1&2 Kings: The word of Yahweh

I’d have never thought of turning to the books of Kings for a meditation on the efficacy of the word of the Lord, but it’s all over the place. Dozens of times the author of Kings points out that something happened “according to the word of the Lord…”. Sometimes the fulfilment occurred on the same day, other times it took centuries.

Going through this theme brought to mind a couple of scripture passages: Amos 3:7 and Isaiah 41:21-23 (I trust you’re intelligent people and can decipher them for yourselves 🙂 )

The following list will likely mean nothing to you unless you’re familiar with the storyline of 1&2 Kings. I’d suggest keeping this post handy until your next immersion in Kings, and let me know if I left out anything!

(The items are arranged in order of fulfilment.)

Spokesperson Pronouncement Fulfilment
A man of God God would cut off Eli’s descendants from serving Him at the altar (1 Samuel 2:31-33) Solomon removes Abiathar, Eli’s great-great grandson, from the priesthood (1 Kings 2:27)
Moses God would give Israel rest (Deuteronomy 12:10) Solomon blesses God for having given Israel rest (1 Kings 8:56)
Ahijah the Shilonite God would tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give 10 tribes to Jeroboam son of Nebat (1 Kings 11:29-36) Rehoboam son of Solomon doesn’t listen to the people’s request and they rebel against him (1 Kings 12:15-17)
A man of God from Judah The altar at Bethel would be torn down and the ashes on it poured out (1 Kings 13:3) The altar was torn down and the ashes poured out (1 Kings 13:5)
Prophet from Bethel Because the man of God from Judah had disobeyed the word of the Lord, he would not be buried in his ancestral tomb (1 Kings 13:21-22) The man of God from Judah was killed by a lion and buried in a tomb at Bethel (1 Kings 13:24-32)
Ahijah the Shilonite King Jeroboam’s sick son would die and be mourned for (1 Kings 14:12-13) The child died, was buried and mourned for (1 Kings 14:17-18)
Ahijah the Shilonite King Jeroboam’s dynasty would be cut off (1 Kings 14:14) Baasha son of Ahijah killed all the descendants of Jeroboam (1 Kings 15:27-30)
Jehu son of Hanani King Baasha’s dynasty would suffer the same fate as Jeroboam’s (1 Kings 16:1-4) Zimri killed all the descendants of Baasha (1 Kings 16:8-13)
Joshua son of Nun Whoever rebuilt Jericho would do so at the cost of his eldest and youngest sons (Joshua 6:26) Hiel of Bethel lost his firstborn and his youngest sons (1 Kings 16:34)
Elijah the Tishbite There would be no rain in Israel for the next few years (1 Kings 17:1) Water courses dried up (1 Kings 17:7)
Elijah the Tishbite The widow’s jar of flour and jug of oil would not be exhausted (1 Kings 17:14) The jar of flour wasn’t used up and the jug of oil didn’t run dry (1 Kings 17:16)
Elijah the Tishbite Dogs would lick up King Ahab’s blood in the same place they had licked up Naboth’s blood (1 Kings 21:19) Ahab’s chariot was washed in the pool at Samaria and dogs licked up his blood there (1 Kings 22:38)
Elijah the Tishbite Ahaziah son of Ahab would not recover from a fall and would certainly die (2 Kings 1:4, 6, 16) Ahaziah died (2 Kings 1:17)
Elisha son of Shaphat Yahweh would heal the waters of Jericho that were causing death (2 Kings 2:21) The waters were purified (2 Kings 2:22)
Elisha son of Shaphat One hundred men would eat twenty loaves of barley bread and have some left over (2 Kings 4:43) They ate and had some left over (2 Kings 4:44)
Elisha son of Shaphat Naaman would be healed of his disease after washing himself seven times in the Jordan river (2 Kings 5:10) Naaman’s skin was restored to that of a young boy after he washed (2 Kings 5:14)
Elisha son of Shaphat The following day, a seah of flour would sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel (2 Kings 7:1) After the end of the siege by the Arameans, a seah of flour sold for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel (2 Kings 7:16)
Elisha son of Shaphat The royal official who doubted Elisha’s word above would see it, but not eat any of it (2 Kings 7:2) The official was trampled in the gateway as the people stampeded on the way to plunder the Aramean camp (2 Kings 7:17-20)
Elijah the Tishbite Dogs would devour Jezebel at Jezreel (1 Kings 21:23) All that remained of Jezebel were a few bones (2 Kings 9:30-37)
Elijah the Tishbite All of King Ahab’s descendants would be eaten by scavenging animals or birds (1 Kings 21:24) Jehu son of Nimshi killed all in Israel who were related to Ahab (2 Kings 10:1-11, 17)
Jonah son of Amittai Israel’s borders would be extended to the north and to the east (2 Kings 14:25) Israel’s borders were extended to Lebo Hamath and to the sea of the Arabah (2 Kings 14:25)
Unnamed Jehu’s descendants would sit on the throne of Israel up to the fourth generation (2 Kings 10:30) Zechariah, Jehu’s great-great grandson reigned only six months: he was assassinated (2 Kings 15:10-12)
Moses and other prophets The people of Israel would be driven out of the land if they persisted in sin (Leviticus 18:26-28, 20:22, 26:27-33; Deuteronomy 4:25-27, 28:64, etc.) The northern kingdom of Israel was carried into exile by Assyria (2 Kings 17:7-23)
The man of God from Judah A descendant of David named Josiah would burn human bones on the altar at Bethel (2 Kings 13:1-2) Josiah desecrated the altar at Bethel by burning bones on it (2 Kings 23:15-16)
Moses and other prophets The people of Judah would be destroyed if they persisted in sin (Leviticus 18:26-28, 20:22, 26:27-33; Deuteronomy 4:25-27, 28:64, etc.) The southern kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:2-3)
Isaiah son of Amoz All the palace treasures that Hezekiah king of Judah had shown to the emissaries from Babylon would one day be carried off to Babylon (2 Kings 20:16-18) The Babylonians carried off to Babylon all the temple and palace treasures (2 Kings 25:13-17)
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Yay for Ebed-Melech!

Faithful readers of this blog (thank you, thank you, thank you!!!) know that I have a thing for non-Israelites in the Old Testament who receive favourable reports. Rahab you know, and Ruth you know, but who is Ebed-Melech?

The second thing we’re told about him—after his name—is that he’s Ethiopian (or Cushite, depending on your translation). The third thing we learn about him is that he’s a eunuch (or official, again depending on your translation) in the royal court of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (Jeremiah 38:7).

Ebed-Melech heard that the prophet Jeremiah had been thrown into a waterless, muddy cistern. He reported this to the king (who had kind of sanctioned the deed) and got permission to get Jeremiah out.

Jeremiah’s fellow countrymen were trying to bump him off, and it fell to a foreigner to save his life. People who claimed to believe in Jeremiah’s God flagrantly violated His commands, and it fell to a man who wasn’t born into the covenant community to keep those same laws. I like how Ebed-Melech took along old rags and worn-out clothes for Jeremiah to pad the ropes with (38:11-12)—he clearly wasn’t doing this out of cold compulsion.

Best of all, however, was Ebed-melech’s reward: he got his very own prophetic oracle with his name attached (Jeremiah 39:15-18)! The Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel declared that because he trusted in Him, he wouldn’t be killed in battle when the Babylonians attacked.

Incidentally, Ebed-Melech means ‘servant of the king’. Not just to Zedekiah, but to the ultimate King!

Review of ‘The Temple—Its Ministry and Services’

Book cover of an updated version of The Temple
Book cover of an updated version of The Temple

I don’t know how I got started on reading Alfred Edersheim and I really wish I did because I’m loving it. I started off months ago with his Sketches of Jewish Social Life , which sadly I didn’t take notes on. I immediately proceeded to The Temple: Its Ministry and Services As They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ, but a change in my daily routine meant I left off reading it for at least 3 months, maybe longer.

Description

As the title states, this book is about the Jewish temple. Edersheim starts by describing the architecture of Herod’s temple, a section of the book that could have greatly benefitted from visual aids. His verbal descriptions were superb, but I got lazy and sort of tuned out. I suspect I’m not the only one to react in such a manner.

The third chapter deals with the temple’s sanctity, its treasury, the hymnody and music, and relies almost exclusively on extrabiblical sources (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The fourth chapter is all about the priesthood itself: how many priests there were, how they organised their duties, how they were supported economically, and the office of the high priest.

Chapters 5-9 discuss the various sacrifices mandated by the OT. One of these chapters is devoted to a description of night-time in the temple and another to Sabbath in the temple.  In addition to minute descriptions of each sacrifice, Edersheim dedicates a lot of space to the symbolism in and substitutionary significance of the sacrifices, comparing the views of the NT and those of the ancient synagogue.

Chapters 10-16 deal with the Jewish religious calendar in detail. A chapter each is given to the Passover, the feast of unleavened bread and the day of Pentecost, the feast of tabernacles, the new moons, and the day of atonement. He bases his reconstruction of the as they were practised at the time of Christ on sources such as the Talmud, the Mishnah, the writings of Moses Maimonides and many more.

In this section on the religious calendar, Edersheim often points out what features of the observances as recorded in his sources were later additions to the biblical commands found in the Pentateuch. He also points out how contemporary Judaism of his day (and presumably today’s as well) diverged from what is laid down in the Bible. He ably spots the NT realities of the OT shadows and types. His Jewish upbringing most likely contributed to his keen knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures and whoever instructed him in New Testament Christianity did a remarkable job. Even though some of the scholarship in this book may be dated, the devotional insights Edersheim gives are totally worth reading.

The Post-Mosaic festivals are the subject of chapter 17. These are Purim, Hanukkah, the feast of wood-offering, and the four public fasts (see Zechariah 7-8). Also in this chapter is a treatment of the private fasts such as exemplified by the Pharisee in the parable (Luke 18:12).

Chapter 18 is about the purification rituals: the red heifer, the purification of lepers and the rite regarding a woman suspected of adultery (I’ve blogged about this). Chapter 19, the final one, concerns itself with vows, starting with that of the Nazirite.

What I learned

My two takeaways from reading this book are:

  • One, the richness of the visual aids present in the Old Testament Levitical system. There are big hints and little hints; some are subtle and others are in-your-face. And all are beautiful when you see them.
  • Two, God-given instructions can be twisted. The later human additions to the divine ordinances ranged from the benign to the superstitious to the opposite of what was intended. I don’t think the Rabbis set out to be unfaithful to the Mosaic Law but that’s how it ended. That should be a caution for us today as we seek to apply God’s word in a culturally-appropriate way.

Conclusion

The Temple is in the public domain, and can be downloaded for free from the CCEL website (see the link above). It was written a while ago, when attention spans were longer and people used bigger words, so be warned.  In any case, Edersheim’s enthusiasm for his subject matter should help you get through it 🙂 I can most certainly see myself re-reading it in the future.

So much God

Earlier this month, my Bible study group went through the call of the prophet Jeremiah. Following the study guide, we discussed Jeremiah’s excuses, the task he was called to, how he may have felt about it, and so on. Some ten days later, Jeremiah 1 was part of my daily Bible reading. In the intervening time, I’d read a couple of articles that weighed heavily on my mind and challenged me on the perspective from which I approach the Bible[1].

My mind thus primed, it came home to me how Jeremiah 1 is so not about the prophet. Have a look (as always, click to enlarge):

Jeremiah 1
Jeremiah 1

Key:

  • Black: narration
  • Orange: narration of Yahweh-initiated actions
  • Red: speech attributed to Yahweh
  • Blue: speech attributed to Jeremiah

[1] For the curious, the first article is The subject of your prayers. The choice is between you and God. The second and much lengthier article is an academic evaluation of children’s picture bibles. Among other things, this gave me an appreciation of how we can unwittingly alter the perception of a biblical text through what we emphasise and/or omit when retelling an account from the Bible.

Isaiah 40-66: The arm of the Lord

The arm of the Lord is a recurring motif throughout Scripture, where it almost always refers to the earthly manifestation of God’s power, particularly as seen in the Exodus. Isaiah takes that image and adds other attributes to it:

Isaiah_Arm of the Lord
Isaiah 40-66:The arm of the Lord (click to enlarge)

Power is still central, but it’s now linked to blessing, salvation and to a person (the Suffering Servant). Salvation is in turn linked to justice, righteousness and wrath.

Tenderness is closely related to power and blessing, but I’m not sure how to represent the overlap between those three 😉

The verses referred to are: Isaiah 40:10-11; 51:5, 9; 52:10; 53:1; 59:16; 62:8; 63:5, 12.

Visions of a seated God

A while back I listened to this sermon on Psalm 2. When he came to verse 4, the preacher remarked that God doesn’t even bother to stand up, and that one recurring theme in scripture is that of God seated on His throne. You know those things that though they never crossed your mind, once they’re pointed out to you, they start popping up all over the place? This was one of those for me.

Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne.” Ezekiel saw “the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance.” The psalms have abundant references to God sitting on His throne (I found these), as do the prophets. And in Revelation, God is simply referred to as “Him who is seated on the throne.”

So what?

In the movie The King’s Speech, there’s a scene in which the speech therapist settles himself in the seat reserved for the king at his coronation. His Majesty is indignant, and rightly so. That piece of wood and upholstery had symbolic significance–only those with the right kind of authority could sit in it. How much more with the God of the universe! His is a throne no other being can occupy, not even in jest.

God’s throne is high, holy and lifted up far away from all the messiness of human sinfulness. In Revelation 4, we see it surrounded by concentric circles of holy beings, lightning, thunder and rainbows. He is a transcendent God, absolutely nothing like us. And yet He desires to dwell with us:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
   who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
   and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
   and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
–Isaiah 57:15

You can’t make up that kind of deity!

Finally, here’s my current favourite song, Behold Our God, which explores the otherness of God and His coming down to our level in Jesus Christ:

Live recording:

Studio recording:

What has Christianity done for the world?

It’s interesting how negative things stick in your mind more than positive ones. So, in what ways has Christianity been a force for good? Have a listen to this three-part audio podcast by the Centre for Public Christianity down in Australia on the influence of Christianity on western civilisation (and the world):

  • Part 1: Christianity’s influence on culture (art, literature, the English language, etc.)
  • Part 2: Christianity’s influence on the growth of modern science, on the positive view of humility and social assistance, etc.
  • Part 3: Christianity’s contribution to the view of the value of human life

Each podcast is about 15 minutes long, and there’s a download option if you don’t want to be tied to your computer.