Kingdoms Come (And Go)
This week's reading (1 Chronicles 25 – 2 Chronicles 24) is full of political intrigue, peaceful and not-so-peaceful transfers of power, a nation divided against itself and some of the best and worst kings in Israel's history. That, by the way, may be the most important thing to remember as you read this section of scripture. This is Israel's history, not America's. When we read sections of the Old Testament, American Christians are tempted to uncritically appropriate ancient promises made to Israel and apply them to our nation and its current struggles. For example, you've probably seen 2 Chronicles 7:14 on yard signs, social media posts or window stickers:
It is true that humility, repentance and prayer lead to forgiveness and healing. But this promise was made by God to Solomon and, in context, specifically focused on Israel. Don't get me wrong – I absolutely love America. I proudly fly an American flag from my front porch. I get chill bumps when I hear the National Anthem. And I fully agree with Abraham Lincoln. Just before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, in a letter to congress, he called America "the last best hope of earth," for freedom. Amen to that. But Israel was the only nation that ever enjoyed most favored nation status with God.
David's Final Psalm
The reading this week begins with the final days of King David's reign. Israel is prosperous, united and at peace. That prosperity, unity and peace, however, are contingent on Israel's faithfulness to God, a warning David announces (1 Chron. 28:8 – 10) and one we see played out in the ensuing chapters of the next book. 1 Chronicles closes with David's last Psalm, his last prayer and his final command: "Praise the Lord your God."
Solomon's Forty Year Reign
Solomon's four-decades as king is neatly condensed in the first nine chapters of 2 Chronicles. It includes the successful completion of the temple and its dedication. Solomon's prayer of dedication in chapter 7, in fact, is one of the most beautiful in all the Bible and worth a careful reading. Slow down when you get to that part and notice how thoughtful, humble and inclusive it is. I love the repeated refrain, "When your people pray . . . hear from heaven." Solomon even asks God to hear and answer "foreigners" who stand outside the temple and pray. Could that be a foreshadowing of Jesus' charge to "go and make disciples of all nations," in Matthew 28?
The Nation Divides
A nation's prosperity and peace are always contingent and can be lost in a shockingly short amount of time. The unity Israel enjoyed under David and Solomon is squandered by Solomon's successor, Rehoboam. Ten of the tribes ask him to lighten the burdens placed on them by Solomon's expansive building programs. Rejecting the counsel of his older, more experienced advisors for that of his younger contemporaries, Rehoboam tells them he plans to be even tougher on them than his father was. The ten tribes (known as Israel or the Northern Kingdom) secede from the union. Rehoboam retreats to Jerusalem and leads Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Politically, he is a capable leader, but he is inconsistently faithful to God. The best that can be said about the kingdom is the tepid endorsement of 2 Chronicles 12:9: ". . . there was some good in Judah."
The Good, The Good/Bad, and The Ugly
The next several chapters in this week's reading (13 – 24) detail the reigns of various kings. Some, like Asa, are good. Some, like Jehoshaphat and Joash, had their good and bad moments. And then others, Jehoram and Ahaziah, were just plain ugly.
One story worth highlighting concerns how Jehoshaphat responded to a military threat in 2 Chronicles 20. As a vast army approached, he cried out to God repeating some of the very words Solomon had prayed six decades earlier.
If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.
You will hear and save us. God still hears. He still saves. With all that's going on in the world, that's good news.