Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Book of Kings and the Worship of God

The two-part book of Kings can be confusing. Kings start out with one nation, Israel than splits into two nations, Israel and Judah. In all, 39 rulers are profiled in these two part books. The books of 1 and 2 Kings were originally one book in the Hebrew text. The books of Kings give the historical account of Israel’s spiritual lives as God’s covenant people. The people’s repeated spiritual failure, particularly among its leaders, points Israel and the world to the need of a faithful Leader and King, as the Heir to King David’s throne. This King would not only be a righteous King, but a righteous Prophet and High Priest. This promise was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ, a descendant of David and the eternal Son of God (Romans 1:3-4). 

David to Solomon:  As the time approached for David to die, he instructed his son Solomon, “As for me, I am going the way of all of the earth. Be strong and brave, and keep your obligation to the Lord your God to walk in His ways and to keep His statutes, commandments, judgments, and testimonies. This is written in the Law of Moses, so that you will have success in everything you do and wherever you turn, and so that the Lord will carry out His promise that He made to me: ‘If your sons are careful to walk faithfully before Me with their whole mind and heart, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’” 1 Kings 2:1-4 (HCSB), see also Deuteronomy 6:5; Joshua 1:7-8; Psalm 1:2-3; Matthew 22:37.

First Kings begins with the King David's death and the beginning of King Solomon's reign. As Solomon rose to the throne, David instructed Solomon to wholeheartedly obey God's laws, to walk in all God’s ways, and be completely faithful to God (1 Kings 2:3-4). In the beginning, King Solomon followed his father’s advice. When given the chance from God to ask for any special gift, Solomon humbly asked God for a wise heart – meaning good judgment (discernment), to walk righteously and respectfully with God, and shun evil (1 Kings 3:9, 14; 1 Kings 4:29-34; see also Job 28:28). As a result, Solomon's reign began with great success as he walked faithfully with God and for God’s glory. Solomon constructed the Temple of God – his greatest achievement and he brought Israel into its Golden Age of great prosperity and honor (1 Kings 3:16–8:66).

Solomon’s wealth and wisdom were world worldwide (1 Kings 4:20; 1 Kings 10) and Israel prospered under Solomon’s wise leadership (1 Kings 4:20-21). The nation of Israel enjoyed peace, security, and prosperity (1 Kings 4:20-25). During the height of Solomon’s reign, Solomon governed Israel’s kingdom that stretched “from the Euphrates River in the north to the land of the Philistines and the border of Egypt in the south” (1 Kings 4:21). God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21; Genesis 17:8; Genesis 22:17) finds historical fulfillment in His blessings of Solomon.

However, Solomon’s reign reveal the dangers of turning one’s whole heart from following God. Toward the end of his reign, Solomon turned his heart away from wholeheartedly and faithfully following God (1 Kings 11:4). Solomon married many foreign or pagan wives and concubines and these women turned his heart away from fully following the true and living God to false gods (1 Kings 11:1-4). Even worse, Solomon built structures to these foreign gods for worship within God’s promised land (1 Kings 11:7-8). Thus, Solomon violated the main demands of the Law – to love the Lord God wholeheartedly and worship NO OTHER gods (see Exodus 20:2-6; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Matthew 22:37-38). The Holy Bible is clear that the true and living God must be the center of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 6:33; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). Solomon’s spiritual unfaithfulness and non-reliance upon God began the downward failure of Solomon and the nation of Israel (1 Kings 11:4-6, 9-10). This unfaithfulness to God would be the ultimate cause of Israel’s division after Solomon’s death (1 Kings 11:9-13).   

Upon Solomon’s death, God’s judgment came quickly. Solomon’s son Rehoboam succeeded him for the throne of Israel. Rehoboam was an evil king. He had the opportunity to be a wise, compassionate, and just king. Instead, Rehoboam listened to his foolish young friends’ advice and ushered evil into Israel. At Rehoboam's inauguration, he was encouraged to be a kind and generous ruler to the people. The wise older men advised Rehoboam to "be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer" (1 King 12:7). However, Rehoboam rejected the wise advice and decided to be cruel and harsh to the people of Israel (1 Kings 12:8-11). As a result, Rehoboam split the nation of Israel as the people rebelled in 931 B.C. The kingdom of Israel split with ten tribes in the north (Israel) to be ruled by Jeroboam, and only Judah and Benjamin remained with Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:1-24). 

In the north, King Jeroboam feared Temple worship in Jerusalem would lure his northern tribes back to the south to worship God. So, Jeroboam lifted a page from Israel’s past (Exodus 32:1-4) and put up two golden calves for worship in the north (1 Kings 12:32). This false worship directly violated the Law of God (Deuteronomy 12:2-7). One golden calf was built at Bethel and another built at Dan. These two golden calves are often referred to as “the sins of Jeroboam.” So, Israel stopped worshiping God at the Temple. 

Not to be outdone, Rehoboam introduced Asherah poles during his reigned. Asherah poles became a regular feature of Judah’s landscape for hundreds of years. They were dedicated to a mother-goddess and often erected alongside altars on the high places devoted to God. Even worse, these poles came to represent Judah’s further slide into idolatry. Judah’s next king, Abijah, also lapsed spiritually, while the subsequent two kings, Asa and Jehoshaphat, maintained greater, though not perfect, spiritual fidelity to God (1 Kings 15:11; 1 Kings 22:43).

After this division, Israel and Judah fought repeatedly during the era of the first two northern dynasties and Judah’s first three kings (931~874 BC) (e.g., 1 Kings 14:30; 1 Kings 15:7, 32). The fighting eased when King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah found a common cause against the Arameans (1 Kings chapters 20 and 22). With some exceptions, both the northern and southern kingdoms began a path of corrupt and idolatrous kings with only the faithful voice of the prophets and a few goods kings warning the people too faithfully and wholehearted follow God. All rulers of the books of Kings were evaluated by his or her faithfulness to God— success or failure to keep God’s ways.  

Israel’s kingdom in the north had political shakiness resulting in assassinations, contests for power, and the establishment of Israel’s most evil dynasty, founded by King Omri. King Omri was one of the most powerful and evil kings of Israel (1 Kings 16:21-26). Omri gets a grand total of eight verses in 1 Kings, even though secular historians regard him as one of Israel’s most powerful kings. After his rule, Israel was called Omriland in Assyrian records. Omri built the capital city of Samaria in a location that guarded all routes north and south. Yet, Omri also started the religious heresies that led to his nation’s extinction. Politically shrewd, Omri married off his son Ahab to a neighboring king’s daughter, Jezebel. The book of Kings, however, is concerned with Omri’s spiritual health, and therefore he scored poorly by the author of Kings. 

The final section of 1 Kings is primarily devoted to Omri’s son Ahab (1 Kings 16:29–22:40). Under Ahab’s reign, Israel begun worshiping the Canaanite storm-god Baal. With this new Israel low, God called the prophet Elijah to confront Ahab and to reveal that He was truly the all sovereign God of heaven and earth (1 Kings 17:1–18:46). On the political front, King Ahab faced repeated challenges from the Aramean king Ben-hadad (see 1 Kings 20:1-25, 26-43; 22:1-40), the last of which cost Ahab his life. Also, Ahab helped his wicked wife Jezebel to murder and steal Naboth’s property without any cause (1 Kings 21). This evil Jezebel’s utter wickedness also spread to the southern kingdom of Judah when where daughter Athaliah married Jehoram, King Jehoshaphat’s son (see 2 Kings 8:18, 26-27) thereby bring Baal worship also to the southern kingdom (see also Revelation 2:20).

The southern kingdoms did have some good kings. Out of the twenty rulers of Judah, including wicked Queen Athaliah, only eight could be called "good":  Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah and Josiah. Josiah was a great king. Even the prophet Jeremiah used Josiah as an example for the other rulers to follow. Josiah was just and right in all his dealings and God blessed him. He gave justice and help to the poor and needy (see Jeremiah 22:15-16, NLT). However, the kings that followed Josiah exploited and abused the people so they could build their elaborate palaces and live a luxury lifestyle (Jeremiah 22:11-17). Josiah ruled for 31 and walked in the ways of God because David was his model. He was only 8 years old when he became king. But at age sixteen, Josiah committed himself to God and began to seek God’s blessing. In reading the Biblical lists of kings, finding a king that obeyed God completely was rare. Yet, Josiah was such a person. Also, King Hezekiah was called a good ruler (2 Kings 18:1-8). Hezekiah obeyed God and brought spiritual revivals for God during his reign. Both Josiah (2 Kings 23:25) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:5) are praised for their honor and reverence toward God. Hezekiah is remembered for trusting God while under great pressure (see 2 Kings 18:5-6; 2 Kings 18:3–20:11), and Josiah earns praise for his devotion and obedience to the law of God (see 2 Kings 23:19; 2 Kings 22:8–23:25, especially 2 Kings 23:4-14). Nonetheless, even Hezekiah and Josiah made critical mistakes of judgment during their reigns (see 2 Kings 20:12-19; 2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Chronicles 35:20-25). Following Josiah’s death, the final kings of Judah did what was evil in God’s eyes. Eventually, the southern kingdom was ravaged and destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 23:31–25:21). God’s predicted judgment came true (see Jeremiah 38:17-23). God is very patient, kind and merciful (see e.g. Nehemiah 9:17; Joel 2:13; Romans 2:1-4; 2 Peter 2:9); but He will NOT tolerate sin (Exodus 34:6-7; Romans 3:25). 

Throughout this dark period if Israel and Judah, the Bible mentions 30 faithful prophets who proclaimed God's message to the people and their leaders. The prophets continual warned the people of God’s judgment if they did not repent and turn their whole hearts to God in faithful trust, obedience, and reliance in Him. Most notable of these fearless prophets of God were Elijah and Elisha. The prophet Elijah encouraged the people to choose God over all other gods, including Baal (1 Kings chapters 17 through 19). Elijah’s greatest challenge came with his conflict with wicked Ahab and Jezebel in Israel. In one of the most dramatic confrontations in history, Elijah defeated the Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. In spite of incredible odds, the prophet Elijah wonderful proves “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31, NLT).   

As Elijah neared the end of his earthly ministry, the prophet Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit to continue God’s good work on the earth (2 Kings 2:9). Soon after, Elijah was taken to heaven in a whirlwind by a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11) and the Elisha continued God’s good works of caring for the people. Elisha's life was filled with signs, declarations, and miracles of God. He served Israel for 50 years and fought against the idolatry of its kings and called the people back to God. Second Kings 4 records four of God's miracles through Elisha: providing flowing oil and money for a poor widow (2 Kings 4:1-7); healing of the Shunammite woman's dead son back to life (2 Kings 4:8-37); cleansing the poisonous food (2 Kings 4:38-41); and providing food for 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44). Other memorable miracles of Elisha included the healing of Naaman's leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-27), and the floating ax head on water (2 Kings 6:1-7). 

Following Elisha's death, Israel continued its spiral decline with a series of evil kings that did not wholeheartedly and faithfully follow the living God and God’s ways. Israel’s idolatry by worshipping other gods ultimately caused their downfall. Eventually, God used the Assyrian empire to capture Samaria and took most of the Israelites into captivity (2 Kings 13:20 – 2 Kings 17:41). The northern kingdom fell in 722 B.C. Judah had a short pardon after Israel’s fall because of a few good kings who destroyed idols and worshiped God. Yet, Judah fell to the next world power, Babylon (2 Kings 18:1 – 2 Kings 25:30) and the southern kingdom fell in 586 B.C. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and the people of Judah were carried off to exile. So, God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians as His instruments to punish the wickedness and evil of Israel and Judah (see Isaiah 10:5-19). In all the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were united for 120 years and then divided for approximately 200 years. Then, Israel disappeared and the people went into exile. The kingdom of Judah lasted another 135 years and then the people went into exile. After these exiles, no independent Jewish nation existed until the 20th century.

God to Solomon:  “. . . if you will follow Me with integrity and godliness, as David your father did, obeying all My commands, decrees, and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty over Israel forever. For I made this promise to your father, David: ‘One of your descendants will always sit on the throne of Israel.’ But if you or your descendants abandon Me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my Name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations.” 1 Kings 9:4-7 (NLT)

Scholars debate the authorship of the books of Kings. Some believe Kings were written in their present form from a deuteronomic school of writers whose basic theological viewpoint is the book of Deuteronomy while other critics identity of the author of Kings as unknown. However, Jewish tradition holds that the books of Kings were authored by Jeremiah. 

The books of Kings are historical trustworthiness. However, these books are the telling of God’s spiritual dealings with His often unfaithful people. The author had a number of sources available, including official archives of the palace and Temple and records kept in various prophetic centers to help write the books. In essence, these books stand as a record of God’s reward for obedience and faithfulness to Him and His covenant, and His judgment for evil and disobedience. The book of Kings gives sparkling examples of people who placed God and His ways first and enjoyed God’s covenant blessings. God wants people to be faithful to and obey Him as their God. Reading their stories encourages us to love and serve God. Most important, the books of Kings challenge all of people to be faithful and loyal to God with your whole hearts (1 John 5:21)!

Keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21 (NIV)

Each ruler of Israel and Judah were evaluated on the basis of their faithfulness or lack of faithfulness to God. Either “he did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight,” or “he did what was evil in the LORD’s sight.” Successes and failures of the rulers and people were based upon their response to the covenants and standards of Mosaic Law. The implication is clear. God’s people are to live in accord with the high standards of God’s Word so that they may “do what is pleasing in God’s sight” (see also Joshua 1:1-8; Psalm 119:9-11, 111; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Then their lives will be filled with good (Psalm 84:11; Matthew 25:23; Romans 14:7-8; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; Revelation 2:10). We must keep God’s commandments and faithful trust Him with our whole heart.

History did not stop with the book of Kings. The perfect King of kings and Lord of lords was coming to Israel, Judah, and the world (Malachi 4:2; Matthew 1:1, 17-23). The true King and Lord is coming again too (Revelation 17:14).

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan,1992.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

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