Over the last couple of months, I’ve been reading through 1-2 Kings, which is not a book we see preached on very often. There’s a lot in it, stories of war, polygamy, child sacrifice , chariots of fire, men killed by lions, and political intrigue. I’ve drawn a few thoughts on it together.
The author is at pains to point out that Kings is not intended to be a comprehensive history, rather, it’s a theological explanation to the exiles in Babylon about how they ended up where they are.
For example, in 1 Kings 14:29, we read:
Now the rest of the acts of Rehoboam and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?
This book (and the Israel equivalent) are unfortunately lost (and the answer to the question might be “I dunno, are they?”) , but the point is that the author isn’t trying to tell you everything- he is preaching a sermon to the exiles. And, as with any book of the Bible, it is not so much about the people portrayed in it, but about God. We read a history of kings, good and bad (except in the case of Israel, where they are uniformly bad, as they refuse to worship God in the proper fashion at the temple), who ultimately lead the people away from God, causing Him to enact the warning clauses in the covenant.
2 Kings 17: 6-8 demonstrates this perfectly:
In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practised.
Most of it is framed according to Deuteronomy- there, for example, we are told (17:16)
Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’
Solomon’s (first) marriage, to Pharaoh’s daughter will have raised some alarm in this regard, as will the string of kings who appeal to Egypt for help, starting with Rehoboam, who allowed Pharaoh to sack the temple. Indeed, the rise and fall of the temple is a key part of the story- when Solomon is in power, the temple is glorious, and kings and queens from all over the known world come to visit, but as the story goes on, more and more of the temple’s treasures are sold off to foreign powers to secure Judah’s safety.
This is a direct parallel to God’s glory gradually leaving the temple, halted a little by Josiah’s repairs, until it’s burned down by the Babylonians. At the same time, as more evil kings rise, idolatry increases. All this may not have happened if King Rehoboam had been more interested in being a fair king, but instead he decided to boast about his genitals and continue his father Solomon’s harsh tax and forced labour regimes. Most of the tribes rejected him as king, and set up its own country, Israel, while Rehoboam continued to reign over Judah. This was God’s judgement after Solomon’s polygamy resulted in him rejecting God and pursuing the gods of his wives.
Israel’s main instigator is its first king, Jeroboam- he sets up idols to stop people going to the temple in rival Judah to worship God, while a much later king, Manasseh, is declared as being the one ultimately responsible for Judah’s fall. Manasseh did pretty much everything he possibly could to bring about God’s wrath, setting up altars for his own glory in the temple, massacring his own people, and offering his son as a burnt sacrifice.
Such was the scope of his evil and idolatry, even his righteous grandson, Josiah (who was potentially even more righteous than David) could not stop God from destroying Judah. Rebuilding the temple, reading out the book of the law, and re-instigating the passover only delayed God’s wrath until he was needlessly killed by the Egyptians.
The next king, Jehoahaz is captured by the Egyptians, Jehoiakim become a puppet king for Babylon and died, Jehoiachin surrendered to Babylon and allowed himself to be taken captive, and Zedekiah, another puppet king, rebelled against Babylon, which cost him his sight, his sons, and his freedom.
Judah was captured and the middle classes (including Daniel) were carried off to Babylon to serve the pagan king. The story ends with a coda- Jehoiachin is released by Evil-Mordech (who would surely change his name if he spoke English), meaning that the Davidic royal line wasn’t dead yet, unlike the Israeli one, which had several dynasties, all wiped out.
There was still hope the royal line could be restored. As one man, Mannaseh, had ruined it, maybe one man in this line in the future could bring redemption.