First and second Kings are the history of the monarch from Solomon to the Exile. Solomon's glory, the building of the temple, the division of the kingdom, the destruction of the two kingdoms, and the rise of prophecy (Elijah and Elisha) are important themes in these books. Faithfulness to God is described in social and political terms as well as religious.
First and second Chronicles were written after the destruction of Jerusalem to try and answer the question "Why did God choose to punish his people in such a way?" The answer is found in history. God's people were unfaithful and what happened in social and political history is an expression of God's judgement on an unfaithful people.
The Reign of Solomon

  • While David's reign was characterized by war, Solomon's was characterized by peace and prosperity: "Judah and Israel dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan as far as Beersheba, all the days of Solomon." (1 King 4:25)
  • It took Solomon seven years to build the temple (the one that David envisioned) and thirteen years to build his palace.
  • Solomon's famous for being wise. In 1 Kings 3:9 he asks the LORD for wisdom, and in 4:29 we learn that "God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore."
  • Remember the story of the two women and the dead baby? (See 1 Kings 3:16-28 if not, it's a classic.) I never realized these two women were prostitutes.
  • One of Solomon's wives was the Pharaoh of Egypt's daughter. She had her own personal palace.
  • Speaking of which, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (seriously, who has the time?). This is pretty much his Achilles' heel. We're told his wives "turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David." (1 Kings 11) So the LORD  raises up adversaries against him.
  • Solomon reigns forty years, and his son Rehoboam succeeds him.
Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah
  • Ahab becomes king of Israel, marries Jezebel (an archetypal evil queen without a single redeeming quality) and "does more to provoke God to anger than all the kings of Israel before him." (1 Kings 16:33) Ahab and Jezebel worship Baal, and Jezebel is making prophet-killing her own personal hobby. Remaining prophets, we're told, are hiding in caves.
  •  Elijah is one of those prophets you can imagine to be scraggly, wind-worn and a bit wild. He stands up to Ahab and Jezebel in a bold way, challenging their high priests to a showdown on Mt. Carmel. This was my absolute favorite Old Testament story as a child. It's found in 1 Kings 18 and 19. 
  • After Elijah's victory on Mt. Carmel, he's despondent and alone, hiding in a cave. I love this part: it's one of those delightful little portraits of God that has stuck with me, especially when I wish I had a cave to hide in. God has Elijah look for him: in a strong wind that breaks the rocks on the mountain (not there), then an earthquake (not there), then a fire (not there), then a still small voice. That's where He's found, and He tells Elijah what to do. For some reason, that one little passage does more to make me trust God many, many pages of the Bible combined.
  • Both Ahab and Jezebel eventually die quite violent deaths. 
  • Don't mess with prophets. Don't mock their hairlines. Just don't do it.
Then he went up from there to Bethel, and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, "Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!" So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. Then he went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria. (2 Kings 2:23-25)
Good Kings, Bad Kings
  • Israel and Judah endure many bad kings, and prosper under a few good ones.
  • We find one queen in the text who reigns without a king: Athaliah reigns over Judah for six years. She's found  in chapter 11.
  • The few who "do what is right in the sight of the LORD": Jehoash, Amaziah, Azariah, Jotham Hezekiah, and Josiah. 
  • King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captures Israel and takes its people captive, "except the poorest people of the land" (2 Kings 24:14)
  • Judah is also taken captive later, by the same king.
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. Psalm 137:1

  • these books are a re-telling of the histories found in the books of Samuel and Kings, but from a different perspective, trying to see what went wrong, what mistakes led Israel and Judah to lose the LORD's favor and fall into captivity.
  • This verse is often quoted as an argument for a national return to godliness in the USA:
"If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14) 

  • a few observations about his verse:
    • this is the LORD speaking to Solomon, after his dedication of the temple. He's repeating the all-important theme: if you follow the LORD and do right, you'll be blessed, and if you don't, you'll be punished.
    • "My people" refers to Israel here; this is a covenant between the LORD and Solomon.
    • ultimately, this is a way for Israel, looking back in its time of captivity, to explain why such bad things have happened to them. They broke the covenant, thus they are being punished.
These covenants are ultimately hopeless; people can never live up to their side of the covenant for long. There are times of better leaders, and renewed energy, and emphatic promises, but ultimately people fall short and will continue to do so. That's what I take from these books. A yearning for a better way, for hope, is tucked in between the lines of these stories: the inspiring, the entertaining, the absurd, the revealing.

Next up: Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.

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