Tag Archives: kings

Bible in 90 Days: day 28

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BiND:  Day 28

 

Well, it’s a hard day in the life of an Israelite.  The kings just get worse and worse.  In the northern kingdom (Israel), they’ve finally prostituted themselves enough and end up overrun by Assyria, a powerful empire in that time.  The capital of Israel (Samaria) was overrun by Assyria in 722BC.  The Assyrians had a pretty shrewd annexation strategy—they would take over a land, cart the people off to somewhere else, and move in their own people or people forcibly relocated from somewhere else.  This way they could be sure political and military uprisings would be curtailed, since there would be language, cultural, and religious barriers to the new residents of the land getting together to resist the occupying forces.  This is the consequence, the deuteronomic historian seems to say, of covenant breaking.  Interestingly, this is basically the beginning of “Samaritans” as a category of people.  The new residents of the land are taught about the religious practices of “the god of the land” but they also continue in some of their own practices.  Later on down the historical line, the descendents of these people will be known as Samaritans, despised because of their impure blood and their impure religious practices. 

 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Judah, things are going sort of okay.  The kings aren’t quite as bad…well, except a few…and there are even two who are downright trying!  But by the time we get to Josiah, the king who reigns when the book of the law is “found” and who institutes widespread reform in religious and social practice, the one who brings the nation back to covenant keeping…well, it’s too late.  No matter how hard Josiah tries, he isn’t able to save himself or his nation.  Good works, even a good work of having faith, isn’t enough for salvation.  (As Christians, we know this:  we don’t earn our salvation, it’s a gift of God called grace.)  Josiah dies in a battle at Megiddo (remember Ron telling us about Megiddo, which is known as “Har Megiddo” (har means mountain/hill)—which leads to the word “armageddon”?  interesting…) and the next couple of kings just get the Israelites into even more trouble.  Ultimately the Babylonians (the Assyrians are toast by this time) come in and lay siege to Jerusalem, destroying the whole place, including the Temple, in 587 BC.

 

It’s hard to overstate the importance of 587 in biblical history.  This is THE central event of the Israelite people.  Everything (pretty much all the writing from Joshua on down through the history and the prophets and even into the new testament) leads here and back, over and over again.  The chosen people, the chosen house, the chosen land…chosen no more.  The very place where God chose to live…gone.  Overrun.  Destroyed.  Razed.  The people deported or killed.  This is the crisis of faith, the crisis of covenant, the crisis of life.  The people are taken away from their promised land, and it looks as though God has departed, leaving the people on their own.  It’s hard to imagine, but in the worldview of the time, in the religious belief of the time, either God had abandoned the people or God wasn’t the powerful deity they’d thought.  It’s not looking good.  And the king?  Well, after a few years in a Babylonian prison, he’s let out and ends up a courtier with a stipend from the king of Babylon.  It looks like his evil ways continue….but so does the Davidic dynastic line, technically.  You see, Jehoiachin can’t simply be eliminated because he is the last remnant of God’s promise, a glimmer of grace in a foreign land.  He is the hope of the historian, the hope of the Israelite people who still have energy to look to the future.

photo is of ruins of 1st Temple Jerusalem…what was left after the Babylonian army razed the city.  by 21stcenturycatholic, on Flickr.

 PS:  There are conflicting scholarly/religious accounts of just how many people went into exile—anywhere from “just the power players” to “everyone” seems to be on the table.  What’s important here is not whether the entire people was taken away or whether only the king and his court were—what’s important is that the people felt adrift, cut off, like they had left God and/or God had left them.  They were in exile not just from their land but their Lord as well.  In some ways we, who understand the covenant differently, can still relate to this.  Though we don’t believe there to be literal physical repercussions for covenant breakage (like losing a job or contracting an illness or enduring a tragedy), we do know from personal experience that breaking the covenant leads us to exile in different ways (whether an inner sense of disconnect from God or a literal being cut off from the community we need, or a bunch of other ways).  The ancient worldview can only see physical, or “real” consequences, whereas we are aware that there are other kinds of consequences.  So it is possible, if we wish, to read the exile in our own time as a physical manifestation of an inner/psychological/spiritual phenomenon.  Okay…end excursus on contemporary exile…

 

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Bible in 90 Days: Day 26-27

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BiND:  Day 26-27

 

Well, now we’ve met the first two major prophets—Elijah and Elisha.  Sure, there have been prophets before (Nathan, anyone?).  And we’ve met the “company of prophets” a bunch of times—those are the prophets who are in the employ of the king, who are members of the royal court, who get paid to say what the king wants to hear.  They’re basically “close political advisors” under a different name.  Elijah and Elisha are different.  They are each talked about as “man of God” and they do more than just go into a prophetic frenzy.  They tell the word of the Lord for the nation, they say the hard thing (not just the easy one), and they do miracles.  Now, remember that Elijah is pretty much the premier prophet in the Jewish tradition.  He’s expected to return to herald the coming of the Messiah.  Every seder includes a ritual opening of the door to let Elijah in, many dinner tables include an empty place set for him.  Clearly, the people who wrote about Elijah (to a nation in exile) needed to make clear who he was and what he meant.  He was the one who called people to live by the covenant, and who encouraged the kings to follow in David’s footsteps.  His miracles included raising the dead and parting the waters of a river.  He heard the voice of God in the silence after an earthquake/fire/wind.  His successor Elisha also (miraculously!) parted the water, raised the dead, fed the hungry, etc.  These two prophets are the forerunners of those prophets who have their own books (coming soon!).

 

We have also read about many of the kings who succeeded David and Solomon.  You may have noticed that all the kings of Israel (the northern kingdom) are talked about as being worse than anyone ever before—they just keep getting worse!  They sin.  They encourage the people to sin.  They worship idols.  etc etc etc.  Meanwhile, the southern kingdom of Judah has a few kings who “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” but also a few who were surprisingly good—they insist on seeking out a true prophet, they take down idols (but not high places), they don’t sacrifice to foreign gods, they basically follow the covenant…notice anything interesting here?  That’s right—the kingdom of Israel and its kings are illegitimate in the eyes of the deuteronomistic historians.  Only Judah and the kings following in David’s bloodline and footsteps are the real deal, and the writers go to great length to show us just how true this is.  Obviously, legitimacy is both dependent on and revealed by adherence to the covenant.  Interesting…

 

Well, tomorrow we get into the big moments of Israelite history—the defining events of ancient Israel, the events that bring us Judaism rather than just a Hebrew religious cult.  Check back!

Bible in 90 Days: Days 23-25

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BiND:  Days 23-25

 

Hmm—I got a little behind in the midst of my wisdom-teeth experience.  Sorry about that. I kept reading but not blogging since I was having trouble making complete sentences or sitting up straight and using both hands (crucial for typing and also for icing ones cheeks…).  But I think I’m back, basically well!

 

We’ve covered pretty much the entire David and Solomon story line in just a few days—from the excitement of battles to the doldrums of idol worship, from the high places (bad) to the Temple (good), from the best in both (pardoning those who cursed them, asking for wisdom rather than power) to the worst (using their power for their own gain rather than for the glory of God and the good of the people).  We’ve also covered several of the kings who came after Solomon, both in the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah (did you catch how there was only a united kingdom for two kings?  Not at all a long time.).  How glad are you right now that we don’t have the books of the Annals of the Kings of Israel/Judah?  If we did, there might be a lot more stuff to read—instead we just get the highlights (or the lowlights, as the case seems to be.).  Remember, most of this is Deuteronomic history, which means it’s based on a conditional understanding of covenant.  “If you walk in my ways, then I will bless you.”  With one small exception–in spite of all the disobedience, God keeps faith with David even through many generations.  It doesn’t always look like it, and God certainly does get impatient more than once, but over and over the writers want us to remember David and his faithfulness, and God’s faithfulness to him.  It will still be important to the gospel writers hundreds of years from now, just as it is important to these people writing for the Jews in exile.  

Anyway, since you’ve already talked about this stuff, and read it several days ago, I am going to leave you with some pictures and a few random thoughts.  I hope that’s okay…I’ll pick up the day-by-day blogging beginning with the Elijah stories that start on day 26.

 

 

They aren’t kidding when they say “high place”–they would choose the highest ground possible to build an altar, possibly because then the smoke of the burnt offering/incense wouldn’t have as far to go in order to get to heaven.  (these two pictures, one from the ground and one from the top, are both from Petra, in Jordan.)

 

Interestingly, the first thing the “bad” kings seem to do is institute worship in these places rather than in the temple (see below).  One suspects they are doing two things simultaneously:  1) hedging their bets RE which deity is really in control of their prosperity and peace; 2) making a political statement.  The Temple, built by the line of David, isn’t really they only place for worship, it’s not really the place where God lives, and there’s no need to be traveling into that other kingdom to offer sacrifices–look, we have an altar right here!  You see, traveling to Judah to sacrifice in Jerusalem would mean spending money there, it would mean supporting the Temple and its priests monetarily, and therefore supporting that king monetarily as well.  No good.  Hence the new places for sacrifice in the northern kingdom–at Dan and Bethel and maybe at Shechem too (which have all been places of sacrifice before God got a big house).

 

 

here we have two of Solomon’s building projects–to the left, the gates at the city Hazor.  It’s a pretty big city, but all in ruins now.  To the right is a view of the foundation/retaining wall on which the Temple was built.  Straight ahead in the picture is the water tunnel that was talked about earlier in David’s story, and on the right is the wall itself (often called the Wailing Wall by Jews, who come here to pray).  As you can see, the stones making up the wall are huge, as tall as most people.  This is the only part of the Temple which remains–the retaining wall that made the hill of Mount Moriah flat enough to build on.

 

last but not least, this is supposedly David’s tomb.  Whether he’s in there or not, who knows.  But this is where Jews to this day come to pray at the shrine of their greatest king.

photo of David’s tomb and of wailing wall taken by jason of jasonclay.com.  Other photos all taken by TCP.