The majority of the Old Testament was a confusing mess to me for many years because I did not know the history of Israel. I did not know that the northern 10 tribes split from Judah. I did not know the people were idolatrous. I did not know that they were eventually overtaken by other nations.
Without that knowledge, the prophets made zero sense to me. The story of Daniel had no context. And the hope of the Jews in the Gospels for a physical king on a physical throne was far removed from my understanding of God’s work in the world.
But the physical kingdom of Israel and the division of that kingdom has everything to do with God’s Covenant with His people.
Understanding the history of Israel is absolutely necessary to understand the prophets and the gospel narratives.
When David was king, God made a covenant with him.
“When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever… my love will never be taken away from him… Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-16)
This is an unconditional promise from God: A king from David’s line will rule over Israel. It is one sided. No matter what happens, God will do it.
After David’s death, Solomon reigns with vast wisdom and flourishes financially. He builds the Lord a temple and himself a palace. After they are complete, the LORD repeats the Davidic Covenant to Solomon, but this time with a condition:
“As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father… but if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name…” (1 Kings 9:4-7)
“King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women…” (1 Kings 11:1).
This is one of those moments when reading Scripture that my heart sinks. Everything was going so well, Solomon! What are you doing, Solomon?! Unfortunately, he was “doing” (too crass?) a lot of women. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines from other countries who worshiped other gods and “his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” (v 4)
As a consequence, the LORD split the country under Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, in 913BC. But in remembering the Davidic Covenant, the LORD left Judah (the South) under Rehoboam’s rule.
After the split of Israel, Jeroboam, the king of Israel (the North) builds high places for the people to worship so that they will not return to the temple in Jerusalem and detract to Judah. He made two golden calves and said, “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:28)
(Excuse me while I scrape my jaw off the floor. Ahem…)
Because of this blasphemy, the kings in Kings or Chronicles who worship other idols are compared to King Jeroboam (ex: King Omri, 1 Kings 16:26).
However, if a king destroys the high places, keeps the commands of the covenant, and serves the LORD alone, he is compared to King David (ex: King Hezekiah, 2 Kings 18:3).
For nearly 200 years, the North remains divided from the South. In that time, many prophets call the country back to the LORD. Some kings listen, many do not. Eventually, the Northern Kingdom falls to Assyria in 722BC, a judgment of God against Israel for her worship of other gods. But Judah doesn’t fare any better and falls to the Babylonians in 586BC.
The exile begins.
Kings and Chronicles were most likely written while the Jews were in exile in other lands. They were written to explain to the people of Israel why they were under foreign rule. Their sins are accented, especially in Kings, and the call of the prophets to repent is recorded.
However, both books emphasize the eternality of God’s promise to David. Their hope is that God keeps his promises and will restore Israel to one nation.
Chronicles is exceptionally optimistic and depicts David as close to perfect, omitting his affair with Bathsheba. Why? Not because it’s deceptive (everyone knows what happened), but to present David as an example for others to follow as a man after God’s heart. Other kings were also depicted in highly idealized lights (ex: Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah). They were types, foreshadowing the coming king promised by God.
The people of Israel were looking back at their mistakes with the hope of God’s unconditional covenant. One day a King would save them. A Messiah would bring peace to the land.
Come back tomorrow for Ezra & Nehemiah :: The Return…