The Prophets -- Transition from Monarchy to Prophets 6.1 - 6.3
We have devoted considerable attention to the history of the Israelite monarchy, showing the diverse themes of supremacy over foreigners, co-existence with other nations, and finally oppression, subjection and destruction by foreign invaders. We have emphasized that, along with the secular history of the succession of kings, the record of battles, the shifting of alliances, there was a parallel spiritual history of apostasy, idolatry and betrayal of the Covenant by many of the Jews. And, according to the Bible, this spiritual history predominated over and controlled the secular history. God worked both ways in regard to His people: he caused enemies to rise up against them, but He also delivered Israel from them (sometimes). And He constantly urged Israel to return to Him, obey His commandments, to get back on track with His plan to set Israel "in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations" (Deut 26:19). But there came a point where a line was crossed and there was no way back. The small kingdoms were crushed like nuts in a grinder, with the great powers being the grinding stones: Assyria, Egypt, Babylon. First Israel was destroyed and her people scattered. A century later it was Judah's turn: the overthrow of the Temple and Jerusalem in fire and blood.
How can we connect this tragic history with the Promise to Abraham, its confirmation by the Patriarchs, the prophecies of Balaam, and finally the promise to David that
"Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever" (2 Sam 7:16).
This was actually the central question of the Exiles in Babylon -- did anything remain of their spiritual inheritance? Atheism and idolatry probably thrived in the cities of exile, as many survivors decided that either God had abandoned them, or there was no truth to the religion of their ancestors, it was all a myth. Others endured their desolation with their faith intact -- God was not at fault, He had done what He had threatened to do for centuries: punish those who mocked Him. These repentant people formed the core of the colonizers who returned with Ezra and Nehemiah, while those who had given in to despair stayed behind and melted into Babylonian society.
Now in hindsight we can see the consistency of God's actions. Even in the earliest days of His plan, while choosing some (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), He had been de-selecting, "unchoosing," others: (Lot, Ishmael, Esau). He chose Joseph over all his brothers, though he was not the firstborn. He chose Moses over Aaron, and David over his seven older brothers. The men He chose were the central players in His drama, they were the Keepers of the Covenant. Other people could support the central figures and be blessed in doing so. But these others were not "the anointed," and when they tried to act as if they were, God became their enemy: Aaron and Miriam were humiliated when they dared to oppose their brother, Absalom was killed in the revolt against his father. This "casting off" process continued through the monarchy. God chose the line of David as His representative, which meant that the northern kingdom had the choice of cooperating with Judah and having the favor of God, or eventually being cut off. Why were there so many bad kings in Israel's history? Was it just because of the power of Canaanite religion, and a poor choice in wives (Jezebel)? No, it was because these kings were not of the tribe of Judah and felt they had no stake in the Promise of God to David. Their hearts were not into following a God who had publicly and permanently exalted the lineage of David. So they turned aside from the God of Israel.
Eventually, these kings and their subjects were cut off and exiled to Assyria. Godly Israelites no doubt had fled to Judah before the fall of Samaria. Judah was the remnant of the faithful, Jerusalem the last bastion of God's Rule on earth. God Himself was its protector, the inhabitants believed: it could not fall to godless Gentiles. The leaders of Jerusalem threatened the prophet Jeremiah with death when he warned of the destruction of Jerusalem (Jer 26). And yet it happened, despite the Promise to Abraham and to David. Not only was the Davidic kingship ended, but also Israelite sovereignty over the entire land of Canaan. The people of Israel became the new Canaanites, dispossessed, enslaved and exiled from their homeland. How does a survivor in Babylon make sense of all this? How does he keep from despair?