Thursday, June 09, 2016

Reading in Kings This Week #2 (1 Kings 12-22)

This week we continue the story of Israel, its leaders and prophets in the books of Kings accompanied by 1 & 2 Kings The College Press NIV Commentary by Jesse C. Long. Kings tells the story of how the Davidic Covenant works out in the history of Israel. Each king is compared to David and fails.  I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

51GLrgYiexL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_The rest of the books of the Kings describe the division of the kingdom into the two nations of Israel and Judah after Solomon and then their slide into rebellion against God, destruction and exile. This begins with Jereboam's rebellion. Instead of trusting that God has placed him over Israel, because of insecurity, he sets up an alternative way to worship YHWH. He borrows from Aaron's rebellion and sets up golden calves to represent YHWH and creates his own priesthood. This quickly degenerates into full-blown idolatry. God sends prophets to warn him that he is headed the wrong way and needs to return to God. If does not his idolatrous places of worship will be destroyed and he and his dynasty will be removed. Jereboam refuses to return to God and suffers God's judgment in his family and on the nation.

Yahweh breaks up the nation he had established not with superior military forces led by a worthy insurgent. He breaks up the kingdom with the same foolish spirit that led Israel to this point in the first place. Solomon’s self-indulgent folly resurfaces in his son and shatters the impressive empire he had built. 1 Kings 12.1-15, 162

Jeroboam misrepresents Yahweh by overlooking his transcendence—Yahweh is not accessible through physical means. In this way, the king’s idolatrous cult exposes his desire to manipulate both the people of Israel and the God who had made him their king. Jeroboam breaks the first two commandments of the Law and substitutes man-made images for Yahweh, the true God of Israel who brought them out of Egypt (Exod 20:2–4). 1 Kings 12.28-30, 167

The storyteller has crafted a literary work of art, which establishes a framework for reading the story of Israel’s kings and the kings of Judah who follow the same path (see 2 Kgs 17:19). Jeroboam is portrayed as the one responsible for Israel’s ultimate demise. Lacking faith in Yahweh, Jeroboam in his insecurity consciously set out on a course away from the Law of Moses. 1 Kings 13.33-34, 174

Jeroboam has taken another way since meeting Ahijah on the road (derek, 11:29–39). In view of the king’s apostasy, the deception must represent a damaged relationship with Ahijah and with the God who had made him king. 1 Kings 14.1-3, 179

The next section of the story involves the kingship of Reheboam, Abijah and Asa in Judah, and Jereboam, Nadab and Baasha in the Northern kingdom of Israel. The author alternates between the kingdoms to show that, in his mind, they are still one nation in God's eyes. This is a period of warfare between the two nations. The major sin, that all the kings seem to commit, is to rely on other nations as powerful allies (Egypt, Syria) rather than God. This brings on judgment, as these "allies" exact tribute and turn on both Israel and Judah. Even the good king (Asa) becomes unfaithful at the end of his reign. The kings choose the wrong way and bring God's judgment on themselves.

Yahweh drove out the Canaanites because of their “detestable practices,” their wickedness (see, e.g., Deut 7:25–26; 12:29–31; 18:9–13; cf. 2 Kgs 16:3; 21:2, 11). When the people of Judah and Israel become like the nations, they will also be dispossessed from the land. 1 Kings 14.22-24, 186

Shishak’s invasion was judgment from Yahweh. In Kings, the loss of temple treasures, whether by invasion, tribute, or to secure the services of a foreign monarch, is a negative event that foreshadows the destruction of Jerusalem and the house that Solomon built for Yahweh. 1 Kings 14.25-28, 187

Asa is a good king, a reformer, who was not able to remain faithful. In the larger story, even reform will not be enough to save the lamp that Yahweh left in Jerusalem for David. 1 Kings 15.16-24, 192–193

Chapter 16 records the rebellions and coups that lead to Omri's dynasty coming into power. The phrase "he led Israel to sin as Jereboam" is repeated several times. The first two dynasties last only two generations and then every male relative of that dynasty is wiped out. They chose to live apart from God's protection and suffered the consequences. The chapter ends with new level of depravity as Omri marries his son Ahab to the Sidonian princess Jezebel, who will introduce state-sanctioned Baal worship into Israel.

In Kings, Yahweh’s sovereign will is accomplished in spite of human weaknesses/sins and sometimes through them...Yahweh often uses the wicked to punish the wicked, as the accounts of Jeroboam, Baasha, and Zimri bear out (also Assyria and Babylon against Israel and Judah). Baasha is punished, in part, for his role in destroying the house of Jeroboam. 1 Kings 16, 196

When the narrator in the next paragraph says that Ahab’s evil exceeds all who reigned before him, the reader can anticipate the dynasty’s ultimate downfall. Elijah will announce a similar judgment on the house of Omri (21:17–24). 1 Kings 16.21-28, 200

Chapter 17 introduces Elijah into the story as he prophecies to Ahab that there will be no rain. Ahab has brought Baal into Israel. Baal is the Canaanite storm God who provides rain and productivity to the land. YHWH shows that he controls the rain and is able to sustain Elijah, his prophets and the widow of Zaraphath. YHWH is even able to do this in Sidon, the home area of Baal. Even more, YHWH has control over life and death as he empowers Elijah to raise the widow's dead son. In chapter 18 the battle reaches its climax as YHWH, through Elijah, challenges Baal to answer by fire and show who is the real God of lighting and thunder. YHWH dramatically shows who is the real God and who really can sustain the nation and its people.

The real struggle in 1 Kings 17–19 is Yahweh versus death. In this scene, Yahweh demonstrates his power over death. In chapter 18, Yahweh battles Baal, a god in Canaanite mythology who seasonally is defeated by death (Mot) as drought overcomes the land. Yahweh defeats both Baal and Mot (drought) and triumphs, demonstrating that he even has power over death. 1 Kings 17, 209

The trappings of (Elijah's) miracle are also somewhat different from the miracles of Jesus that were actualized more by his spoken word (however, cf. Mark 7:33; 8:23; John 9:6). Perhaps this reflects the world of ninth-century-B.C. Palestine, a world of “witch doctors” and shamans. Yahweh is working through a prophet who mirrors cultural norms and expectations, yet Elijah is no magician. He is able by divine power to bring the dead to life. 1 Kings 17.21-23, 208

In designing this duel, Elijah displays the immense faith that characterizes this important man of God. The prophet is confident that the true God of Israel will be able to consume the sacrifice and overcome his chief rival. Elijah has also chosen to battle Baal on his terms, allowing him to use his most effective weapon, lightning. 1 Kings 18.20-24, 215

Elijah's greatest triumph quickly turns into fearful action as Elijah flees into the desert from Jezebel. Things don't go the way he expects and he thinks he is the only one who is faithful. Nevertheless, God sustains him, ministers his presence as a "whisper" and commissions him to further service. Interestingly Elijah seems to not fulfill everything God tells him to do. Elisha will continue this important work. Elijah was never really alone and, perhaps, he was never as indispensable to God's work as he thought.

Through his voice of thunder, the people learn that “Yahweh—he is God!” But Elijah also learns something about God. He learns that God does not always thunder. More often, he works as a calm, quiet voice, in the lives of men and women, who, like the seven thousand, are just faithful! 1 Kings 19.21, 227

Elijah appears to be too concerned with his own position. In fact, the prophet’s retreat to Horeb should not be explained as simply an onset of depression at the strain of the great contest and his disappointment at the turn of events. His words and actions belie someone who sees himself as too much at the center of Yahweh’s work in Israel. Remarkably, as with Moses, Yahweh listens to the voice of the prophet and honors him before the people. Nevertheless, as Elijah cowers in a cave on Horeb in retreat, Yahweh reprimands the prophet. He commissions Elijah once more, but also subtly puts him in his place. 1 Kings 19.15-18, 223–224

Prophetic narratives like this one indicate that the prophet of Yahweh is not simply a megaphone or a sound system for God. While often called on to relay the very word of Yahweh, the prophet is more than a messenger. He is Yahweh’s representative, the one who speaks for Yahweh, yet who also embodies and enacts Yahweh’s word in the world...God’s presence is always mediated by human will...The story of Elijah on Mount Carmel and its surrounding scenes are framed to reinforce this important biblical principle—the man of God must submit to the will of Yahweh! 1 Kings 18-19, 229

The story of the wars of Ahab with Aram are told with many allusions to the conquering of Canaan. The amazing thing in the story is that God continues to work with idolatrous Ahab and gives him the opportunity to retake the land from Aram. Just like in the time of Joshua and the Judges, God shows that he is powerful enough and willing to lead them to victory. However, Ahab, much like Israel in the time of the Judges, fails to trust God for victory and squanders the victories he gets for his own greed and power. Nevertheless, God is still willing to allow him to repent. As in the early part of Samuel, even when Ahab fails to trust God, God wins battles to show the rest of the world who He is.

The selective retelling of Ahab’s reign in Kings calls attention to his relationship with Yahweh. The stories that are recorded characterize him as weak in order to say something ultimately about him spiritually...and indicate that Ahab had opportunity to restore the fortunes of Israel, with Yahweh fighting his battles. Ironically, his choice to covenant with a king that had been devoted (ḥāram) to Yahweh in the end leads to his downfall. 1 Kings 20, 247

The land of Canaan was given to Israel as an inheritance from Yahweh. Israel possesses the land at his pleasure, so is constrained to abide by his will. In fact, Israel metaphorically represents Yahweh’s vineyard, for which he labored. When Ahab takes the inheritance of Naboth to turn it into a vegetable garden, he undermines this reality. But his actions symbolize even more. In the larger narrative, the king of Israel takes from Yahweh the vineyard that had been entrusted to him for safekeeping and turns it into an idolatrous land. 1 Kings 21.1-7, 249–250

The prophet’s word is the word of Yahweh, which comes to pass. With the rhetorical question at the end of the story, Elijah is subtly reprimanded, and continues to learn more about Yahweh. Having already seen that Yahweh does not always thunder, he now knows that the awesome fire of Yahweh may be turned aside, if only for a time, by his incomparable grace. 1 Kings 21.27-29, 259

Chapter 22 recounts God's judgment of Ahab. Jehoshaphat the king of Judah joins Ahab in an attempt to retake the city of Ramoth Gilead. Ahab gathers a group of generic prophets give an ambiguous prophecy of success. Jehoshaphat insists on a real prophet of YHWH who confirms Elijah's word from God that Ahab will be destroyed. Ahab tries to thwart God's sentence by disguising himself but is killed by a random arrow. Ahab dies as Saul died, a man with great potential, but one who compromised with evil and idolatry and brought his family and nation down with him.

While the text infers that it is not always easy to determine a true prophet from a false one (with lying spirits and true prophets who lie, etc.), the bottom line is, “Does the prophet’s word come to pass?” If so, Yahweh has upheld the prophet’s word; he speaks for God! 1 Kings 22.24-28, 268

However one wishes to characterize Ahab, his controlling nature in chapter 22 suggests more than characterization. It also reflects his worldview and the depths to which idolatry permeates his reign. The sin of idolatry is not just the sin of worshiping other deities. At its core, it is the sin of trying to control one’s own life and world, a man becoming his own god. For the people of Israel, this meant trying to control Yahweh for their own benefit and purposes. 1 Kings 22.1-40, 274

1 Kings ends with a comparison of Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah, Ahab's son. Jehoshaphat is a good king who allied with evil which destroyed his present blessing and would lead to a far future disaster for the nation. Ahaziah was an active idolater which would lead to the total destruction of his family and the near future annihilation of his nation. The original exilic readers would have got the point of the story and understood why they were in exile.

Jehoshaphat foreshadows Josiah, the faithful reformer who most closely mirrors David, yet who is also unable to alter Judah’s course. 1 Kings 22.41-50, 276

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