We’re getting into the crazy kings after the kingdom divides. As you read this week, pay attention to where the kings reign: Israel’s 10 tribes in the north or Judah’s one tribe in the south (remember, the Levites are a tribe but don’t have land and usually do their own thing – though they’re typically connected with Judah). It’s important to remember that the standard by which the kings are judged is the blessings/curses of covenant faithfulness in Deuteronomy 28 and the covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7 where the Lord still disciplines the kings for their iniquity. It’s pretty amazing when you read all the heinous rebellion of these chapters that the Lord is so abundantly patient with his people –including us. We just have the benefit of the fuller picture where the fullness of God’s justice was poured out on Christ at the cross so that we may have peace with God and one another.
The chapter in Kings gives you the flyover version of the years after Solomon’s death and the kingdom’s division. Two kings do what is evil in the sight of the Lord and one does right – but God can use both the good and the bad for his purposes. In 2 Chronicles 13, Abijah seems like a good guy… until the last verse, which illustrates how his heart was “not wholly true” to the Lord. During Asa’s reign there was a great return to true worship of Yahweh, yet in Asa’s final days he wandered away from his reliance upon the Lord. Even though the Lord ordained a disease for his repentance, Asa remained stubborn.
If this is starting to feel like Judges again… you’re reading properly. It’s getting’ wild out there. Conspiracy and backstabbing and war. You really can’t ask for more drama (and sin). Even still, the word of the Lord is the driving force and the standard by which kingly actions are judged. It goes from bad to worse when Ahab becomes king. Not only did Ahab walk in the ways of Jeroboam, he also took a foreign wife, worshipped Baal, and made an Asherah. The terrible trifecta of treason against Yahweh. And still… with the final verse of 1 Kgs. 16, we’re reminded the word of the Lord stands forever, accomplishes its purpose, and it always true (see Joshua 6:26 for the original decree). When we flip over to 2 Chronicles 17, we’re back to Judah and some good news with Jehoshaphat. His heart is courageous in the ways of the Lord and send out officials to teach the people. You’ll see Obadiah mentioned there – whom we’ll read on Saturday.
This is a familiar stretch of 1 Kings, and a fun one at that. We ought not be surprised at this point, but pay attention to who’s in control here and who’s word has authority. These chapters illustrate God’s faithfulness, God’s providence, God’s authority, etc. But the patterns introduced here are also picked up and repeated by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament. Jesus references Elijah in Luke 4:25 when he gives his mission statement in Nazareth about proclaiming good news to the poor, the captives, and the blind. He references it, and then repeats it in Luke 7:11 when Jesus preaches the good news to those outside of Israel(see also 7:9 a few verses prior). But Jesus isn’t the only one who sees himself in the line of Elijah. The apostle Paul explains in Galatians 2:11-17 that when he persecuted the church, he saw himself as being “jealous and zealous” for the Lord, as one who corrects false worship (like Elijah). But after a sudden encounter with the risen Christ – he follows Elijah’s path and goes to Horeb/Mt. Sinai/Arabia where he re-works his entire theology in light of Christ and then returns to Damascus/Syria.
The key to these chapters is that Lord is jealous for his own name and glory. He is, in the words of a popular worship song, “the God of the hills and valleys” and no tribal deity. This is the Lord who created all things and by his will they exist. It’s so easy to become prideful and entitled after a great victory. Ahab did when he asked for Naboth’s vineyard. The Lord is abundantly patient with his erring people, so patient that he has to be provoked to anger (how unlike us! we have no problem being angry) and even then, his correction is for our repentance.
The story in 2 Kings 22 hits real close to home. I think we’re seeing many people surround themselves with voices who only tell us what we want to hear. As believers, let’s be people who look deeply into criticism and correction – even if it’s hard to hear – to see if there is any truth in it. And let’s be people who repent of any sin in our hearts. If we are in a position to speak truth to power, let us unflinchingly say what must be said in accordance with God’s word.
There are excellent verses to reflect on today. Here’s a selection: “there is no injustice with the LORD our God, or partiality or taking bribes” (19:7), “we do not know what to do but our eyes are on you” (20:12), “the battle is not yours but God’s” (20:15), “believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed” (20:20).
The name Obadiah was mentioned twice in this week’s reading, but it’s also a very common name that means “Servant of Yahweh”. We’re not sure if this was the same Obadiah who wrote this book (it’s probably unlikely, since this seems to be written after the fall of Jerusalem at the beginning of the exile). The Bible Project has a great video unpacking the main themes of Obadiah. The psalmist in Psalm 83 is still trying to understand the conflict between these families, but ends with the hope that they will know the Lord and seek his name.