5.95 2 Kings -- the Themes of Kings and Chronicles
The four books of Kings and of Chronicles cover a lot of time (1100- 586 BC) and describe many changes in the fortunes of God's people, Israel. They also make significant contributions to the racial teachings of the Bible. They encompass an entire epoch of Judaism -- the Monarchical period. This era started inauspiciously, with the demand of the people for a king just like the nations around them, and ended tragically, with the obliteration of national Israel, the dispersal abroad of most of the inhabitants, and the subjection of the remainder. There are several points to be made about the nature of God's plan in history as revealed in these books:
1. The political realization of God's Presence among men was ended. This ideal is best expressed in some of the prophets and Psalms:
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isa 2:3).
The Lord roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem (Amos 1:2).
The earthly rule of God from Jerusalem was an extension of the original program of Moses and Joshua: Israel would conquer the land and dominate the region as a powerful nation. It would rival Egypt and the peoples of the north and east. But unlike them, it would be zealously devoted to one God, faithful to Him. Foreigners would marvel at the might and prosperity of Israel and, like the Queen of Sheba, give glory to the God of Israel. This form of incarnation -- a corporate dwelling of God among men -- was one possibility of the pre-Monarchical period. Indeed, it looked like the Kingdom of God might become manifest on earth during Solomon's reign. But the entire enterprise collapsed in one generation. The subsequent history of Israel and Judah was one long-drawn out death scene. All the kings of Israel and Judah were doomed from the start of their reigns -- doomed to fail, to lose power, to lose territory. None could turn back the clock or recapture the momentum of the Spirit of God to advance His Kingdom and His plan. At most they could delay the inevitable total defeat.
2. As the historical process of #1 was unfolding and the nation was declining, another aspect of Hebrew religion rose to its ascendancy: the prophets. These men (and 1 woman -- Hulda, the prophetess) were God's spokesmen to the rulers of Israel and Judah. But more than that, they were the historiographers of their time: they did not merely foretell events and issue warnings, they set history within a context of divine purpose. Their words and deeds were proof that God had not abandoned His experiment among mankind.
Furthermore, although they pronounced a sentence of death upon the present age and the nation, they spoke a word of hope about the future. We will cover their message in more detail in the prophetic books. But their main contribution was that they reinterpreted the content of the Abrahamic Promise and the nature of its fulfilment. "Plan A" had fallen apart -- the nation of Israel ruled by a descendant of David in a God-given and -protected territory. But, surprise! -- God has a "Plan B" in the wings, that He will activate in due time. It is a secret plan, that works under the surface, but it will manifest in the future.
It seems incredible that both prophecy and idolatry could co-exist in Israel. Elijah and Elisha were not country parsons mouthing banal pieties. Instead, as Paul later said, they gave "demonstrations of the Spirit and power." And yet this failed to move the people: for example, Ahab went on sinning after the fire of God fell on Mt Carmel. Nor was prophecy limited to the gifted few. The Bible is clear that during this time period the Spirit of prophecy fell on numerous people who were drawn together. They may even have lived in community. This is a foreshadowing of the Church age, after the Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples of Jesus Christ. But, despite the presence of these prophetic bands, the people built high places to Baal and set up Asherah poles. It seems as if they made a deliberate choice to depart not only from the words and practices of the Torah, but also from the living Word of God spoken to them by their contemporaries.
3. God's plan went "underground," off the world's stage. This is a reversion to the pattern prior to the Exodus, when God's focus was on one family out of all mankind. It was a hidden work. Before Exodus, Sumer and Egypt were the prime powers in the Middle East, but God chose the insignificant family of Abram to give a direct revelation of Himself. Likewise, after the collapse of Israel and the rise of foreign empires, God again acted "invisibly." He was still with the people of Judah in their Exile, and in the Return from Exile, but not as He was with David. After the Exile, Israel as a nation existed at the sufferance of the great powers. The idea of "the holy remnant" replaced that of the holy nation. And the Day of God's visitation was pushed into the indefinite future. The task of Israel was to watch, wait and endure.
4. The role of foreigners changed, too. A reversal took place: originally, Israel was the vessel of God's judgment upon Canaan. In Kings, God raised up enemies from the nations around Israel to punish His people for their apostasy. These foreign instruments were blind, they did not consciously acknowledge God or willingly obey His plans. But He used them, nevertheless, to humiliate His people, to impoverish and weaken them. Their purpose was destructive, they could not build His Kingdom. They were only a purgative, removing the infection, but not bringing health or restoration.
5. 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles are the record of dispossession, not of building up. Earlier we discussed the frequent accounts of God "casting off" individuals, families, and tribes from His purpose and His promise. This was the ultimate act of disinheritance: 10 tribes cut off! And Judah itself was cast out of their homeland. God has done radical surgery! As Isaiah put it,
The holy seed is its stump (Isa 6:13 RSV).
That is all that was left of the tree of Israel: a stump. The trunk, the branches, the leaves were all cut down, because the tree never bore fruit.
6. And yet, there was also a counter-current of ingathering. It was not a major theme, it was a very minor flow. But we must not miss the following events:
-- the laboring together of Canaanite and Hebrew on building the house of God
-- the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman who gave her son's last meal to Elijah
-- the healing of Naaman the enemy general of Aram, and his taking back with him two loads of Israelite dirt as a meeting place with God.
This counter-current was not accidental, and it would reappear later with God's Plan B, His "underground" purpose that would burst forth above ground nearly 600 years after the fall of Jerusalem.