The Bible in a Year – 30 September

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

30 September. 2 Chronicles chapters 19-21

Yesterday’s reading finished with a cliffhanger, King Jehoshaphat escaping a battle without injury while his ally King Ahab was killed by a stray arrow.  God was displeased with Jehoshaphat or having entered this alliance in the first place, as the prophet Jehu confirms afterwards.  Jehoshaphat now turns back to the religion of his people and partly (though not completely) eliminates idol worship.

In the short term he obeys the prophets and follows their advice not to seek to go to war, or to rely on military help from other nations.  When threatened by a coalition of non-Israelite tribes (chapter 20) he manages to persuade his army to heed the seemingly crazy advice of the little-known prophet Jahaziel and stand their ground without fighting.  But it works: the enemy tribes turn in on themselves and Judah gains the booty without entering the conflict.

It seems Jehoshaphat did not remember his lesson for ever, though.  After 25 years of mostly peaceful reign, he again allies himself with a subsequent king of Israel.  Although the purpose in this case was economic rather than military (building a fleet of trading ships), again a prophet denounced his action as contrary to God’s will, and the ships were wrecked.

His son Jehoram (chapter 21) was a different kettle of fish.  He started off my murdering his own brothers, married a pagan wife, and was so unpopular that at the end of his life he was denied even the usual funerary rites, and “departed with no one’s regret.”

It would be very difficult nowadays for the leader of any country, even one with a state religion, to stand up in their parliament and say that a prophet had told them not to enter strategic alliances, not to encourage international trade, or not to resist an invasion.  It would probably have been no easier even in Biblical times.   Human nature always seek adventure, victory, profit. It takes a deep faith to live counter-culturally as an individual, trusting in words of scripture and prophecy rather than “common sense” and the desire of the majority. It takes an even stronger one, and a bold spirit, to lead a country by the same principles.

The Bible in a Year – 29 September

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29 September. 2 Chronicles chapters 15-18

These chapters tell of the reigns of two successive kings of Judah, Asa and Jehoshaphat.  They followed a similar pattern: initially they took the advice of prophets not to make war either against the rest of Israel or against other nations, and they worshipped God, and he granted them peace in the land.  But each in turn was tempted to abandon that peaceful option and turn to war in alliance with other kings.  Asa made an alliance with Aram (Syria) against the other tribes of Israel, whereas Jehoshaphat joined himself with Israel against Aram.  Ahab king of Israel ignored the advice of one true prophet and accepted that of four hundred false prophets, allying himself with Judah against Aram – and was killed in the battle, as Micaiah had prophesied.

The offence against God in both cases seems not to have been going to war, as such. Nor was it making war against a particular people, since in the one case the war was against the ten tribes of Israel, and latterly in alliance with them. The offence, rather, was making any alliance with a nation that was itself not under God’s direction and protection (the ten tribes ruled from Samaria being at this time seen by the remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin as apostates who no longer worshipped the true God).

It may seem, to any of us who follow one of the monotheistic religions, that it is a good thing for an individual, group or nation to declare its faith in God.  But that has a dark side, as the stronger the commitment to follow God, the stronger the temptation to discriminate against, separate oneself from, attack or even kill those who do not.  There are two very chilling verses here in the account of Asa persuading his people to make a declaration of loyalty to God: “They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and with all their soul. Whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.” (15:12,13). That sounds as threatening as an Islamist ‘fatwa’, and no doubt at least some of them meant it deadly seriously.

What should the approach of a person of faith be in the modern world?  We want to exercise freedom of religion for ourselves, we (hopefully) want to live in peace with neighbours who may have different beliefs or none, while challenging aspects of their religion that we might think tend to disrupt a peaceful society.  We may listen to the “mainstream prophets” of our own religion without realising that when they are at their most triumphalist they may actually be going against the will of God, rather than hearing the solitary voices like those of Micaiah who counsel caution and what may appear to be appeasement.  How can those sometimes conflicting intentions and sources of advice be held together?

The Bible in a Year – 20 April

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20 April. 1 Kings chapters 21-22

In chapter 21 we get another clear example of the sort of unscrupulous leaders that Ahab and Jezebel were.  Ahab offers to buy Naboth’s vineyard for himself (at least he didn’t grab it by force) but Naboth refuses to sell, as indeed was his right, and the king was not above the law.   Although Ahab reluctantly accepts this, his wife does not, and arranges for the execution of Naboth on false charges, following which Ahab takes the land for himself without reference to Naboth’s heirs.  His godly nemesis Elijah turns up (showing extreme bravery and faith, since he had barely escaped Jezebel’s clutches last time) and predicts a bloody end for them both as punishment for such a breach of human rights.


Chapter 22 tells us that after many years of war between Israel and Judah, there is an interval of peace, largely due to Jehoshaphat King of Judah, who unlike his predecessors was inclined to co-operate with the northern kingdom and not fight against it.  In fact, in chapter 21 he and Ahab are allied in fighting the Arameans.  But this is not a defensive battle: it is Ahab’s pre-emptive strike to try and recapture the territory of Ramoth-Gilead which he considered rightly belonged to Israel.  The prophet Michaiah warns of defeat, but Ahab listens instead to the majority voice of the false “prophets” who always encourage him. Ahab then tries another bit of trickery, going into battle incognito and hoping that his ally Jehoshaphat will draw the enemy fire.  But when God predicts disaster, disaster will come – this time by the hand of an archer who does not even realise he has shot the enemy king.


Both these stories of attempted land-grabs by Ahab, whether of a vineyard close to home or a territory across the Jordan, show a hunger for power that manifests itself in a desire for control over ever increasing areas. We see this throughout history in the actions of megalomaniacs such as Napoleon and Hitler, but also in everyday life when companies take each other over, often to the detriment of ordinary shareholders and customers as standards of service and product quality are subordinated to the hunger for ever-increasing profits.  We also see in the campaign against the Arameans the “Falklands effect” where politicians whose popularity is waning may use a rallying cry of “take back control of [wherever]” as a way of boosting their popularity (assuming, of course, that they win).


God’s interest, as always, is in the human rights of the ordinary man and woman – Naboth the peaceful winemaker, or the people of Ramoth-Gilead who did not (as far as we know) call for deliverance from the Syrians who governed their territory at that time.  Through prophets such as Elijah and Micaiah God even makes this clear to the rulers concerned, but they rarely listen, such is the grip of evil over them.