Its downhill all the way in these chapters, from alliance between Judah and Israel to warfare between them; from independence, to civil war (chs. 9-10), invasion, subjugation by suzerainty treaties, and finally, the deportation and disappearance of the northern Israelite kingdom, after both Judah and Israel wax and wane—but mostly wane– in size and power. This parallels the continued moral and spiritual decline of both kingdoms, as the worship of Baal and other Canaanite deities flourishes (including child sacrifice), and is encouraged and patronized even by kings and queens, most notably, Queen Jezebel of Israel, daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon. This is the pattern of decline and judgment that the Apostle Paul noted in Romans 1:18-32, and which he saw writ large in Graeco-Roman society. Jezebel’s name has since become synonymous with conniving, manipulation and the worship of pleasure, to the point that she has sometimes been used as an oppressive and misleading stereotype against women simply seeking their rights or speaking the truth. Her influence was felt even in neighboring Judah through her daughter, Athaliah, married to King Jehoram of Judah for the purposes of a political alliance. After Jehoram died, Athaliah retained influence in Judah as a sort of Queen Mother figure. Like her mother and father, Jezebel and Ahab, she suppressed the worship of YHWH God and promoted the cult and worship of Baal and other deities. She is also responsible for the near-disappearance of the line of King David; after her son, King Ahaziah, is killed on a state visit to Israel (ch. 9) by Jehu, the leader of a coup d’etat against Ahab and Jezebel. She set about then to kill all of David’s descendants, even though many of them are her own. This may have been, in part, to make the worship of Baal supreme, since the line of David was associated with, and supported by, YHWH God and the Levitical priesthood. By the grace of God, in keeping with his promise to David, one very young grandson, Joash, along with his nurse, was hidden and protected in the Temple under the auspices of the High Priest Jehoida. His coup d’etat in the temple, 6 years later, results in the reestablishment of David’s lineage through Joash, whose restoration of YHWH worship and of the temple is a brief exception to Judah’s chronic apostasy, as well as a reminder of God’s faithfulness in two ways: 1) in maintaining the lineage of David all the way to Jesus, the Son of David; 2) in witnessing and calling to the hearts of men and women even in times of great decline and decay. In effect, the Spirit of God still hovers over the waters of chaos (Gen.1:2) and strives with the spirits of mortals. The final collapse of Israel is full of symbolism: Hoshea, Israel’s last king, appeals to Egypt for help, protection and, thus Egypt’s ownership, thus marking the logical and highly symbolic end of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, followed by the return of Abraham’s descendants to Mesopotamia, from which they had come so many generations before.
The collapse and disappearance of the Northern Kingdom may have influenced one of Judah’s greatest kings, Hezekiah, to renew his and Judah’s faith in YHWH God. The Biblical record is clear about the good intent of his heart. But it also records his mixed actions and accomplishments, such as his alliance with Egypt, recorded indirectly in Chapter 18.
Though little is said after II Kings 9 about the activity of Israel’s prophets, events in both Aram and the Northern Kingdom develop according to Elisha’s divinely gifted foresight (chs. 8 & 9). Though the kings and queens of both Israel and Judah strove to control matters of faith and worship for their own purposes, the anointing of Jehu by Elisha, and of Joash by Jehoiada, are religious events that set in motion political processes, rather than vice versa. Elsewhere in the Bible we read of Amos and Hosea, who inveighed against the idolatry, oppression and injustice of the Northern Kingdom, and who held out hope for restoration, should Israel repent and return to God. Hezekiah’s reign will see the rise of perhaps Judah’s most influential prophet, Isaiah.
For the people of God today, these stories of decline and dispersal should make us spiritually and emotionally ready for any setbacks and disappointments we might suffer in the world, if and when things fall apart, even should institutions and organizations in which we normally trust, such as government, family, marriage, the economy, even the church, exhibit signs of decline, decay and untrustworthiness. As another prophet said in such a time of decline (Habbakuk 3:17-18): “Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Because God can and will sustain a people “who have not bowed the knee to Baal” to be his faithful priests and prophets. And they, “the meek will inherit the earth.”
PSALM 30 bears the characteristics of both a Psalm of Lament and a Psalm of Thanksgiving. True to many laments, it includes elements of thanksgiving for the ways in which God heard the lament and delivered the petitioner. The crisis seems to have been sickness near unto death (vv.2-3), attributed to the withdrawal of God’s pleasure, or “face.” Not being prophets, nor inspired authors of Holy Writ, we must refrain from attributing with such certainty anyone’s illness or calamities to God’s wrath. Throughout the Bible the modern reader is often perplexed at expressions of God’s anger and judgment. We typically want God to be more of a supporter and enabler to us than a judge. Unless we are the ones being oppressed, threatened or defrauded. Then we want God to judge our enemy and offender. But note vs. 5: “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime.” Likewise, God’s moral order “punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Ex. 20:5-6).” God’s anger was experienced by the psalmist as God hiding his face (v. 7b). But grace always wins, a thousand to four.
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