Reading Note – 2 Kings – How a Nation Falls

Unfortunately, I missed my opportunity to write detailed notes on Kings of Israel, so I’ll have to make notes about this books as a whole.

Israel didn’t fall in one day, or one year, or maybe even a decade. It’s fall to the Assyrians and Babylonians was the culmination of a tragedy that began with Jeroboam. It’s funny how one king setting up two golden calves can have such an impact on a nation. Israel never recovered from the sin of Jeroboam. They weren’t saints, but with Kings like David and Solomon, they could have done a lot better. It would be wrong to lay all blame all Jeroboam’s feet, though. Rehoboam, king of Judah allowed his people to turn to idols as well. This was compounded by successive generations of kings who did not stop the policies instituted by Rehoboam and Jeroboam. By the time good kings such as Josiah and Hezekiah showed up, the damage was probably already done.

The story shows certain aspects of God’s character. For one, it shows his patience. Israel turned to sin soon after the death of Solomon and rather than abandon them, God sent prophet after prophet with warnings. It also shows his faithfulness. He kept his promise to Abraham. No matter how badly Israel sinned, he didn’t completely wipe them out (as a people) like he had done to the Canaanites. He kept his promise to always have one of David’s descendants on the throne, even when they sinned.

Thirdly, the story shows the importance of leadership and an interest in politics. Jeroboam was just a man, but he caused a lot of pain and suffering in Israel. His policies affected the people, even those who were good. When famine and war came, they didn’t leave out the people who had remained faithful to God. Presidents are a lot like kings. Their policies affect people who won’t be born for ages. A bad king, president, mayor, or even senator can lead to untold misery. No one needs to be reminded of dictators long past, elected and otherwise. We like to think of them as bad people, but if we help elect them, we might share their guilt. The Law makes a big deal of fighting for the weak. Sin, in God’s opinion, is not just what you do, but also what you don’t do. It is failing to work against the devastation of your own nation by informed voting.

Lastly, it shows God’s mercy. At any point up till the reign of Manasseh, (and perhaps, even afterwards) Judah could have been spared if they turned away from their sin. God fought long and hard to preserve them. He was willing to forget all wrongs. Perhaps it was the loss of the book of the law, or the long established culture of idolatry, but the people didn’t turn back.

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God and Political Assassinations: The Skeptic’s Response

UPDATE: It turns out that Jehu’s actions were commanded by God. 2 Kings 9 says: ““You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel.”

Skeptic: Hi. I’m Tracy’s alter ego, but you can call me Laura. Quick recap: In 2 Kings 9 &10, Jehu, the man God chose to be the next King of Israel assassinated the Kings of Israel and Judah, along with a good portion of their families – no less than seventy-three people. Did God punish Jehu for this? No. He commended him. Now, normally, such an act would be considered murder. But Tracy says otherwise.

Tracy: Well, let’s start by finding out why you consider it murder. Do you think those men were innocent?

Laura: Ah, that’s a trick question, isn’t it? Joram and Ahaziah were evidently bad men, as was Jezebel. But what about the seventy sons of Ahab that Jehu killed? Don’t claim that God is not responsible for it. Jehu killed those men because God swore to kill every male descendant of Ahab. Some of them might even have been children and it wouldn’t have mattered. Yes, yes, I know God can take whatever life he wishes. But he didn’t do this: Jehu did. Does God get to commend murder because he didn’t like the victim?

Tracy: So, is there a charge against God here? We both agree that Jehu did the killing.

Laura: Jehu did the killing. God commended it.

Tracy: So, assuming Jehu’s actions were wrong, God commended murder, in which case he isn’t God.

Laura: Spot on.

Tracy: That is a powerful point you have there. I’ve never seen God’s goodness tied so neatly to one man’s actions before.

Laura: So, are you going to try to wiggle out of this one by claiming a copying error.

Tracy: Just be quiet and let me think.

Laura: Alright. Make up an excuse.

Tracy: Hmm… I think you’re right. If Jehu’s action was wrong and God commended it, then God’s action was wrong.

Laura: But?

Tracy: Quit interrupting me. I’m trying to think and talk at the same time. That’s a deductive argument.

1. If God commends a wrong action, God is wrong.

2. Jehu’s action was wrong.

3. God commended Jehu’s action.

4. Therefore, God commended a wrong action (from 2 & 3)

5. Therefore God is wrong (from 1 & 4)

Which, of course, translates to the God of the Bible being a false God. Premise 1 is common sense. I see no reason to deny it. Premise 3 is also pretty solid. God’s words to Jehu were: “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” That’s obviously a commendation. I can only take issue with premise 2; that Jehu’s action was wrong.

Laura: I’d like to see how you do that. So far you’re taking this very well. You haven’t even commented on the fact that we’re only having this conversation on the specious assumption that some of those killed were children and therefore innocent.

Tracy: You called Jehu’s action murder because he killed (presumably) innocent people and unlike the conquest of Canaan, he wasn’t commanded by God. But God commended Jehu’s action because the death of Ahab’s line was what God wanted. If by doing what God wanted Jehu sinned, then is God guilty?

Laura: *furrows brow in confusion* I don’t know. He’s your God, not mine.

Tracy: Yes, but think with me here. We’re having a conversation, not a debate.

Laura: I would guess that some things are allowed for God, but not for us. He is God, after all. He can’t be guilty of murder, so wanting someone’s death isn’t wrong for him. But killing an innocent person is definitely wrong for Jehu – whether or not it was what God wanted.

Tracy: See, I’m not so sure. I can’t imagine how something God wanted could be wrong. Oh, wait, I have it! God wanted Ahab’s line dead, but he never said anything about wanting Jehu to do it.

Laura: That’s a tight spot to crawl into. We don’t know if he wanted it. He could have.

Tracy: And we don’t know if there were any children killed. That just cleared up an issue for me.

1. It is wrong to desire an evil thing

2. Jehu’s action in killing innocents was evil.

3. God desired Jehu’s action

4. Therefore, God desired an evil thing. (from 2 & 3)

5. Therefore, God did something wrong.

If that argument works, then it would be airtight.

Laura: Regardless, you would find a way to wiggle out of it. Never underestimate the power of determination.

Tracy: Perhaps. But if Premise 3 is false, God desired those people dead, but not necessarily that Jehu kill them.

Laura: Yes, yes. But God commended the action, remember? And it was wrong.

Tracy: No, we’re still debating its morality. Dang it! I lost my train of thought. Why do you have to keep interrupting me?

Laura: So, I’m guessing I won this round.

Tracy: Don’t get too comfortable. I’m going to go to sleep and think of something.

Laura: Whooooppeeee!!! I won! I won!

Tracy: Jesus still rose from the dead, so I Christianity isn’t false. It’s too early to celebrate.

Reading Note – 2 Kings 9 & 10 – God and Political Assasinations

No sooner had the prophet Elisha anointed Jehu king, than Jehu rode to Jezreel and killed Joram and Ahaziah (the kings of Israel and Judah, respectively). I have no love for either man; they were evil in many ways, but assassinations never sit well with me. I have a problem with one party, whether they feel justified or not, taking the life of another party, when they have no authority to do so. But authority is a tricky thing. What about political assassinations in wars? Wars are something we must sometimes fight to maintain peace, prosperity and the rule of law. And laws must be fought to win; good doesn’t just magically win over evil. But let’s get the background of this conflict. Jehu did not stop there. The people of Israel were afraid of him, and so rather than make one of Joram’s or Ahab’s sons king, they killed them all and sent their heads to Jehu.

  • Ahab was one of the worse kings to rule in Israel. It is said that he did more to provoke God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. (1 Kings 16:32) He married a foreign woman, and brought her idols home, encouraging all of Israel to worship them. It was a long time ago, but my readers might remember that one of the terms governing God’s contract with Israel was that they were  not to marry foreigners and they were most certainly not to worship idols. As king, Ahab did not only condemn himself, but all of Israel along with him. His wife, Jezebel, went on to kill the prophets of God that she could find.
  • What does this have to do with Joram and Ahaziah? Well, Ahab’s legacy was very strong. After his death, Ahaziah, his son continued in the ways of his parents. Ahaziah died and was succeeded by Jehoram. Jehoram was more careful, taking some steps to eliminate the worship of Baal but he kept the other idols, in the traditon of Jeroboam. He began his rule by killing all his fathers other sons and was apparently so bad that two cities seceded from Judah and he died, the text says ‘with no one’s regrets’. (2 Chronicles 21). Other kings of both Israel and Judah followed in Ahab’s tradition, sometimes marrying into his family namely Jehoram of Judah, Joram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah.
  • That brings us to the current time. Given that history, it is no surprise that God sought to destroy the family of Ahab. God swore to leave to male belonging to Ahab’s family alive. That way, there would be no one to carry on his line. Jehu did this, with the help of Israel. He also killed all the prophets and worshipers of Baal, effectively eradication that lasting legacy of Ahab. Even though God had not commanded him to do so, he was pleased with Jehu’s actions. Jehu saw what God wanted for the house of Ahab and carried it out, though I don’t suspect his motives were pure.
  • Jehu was by no means a good man. He continued the worship of Jeroboam’s golden calves and, true to form, God punished him for that. (If one thing can be said of the God of Israel, it is that he shows no favoritism. He punishes sin in friend and foe alike, just like we would expect a good judge to do).

We’ve already established that God can never be guilty of murder; all life belongs to him. But let no one say that Jehu’s actions in any way displeased God. God wanted the house of Ahab gone and Jehu’s actions in carrying that out pleased him. This is evident in God’s declaration against Jehu (for his sins): “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” (2 Kings 10:30) I would say, therefore, that Jehu had God’s blessings in his actions the same as if Ahab had been killed in war and his sons had been executed for treason.

Yet something about this still bugs me. I don’t like to think that God sanctioned Jehu’s actions, because I don’t like assassinations. But that’s a problem I’ll have to handle some other time.

Reading Note – 1 Kings 22 – God and Evil

 Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ The Lord said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’ Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you.”

That was what Micaiah the prophet said to Ahab, king of Israel before he went on his last battle. The passage is apt to generate discomfort. How would God deceive someone? I handle these sort of situations by starting from the beginning and listing what I know.

  1. Ahab had been a bad king who consistently refused to mend his ways. God, as the judge of all the earth, had decided that it was time Ahab died.
  2. Ahab wished to make war against the king of Aram and God intended to kill him in that battle.
  3. But there was evidently the chance that Ahab would change his mind, because God wanted to make sure Ahab walked into the trap. i.e. God had decided on the death of Ahab and was carrying out his judgment.
  4. One spirit offered to make liars of Ahab’s prophets, so as to lead him into a war that would kill him. God gave permission for that deception. This should not be surprising. Everything that happens can only happen if God allows it. (At least that’s what my mom told me). Lying is only one of the many evil things God allows to happen.
  5. God himself did not lie to Ahab or his prophets. He told the prophets what would happen. He told Ahab that his prophets were lying. He correctly calculated that Ahab, who already had a tendency to listen to the prophets who told him what he wanted to hear, would ignore the warning. This was a calculated take-down of an evil king.

Assuming that you agree that God has the right to sentence someone to death and carry out the sentence, the question is: Is God just to allow evil?

He knew that spirit was going to make Ahab’s prophets lie and he gave the go-ahead. I would argue that God did not command the evil; doing so would give the act legitimacy, the same as if he declared white to be black. He simply knew of an evil act that was about to happen and said to the spirit “go and carry out your evil plan”. The question then is: “Is it morally obligatory for God to put an end to an act of evil if he knows it is going to happen?” My emotions say yes, but I haven’t listened to them in forever. My head is too exhausted to ponder the question right now.

Reading Note – 1 Kings 21 – Naboth’s Vineyard

Ahab wanted to buy Naboth’s vineyard, but Naboth didn’t want to sell it. So, Ahab went home sulking and wouldn’t eat. His wife, Jezebel, when she learned the reason for her husband’s condition sent letters to the leader is Naboth’s town. Her instruction was: Get two people to falsely accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king. Then convict him and stone him to death. After this was carried out, she told her husband he was free to take Naboth’s vineyard. While he was reposessing the vineyard, he was found by Elijah, the prophet of God with this message:

This is what the Lord says: ‘Have you not murdered a man and seized his property? In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours! I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free. I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.’ And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’ Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.”

  • Even though Jezebel ordered the murder of Naboth, God blamed Ahab. It is a similar principle as when David planned to have Uriah killed by the enemy in battle. Ahab might not have killed Naboth himself, but he lent his approval to his wife’s actions. He was supposed to be the leader of the people, and he gave power to a queen who led them to murder. If he had not made her queen and supported her actions up till this point, she would not have done as she had. And after the murder, he went to help himself to the spoils.
  • It seems God’s policy with evil is this: Don’t support it. Don’t even look like you approve of it. Don’t stand by and watch it happen. Don’t partake of whatever comes from it. In fact, stay as far as you can from it.
  • Jeroboam and Baasha were two kings I’ve previously written about who did evil like Ahab and received a similar punishment.

Ahab’s response to this was impressive. He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted – the picture of contrition itself. So God had mercy on him and told him that while the curse would still play out, it would happen after his death. I suppose that was a good thing.

  • It’s never too late to repent. Even if you have the sin of an entire country on your hands, God will forgive you.

Reading Note – 1 Kings 20 (The battles against Syria)

* God had no love for Ahab, but he helped him defeat the King of Syria – twice. This seems to be more out of hatred for Syria than love for Ahab.

* After their first defeat, the Syrians rationalized that they were defeated because Israel’s God was a god of the hills. They resolved to fight in the plains next time.

* God wasn’t pleased with that explanation. He resolved to give the Israelites victory a second time to show that he was God of the plains too.

* This is one of those situations that stir the charge of hubris against God. Why, we wonder, does he have to prove the Syrians wrong? We understand that he has a lot to be proud of, but we don’t he should be going around boasting of his power to everyone who can see.

* That objection requires that God have no other reason for his actions, but he very well could. It does a lot to show us rebellious mortals that we can’t escape God’s justice by changing locations. The truth is that he is God. The sooner you understand that and make his rules your priority, the better off you’ll be.

* The objection also needs one more thing to be successful. It needs to provide a reason why, if God’s response was only a gratuitous display of power, it would be wrong  I suspect that pride is wrong for humans because we are not as great as we like to think. No on ever got rightly criticized for stating and promoting a true fact. It is only just that great people be recognized as great by those around them – and God values justice, after all. If they start recognizing themselves, they run the risk of blowing their characteristics out of proportion, but God can’t make such a mistake.

* The King of Syria surrendered after his second defeat, but Ahab did not kill him. For that, God told Ahab that he would take his life in place of the king’s and his people in place of the Syrians. That was, after all, a fitting punishment for someone who let your prisoner escape. Symmetric, perhaps, but we might want to discuss its justice.

Reading Note – 1 Kings 18 & 19 – The God Who Answers by Fire, He is God

  • In response to Israel’s disobedience, God gave them three years of famine. Perhaps that was to soften them because after three years of famine, they readily agreed to Elijah’s contest. The contest was simple: they would prepare animal sacrifices, but not set fire to them. Then they would call on their gods – the prophets of Baal would call on Baal and Elijah would call on the Lord. Whichever God set fire to his sacrifice is the real God.
  • Elijah had no problem with ridicule. After the prophets of Baal had called to their god for hours to no avail, he began taunting them.   “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”
  • Eventually, Elijah prayed to his God and he answered by fire. So, the Israelites acknowledged him as God and executed all the prophets of Baal. Then God gave them rain. I would say that was a pretty successful plan.

The Gentle Whisper

  • When Queen Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah because he had killed the prophets of Baal, Elijah ran away and in a sudden fit of depression, asked God to kill him.
  • Instead, God told him to stand on top of Mount Horeb and wait for him.
  • “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” (19: 11, 12)
  • God didn’t speak to Elijah through the fire or the earthquake or any other show of power. Instead, he did it through a “gentle whisper”. I’ve hear a lot of sermons about this, but I don’t think anyone really knows why God did what he did. When he appeared to the Israelites in a cloud and fire, it was to make a point – to teach them to fear and obey him. Elijah did not need that lesson, but he might have needed to know the less terrifying side of God; the one that’s more like a parent who understands our fears and weaknesses.