This Lent I am feasting instead of fasting. I am feasting on the Word of God. I have chosen to read through the Bible cover to cover. I’m following a reading plan suggested by Margaret Feinberg and hope to blog occasionally about what I am learning through the process.
I think that after I get off this bullet train through the Bible, I’d like to go back and revisit Kings and Chronicles. It’s a compelling vista I need more time to explore. Racing through, I was able to see enough of the landscape to recognize it’s beauty, but not enough to take it all in. Even this Seminary grad gets bogged down by the cast of characters. This thick chronology becomes a blur; a bunch of –iahs that are hard to keep straight. Two lines of kings and their supporting casts of wives, prophets, commanders, and enemies. Even the stories that are most familiar are mythologized with vestiges of flannel graph. This feels like Jack and the Beanstalk, not the Word of God.
And yet, there is rich theology undergirding this plot line.
The book of Kings barters in black and white. Each king is summarized with a simple assessment. The king either did what was pleasing in the eyes of the Lord or did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord.
The rebel Northern Kingdom of Israel is universally bad. Every king in their history, without exception, did what was evil. Over 200 years with nearly 20 different rulers and every one of them is a dud.
The “faithful” Southern kingdom of Judah, ruled by the descendants of David, is a roller coaster of ups and downs. The good kings are outnumbered by the bad ones, but the length of their reigns overshadows the bad ones, as if God is blessing their obedience. The Davidic line is intact, not only in seed, but in blessing.
Chronicles focuses in on this Davidic line and virtually ignores the northern kingdom (except when their histories cross paths). But Chronicles offers a more nuanced perspective. Rehoboam, the first king of Judah in the divided kingdom, begins his reign in foolishness, refusing to show mercy to his subjects and inciting civil war. As he establishes his rule, he “wisely gave responsibilities to his other sons…” (2 Chron. 2:23). Once his kingdom is established, he abandons the law of God (2 Chron. 12:1). But when confronted by the prophet Shemaiah, Rehoboam humbles himself and the Lord’s anger is turned aside (2 Chron. 12:12). In the end he is assessed as “an evil king, for he did not seek the Lord with all his heart” (2 Chron. 12:14).
Foolishness and wisdom, abandoning God, then humbling himself, but still not seeking God with all his heart. Here the contrast is not between the two nations, but within the one nation of Judah. And the roller coaster is not just from one king to the next, but within the reign of one king in the nation.
This pattern is common in Chronicles. Some kings start good and end bad, some start bad and end good. Even Hezekiah, the high water mark of the divided kingdom, becomes proud after divine healing (2 Chron. 32:25).
After repeated warning through the prophets, God’s anger could no longer be restrained and the nation is overthrown. The book could end there, but it doesn’t. Instead it ends with a mention of the edict by king Cyrus allowing the people to return to the land. Even after repeated displays of faithlessness by his people, God is faithful. He can't be anything less.