7. The Kings and Prophets
of Israel and Judah
King David and the Prophet Nathan
Read 2nd Samuel 7:1-29
David, Bathsheba and Nathan
- David captured Jerusalem in Judah from the Jebusites and made it his own capital--about the year 1000 BC (Before Christ).
- He then had the ark of the covenant brought from the north to his new capital in Jerusalem. He proposed to build a great temple in Israel to place the ark of the covenant in it. But Nathan, the prophet, was told by God that David should not be the one to build it, but instead one of his descendants would do so. David respected Nathan as a prophet--and agreed not to try to build the temple.
Solomon: Wise or confused?
- David tried to remain humble and devoted entirely to God. But his human nature got him in deep trouble when he saw Bathsheba and fell in love with her, even though she was already married to someone else. He got her pregnant--and things only got more complicated. In the end, to cover his sin, David planned that her husband (a soldier very loyal to David) should die in the next battle.
- David thought that no one was on to his secret--until the prophet Nathan came to him with a story.
- Read 2 Samuel 12:1-25
- God worked a good out of the evil that David had fallen into--by having Solomon born to David and Bathsheba. This is a reminder that God is ever forgiving and able to turn even our mistakes into new opportunities!
- But still--there were terrible consequences on earth for David's actions. God knew that David would have to reap what he sowed. So the rule of David was troubled from then on by family problems (most notably with his son, Absalom). That was the natural consequences of David's sin.
- Thus though God forgives, and can work good out of our evil, we must still live with the natural consequences of our own deeds. God constantly warns us--and sends prophets to remind us that this danger is ever with us.
The Kingdom divided
- We know of the story of how God granted Solomon his request for great wisdom as ruler of Israel (1st Kings 3:3-15) and how Solomon used his wisdom to decide a dispute between two women and a baby (1st Kings 3:16-28)--so that his reputation for wisdom spread to all the nations.
- We remember also that he was the one who built in Jerusalem the beautiful temple to God (1st Kings 5:1-18)
- But Solomon could also be very sophisticated in the wisdom of the world--by marrying daughters of kings of the surrounding nations (for instance, the daughter of Egypt's Pharaoh)--and then building for them temples to their gods. All of this was done to secure the friendship of the other nations. (1st Kings 11:1-8)
- This displeased God greatly. (1st Kings 11:9-13) And God himself sent enemies against Solomon.
- There seem to have been no prophets to keep Solomon reminded of God and his covenant with David and his royal descendants (such as Solomon). Solomon apparently listened only to his own thoughts. That proved to be disastrous.
The northern Kingdom of Israel defeated and the people carried off into captivity--never to be heard of again
- When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became king. But Rehoboam was not a wise king. He listened not to the wisdom of the old men who had once worked with his father Solomon and who knew God and God's ways. Instead Rehoboam listened to the voices of his power-hungry young friends around him, friends who had no thoughts about God.
- Disaster resulted: the 10 northern tribes (of the 12 total) of Israel rebelled against Rehoboam, and selected their own king: Jeroboam (who was not one of David's descendants).
- Really only the tribe of Judah stayed loyal to David's grandson, Rehoboam.
- Thus there were now two kingdoms, where there once had been just one: The Kingdom of Israel (the 10 northern tribes making up the northern kingdom) and the Kingdom of Judah (the southern kingdom).
Judah and the Jews: The remnant of Moses and David's Israel
- From then on the two kingdoms would spend as much time fighting each other as they did working together and helping each other as brothers--until finally the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by by Assyria (around 720 BC) and only Judah was left of the original tribes of Abraham, Moses and David.
The Prophets as the most powerful of the Spiritual guides of Israel during the rule of the kings of Israel and Judah
- From the name of the "remnant" (those still left after most of God's people were simply disappeared from history)--the people of Judah--we get the name Jew (a shortened name for the people of Judah).
- But even the people of Judah were carried away from the Promised Land when they were defeated in a series of political wars with Babylon (610-600 BC). At this time Solomon's temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and all the leading families of Judah were carried off to captivity in Babylon.
- However, unlike the people of the northern Kingdom of Israel, who were lost forever to history, the people of the southern Kingdom of Judah, managed to stay together during their captivity.
- Indeed, it was during the time of the "Babylonian captivity" (610 - 540 BC) that Judaism was reshaped into its present form. With no temple to periodically offer animal sacrifices in worship, the Jews focused more and more on the importance of gathering on the Sabbath to recite "their story" (the long story found in Holy Scripture that we ourselves have been studying so far). Under the leadership of the teachers (the Rabbis) their worship now centered on the study of Scripture. This, not the temple sacrifices, was now the thing that identified them and held them together as God's "chosen people."
- Then when about 70 years later (540 BC), Babylon was defeated in a war with Persia, the Persian king, Cyrus, permitted the Jews to return to the lands of their ancestors. Judah (which continued to carry also the greater name Israel) was restored. Even the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem--though it was not as grand as the original one built by Solomon. The temple priesthood was restored. But the Rabbis continued to exercise tremendous influence on the life of Judah-Israel.
- Let's back up a bit and look at life in Israel and Judah after David and Solomon--and before the captivity of Israel and Judah (a time period covering roughly 900-600 BC)--a time period covered in detail in 1st and 2nd Kings and 2nd Chronicles.
- Most of the kings of Israel and Judah during those important 300 years were either somewhat bad--or very bad. Often they were even downright evil.
- As God had so oftened warned them, for Israel and Judah to want to become like the other nations (with kings, armies, palaces, etc.) would be for them to soon forget God. This was dangerous for a people whose main special feature was that they were the carefully chosen people of God, given their power by God in order for God to display through them His miraculous works to the rest of the world. For them to start following the ways of the world was for them to lose all touch with this original agreement or covenant with God.
- Thus God sent them prophets to advise and warn the kings and people about their behavior when it wandered away from God's will (just as we saw Nathan serving to keep David on track).
- For the most part, the prophets were not appreciated by the kings, who did not like what these prophets had to say. Some kings tried even to put the prophets to death.The Early Prophets: still a bit like the Judges or Samuel
The Later Prophets: more focused on declaring God's truth to a deaf people.
- The Prophet Elijah was a very colorful character--full of storm and fury. He drove weak-willed King Ahab crazy with his constant criticism about how Ahab had let his wife Jezebel take over Israel with her Canaanite gods. At one point Elijah had a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel--and killed 400 of them by his own hand.
- Read 1st Kings 18:1-46
- Elijah's understudy, Elisha, was even zanier still! He performed amazing miracles (2nd Kings, from chapter 2 to 8, covers many of his exploits).
- These early prophets, like the judges before them, not only spoke forth the word of God but they acted it out in daring deeds undertaken to make God's judgments very real to the people of Israel.
John the Baptist in Jesus' time: The last of the prophets--in the tradition of Elijah?
- The later prophets are more like the prophets we think of when we hear the word prophet: people who would go into a trance and speak forth words that came directly from God: "Thus says the Lord: . . ."
- Of these prophets, Isaiah was undoubtedly the most important. At first he spoke forth about a coming harsh judgment that was coming to the people of Israel because they had given up the pure worship of God and were chasing after other gods or idols in their daily lives. Isaiah also spoke of a servant of God who was to come to the people of Israel to lead them back to God. Isaiah described him as a suffering servant--because this servant would indeed suffer cruelly for this good work. Isaiah even spoke prophetic words in encouragement to a people themselves suffering under foreign power, encouragement to return to the Promised Land of Israel and start up their life there again--reminding them to rely on God totally in the process. He was describing, of course, the Israel that would soon be conquered by its enemies and carried off as prisoners into foreign exile.
- Read Isaiah 40: 1-11 and 27-31
- Other prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, etc.) performed pretty much the same task of warning Israel and Judah about what would happen to them if they continued to ignore God and to follow instead the ways of the world. Their prophecies included not only warnings but also instructions on how to worship and serve God and how to act in relationship with others, especially those in need of human assistance.
- Daniel is a later prophet of a special nature. He too was more like one of the early judges and prophets: a man of action. Also he performed his ministry as a Jew still living in Babylon--not in as a Jew living in Israel or Judah.
- Esther, though not considered a prophet, actually performed very much like an early prophet--or an early judge, such as Deborah. She too carried out her ministry not in Judah or Israel, but in Babylon.
- By Jesus' time it had been centuries since the prophets had wandered around Israel, instructing and warning the people of God's judgments upon them. Nonetheless, there was very strong expectation in Jesus' days that the time was drawing close when God would send another prophet, in the tradition of Elijah and in fulfilment of some of the ancient prophecies of Isaiah, to prepare the way for the coming of the even greater figure, the Anointed One (Messiah or Christ) of Israel.
- Certainly John the Baptist looked like the prophet that God had promised that he would send. In every respect John talked and behaved like one of the traditional prophets: calling Israel to a personal preparation for the coming of the promised Messiah or Lord through repentance and ritual cleansing (baptism) in the waters of the Jordan River.
- As in the days of the former prophets, the common people generally responded well to the warnings and call to repentace of John the Baptist. But the religiously "accomplished" people of Israel (the scribes and teachers of the Law and the temple priests) resented John--since they viewed themselves as fully righteous through their own good religious works. They saw no need of repentance or of being reminded of their sins. They also were highly suspicious about John the Baptist's announcement of the One coming after him who was even greater than he.
- Read John 1:14-34
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Miles H. Hodges - 2002