The Bible in a Year – 28 September

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

28 September. 2 Chronicles chapters 11-14

Sadly, with these chapters we return to the old story of war between the peoples of the near east.  The history is clearly written from the viewpoint of Judah, reigned during this time by three descendants of David – Rehoboam, Abijah and Asa.

Rehoboam is pictured as someone who starts off listening to God (taking the advice of the prophets not to start a civil war against the tribes that had broken anyway) but later in life turns away from God and is therefore defeated by the North Africans, an alliance of Egyptians, Libyans and Ethiopians  with “countless” infantry and 60,000 cavalry.

Abijah reversed his father’s policy towards Israel and fought against Jeroboam’s 800,000 “mighty warriors”.  Despite being outnumbered, and caught in a pincer movement, the fact that Abijah worshipped the true God while Rehoboam allegedly worshipped idols and “goat demons” meant that God gave victory to the Judeans.

In Asa’s day, this ‘good’ king did all he could to root out idols, destroying their places of worship. As a result, God gave him victory over, this time, an Ethiopian army numbering a million!

I’m sure these tales of derring-do and contrast between faithful worshippers of Yahweh and idolatrous worshippers of goat-demons are propaganda that have to be taken with a larger pinch of salt than covered Lot’s wife.  The bit that rings true to me, though, is the word of God to Rehoboam through the prophet Shemaiah: “You shall not go up or fight against your kindred. Let everyone return home, for this thing is from me.” (11:4).  That is God’s true nature: to call on people to be reconciled, not to gather armies and fight.  Human nature is always to seek revenge and turn to conflict, but as Jesus famously said several centuries later, “blessed are the peacemakers”.  Of these three kings, Rehoboam seems to have been the most godly.

The Bible in a Year – 27 September

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27 September 2017. 2 Chronicles chapters 8-10

Chapter 9 records the extent to which Solomon became not only wise, but rich and powerful.  The written record makes no apologies in explaining that he achieved this at least in part by enslaving the remaining indigenous people in the land, and conquering adjoining territories.  The following chapter shows how, soon after his death, most of his own people ‘came out’ to complain about how he had ruled them harshly, too, and they rebelled against the rule of his son Rehoboam who stated his intent to rule even more harshly.

The visit of the Queen of Sheba is an interesting tale.  Her name is never given in the few biblical accounts of her visit, but she is apparently also mentioned in the Koran, and it is believed that even if the queen herself is a mythical figure, Sheba may refer to the Sabean kingdom in what is now Yemen (today a very poor country, rather than a rich one).

The royal visit, be it mythical or historical, was for several purposes.  The queen is said to have come to test Solomon’s wisdom, and was impressed by it.  She was also impressed by his wealth; and yet brought large amounts of gold as a gift, that Solomon certainly did not need, and probably far more even than would have been customary for a state visit.  This suggests that she actually feared her country being taken over by the growing kingdom of Israel/Judah, and was actually paying a heavy tribute to avoid this – protection money, you might say.

So although Solomon is remembered mainly as a good and wise ruler, it is clear even from accounts that you might expect to be favourable (having found their way into the Jewish and Christian scriptures) his approach to governing was not welcomed by the people of his day, nor would his actions be seen as acceptable by most people today.  His wisdom may have been a gift from God, but he misused it in failing to rule justly.


The Bible in a Year – 17 April

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17 April. 1 Kings chapters 12-14

Following Solomon’s long and apparently successful reign, things rapidly fall apart.  Firstly, as we read yesterday, there was a division in the nation between the majority of the tribes following Jeroboam and the tribe of Judah that remained loyal to Solomon’s son Rehoboam.  The theological reason given initially in chapter 11 was that Solomon was led astray by his foreign wives; in 14:22-24 we find that this idolatry had become widespread in the land.  But Jeroboam was no better: he repeated the sin of Aaron by making idols in the form of golden calves for the people of Israel to worship.


We are also given, in chapter 12, a more secular reason for the rebellion against Solomon’s house, which is the “heavy yoke” that he laid on the people by using forced labour. That was the real cost of his great buildings and royal splendour.  A ruler’s wealth is rarely acquired without someone, somewhere, suffering, whether it is the ruler’s own subjects, or people working as slaves in other parts of the world.


Both of these can still be seen today, only it is more obvious with the spread of globalisation and the internet.  We cannot plead ignorance of the people who suffer in developing countries to produce the cheap goods that we consume in the West, and justice demands that we do something about it, even if is just looking for Fairtrade products, boycotting the companies known to be the worst offenders, or supporting political action.  For instance, Traidcraft ran a campaign from 2014-2016 in which tens of thousands of people called for a change in the law to allow prosecution of UK-based companies who are “getting away with things in developing countries which just wouldn’t be allowed in the UK.”


Rehoboam could have saved the day, if he had listened to the counsel of the older advisers who said that he should become more of a servant to the people; but his pride would not allow this and he listened instead to his own sycophants who told him to oppress the people even more.  It reads like a repeat of the story of Israel in Egypt in the time of Moses, only this time, the oppression is by their own leaders, and instead of God rescuing his people from a foreign power, he would use foreign powers to remove his people from the land.  But for now, all that is yet to come.


The Bible in a Year – 16 April (Easter Day)

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16 April (Easter Day). 1 Kings chapters 10-11

One of the lessons of history is that no empire lasts for ever. The history of every part of the world records rebellions, revolutions, invasions and any number of other causes of the breaking up of whatever empire, kingdom or federation has been built over previous generations.  Here we see the beginning of the fall of the federation of the tribes of Israel that David had so ably brought together under God’s guidance.


Another well known saying is that “pride comes before a fall”. Like many English sayings it has a Biblical origin, Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”. But it is universally recognised as true and was probably a saying long before it was collected in the book of Proverbs.


These two lessons, along with God’s repeated warnings in the Bible about the risks of intermarriage, come together in today’s readings.  Solomon becomes exceedingly wealthy as well as very wise. There is nothing wrong in that as such, as clever people do tend to become rich. However it is difficult to become rich without it being at someone else’s expense somewhere in the world, and Jesus and his apostles said a lot about the dangers of wealth as a distraction from serving God faithfully.


While the book of Samuel does not criticise Solomon for his wealth, it does criticise him for another aspect of his reign, which is his many foreign wives.  Polygamy is not the issue, as at this time it was still common for men of power to have a harem.  The problem lies with the fact that they are mostly non-Jews, and gradually lead Solomon astray from worshipping the one true God, into idolatry.  Most religions are critical of intermarriage for this very reason, that it is difficult to love someone and at the same time distance yourself from their belief.   This can work both ways, of course: while St Paul cautions Christians not to marry outside the faith, he also says of those who are converted while married that they should stay together: “Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife” (1 Corinthians 7:16)


In Solomon’s case, though, the consequences are much worse than the break-up of a marriage, or his own falling away from faith in God.  Rather, as the head of the nation of Israel, his own apostasy marks the beginning of the end of the nation. God speaks through a prophet to Jeroboam (not to be confused with Solomon’s son Rehoboam  who would succeed him) that he would become leader of ten of the eleven tribes, with only Judah remaining under the control of David’s dynasty.


Let us pray for our own political and faith leaders, that they may not be led astray either by the temptations of wealth and power, or the influence of their families or anyone else who would lead them astray from wise and just rule.


Happy Easter!