Wednesday, March 31, 2010

2 Kings11-15: Polarization of Judah and Israel

I'm going to tell you in advance, in this passage we have a series of good Judean kings and bad Israelite kings.  Actually, not to spoil the surprise for you or anything, but all Israel's kings are bad.  I think Jeroboam set a precedent.  Jehu apparently was the closest thing they had to a good king.

So remember that witchy Athaliah?  When her son (Ahaziah) dies, she sets herself up as ruler of Judah, and moreover, she goes on a rampage and kills all the possible heirs to the throne - I'm guessing she was planning on living forever? - except one escapes.  Ahaziah's sister takes Ahaziah's son Joash and hides him for six years.  He was about a year old when he was hidden, by the way.  For some reason, God has the priest, Jehoiada, proclaim Joash king when he is seven.  The people probably don't like Athaliah, because when they see that Joash is king they put her to death.  Jehoiada makes a covenant between God and the people and the new baby king, and the people go tear down all the altars of Baal.  So Joash's reign starts off on a good solid foot, and we find out that he follows God for as long as Jehoiada lives.  That's kind of a bad omen to me, because these priest guys tend to be old, and if he's going to stop following God when Jehoiada is gone, it means that, like possibly Solomon, Joash didn't have his own relationship with God.  Instead his relationship with God depended on somebody else, or else he was just content to let another person make his decisions for him.

But for now Jehoiada is alive, and so Joash has the temple repaired.  It takes 23 years for the work to actually get started, and that's when Joash has the bright idea of asking people to provide money to pay for the repairs.  But then Hazael, the king of Aram (remember the guy that Elisha anointed?) comes and threatens Jerusalem, so Joash sends all the valuable stuff that's in the temple to him so he'll leave.  It works, but it sucks.  He just spent 23 years trying to get the temple looking nice again, and now he's emptied it out to ward off an enemy.  You'd think he could ask God for some kind of miraculous deliverance, right?

In his later days, Joash became very unpopular; in fact, he was assassinated by his own servants.  But then his son became king so I don't know what good it did.

Meanwhile, Jehu's son Jehoahaz becomes king of Israel, and like his father before him, he does evil.  As a consequence, Aram is constantly beating them.  So I think that is fulfilling God's word to Elijah that Hazael would kill the people Jehu didn't kill.  Jehoahaz dies, and his son Jehoash becomes king.  Now, Jehoash is synonymous with Joash, and the names are used interchangeably for the kings of both Judah and Israel.  To keep them separate, I'm calling Judah's king Joash and Israel's king Jehoash.  He also does evil and is also succeeded by his son, who is named Jeroboam (my header calls him Jeroboam II).  It doesn't seem like either of these kings does anything really significant, compared to Joash over here who is repairing the temple.

Okay, so here is where we find out about the death of Elisha.  Elisha actually dies of natural causes, remarkably - that is, he dies of an illness rather than by being murdered.  Before he dies, he tells somebody to shoot an arrow out the window and that represents victory over Aram, and then he tells him to hit the ground, and that represents how many times they'll beat Aram, but the guy doesn't know that so he only hits the ground 3 times, which means Israel will prevail over Aram only 3 times.  We don't hear anything about Elisha's actual death except that when he is getting buried, some dead guy gets thrown into his grave, and when he touches Elisha's bones he revives and gets up.  So I think that's a final sign that to the very end - and I mean the very end - the same Spirit of the LORD that resided in Elijah, was present in even greater measure in Elisha. 

Joash's son becomes king of Judah next.  His name is Amaziah, and he s also a good king.  The high places are still around, but nobody else has taken them away either.  He kills the people who killed his father, probably a good idea in case they didn't want him on the throne, but he doesn't put their sons to death because that's against the Law of Moses, which says that people cannot be punished for the sins of their fathers, but only for their own sins.  It's nice to see somebody actually following this law.  That leads me to believe that whenever God does some kind of generational punishment, like when he wiped out all Jeroboam's family, it probably was because they were all just as bad as him.

Amaziah wants to fight against Jehoash for some reason, but Jehoash sends him some flowery message that basically says "no."  But Amaziah goes out against him, so Jehoash fights back, and Israel wins.  Sorry Amaziah.  Just because you're not serving idols doesn't mean God necessarily will give you a military victory, especially since it doesn't appear that God had any desire for this battle to happen, and in fact he was the one who had said Judah and Israel should not fight against each other.  But then Jehoash captures Amaziah and also takes all the gold and silver and stuff that's in the temple, so now all of Joash's work has really been undone I think.

But Jehoash doesn't kill Amaziah; Amaziah actually outlives him, but when he dies (he's actually assassinated like his father was), his son becomes king.  Like both Joash/Jehoashes, Amaziah's son has two names too.  The name my Bible gives right here is Amaziah, but the name he's best known by is Uzziah.  If you know Uzziah's name, you probably know that, like his father and grandfather, he was a good king.  Meanwhile, Jeroboam II has just become king, and no surprise, he's a bad king, just like his namesake.  Interestingly though, God gives Jeroboam II some military victories or something because he's able to restore some of Israel's land that had been lost before.  Why would this happen, you ask?  Fortunately the Bible gives us the answer right here.  It says, "For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, which was very bitter; for there was neither bond nor free, nor was there any helper for Israel."  Elijah and Elisha, remember, were prophets specifically for Israel; they didn't do much work in Judah.  Even though Israel had crappy kings, God still loved the people of Israel; they were still his chosen people, and it was actually hard for him to see them suffering because of their bad decisions and the bad decisions of their leaders.  This just reinforces the teaching of Peter that God doesn't want anybody to perish but all to come to repentance, and that God is patient with us.

Meanwhile, Azariah/Uzziah is a good king, and guess what happens to him?  He becomes a leper.  He has a super-long reign, but he doesn't have his health.  To me that almost seems backwards - Israel, under a bad king, enlarges its border, while Judah's king serves God and gets leprosy.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and God doesn't even always give us an explanation why.  See, the good and bad things that happen to us aren't necessarily the consequence of our actions.  Suffering and grace alike can be completely undeserved.

Meanwhile, Israel gets a bunch more kings.  The first is Zechariah, and he is the fourth of Jehu's descendants to rule, so just like God promised, he is the last of his line.  A guy named Shallum kills him and becomes king, but he only lasts a month before a guy named Menahem kills not only him, but also all the pregnant women in the city!  I already don't like him.  He rules for ten years and is, as you probably guessed, evil.  During his reign Assyria starts creeping in, and Israel begins to pay them tribute.  Amazingly, nobody kills Menahem, and his son Pekahiah becomes king.  A guy named Pekah kills him and becomes king, and during his reign Tiglath-pileser of Assyria captures some of Israel's cities.  Slowly, Israel is beginning to crumble.  Think it has anything to do with the fact that every single one of their kings has not followed God?  Personally I sure do.  God gave them a bunch of chances, and he even showed them grace by restoring their border, and they kept screwing up.  I think God is withdrawing his blessing from Israel now.  I think he is going to let them go their own way and see what life without him really is like.  Sometimes God does that too.  Pekah also gets assassinated by a guy named Hoshea.

Okay, so Uzziah's reign didn't cover quite all that time.  Around the same time Pekah came to the throne, Uzziah's son Jotham became king in Judah.  And guess what?  He was also good!  We've had five whole chapters of good kings in Judah - four in a row!  I think that is a record, and that is why I am stopping at chapter 15, because the one after Jotham will break the trend.  Anyway, Jotham rebuilds some part of the temple, the upper gate.  Still nobody has taken away the high places, but the fact that Israel has managed to stay more or less on track for four generations is really amazing to me.

I think that up till now it's been kind of even between Israel and Judah, as far as who was following God and who wasn't.  Sure, Israel had all the bad kings and Judah had a few good ones, but Israel had some kick-awesome prophets to keep the people on track.  But now things are kind of going  chaotic in Israel, and Judah is on a roll in the right direction, or at least they're trying to be.  So it's not surprising that Israel is the one succumbing to Assyria as the empire begins to move toward the Holy Land.

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