Friday Bible Blogging - 1 Kings 11 to 1 Kings 22
This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Chapters 11 through 22 are the end of 1 Kings. They contain the death of Solomon, the breakup of the unified kingdom, and a succession of kings of Israel and Judah. After Solomon, probably the most well known character from these chapters is Elijah.
This review is a little longer than normal, but there are many interesting aspects to these chapters, most of which aren't particularly well-known.
In previous chapters, there were hints that Solomon wasn't a perfect king - the lists of all his wealth and possessions hinting at his pride. For example, Deuteronomy 17:16 explicitly stated that a king wasn't supposed to "acquire many horses for himself", yet 1 Kings 4:26 stated that Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses. But here in Chapter 11, Solomon did something really bad in the Lord's eyes - he took foreign wives. God had forbidden this because he knew that "they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods". And it wasn't just a few wives, "Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines..." Solomon did just as the Lord had warned against, and built temples for all his wives to be able to worship their gods, and even began to follow them himself, including "Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites".
God was so mad at Solomon that he vowed to take the kingdom away from Solomon, sort of. For David's sake, God wasn't going to break up the kingdom in Solomon's lifetime, but was instead going to put the punishment on Solomon's son. Further, God was still going to leave David's line in charge of one tribe and Jerusalem. This is just one more example of the transfer of guilt from one person to another.
Because of Solomon's sins, God raised up multiple adversaries against him, described in various levels of detail in this chapter. These included Hadad the Edomite, Rezon son of Eliada, and Jeroboam son of Nebat. Jeroboam received the most attention. He was a trusted servant of Solomon. One day, the prophet, Ahijah, approached him, and told him that the Lord had chosen him to be the next king of Israel. To symbolize this, Ahijah tore up his garment into 12 pieces, giving 10 to Jeroboam representing the tribes he was going to rule (apparently, one of the tribes had been lost by that point). When Solomon learned of this, he tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt for refuge.
Towards the end of the chapter, there was a verse that will be repeated nearly the same way for the other kings, only citing a different book, "Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, all that he did as well as his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon?" It seems that there were more sources for the people of the time to draw on regarding Israelite history.
At the very end of the chapter, Solomon died, and was succeeded by his son, Rehoboam.
When Rehoboam took the throne, the people of Israel told him that "Your father made our yoke heavy", and asked him to lighten it. He asked for three days to consider their request. The older men of his counsel told him to grant the request of his people, while the younger ones he'd grown up with told him to make their burden even heavier. They even told him to tell the people, "My little finger is thicker than my father's loins," where 'little finger' is a euphemism for his penis. In other words, this younger generation with Rehoboam was trying to be macho and show their strength.
In the end, "the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfil his word", and he followed the advice of the younger generation. The people rebelled under the leadership of Jeroboam, and Israel was split into two kingdoms. Note that God made the events turn out the way they did. God made Jeroboam act the way he did so that Jeroboam could be punished for Solomon's sins.
Jeroboam, unfortunately, didn't follow in the ways of the Lord. He built two golden calves for the people to worship, and began to appoint priests from among the people, not the Levite tribe as God had commanded. He even made his own festival.
While Jeroboam was at one of the altars he built to offer incense, a prophet came up to him and warned him of his destruction and that of his altars, hinting at human sacrifice, "he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who offer incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you." Jeroboam pointed at the prophet and told his guards to seize him, but his hand withered up. The altar was torn down with little detail given on how it came to pass, and then Jeroboam asked the prophet to pray for him to heal his hand. The prophet complied, the hand was healed, and Jeroboam invited the prophet to eat with him as thanks. The prophet refused, because God had commanded him not to eat or drink there, nor return by the way he had come (a somewhat odd command). As the prophet was returning home, another prophet went to meet him, and invited him back to his house to eat. The first prophet refused based on the Lord's command, but the second prophet then lied to him, and said that an angel had commanded him to invite the first prophet back to his house to eat. Being deceived and thinking he was following God's will, the first prophet went with the second. But while they were eating, God told the first prophet that he'd broken the Lord's command and would be killed for it, without being buried at his family's tomb. And as the first prophet was riding away on a donkey, a lion attacked and killed him, but stood over the body without eating it. The second prophet, on hearing what had happened, went and got the body, and had it buried, with instructions to bury himself alongside the first prophet once he himself died.
There will be another passage later dealing with a similar theme, but assuming that all of this mythology were true, it calls into question how to know the Lord's will. Apparently, God speaks through prophets, but even a prophet can lie and say something that didn't come from God. And God, being the stickler for obedience that he is, will punish you harshly for following a false prophet, even if your intentions were good.
The final verse of the chapter simply reinforced that Jeroboam was still doing evil, worshipping in the "high places", and letting anyone who felt the calling be a priest.
Jeroboam's son, Abijah, became sick, so Jeroboam sent sent his wife to the prophet, Ahijah, for advice. She went disguised, but God told Ahijah to expect her. Ahijah passed on the word of God to her - that her son would die as soon as she returned home, and that Jeroboam's line would be utterly destroyed, " I will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free, in Israel and will consume the house of Jeroboam, just as one burns up dung until it is all gone. Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city, the dogs shall eat; and anyone who dies in the open country, the birds of the air shall eat; for the Lord has spoken." Further, all of Israel would be scattered because of the sins they had committed due to Jeroboam.
Once Jeroboam's wife returned home, her son did die as foretold. But nothing else particularly bad was noted to have happened to Jeroboam. The writer referenced "the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel" to read more of Jeroboam's exploits, then noted that he died peacefully. Note again the collective guilt. Jeroboam and that generation of Israel weren't being punished particularly harshly for their sins. That was going to fall on their descendants.
Now it was back to Solomon's son, Rehoboam. He was similarly leading Judah astray, building "high places, pillars, and sacred poles", and even allowing male temple prostitutes. There was a brief passage describing how King Shishak of Egypt had plundered much of Jerusalem's treasures, forcing them to remake Solomon's gold shields out of bronze, instead. The writers noted that Rehoboam and Jeroboam fought continuously during their lifetimes, and then described how Rehoboam had also died peacefully.
To be honest, this chapter began to get tedious. It was more listing different kings of Judah and Israel, how some did evil in the sight of the Lord, and others acted more righteously, and who they fought with, and who invaded who, and who was being punished by God because of their own sins or the sins of their ancestors, and how you could read further about them in either the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah or the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel. All the descriptions were so brief that you never had a chance to get caught up in a story before it was on to the next one. Anyway, there was Abijam of Judah, who did evil, his son Asa, who did good, Baasha of Israel, who did evil and also set up a temporary blockade against Judah, and Nadab son of Jeroboam, who did evil, not to mention a few foreign kings.
One aspect tied in with a previous chapter. Baasha became king of Israel by killing Nadab, and then killing all of the house of Jeroboam, fulfilling God's threat against Jeroboam.
This chapter continued on like the previous one, but showed Israel falling into chaos. When Baasha died, his son Elah became king. But after ruling for only two years, one of his officers, Zimri, killed him to take the throne for himself, killing all of the house of Baasha for good measure, and fulfilling a threat of God against Baasha. When the rest of the army learned what happened, they appointed the commander of the whole army, Omri, to be king of Israel. They besieged the capital city of Tirzah. And Zimri, rather than be captured, burned down the palace on top of himself, just seven days after his coup. Then followed a civil war, described in just a couple verses, where Omri's forces were victorious. But with Omri's victory came 22 years of relative stability, even if "Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him." Note that this hyperbolic claim was used on just about every king who did evil. When Omri died, his son Ahab took the throne, went and married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of the Sidonians, and began worshiping Baal.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) noted a few interesting aspects in this chapter. First, it stated that even though Omri was only briefly mentioned in the Bible, archaeological evidence indicates that he was quite influential. Many artifacts from the Assyrians refer to the the "House of Omri". It also noted that 'Baal' was not an actual name of a god, but a title, similar to 'Lord'.
The final verses of this chapter described Hiel of Bethel rebuilding Jericho in a somewhat ambiguous manner that could be interpreted either as human sacrifice or a curse, "he laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua son of Nun."
Chapter 17 introduced Elijah, who would be transformed in the Medieval period into the prototype of the Wandering Jew (see Jewish Encyclopedia). He delivered a prophecy to Ahab, "As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word." At God's command, Elijah went into hiding in the wilderness at the Wadi Cherith. He drank from the wadi, and ate bread and meat that were delivered to him by ravens. This being fed by birds seemed particularly mythical.
When the wadi dried up, he moved on to Zarephath, where he gained the help of a widow. Through a miracle of God, even though she was poor and had very little, while Elijah was there, her jar of meal and jug of oil both stayed full. Her son became very sick, "so severe that there was no breath left in him." Elijah prayed for him, performed a sort of ritual where "he stretched himself upon the child three times", and asked God to restore the child's life. God listened, and the child revived. The NOAB pointed out verse 22, "The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah", and how important Elijah's voice was in this miracle.
Chapter 18 introduced a new character, Obadiah, a servant of Ahab. However, Obadiah was faithful to God. When Ahab's wife, Jezebel, was having Yahweh's prophets killed, Obadiah rescued 100 of them, hiding them in two different caves.
In the third year of the drought, God command Elijah to return to Ahab with the news that rain would be coming again. On the way, he met with Obadiah, and had Obadiah go get the king. At first, Obadiah was a little reluctant, given Ahab's hatred of Elijah, and expecting that Elijah would disappear before they got back, but Elijah assured Obadiah that he wouldn't flee.
When the king met with Elijah, Elijah had him gather up the "the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah". They assembled on Mount Carmel, and Elijah issued a challenge. They prepared two large piles of wood, and slaughtered two bulls and had the pieces put on the piles. First, Baal's prophets would have their chance to call on their God, to set their pile alight and take their sacrifice. They called on Baal all morning, but nothing happened. Then, "At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, 'Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.'" According to the NOAB, the statement 'he has wandered away' was actually a euphemism for urinating, so it was even a little more derogatory than the literal translation (somewhat humorously, the NOAB noted it as a euphemism for 'relieving himself', itself a euphemism). The prophets began to cut themselves as was apparently their custom, but still nothing happened.
Next, it was Elijah's turn. He gave fairly detailed instructions to the people, to dig a trench around his altar, then he prepared the wood and the bull, then water was dumped on the pile three times until it also filled the trench. After Elijah said one more prayer, "the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench," and the people knew the Lord was God.
(As a side note, I recall seeing something on TV about this miracle, where someone tried to recreate it. By first soaking the wood in a certain chemical that would probably have been known at the time, they were able to get it to start on fire by dumping water on it. I can't seem to find a link right now, but if I do, I'll come back and post it here.)
In a massacre (but a holy one), Elijah told the people to seize all the prophets of Baal, and had them all killed.
Now, the rain finally came. It started as a small cloud on the horizon that grew and grew until heavy rains fell. Elijah pointed out the small cloud to Ahab, and told him to go down Mt. Carmel before he was hindered by the rains, "But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; he girded up his loins and ran in front of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel." This is almost a silly miracle - Elijah ran through the rain faster than Ahab's chariots. It would have been more impressive had he flown, or even better, just been magically transported. But the image of a prophet in robes running through a thunderstorm at superhuman spees just isn't very awe-inspiring.
When Jezebel learned what had happened, she threatened Elijah in a manner common throughout this book, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." So, afraid for his life, Elijah was again on the run. At first, he asked God for the peace of death, but God sent an angel to deliver him food and keep him alive. Then he wandered for forty days and forty nights, ending up at Horeb (Sinai), reminiscent of Moses. God came to Elijah there, and they had a discussion. God told Elija to anoint Hazael as king over Aram, and Jehu and Elisha as prophets who would carry on ihs work, killing all those unfaithful to God.
Elijah found Elisha plowing with 12 oxen (apparently representing the 12 tribes), so they slaughtered the oxen, boiled them, shared the meat with the people, and then Elisha became Elijah's servant.
This chapter was all about fighting between King Ben-hadad of Aram and King Ahab of Israel. It started with posturing between the two, and Ben-hadad demanding tribute from Ahab. When it came time to battle, God sent a prophet to Ahab, assuring him that he would be successful, and giving him instructions on how to carry out the attack (recall that Ahab was one of the kings who did evil in the sight of the Lord). Of course, with God on their side, the Israelites were successful, but Ben-hadad escaped.
Ben-hadad's advisers said that the problem was that they had fought in the hills, and that the Israelite "gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they." So there was another battle, and again the Israelites were victorious. Ben-hadad escaped into hiding. His servants convinced him to ask Ahab to spare his life, since "the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings". Ahab did spare Ben-hadad's life, and they even formed a treaty. But of course, this mercy angered God, so he sent a prophet to tell Ahab that he was doomed, "your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people."
A man named Naboth had a plot of land that Ahab wanted, but no matter what Ahab offered, the man wouldn't give it up. So, Jezebel sent letters under the king's name to "the elders and the nobles" to have a feast where Naboth was invited, but then to have Naboth falsely accused and stoned to death. With Naboth out of the way, Ahab was able to get the land. God was angered, and sent Elijah to Ahab with a grim prophecy foretelling his destruction and that of his house. Two particularly graphic portions were, "In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood," and "The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel."
When Ahab heard all this, he humbled himself before God, tearing his clothes and wearing sackcloth. So, the Lord had some mercy on Ahab, but passed the punishment on to his descendants, "I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son's days I will bring the disaster on his house."
King Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Israel decided to join forces against Aram. Interestingly, throughout this whole story, the king of Israel is referred to as "the king of Isreal", never by name, so it very likely originated independently of the stories surrounding it. The king of Israel summoned his 400 prophets, who all foretold of a victory. Jehoshaphat pushed the king, and found there was another prophet, Micaiah, who seldom prophesized anything favorable. But Johoshaphat pushed some more, and Micaiah was summoned. At first, Micaiah gave a favorable prophesy, but the king said, "How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?" So then, Micaiah delivered the full prophecy. He saw God on his thrown, surrounded by his host. And God asked them, "Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?" Finally, one spirit approached God, and said that he would go out as a lying spirit, causing the prophets to speak falsely.
This passage is interesting for a few reasons. One, God isn't omniscient. He's having a council, because he doesn't yet know how to carry out his plan fully. Second, it shows God as a bit dishonest. He's intentionally misleading the king, so that the king will march into God's trap. If someone did accept this whole mythology, how would you know whether or not to trust a prophecy, since God himself sometimes sent angels to mislead the prophets?
The misled prophets were understandably upset with Micaiah, and one even slapped him. But Micaiah stood by his prophecy. The king had him locked up until after the battle was over, but it all turned out as Micaiah had foretold, and the king, now finally identified as Ahab, was killed in battle, bleeding out in his chariot after being shot with an arrow. A short time later, "They washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria; the dogs licked up his blood, and the prostitutes washed themselves in it, according to the word of the Lord that he had spoken."
There was a brief mention of Jehoshaphat making a fleet of ships that were shipwrecked, before he died peacefully and was succeeded by his son, Jehoram. Ahab was succeeded by his son, Ahaziah, who did evil in the sight of the Lord and served Baal.
I know I mentioned once before that I was going to try to keep these reviews shorter, but there was so much in these chapters that I found interesting and couldn't resist writing about - human sacrifice, God intentionally misleading Israel, his petty cruelness, graphic violence, amusing euphemisms, silly miracles, fairy-tale methods of survival, etc.
1 Kings was a bit of a mixed bag. There were portions, especially in the first half, that went in depth into particular characters, so that you actually did get caught up in the story and wanted to read more. But other portions became tedious, seemingly listing kings only out of an obligation to mention all of them.
One of the things that struck me most in reading these chapters was the transfer of guilt. Many times, God would punish descendants for the sins of their fathers, sometimes even making the descendants sin to provide more justification for the punishment (so much for free will being an excuse for why bad things happen to good people). It's a pretty horrible moral stance to punish children for the parents' deeds, even if here it was more mythical than real.
It appears that there is some real history in these chapters, and that many of the kings actually existed. This provides, perhaps, a more realistic explanation for these delayed punishments. Maybe events were just playing out in ancient Israel, but the people were looking for religious explanations in everything that happened. So, when a king did what the priests didn't agree with, there had to be some type of punishment, and if it didn't happen in the king's lifetime, but then something bad happened to his son or grandson, then that generation of priests could point to it as a delayed punishment.
Related to the above paragraph, I also wonder what Israel was like in the times described by these chapters. It sounds almost cosmopolitan - forming alliances with different countries, bringing in immigrants and customs from those countries, and allowing a fair amount of religious freedom with different gods and goddesses being worshiped. But on the other hand, I wonder just how reliable these writings are. Knowing that Judaism developed from polytheism, do these kings represent a turn to religious tolerance and turning to different gods, or is it merely a vestige of Judaism's polytheistic origins? Or is it all just completely legendary?
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.