Tag Archives: 1 Kings

1 Kings 2 Bloody Beginnings

King David Presenting the Scepter to Solomon By Cornelis de Vos – (1601-1651)

1 Kings 2: 1-12 Final Words and Death of David

1 When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: 2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, 3 and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. 4 Then the LORD will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’

5 “Moreover you know also what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner son of Ner, and Amasa son of Jether, whom he murdered, retaliating in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist, and on the sandals on his feet. 6 Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. 7 Deal loyally, however, with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table; for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from your brother Absalom. 8 There is also with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a terrible curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim; but when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ 9 Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.”

 10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. 11 The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.

Many people when they were growing up were taught a romanticized version of King David and King Solomon, almost like a pre-medieval King Arthur. Yet, the narratives of the bible are often far less romantic than the Sunday school stories that were taught to children. It would be problematic to attempt to use this period at the end of David’s life and the beginning of the reign of King Solomon to teach some type of moralistic lesson. Perhaps it is helpful to remember that woven in with the assumption of the need for a king to provide leadership for the people is the prophetic critique of the places where that leadership does not keep the statues, commandments, ordinances, and testimonies as outlined in the law of Moses. Yet, even in this chapter where the requirements of the law are met and the reactions of Solomon are coherent within the cultural expectations of his time, his actions would not be viewed as acceptable in our very different cultural space.

The final words of David begin in a manner that highlights that this is a narration of history from the perspective of the law and David’s final words can be read in a similar way to Moses’ and Joshua’s final charges to the people. They all are concerned with obedience to the law of God, presumably similar in form to Deuteronomy. David’s charge to Solomon echoes to the recurring words at the beginning of Joshua where the LORD and the people charge Joshua to, “Only be strong and courageous.” (Joshua 1:6,7, 9, 18). Solomon is charged to walk in the way of wisdom, a way that conforms to the vision of God’s commandments and is promised that the reward for that fidelity will be God’s continual provision and protection of the line of Solomon.

Yet, the world that David and Solomon navigate is morally ambiguous. David was a warrior king who consolidated his reign through military might and political maneuvering. As Brueggemann deftly states, “It is enough to recognize that David on his deathbed is a person of deep contradiction and incongruity, caught between the clear claims of faith and the obvious requirements of raw power.” (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 39) A cynical reading of this passage hears David asking Solomon to enact the revenge for political reasons he may have been unable to enact. A more favorable reading hears David alerting Solomon to potential dangers to power early in his reign. The truth may lie somewhere between these perspectives.

Joab son of Zeruiah is a frequent player in David’s narrative as a fierce fighter and commander of the forces of David. Yet, Joab has previously aligned himself with Solomon’s rival Adonijah and although he has always been a supporter of David he has often exercised his own judgment, often neglecting David’s stated desires. Joab was a man of bloodshed and the two incidents listed in David’s final words are times when Joab counteracted David’s negotiations to bring peace after conflict. The narrative of Abner and Joab takes place in 2 Samuel 2-3 where Abner, as the commander of the Saul’s army remains a significant opponent who ends up killing Joab’s brother Asahel. As David becomes stronger and the house of Saul becomes weaker there is a loss of trust between Ishbaal, Saul’s heir, and Abner. Abner’s action to make a covenant with David allows for David to consolidate control over Israel. Yet, when Joab learns of this peace he seeks Abner out and executes him. Amasa son of Jether was appointed over the army of Israel by Absalom when he rebels against his father David and seizes the kingdom for a time. Yet, after the death of Absalom, Amasa is still given a position in the military until Joab kills him. Joab was a man of war and David may have believed that without his removal Solomon would not have known peace. Yet, it is morally ambiguous at best for David to leave this vengeance to his son to enact on a military ally from throughout his lifetime.

Shimei son of Gera may have represented the continued threat of the kingdom splitting apart from loyalists to King Saul, David’s predecessor. This is another instance where David in a moment of military and political vulnerability is forced to make an uneasy peace rather than enact revenge. During the time of Absalom’s rebellion while David and those loyal to him flee Jerusalem, Shimei curses David and throws stones at him. Yet, David at this moment believes this curse may be from the LORD (2: Samuel 16: 10-11). After the death of Absalom, Shimei comes with a thousand men from Benjamin and appeals to the king for forgiveness. David promises Shimei he shall not die, but the presence of one thousand Benjaminites prompts the reader to question if this forgiveness is an act of political necessity which David feels compelled to keep throughout his lifetime. Upon the death of David a cynical reader sees this as revenge delayed where a more compassionate reader might see David pointing out a potential political threat to Solomon’s new rule. Regardless the advice to eliminate two political enemies and the identification of one who Solomon should bestow loyalty to sets the stage for a consolidation of power that is bloody. The peaceful death of King David will not lead to a peaceful beginning for the reign of Solomon.

1 Kings 2: 13-25 The Elimination of Adonijah

13 Then Adonijah son of Haggith came to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother. She asked, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably.” 14 Then he said, “May I have a word with you?” She said, “Go on.” 15 He said, “You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel expected me to reign; however, the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from the LORD. 16 And now I have one request to make of you; do not refuse me.” She said to him, “Go on.” 17 He said, “Please ask King Solomon — he will not refuse you — to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.” 18 Bathsheba said, “Very well; I will speak to the king on your behalf.”

19 So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. The king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. 20 Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.” 21 She said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to your brother Adonijah as his wife.” 22 King Solomon answered his mother, “And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom as well! For he is my elder brother; ask not only for him but also for the priest Abiathar and for Joab son of Zeruiah!” 23 Then King Solomon swore by the LORD, “So may God do to me, and more also, for Adonijah has devised this scheme at the risk of his life! 24 Now therefore as the LORD lives, who has established me and placed me on the throne of my father David, and who has made me a house as he promised, today Adonijah shall be put to death.” 25 So King Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he struck him down, and he died.

Adonijah escaped death in the first chapter when he, Abiathar, and Joab along with the other royal sons and many of the people of standing in Judah proclaimed him king by paying obeisance. He is still a person who is a potential threat to the reign of Solomon. This short political drama between Adonijah, Bathsheba, and Solomon sets in motion a chain of events which removes the participants in the earlier plot to declare Adonijah king while David was still alive. Perhaps the placing of this event after the death of David makes it easier for Solomon to act in a manner that is more ruthless, but it is also a point in Solomon’s reign where his power has not been consolidated and he may be viewed as vulnerable.

Adonijah’s request for Abishag the Shunammite would not be heard primarily in this culture as a man wanting a beautiful woman as a consolation prize for losing the crown. Marriages were economic and political transactions. Although there is perhaps some difference between Abishag’s position and concubines there is still the reality that Abishag was brought in to lay with the king. There are a number of parallels between Adonijah and Absalom as mentioned in the previous chapter, but one of the actions that Absalom did to consolidate his power was to demonstrate his virility by laying with his father’s concubines. Absalom’s act of sexual politics was an act of claiming all that was his father’s. Adonijah’s request may not be as blatant as Absalom’s action but it is an act which would be viewed symbolically as claiming the beautiful woman that belonged to his father, and by extension his father’s household.

Bathsheba’s actions are shrewder in Hebrew than they are often portrayed in English. When approached by Adonijah with this bold request she does not promise to relay the petition, but only that she will speak to the king about you (‘aleyka). The NRSV’s translation that she will speak on Adonijah’s behalf gives a positive spin to her answer, but the Hebrew is more neutral. Bathsheba has already demonstrated in the previous chapter the ability to navigate the political world of the court of King David, and now as the queen mother she is likely shrewd enough to see the implications of Adonijah’s request. It is plausible that her action of making Adonijah’s one request into ‘one small request’ that she is speaking ironically (NIB III: 32). Unfortunately, the ironic tone is not something that the scriptures often communicate in their telling of a narrative. Regardless of how it is communicated Solomon immediately sees the danger in this position and the political import of the requested act.

Solomon understands that his claim is still challenged, and that there are still those with power who are invested in Adonijah’s bid for the crown. Solomon acts quickly and dispatches his commander to kill Adonijah for his audacious request. Solomon’s wisdom is used for power politics as he acts in a bloody matter to consolidate his power. In Solomon’s view Adonijah’s request has proven that he is not a worthy man, but a wicked agitator and his response is without mercy.

The ancient world was violent. This is not the Solomon you may have encountered in the Sunday school lessons at your church, but the scriptures are written in a world of wars, assassinations, and threats. Solomons name is derived from the Hebrew Shalom, and while his reign would be more peaceful than his father David’s it does not begin in a peaceful manner. Solomon claims power by eliminating his potential rivals. Even though modern readers may have idealized the reign of Solomon, there is a prophetic critique written into the narrative of 1 Kings. The narrator of 1 Kings does not indicate either approval or disapproval of these individual acts and this is probably viewed as the narration of the reality into which Solomon entered. Yet, its presence in the scriptures does not indicate that this should be a normative practice for those who still claim this story as a part of their scriptures.

1 Kings 2: 26-27 The Removal of Abiathar the Priest

26 The king said to the priest Abiathar, “Go to Anathoth, to your estate; for you deserve death. But I will not at this time put you to death, because you carried the ark of the Lord GOD before my father David, and because you shared in all the hardships my father endured.” 27 So Solomon banished Abiathar from being priest to the LORD, thus fulfilling the word of the LORD that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.

Abiathar the priest was a loyal servant of King David but he also had aligned himself with Adonijah in his attempt to seize the crown while David was alive. Abiathar is the sole survivor of the murder of the priests at Nob by King Saul and Doeg the Edomite (1 Samuel 22: 6-23) in retribution for giving David the sword of Goliath and the altar bread when he flees. David takes Abiathar into his household and he is loyal to David, even during the rebellion of Absalom. At the same time Abiathar has backed the wrong contender and in light of Adonijah’s recent request King Solomon probably sees Abiathar and Joab continuing to advise Adonijah. In King Solomon’s view Abiathar is deserving of death, but in recognition of his role as priest and his previous allegiance to his father he exiles him to his house in Anathoth. The banishment of Abiathar is also linked to the prophecies against the household of Eli by the man of God in 1 Samuel 2: 27-36 and through Samuel in 1 Samuel 3: 10-14. The removal of Abiathar is the last of the old guard of priests from Shiloh who minister before the LORD in Jerusalem.

1 Kings 2: 28-35 The Elimination of Joab

28 When the news came to Joab — for Joab had supported Adonijah though he had not supported Absalom — Joab fled to the tent of the LORD and grasped the horns of the altar. 29 When it was told King Solomon, “Joab has fled to the tent of the LORD and now is beside the altar,” Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada, saying, “Go, strike him down.” 30 So Benaiah came to the tent of the LORD and said to him, “The king commands, ‘Come out.'” But he said, “No, I will die here.” Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, “Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.” 31 The king replied to him, “Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him; and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. 32 The LORD will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. 33 So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever; but to David, and to his descendants, and to his house, and to his throne, there shall be peace from the LORD forevermore.” 34 Then Benaiah son of Jehoiada went up and struck him down and killed him; and he was buried at his own house near the wilderness. 35 The king put Benaiah son of Jehoiada over the army in his place, and the king put the priest Zadok in the place of Abiathar.

Previously King David encouraged his son to use his wisdom to eliminate Joab. Joab, on seeing the elimination of Adonijah and the exile of Abiathar knows that he is probably the next target of Solomon’s regime. Solomon commands the striking down of Joab even though he has fled to the tent of the LORD seeking sanctuary. Benaiah, on Solomon’s orders, goes to the tent of the LORD to confront Joab but when Joab refuses to emerge Beniah seeks the king’s instructions before entering the tent of God and killing Joab.

There is provision in the law for a person to flee to a place of refuge (in Deuteronomy 19: 1-13 and Joshua 20 there are cities designated as places of refuge) in the event of an accidental death to allow the tribal elders or judges to discern the viability of the case. Yet, Solomon, as instructed by David, knows that Joab is guilty of the murder of Abner son of Ner, and Amasa son of Jether. Although Solomon’s immediate issue is probably with his support of Adonijah (and perhaps continued advisement of Adonijah until Solomon has him executed) the knowledge of his being a killer enables Solomon to order Benaiah to strike Joab down while still conforming to the letter of the law as stated in Exodus 21: 12-14:

 12 Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. 13 If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. 14 But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.

With the central figures that supported Adonijah now dealt with Solomon is able to place his allies Benaiah and Zadok over the military and the priesthood respectively. We can acknowledge the cultural conditions and the reading of the law that make this execution of a bloody justice possible without endorsing this as the type of actions we would want our leaders to take in our own cultural conditions.

1 Kings 2: 36-46 The Confinement and Death of Shimei

36 Then the king sent and summoned Shimei, and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem, and live there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. 37 For on the day you go out, and cross the Wadi Kidron, know for certain that you shall die; your blood shall be on your own head.” 38 And Shimei said to the king, “The sentence is fair; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.” So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days.

39 But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei’s slaves ran away to King Achish son of Maacah of Gath. When it was told Shimei, “Your slaves are in Gath,” 40 Shimei arose and saddled a donkey, and went to Achish in Gath, to search for his slaves; Shimei went and brought his slaves from Gath. 41 When Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and returned, 42 the king sent and summoned Shimei, and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the LORD, and solemnly adjure you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die’? And you said to me, ‘The sentence is fair; I accept.’ 43 Why then have you not kept your oath to the LORD and the commandment with which I charged you?” 44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your own heart all the evil that you did to my father David; so the LORD will bring back your evil on your own head. 45 But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD forever.” 46 Then the king commanded Benaiah son of Jehoiada; and he went out and struck him down, and he died.

So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.

Shimei was the second person that King David told Solomon to use his wisdom to bring about his death. Solomon confines Shimei to his property in Jerusalem and Shimei assents to this house arrest. Shimei remains alive for three years while Solomon reigns but departs to capture two slaves who fled his household. The mention of Achish the King of Gath who Shimei goes to in the search of his slaves may suggest that there is some larger political play in Shimei’s plans, and that may be a part of Solomon’s harsh enforcement of his threat, but it is also possible that Solomon uses this transgression as a way to eliminate one final opponent to his rule. 1 Kings 2 remains a story of Solomon eliminating his rivals. In our modern world we may debate if based upon the witness of 1 Kings 2 whether the situations Solomon uses to eliminate these potential threats is dubious or justified. Either way this chapter is a “fairly sordid story of power politics” (Cogan, 2001, p. 180). Although the actions of Solomon may be permissible under the law of Moses I doubt many modern readers would want to apply this type of ethics to modern politics.

1 Kings 1 An Uneasy Transition from David to Solomon

David, Bathsheba, and Abishag by Fredrick Goodall (1888)

1 Kings 1

1 Kings 1: 1-4 A Feeble King

1 King David was old and advanced in years; and although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. 2 So his servants said to him, “Let a young virgin be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king, and be his attendant; let her lie in your bosom, so that my lord the king may be warm.” 3 So they searched for a beautiful girl throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4 The girl was very beautiful. She became the king’s attendant and served him, but the king did not know her sexually.

The initial chapter of 1 Kings serves as a bridge between the stories of 1 and 2 Samuel which culminates with the reign of King David and the transition to the narrative of the kings that come after David. People in the United States have generally taken for granted a peaceful transition of power and the political machinations of an election and swearing in of new leaders has, with one notable exception recently, been accepted as a matter-of-fact occurrence. The transition of power in the ancient world was often a matter of life and death for those who would claim the power to reign. King David was a warrior king who had forged a unified Israel by both his military prowess and his ability to forge alliances with various religious and tribal authorities.

1 Kings begins with “an enfeebled king, a mere shadow of the robust leader he once was,” (Cogan, 2001, p. 164) and in the absence of a robust leader coalitions are forming. The servants of the king have attempted to keep the king able to maintain power, but his health is failing him. The solution is to bring another young, beautiful woman into the king’s bed to keep him warm and to for her to lie in his bosom. The language of Abishag lying in the king’s bosom may intentionally echo the prophet Nathan’s parable to David after the affair with Bathsheba where the poor man’s ewe lamb “used to lie in his bosom” (2 Samuel 12:3) and if this echo is intentional it may help prepare us for the awkward conversation between David and Bathsheba while Abishag is warming the king’s bed.

David as a roughly seventy-year-old man is no longer physically able to hold the kingdom together and his physical frailty and lack of clear succession sets the stage for the conflict of the chapter. The chapter is a political narrative about the effective and ineffective use of symbols and alliances to gain power. It also lives in the shadows of the sins of the past which have weakened David’s house and the central presence of Nathan and Bathsheba throughout this episode as well as the parallels between Adonijah and Absalom bring us to the place where an enfeebled king is no longer able to effectively hold his broken house together. David remains passive as the conflict between those who see Adonijah and Solomon as the next king begins.

1 Kings 1: 5-10 Adonijah’s Bold Claim to Power

5 Now Adonijah son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king”; he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. 6 His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. 7 He conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with the priest Abiathar, and they supported Adonijah. 8 But the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the prophet Nathan, and Shimei, and Rei, and David’s own warriors did not side with Adonijah.

9 Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fatted cattle by the stone Zoheleth, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, 10 but he did not invite the prophet Nathan or Benaiah or the warriors or his brother Solomon.

The perspective of 1 Kings is a complicated question, but in this initial chapter it frames the person and actions of Adonijah in a way that is parallel to Absalom (Israel, 2013, pp. 18-19). Both Absalom and Adonijah are described as being attractive men (2 Samuel 14:25) and this physical attraction is a part of their appeal as the future king (and a reason for David’s failure to correct his sons). Both Absalom and Adonijah attempt to secure the crown by their own machinations while David still lives, and each is the next in line by birth order. Both sons will have chariots and runners to demonstrate their power in the city (2 Samuel 15:1) and the presence of both chariots (the military technology of the day) and runners who were often counted on as loyal bodyguards indicate the military strength to defend his claim. Adonijah has developed a power base of both religious and military leaders and is actively excluding those who he feels may pose a challenge to his ascension as the next king. The act of sacrificing and dining with the royal sons (sans Solomon) the royal officials of Judah is a political action designed to further his aspirations of ruling in his father’s stead. One powerful claimant to the throne has been introduced and the enfeebled king has done nothing to oppose the actions of his attractive son and may be unaware of the machinations occurring in his kingdom.

1 Kings: 1: 11-37 Nathan and Bathsheba Rouse King David to Action

11 Then Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, “Have you not heard that Adonijah son of Haggith has become king and our lord David does not know it?

 12 Now therefore come, let me give you advice, so that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne? Why then is Adonijah king?’ 14 Then while you are still there speaking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words.”

15 So Bathsheba went to the king in his room. The king was very old; Abishag the Shunammite was attending the king. 16 Bathsheba bowed and did obeisance to the king, and the king said, “What do you wish?” 17 She said to him, “My lord, you swore to your servant by the LORD your God, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne. 18 But now suddenly Adonijah has become king, though you, my lord the king, do not know it. 19 He has sacrificed oxen, fatted cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the children of the king, the priest Abiathar, and Joab the commander of the army; but your servant Solomon he has not invited. 20 But you, my lord the king — the eyes of all Israel are on you to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. 21 Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his ancestors, that my son Solomon and I will be counted offenders.”

22 While she was still speaking with the king, the prophet Nathan came in. 23 The king was told, “Here is the prophet Nathan.” When he came in before the king, he did obeisance to the king, with his face to the ground. 24 Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne’? 25 For today he has gone down and has sacrificed oxen, fatted cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s children, Joab the commander of the army, and the priest Abiathar, who are now eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ 26 But he did not invite me, your servant, and the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon. 27 Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not let your servants know who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?”

28 King David answered, “Summon Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence, and stood before the king. 29 The king swore, saying, “As the LORD lives, who has saved my life from every adversity, 30 as I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ so will I do this day.” 31 Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground, and did obeisance to the king, and said, “May my lord King David live forever!”

32 King David said, “Summon to me the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.” When they came before the king, 33 the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and have my son Solomon ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. 34 There let the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet, and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ 35 You shall go up following him. Let him enter and sit on my throne; he shall be king in my place; for I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah.” 36 Benaiah son of Jehoiada answered the king, “Amen! May the LORD, the God of my lord the king, so ordain. 37 As the LORD has been with my lord the king, so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David.”

The prophet Nathan and Bathsheba act to attempt to undercut the ambitions of Adonijah and to forward Bathsheba’s son Solomon as the next king of Israel. Together they come up with a plan to approach David and remind the king of his previous oath that Solomon would reign. Some commentators are dubious about this oath since it is not mentioned in 2 Samuel and believe that the prophet and Solomon’s mother are taking advantage of the king’s weakened mental faculties. While that is a possible interpretation, the David presented in the text will respond decisively and order a set of actions that are both clear and significant to ensure that Solomon is recognized by the people as the new king. David may have withdrawn from the administration of the kingdom due to his health, but when confronted by Nathan and Bathsheba he acts quickly.

Bathsheba enters the bedroom of the king while Abishag is attending to him. Bathsheba comes and does obeisance to the king and is granted the space to make her plea. Bathsheba’s plea comes from the perspective that the king is unaware of the actions of his son Adonijah that contradict his promises to her under oath. Bathsheba makes the reasonable claim that if Adonijah ascends to the throne she and Solomon will be perceived as ‘offenders’ or enemies of the throne and their lives will be at risk. As Nathan indicated while Bathsheba makes her appeal he also approaches the room of the king and is announced. The prophet Nathan confronts the king questioning his knowledge and at least tacit approval of Adonijah’s actions and lists several of the major political players who are now declaring that Adonijah is king. The acclamation, “long live Adonijah” (rendered by the NRSV king Adonijah) is the typical acclamation of a person who has been declared king. Apparently Bathsheba has left the room while the prophet Nathan has reported to the king, but King David summons her back and affirms his previous oath and declares that he will make it official this day.

David is apparently aware enough to summon the officials who are loyal to Solomon and who are not with Adonijah. The action of Solomon riding on King David’s mule is symbolic but also sends a different image than the chariots and runners of Adonijah. This is image of a king of peace riding on a mule or donkey will become an important prophetic image and will shape the action of Jesus in his approach to Jerusalem. Yet, Solomon is surrounded by those of religious and military power. They anoint him at Gihon, the central water source of the city so that it may be seen by many in the city. This is a very public action that King David decrees and then the symbolism is increased by having Solomon take his seat upon David’s throne. David, who has never acted to displease his son Adonijah in the past, now acts decisively and quickly once he is confronted by Bathsheba and Nathan.

Bathsheba and Nathan in this scene make their decisive reemergence after a long period of silence in the story of David. Both are central figures in a story where David’s actions to sleep with Bathsheba and ordering the death in combat of her husband Uriah to cover his actions bring about a judgment delivered by the prophet Nathan of both the death of their first son and the future unrest in David’s household. Yet, Nathan also delivers a message that God favors Solomon (2 Samuel 12:25) before he, Bathsheba, and Solomon recede into the background of the story as David struggles with the discord in his household and unrest in his reign. Yet, as David’s reign reaches its twilight Nathan and Bathsheba reemerge in the story to prepare for the ascension of Solomon.

1 Kings 1: 38-40 The Anointing of Solomon

38 So the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule, and led him to Gihon. 39 There the priest Zadok took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up following him, playing on pipes and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth quaked at their noise.

Adonijah had initiated an act of political theater to rally support for his claim to reign in David’s stead, but now the allies of Solomon, on King David’s instructions, have their own set of symbolically significant actions in the presence of the people to place Solomon on the throne. The priest and the prophet, the military leader and the servants of David place Solomon on David’s mule and lead him to Gihon. The Cherethites and the Pelethites are likely David’s own warriors indicated in 1:8 but they may also be mercenaries who provide “muscle for the throne a popular support ebbs.” (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 18) Solomon may symbolically be riding a mule instead of a chariot, but he is not without the military might to uphold his claim. In contrast to the action of Adonijah which takes place with the leaders outside of the city, this is done in the midst of the people of Jerusalem and the anointment and blowing of the trumpet to signal Solomon’s appointment as the new king is met with the declaration of the people declaring Solomon king and breaking into a spontaneous celebration. The city erupts into celebration and this joyous noise disrupts the gathering outside of town.

1 Kings 1: 41-53 Adonijah Concedes to Solomon

41 Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they finished feasting. When Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he said, “Why is the city in an uproar?” 42 While he was still speaking, Jonathan son of the priest Abiathar arrived. Adonijah said, “Come in, for you are a worthy man and surely you bring good news.” 43 Jonathan answered Adonijah, “No, for our lord King David has made Solomon king; 44 the king has sent with him the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and they had him ride on the king’s mule; 45 the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan have anointed him king at Gihon; and they have gone up from there rejoicing, so that the city is in an uproar. This is the noise that you heard. 46 Solomon now sits on the royal throne. 47 Moreover the king’s servants came to congratulate our lord King David, saying, ‘May God make the name of Solomon more famous than yours, and make his throne greater than your throne.’ The king bowed in worship on the bed 48 and went on to pray thus, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who today has granted one of my offspring to sit on my throne and permitted me to witness it.'”

49 Then all the guests of Adonijah got up trembling and went their own ways. 50 Adonijah, fearing Solomon, got up and went to grasp the horns of the altar. 51 Solomon was informed, “Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon; see, he has laid hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me first that he will not kill his servant with the sword.'” 52 So Solomon responded, “If he proves to be a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the ground; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” 53 Then King Solomon sent to have him brought down from the altar. He came to do obeisance to King Solomon; and Solomon said to him, “Go home.”

Adonijah has been playing a dangerous game and he was outmaneuvered politically by Nathan and Bathsheba. Adonijah likely saw King David’s lack of previous condemnation as a tacit approval of his actions or signs of the king’s lack of awareness of power. David’s instructions carried out publicly by Nathan the prophet, Zadok the priest, Benaiah and with the physical presence of the Cherethites and the Pelethites is met with public acclamation. When Jonathan, a man of worth,[1] reports in detail the proceedings in the city. The repetition of the details in the story reinforces the significance of the actions but Jonathan is also aware of the words of King David to affirm this from his bed. King David may be physically weak, but his position still holds power over the people and his blessing of the LORD for allowing Solomon to sit upon his throne adds the intimation of divine approval.

The actions on behalf of Solomon sends shockwaves through the assembled allies of Adonijah. Realizing that they have been outmaneuvered they retreat from the gathering and try to distance themselves from Adonijah. Adonijah recognizes the precarious nature of his position and flees to the temple for sanctuary, clinging to the horns of the altar. Solomon will either have to grant him clemency or spill blood on the altar. Solomon grants him an opportunity to prove himself loyal but the cost of any perceived action that would be harmful to Solomon’s authority will result in Adonijah’s death. Adonijah comes and bows down before Solomon before being sent home. The narrative is not concluded yet and Solomon will have to make choices in the future to secure his position, but the first chapter has moved us from the reign of King David to the new era under King Solomon in an initially bloodless transition.

 

[1] The Hebrew ‘is hayil is a person of economic and social status.

Transitioning into First Kings

Isaak Asknaziy, Vanita vanitatum et omnia vanitas (19th Century)

Like the book of Judges, which is the most recent book I completed my work through, the narrative of First Kings is a part of what scholars call the Deuteronomic History since it views the story of Israel through the perspective of the covenantal vision of the book of Deuteronomy. First and Second Kings were initially a common book, the book of Kings, which was later divided into two books in our current divisions. The book of Kings as a whole narrates the story beginning with the reign of King Solomon, to the division of the kingdom into Judah and Israel, or the northern Kingdom of Israel, and then the recurring pattern of unfaithful rulers, with a few good rulers who attempt to reform the people, which eventually lead to the northern kingdom’s destruction by the Assyrian empire in 721 BCE and the Babylonian empire’s conquering of Judah in roughly 587 BCE. First Kings, which covers roughly half of the original combined book, begins with Solomon, narrates the secession of the northern tribes when Rehoboam fails to listen to the cries of the people and continues through the kings of Judah and Israel until the Omri dynasty in the north and the emergence of the prophet Elijah to challenge the unfaithfulness of King Ahab.

In the Jewish division of the Hebrew Scriptures the Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel, and 1&2 Kings) are all grouped with the prophets. They are history viewed through a theological lens and with the intention of looking backwards to understand the situation of the people in exile. There is a tradition of associating these books with Jeremiah, and they do share a common worldview. It is a helpful process of looking backward upon the history of a people critically to attempt to bring meaning to the present crisis.

I do these reflections in a semi-random order and so I have skipped the narratives of Samuel, Saul, and David in first and second Samuel. I may at some point go back and walk through these narratives, but the time period of the kings after Solomon is also a time period I am less familiar with. The perspective of First Kings is somewhat difficult to discern. On the one hand it is a part of a collection of books that specifically deals with the dynasty of kings and understands those kings as an integral part of the story of Israel. The presence of a Davidic king in Judah maintains a symbolically important place throughout the books. At the same time the book includes several critiques of the kings, even kings that would be viewed as successful in many other respects. Solomon begins well, but eventually abandons the wisdom of God for accumulation and adopts the practices of his many wives in worshipping other gods. The assessment of individual kings is often summarized by phrases like, “He committed all the sins that his father did before him; his heart was not true to the LORD his God like the heart of his father David.” (1 Kings 15:3 referring to Abijam, son of Rehoboam, son of Solomon).

I grew up with the stories in First Kings, but I have not ever spent any sustained reflection upon this book. I would assume this is true of most Christian pastors, and more broadly most Christians. I am not sure what this journey will uncover, but I enter it with humility and interest. I do trust that there is wisdom to be found in this reflection upon this time of kings and prophets, of struggle and division, of unfaithful leaders and a God who desires a faithful people.

Matthew 1: 1-17 How the Story Begins

Jesse Tree Window from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Matthew 1: 1-17

1 An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

This is not the way we would begin a story today. If you are like most modern readers when you reach the numerous genealogies in the bible you either skip them entirely or skim them quickly and move along but I want to invite you to slow down a dwell here for a little bit. The way we tell our stories matter. As a person who has grown up during the end of the twentieth century and has lived much of my adult life in the twenty first, I grew expecting stories to tell me about the person who crafted their own path through life. Our stories are of self-made men and women who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and though they may be aided by others along their heroic quest for a position, power, wealth, the love of a man or woman, or in the realm of both fiction and occasionally nonfiction to save the world, we follow the development of the man (frequently) or woman (less frequently) as they encounter struggle, as they grow and develop their identity and in most of our stories overcome the incredible odds stacked against them to succeed. The stories we read also shape the way we understand our own lives and the culture in which we live in profound ways.

It wasn’t very long ago, in the realm of history, that people thought very differently about their stories. There has been a massive philosophical shift in the way we understand who we are and how we construct our lives. One of the great gifts of my job is getting to listen to people’s stories and over the last fifteen years as a pastor I’ve had the opportunity to hear many stories of people from across the spectrum of experiences and from the past several generations. We are losing the last generation of people believed their stories were handed on to them by their parents and by the expectations of the society around them. Particularly women of that generation had very few opportunities to choose from: their main choices included being a mother, teacher, secretary or nurse. I can celebrate that my own daughter will have a seemingly endless set of possible career and lifestyle paths before her, and many of these new choices came through decades of struggles of women (with some men as allies) trying to break through many of the barriers set before them. Yet, there is a psychological toll that has come from the new responsibility that people feel in creating their own stories.

We once received our identity from our parents and from the society around us. Modern beliefs in social mobility where we are capable of charting our own paths and creating our own future are modern beliefs, they are not timeless. One of the struggles of people today is spending our lives attempting to figure out who we are and searching for a life that is worth living, rather than accepting that our parents and grandparents would pass on to us the life we would live. My father was a firefighter and my mother worked for a bank, my parents were both very intelligent but neither had the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s degree out of high school. They both would work their way up through their respective workplaces and through life, but the life they pursued would be very different from the life that I would have. Another change I experienced, partially due to education and career choices, was frequently moving to new areas of the country. My parents once they settled in San Antonio continued to work there throughout their adult lives. My son grew up living in Louisiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and finally graduated high school in Texas. The days where most employees will work for one company throughout their careers or only hold one type of job until they retire are nearly gone. Companies no longer offer the type of guarantees they once did for their employees, the technological landscape has changed things dramatically to where workers will be continually expected to learn new skills throughout their lives and most critically the responsibility for navigating all of this has been increasingly placed on the individual in the workforce rather than the employer.

Why this matters to hearing the story Matthew’s gospel wants us to hear is highlighted at the very beginning of the gospel. How we begin a narrative gives the reader a clue to the story we are about to tell. If I begin a story, ‘once upon a time’ you know I am most likely beginning a fairy tale, or if the first thing you see is a date and place you might suspect I am going to narrate a historical tale (December 7, 1941 in Hawaii might be used to start a story with the United States involvement in World War II). Beginnings matter and each of the four gospels has their own unique way of beginning the story. Mark’s gospel simply announces, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” launches into a composite quotation of scripture and then launches into the story with John the Baptist appearing in the wilderness. Luke’s gospel begins with an address to a reader, Theophilius (who may be a real or fictional reader, Theophilius means ‘friend of God’) letting us know that what is to come is an orderly account of the life of Jesus received from eyewitnesses and then begins by fixing the time telling us we are in the time of King Herod of Judea. John’s gospel begins with the poetic prologue, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ John’s poetic introduction wants us to understand the significance of the one referred to throughout the gospel. Matthew’s gospel begins with a genealogy.

Although there is a rediscovered fascination with genealogy, for most of us we look at the first seventeen verses of Matthew’s gospel and wonder why the story would begin this way. We may rush forward to the second half of the chapter where we move towards the birth of Jesus but I want to encourage us to slow down and listen to the story being told by the beginning of the gospel in the way Matthew chooses. There are things that this beginning gives us important information about that will shape the way in which the rest of the story is to be heard. Remember that for most of history identities have been inherited. The people we are is due to the life that our parents and grandparents lived. As Matthew begins his story he enters into a story that has been woven for dozens of generations, it is a story of the Jewish people. From the very beginning this is a Jewish gospel and we are placed into the long running story that Matthew chooses to begin with Abraham. It is a story of struggle, triumph and failure, of faithfulness and unfaithfulness. It is not a perfect story but it is the story of the relationship between God and the people of Israel, and in particular Judah, and even though we enter a critical juncture in the story what comes from this point forward is related to what came before.

Before I enter into the genealogy itself, I want to state that I believe there is a lot to learn from this way of telling a story. Although we may celebrate stories of self-made men and women they rarely are what they appear. To use the example of the last two stories of the men who were elected President of the United States: one was incredibly wealthy and told his story in a way that he started with a loan from his father which he turned into a vast empire, one was the son of a divorced mother who would study at Columbia University and then Harvard Law School and move from community organizing into politics. The reality is that both of their stories is far more complex than this and both received assistance form their extended family networks in starting and continuing their stories. In my own case my parents made it possible for me and for my sisters to start our careers by attending college and they would assist each of us in various ways throughout the beginning of our adult lives. Our families may provide a more secure launching point and supporting role in our lives than we often acknowledge. On the other hand, families will pass on disfunction from one generation to another as well. You don’t have to spend very long looking into Family Systems models of understanding therapy to see patterns emerge that often go unseen. Values and biases are handed down, often unconsciously, from generation to generation. Our families can be sources of great support or they may damage us psychologically, and often they are a mixture of both. The social situation our families grow up within also dramatically shapes our values and ways at looking at the world. None of this even begins to approach the cultural, religious and social ways that school systems, communities of faith, neighborhoods, and countless other factors imprint upon our identities their values and beliefs. Our stories are far more complex than the narratives we often try to place them within. Our story began long before we took our first breath, it depends upon the family we are born into and the world we encounter even before we take our first breath.

Matthew reminds us of this Jewish story and the way he narrates this genealogy is important. On the one hand he structures the genealogy in patterns of fourteen to communicate that at each juncture there is a critical event in the story and the story of Jesus is the next crucial event in this running narrative. If we tell the story of our family we often do it in a way that highlights the best aspects of that family to bring honor and glory to ourselves and we often bury the portions that embarrass us. Sometimes this inability to talk about the unspoken secrets in the family does unspeakable harm because the patterns that emerge are never discussed, and so I find the way that Matthew relates the story of Jesus’ heritage refreshing. Matthew not only brings up the family secrets in these verses they are highlighted.

The Genesis of Jesus the Messiah

Beginning with verse one we have a linkage back to the very beginning of the story of God and God’s people. Throughout the genealogy we will be given a clue that the story that comes afterwards will be a Jewish story but one told within the expansive horizon of the call of Abraham (Abram) expressed in Genesis 12: 1-3:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

The linkage with the story of Abraham isn’t only highlighted by Abraham’s primary position within the genealogy but also by the language of verse one which uses the Greek word genesis for genealogy. In this story not only will the children of Abraham or the children of Israel, his grandson, be blessed but this is a narrative in which all the families of the earth shall be blessed. This blessing is highlighted by an unusual addition to the normal patterns of genealogies.

The Women of Matthew’s Genealogy

The role of women in the society continues to change. Although we still have a long way to go in giving women an equal voice, the status of women in modern society is viewed much higher than would’ve been imagined in most ancient societies. The role of women in the Hebrew scriptures is complex: there are times where women occupy positions of extremely high positions, the women in the early stories in Genesis often are incredibly influential in how the stories are told, in Exodus women are often instrumental in resisting the decrees of Pharaoh, and there are stories, like those highlighted in the genealogy, where women boldly act to secure their own future and their own part of the story. Yet, the assumed role of women in the Hebrew scriptures is that they are the property of their fathers and then their husbands. When their voice is heard it is the exception, not the rule. In Matthew’s genealogy they will also be the exception, not the rule, but as it is throughout the remainder of Matthew’s gospel when they appear they are the outsider making a place for themselves among the promises of God. Like the Canaanite woman they refused to allow their circumstances to determine their future, they forced the men of the story to acknowledge their claim and they made a space for a more expansive reading of the boundaries of God’s promises to the people.

The narrative begins with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Although Matthew doesn’t mention the women of most of the story of Genesis (Sarah and Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah) Jewish people would know these stories. Yet, as we enter the story of Judah we encounter our first woman mentioned in the genealogy: Tamar. Matthew could have chosen to not mention this woman, he chose to exclude Sarah, Rebekah and Leah before her, especially as he links Jesus to the line of Judah, but he does. He highlights this lesser know story of Tamar and Judah, an odd story of a woman who refuses to be left out of the story.

The story of Judah and Tamar is told in Genesis 38. Tamar is most likely a Canaanite woman, like Judah’s wife who bears his first three sons, who is given to be the wife of Er the first son of Judah. Er does not live long enough to pass on an heir through Tamar, Genesis makes the theological claim that Er was wicked in the eyes of the LORD and the LORD caused his early death. According to custom Judah’s second son, Onan, was now to take on the role of husband for her and to continue the family line for his brother through her. Yet Onan refused to get Tamar pregnant because the inheritance would pass to his brother’s line instead of his and again Genesis tells us that this displeased God and that God caused him also to have an early death. Judah, fearing to give his last son to this woman who was probably viewed as cursed in some manner, promised her that when his last son was an adult she would be his wife but the promised union never came and she remained a widow in her father’s household. After Judah’s wife, the unnamed daughter of Shua, dies Tamar takes actions into her own hands. She sees that the final son, Shelah, had grown and she was not given to be his bride so she puts aside her widow’s garments, places a veil upon her face and waits. Judah, passing through the area, assumes she is a prostitute and sleeps with her giving her his signet and cord and staff as a guarantee of payment. Then Tamar returns to her father’s home, takes up her widow’s garments and Judah is unable to find the person he assumed was a prostitute to pay her the promised young goat from the flock. Three months later when it is discovered she is pregnant Judah goes to demand that she is punished for her infidelity by burning her, but through her father-in-law she produces the signet and cord and staff indicating that Judah is the father. Judah’s acknowledgment that, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her my son Shelah.” She would bear Perez and Zerah who the line of Judah would pass through. Like the one who will enter Matthew’s gospel in Matthew 15: 21-28, who is told that there is no place in the promise for her she will claim her own place, her own righteousness, her own promise. It may not be a story that brings great honor to Judah, yet it highlights the way in which the promise will be extended to her and she becomes the first of the women highlighted in Matthew’s story of Jesus heritage that points to an inclusive vision of what this story might become.

The genealogy continues through four more generations as we move through a time where the story of these generations disappear. Hezron, Aram, Aminadab, and Nahshon are a part of the lost generations from the time in Egypt and the first generation of the Exodus. One thing to understand about the genealogy is that it doesn’t necessarily include every piece of the story and it is possible that some of these generations truly were lost in the four hundred thirty years that the Israelites are recorded living in Egypt from when Joseph brought his brothers down until Moses liberated the people. While there is a lot that happens in the story of Israel through Moses, Aaron, and Miriam the lineage of Jesus’ father Joseph does not pass through the line of Levi but through the line of Judah. We will see how Jesus takes up the mantle and story of Moses and the Exodus shortly in Matthew’s gospel, but currently we are following the line of the kings of Judah, their story and the story that Jesus narrative is a part of.

As we exit these lost generations we come to Salmon and Rahab in this long line that is introducing us to the family story of Jesus. Once again, a woman is mentioned and once again she is an outsider. Rahab, in Joshua 2, is a recorded as a prostitute who welcomes the two unnamed spies of Joshua into her home and hides them from servants of the king of Jericho. Salmon may be one of these unnamed spies but the narrative of Joshua is silent on his name but records Rahab’s. She hides the two spies among the flax laid out on the roof but she is recorded relating to them:

I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. As soon as we heard it our hearts melted and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The LORD your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below. (Joshua 2: 9-11)

In return for hiding them from the king’s servants, sending the king’s servants in the wrong direction to pursue them and providing them with a way out of the city and a way to avoid capture the two men promise to preserve her and her family if she ties a crimson cord in the window she let them escape through. When the Israelites come to the city of Jericho, Joshua instructs the two young men who were spies to bring Rahab and her household out, which they do, and they are spared. They are initially set outside the camp, but they come to be a part of Israel. As Joshua reports, “Her family has lived in Israel ever since.” (Joshua 6: 25)

Scholars have since debated whether Rahab was a prostitute or whether she kept an inn and there is within some Christian circles a discomfort with accepting the possibility of a prostitute being an integral part of the story of the people of God. Yet, throughout the gospel, Jesus will be accused of associating with the wrong type of people. Prostitution was also looked upon differently in the ancient world than we do today. If you ask most Christians what they think adultery is they will tell you it is, ‘sex outside of marriage’ but it is much more complicated than that in ancient Judaism. Adultery in the Hebrew Scriptures is related to sex with someone who belongs to someone else, whether a husband, a betrothed, or even a father and while prostitution was considered an occupation that a father was not to sell his daughter into, it was an accepted part of society. Prostitutes may have been considered ‘sinners’ and there are certainly portions of the bible that use prostitution as a metaphor for what is wrong in the worship or life of Israel, the metaphor works because the practice is well known. Still, to have Rahab, an outsider and one recorded in both the Hebrew Scriptures and in the two additional places she is mentioned in the New Testament (Hebrews 11: 31 and James 2: 5) as a prostitute who is highlighted in the lineage of Jesus’ family and story and like Tamar she creates a path for her story to be joined to the story of the people of Israel and ultimately to the story of Jesus.

Our story resumes with the mention of another woman, another outsider, and yet a story which has its own book dedicated to it in the scriptures. Boaz is the son of Nahshon and Rahab, a Canaanite former resident of Jericho, and he will end up marrying Ruth the Moabitess. Ruth’s story is better known than Tamar or Rahab, and yet it also is somewhat scandalous. Ruth has to create a place for herself within the story of Israel and within the family line of Judah. Ruth is a widow and a daughter-in-law of Naomi. Naomi and her husband Elimelech move during a famine to Moab to survive. While they are there they are apparently met with hospitality and arrange marriages for their two sons to Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Elimelech dies and ten years late Naomi’s sons Mahlon and Chilion (whose names may be symbolic in the story since they come from Hebrew roots for ‘sickness’ and ‘destruction’) also die leaving their wives widows as well. Naomi encourages her daughters-in-law to return to their family but Ruth refuses and returns with Naomi, now renaming herself Mara (bitter), and both Naomi and Ruth seem to have no future. Ruth uses the provision in the law which requires the leavings of the field to be available for the poor and goes out to glean during the barley harvest where she is seen and noticed by Boaz who extends his protection and ensures that she has an adequate gleaning. In his words he is returning the kindness she has shown for Naomi and he blesses her for seeking refuge under the wings of the LORD, the God of Israel. Naomi plots with Ruth to attempt to secure a future for them both after the conclusion of the harvest by having Ruth go and observe where Boaz lies down after threshing, eating and drinking. Ruth is putting herself at Boaz’ mercy and Ruth propositions Boaz, asking for him to extend his cloak over her and symbolically bringing her into his house as his wife. Boaz settles the matter the next day, takes over the role of not only kinsman-redeemer but husband of Ruth. Ruth the Moabitess, like Tamar and Rahab before her, would make a place for herself in the people of Israel and in the line of Judah that would lead to her great-grandson, King David.

The line from Boaz and Ruth to David is listed in both the book of Ruth and here in Matthew. David’s role within the Hebrew Scriptures transcends his individual story because he becomes almost an Arthurian character in the imagination of the people, a once and future king. King David’s dynasty would be near the apex of a very short period where the people of Israel were a unified people and they were active players on the world stage. The Son of David will be one of the titles often used for Jesus indicating his royal status. Yet, David’s story is full of drama, far more than can be mentioned in this brief coverage, but one critical moment is highlighted by the introduction of our fourth woman in this genealogy, a woman the genealogy doesn’t name directly but rather indirectly in a way that highlights the scandal of David’s action against both Uriah and Bathsheba.

David’s notice of Bathsheba bathing upon the rooftops and the set of deceptions and betrayals his lying with her leads to is one of many troubling parts of David’s story. Uriah the Hittite is one of several outsiders who fought in David’s army and Bathsheba may have been a Hittite as well or may have been of another group or even a part of Israel, yet she was the wife of this warrior in David’s army and presumably (by the location of his house so close to the house of David) one of his well respected warriors. Bathsheba has often been portrayed as a temptress attempting to seduce David, but this probably is not accurate. David as king had the power to have her brought to him and she presumably had little ability to resist the king’s desires. Whether the union was rape or consensual the scriptures place the responsibility completely on David’s shoulders. When David is unable to cover up his part in Bathsheba’s pregnancy due to the honorable action of Uriah the Hittite, David gives orders for Uriah to be killed in battle by positioning him in the hardest portion of the fight and then abandoning him for his enemies to overwhelm him. Yet, Bathsheba will later ensure that the kingship will pass from David to her son Solomon instead of Adonijah. Bathsheba may not have had any choice about being brought into the story of King David, but once she was a part of that story, she refused to allow the line of kings to pass through anyone other than her son. She may have been an outsider and her place within the story certainly illustrates one of the scandalous portions of David’s rule as king, and yet she too would ensure that the story would not forget her or her original husband.

For the first fourteen generations listed in Matthew, I have included where their story is referenced in the Hebrew Scriptures here.

The Line of Kings and the Line of Nobodies

The first fourteen generations led us from Abraham to King David and even though there are some lost generations in this portion of the genealogy we enter the remaining two sections that I will refer to as the line of kings and the line of nobodies. David’s son, Solomon, will oversee what is recorded as the height of power of the United Kingdom of Israel but this will not last. Solomon is known by many Christians for his wisdom and the construction of the temple, yet all throughout 1 Kings’ narrative of Solomon’s reign there is an underlying criticism of Solomon’s drift away from faithfulness to the LORD the God of Israel. 1 Kings makes a theological judgement that it is God who is behind the increasing resistance at the end of Solomon’s reign. When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam is asked for relief from the heavy burdens placed upon the people during Solomon’s reign and he responds in a way that indicated he would increase the burdens on the people the kingdom splits in two with most of Israel following Jeroboam and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remaining under Rehoboam and the Davidic line of kings.

The story of the kings of Israel and Judah can be a little challenging to follow and Matthew doesn’t list every king who would be in the family line of Jesus, there is also a theological point Matthew wants to make about God’s time and the orderliness of the number fourteen gives the genealogy its structure, but the kings that are listed are representative of the best and worst of the kings of Judah. I have provided a quick guide to the line of the kings of Judah here linking both to the narrative tellings of their reigns in 1&2 Kings and the parallel narratives in 1&2 Chronicles and, when applicable, to which prophets were ministering and writing during their reign. Although the Davidic line of kings will be a focal point in the hope of the book of Psalms, the prophets and the narrative of the scriptures, the kings of Judah will be deposed by Babylon and we will enter the line of nobodies.

The final fourteen people in the genealogy have no reference in scripture other than in this genealogy, they are a part of the lost generations who lived in exile in Babylon and who, at least in part, returned to Judea and Galilee in the years after Cyrus the Great of Persia allows for the remnant of Judah to resettle Jerusalem and the surrounding area. We simply do not know their stories, perhaps people in Matthew’s community may have known some of their stories but they are a line of nobodies in the remembrance of scripture. Yet, these nobodies and kings, patriarchs and the women who forced their way into the story make up the back story that Matthew sets his story within.

Luke 3: 23-28 also lists a genealogy for Jesus but it is not a parallel to Matthew’s genealogy. Luke’s genealogy starts earlier but also traces a different path from David to Joseph. Ultimately, there is no way to historically verify which genealogy is closer to the parentage of Jesus and both ultimately serve the story that each gospel writer wants to tell. For Matthew the linkage to the stories of Abraham, the women mentioned, and the line of David are important, where Luke wants us to understand Jesus’ linkage of God and all of humanity. Also, for Matthew the orderly pattern of fourteen allows us to see that Jesus is a closing of the chapter of exile and powerlessness that begins with he deportation into Babylon and the beginning of a new chapter for the people of God.

The Line of Kings in Matthew compared with the Hebrew Scriptures

Giovanni Francesco Barberi (il Guercino), King David (1651)

United Kingdom of Israel

David (1010-970 BCE)

Replaced Saul,

Narrative of David runs from 1 Samuel 16-1 Kings 1 in the 1 &2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 1 Chronicles 11-22 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. David is attributed as the author of much of the book of Psalms and is mentioned frequently throughout the scriptures as a model of what a king should be and as a figure from which the hope for the people will come.

 

  1. Solomon (970-922 BCE)

Narrative of Solomon is told in 1 Kings 3-11 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 1 Chronicles 11-22 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Solomon is the attributed author of some of the Psalms, the book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs (although he is probably not the author of these varied works as judged by the language). Builds the first temple, initially favored by God but there is an underlying critique of Solomon’s reign in the scriptures and he eventually turns away from the way of the Lord.

Kingdom of Judah

  1. Rehoboam (922-915)

Narrative of Rehoboam is told in 1 Kings 12, 14:21-31 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 9-12 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. He is viewed as an unwise and unfaithful king whose arrogance causes a split in the nation of Israel.

 

  1. Abijah (Abijam) (915-913)

Narrative of Abijah (Abijam)is told in 1 Kings 15: 1-8 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 13 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Kings and Chronicles have a very different view of Abijah, Kings narrates that he continued in the sins of his father (Rehoboam) while Chronicles narrates him as a heroic figure that defies the king of Israel.

 

  1. Asa (Asaph in Matthew) (913-873)

Narrative of Asa is told in 15: 9-24 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 13-16 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. His 41-year reign is viewed positively in both chronicles and he is viewed as a person who does what is right in the sight of the LORD. His only other mention is as the creator of the cistern into which the prophet Jeremiah will be thrown into (long after Asa’s death)

 

  1. Jehoshapat (873-849)

Narrative of Jehoshapat is told in 1 Kings 22: 41-50 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 17-20 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. His 25 years reign is also viewed positively in both narratives.

 

  1. Jehoram (Joram in Matthew) (849-843)

Narrative of Jehoram is told in 2 Kings 8: 16-24 the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 21 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Viewed as a king who betrayed the reforms of his father and grandfather and returned the people to worshipping other gods. Elijah the prophet enters the narrative during the reign of Jehoram.

 

Ahaziah (843-842) neglected in Matthew’s genealogy

Narrative of Ahaziah is told in 2 Kings 8: 23-29, 9:27 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 22 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. His one-year reign is viewed negatively in both narratives and he is killed by Jehu son of Nimshi. With only reigning one year it is perhaps an understandable negation from Matthew’s line, but the genealogy would go through Ahaziah.

 

Athaliah (842-837) neglected in Matthew’s genealogy

Mother of Ahaziah, seizes the throne after her son’s murder. Narrative of Athaliah is told in 2 Kings 11 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 22:10-23:21 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Joash is preserved in the line of kings after she orders the death of royal family of Judah.  Since Athaliah was a queen rather than a king this wouldn’t normally appear in a genealogy. However, Matthew did include several women previously who would normally be overlooked.

 

Joash (837-800) neglected in Matthew’s genealogy

Narrative of Joash is told in 2 Kings 11:4-12, 17-21 and 12: 1-21 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 24 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Joash is kept alive and mentored by the priest Jehoiada and for most of his life did what was right in God’s sight. He is famous for repairing the temple but Chronicles states that late in his life, after Jehoiada dies and under the influence of the nobles of Judah, he returns to the ways of the unrighteous kings. This is perhaps the most unusual negation.

 

Amaziah (800-783) neglected in Matthew’s genealogy

Narrative of Amaziah is told in 2 Kings 14: 1-22 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 25 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Amaziah is listed in 2 Kings as one who did what was right in the site of the LORD but the major event in both narratives is his failed battle with Israel where the wall of Jerusalem is breached and the gold and silver from the temple and the king’s house are stolen. Another unusual negation.

 

  1. Uzziah (Azariah in 2 Kings) (783-742)

Narrative of Uzziah/Azariah is told in 2 Kings 15: 1-7 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 26 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Uzziah did what was right in the site of the LORD with some qualifications in both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. In 2 Chronicles he is afflicted with leprosy after attempting to offer a sacrifice himself instead of through the priests.  Uzziah’s reign is also at the beginning of Isaiah’s time as a prophet (or first Isaiah, Isaiah 1 and 6 mention Uzziah) as well as the time of Amos and Hosea. Also, the prophet Zechariah mentions an earthquake in the time of king Uzziah (Zechariah 14:6)

 

  1. Jothan (742-735)

Narrative of Jothan is told in 2 Kings 15: 32-38 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 27 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Jothan is listed as a king who did right in the eyes of the LORD but who did not eliminate the practices of the people that were displeasing to God in the view of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. His reign is described as prosperous and peaceful. The ministries of Micah and Hosea occur in part during the reign of Jothan.

  1. Ahaz (735-727 or 715)

Narrative of Ahaz is told in 2 Kings 16 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 28 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Ahaz is a king who did not do what was right in the site of the lord in the narratives and is oppressed by Israel, the Edomites and the Philistines. Ahaz appeals to Assyria for help and attempts to bribe Assyria with items from his house and the officials in tribute, but Assyria rebuffs their call for aid. Isaiah 7 is during the reign of King Ahaz and Isaiah 14:28 begins an oracle in the year of Ahaz’ death.

 

  1. Hezekiah (727 or 715 to 687)

Narrative of Hezekiah is told in 2 Kings 18-20 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It occurs in 2 Chronicles 29-32 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Hezekiah is a righteous king and reigns during an important transition in the region. The Assyrian empire conquers Israel and marches on Judah, but their conquest is stopped, and Judah survives. King Hezekiah is attributed with ensuring that Proverbs 25-29 are preserved. Isaiah records the Assyrian invasion by King Sennacherib of Assyria and the dialogue between God, Isaiah, and Hezekiah as well as a later illness of Hezekiah and Hezekiah’s interaction with envoys from Babylon in Isaiah 36-39. The prophets Hosea and Micah also conclude their ministries during Hezekiah’s reign.

 

  1. Manasseh (687-642)

Narrative of Manasseh is told in 2 Kings 21: 1-18 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 33: 1-20 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Manasseh is listed as one of the kings who did evil by adopting the practices of the surrounding nations and worshipping other gods. Jeremiah 15:4 lists the evils of Manasseh as the reason for the judgment against Judah.

 

  1. Amos (Amon) (642-640)

Narrative of Manasseh is told in 2 Kings 21: 19-26 in the 1 &2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 33: 21-25 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. He also did what was evil in God’s sight and was killed by the servants in his house or the people of the land depending on whether you read Chronicles or Kings.

 

  1. Josiah (640-609)

Narrative of Josiah is told in 2 Kings 22:1-23:30 in the 1 & 2 Kings telling of Israel’s story. It runs from 2 Chronicles 34-35 in Chronicles telling of Israel’s story. Josiah is remembered as the great reformer king who reintroduced the law to Judah. He dies in a battle against Pharaoh Neco, which seems to have been an unnecessary battle. Josiah’s reign is a time of great hope in Judah and there are even hopes of a new Israel, this is after the northern kingdom is conquered by Assyria, which practices the law and worships at the temple in Jerusalem. The optimism of the reforms of King Josiah are the context for the beginning of Jeremiah’s long ministry. Jeremiah soon sees the reforms are not changing the people and begins to warn that judgment is coming.

 

Jehoahaz (609) neglected in Matthew’s genealogy

Jehoahaz’ three-month reign is told in 2 Kings 23: 31-35 and 2 Chronicles 36: 1-4. He is enthroned by the people but deposed by Egypt and Egypt replaces him with his brother Eliakim who changes his name to Jehoiachim. Judah is now caught between the rising empire of Babylon in the north and Egypt in the south. Jehoahaz would not be in the genealogy of Jesus as Matthew traces it.

 

Jehoiachim (Eliakim) (609-598)

Jehoiachim’s reign is told briefly in 2 Kings 23: 36-24:7 and 2 Chronicles 36: 5-8.  In the eleven years he reigned Judah is caught between Babylon and Egypt. Jehoiachim serves Babylon for a time but then rebelled and was taken in chains to Babylon. Many of the proclamations of the prophet Jeremiah occur during the reign of Jehoiachim. The removal of Jehoiachim also sets the context for the beginning of the book of Daniel, where Daniel is among the young nobles brought to Babylon.

 

  1. Jehoiachin (598-597)

The son of Jehoiachim who is only eight or eighteen during his brief reign. His reign is told in 2 Kings 24: 8-18 and 2 Chronicles 36: 9-10. At the end of the reign is the deportation to Babylon of the officials, warriors, artisans, smiths and anyone who might exercise leadership among the people and a weak administration under his uncle Mattaniah, renamed Zedekiah. Jeremiah refers to Jehoiachin as Coniah.

 

Zedekiah (597-586)

Zedekiah is placed in his position by Babylon to attempt to retain peace among the remnant of Judah. His reign and the fall of Judah is told in 2 Kings 24: 18-30 (includes the governorship of Gedaliah) and 2 Chronicles 36: 11-21. More of Jeremiah’s proclamations come during the time of Zedekiah, in the final gasps of Judah and Jerusalem before Babylon’s final invasion and exile, than at any other time. Jerusalem is destroyed in 586 and more of the population is brought into exile in Babylon. There is a final rebellion during the governorship of Gedaliah) but the remnant of Judah that survives goes into exile in Babylon. The book of Jeremiah narrates the collapse of Judah in Jeremiah 34-44 and 52.

Jeremiah 26 The Prophet, the Temple and the Elders

Jeremiah 26: 1-19 The Prophet, the Temple and the Elders

Ilya Repin, Cry of the Prophet Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem (1870)

Ilya Repin, Cry of the Prophet Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem (1870)

At the beginning of the reign of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came from the LORD: 2 Thus says the LORD: Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD; speak to them all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word. 3 It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings. 4 You shall say to them: Thus says the LORD: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, 5 and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently– though you have not heeded– 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.

 7 The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. 8 And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! 9 Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.

                10 When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the LORD and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the LORD. 11 Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”

 12 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “It is the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13 Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14 But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the LORD sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

 16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God.” 17 And some of the elders of the land arose and said to all the assembled people, 18 “Micah of Moresheth, who prophesied during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’ 19 Did King Hezekiah of Judah and all Judah actually put him to death? Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and did not the LORD change his mind about the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster on ourselves!”

This passage is traditionally linked with the ‘Temple Sermon of Jeremiah’ in Jeremiah 7 and into chapter 8 based on the dating and the circumstances lined out in the first lines. Jeremiah goes into the temple, the heart of the royal and priestly justification of the people’s favored status and compares the temple to Shiloh, which was an earlier site of the tabernacle site in the time of 1 Samuel. The prophet calls the people back to the two sided covenant of Deuteronomy, ‘If you will do these things, then you will be blessed, if you will not do these things you will be cursed.’ Since the construction of the temple by Solomon there has been a critique of the possibility of relying solely on the temple for maintaining the people’s status with God. For example when God answers Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 9, it relates the answer as this:

2 the LORD appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. 3 The LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you made before me; I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 4 As for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, 5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised your father David, saying, ‘There shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’

 6 “If you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut Israel off from the land that I have given them; and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight; and Israel will become a proverb and a taunt among all peoples. 8 This house will become a heap of ruins; everyone passing by it will be astonished, and will hiss; and they will say, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this land and to this house?’ 9 Then they will say, ‘Because they have forsaken the LORD their God, who brought their ancestors out of the land of Egypt, and embraced other gods, worshiping them and serving them; therefore the LORD has brought this disaster upon them.'” (1Kings 9:2-9)

Yet in the time of King Jehoiakim this way of understanding the covenant with God is either forgotten or neglected. For the prophet claims of obedience to God’s law/Torah are more important than any human authority. This undercuts the certitude of not only Jehoiakim, but particularly here the priests in the temple where Jeremiah makes his proclamation. Their lives are invested in the maintaining of the centrality of the temple worship and the proclamation of the prophet threatens not only their temple with its words but their livelihood. The react quickly and harshly demanding the death of Jeremiah because he has spoken against the temple and the city and bring him before the leadership of the city. It is a tense picture painted where the priest and temple authorities and the crowd have surrounded the prophet and the city leaders quickly move to bring calm to the situation and hold judgment in the case of this troublesome prophet.

For his part, Jeremiah denies nothing that he is accused of and yet he claims his role as a prophet of God speaking on God’s behalf and still in the hope of both the prophet and God that the people will hear and turn from their ways. What the priests have heard as condemnation is from Jeremiah’s perspective a hope for turning and rescue by God, but the words have fallen on unreceptive ears.  Jeremiah knows that his life rests in these officials’ hands and yet he warns them that if they take his life they will be liable for innocent blood.

The elder’s rely on the precedence of Micah, one of the examples of intertextuality in the Bible. This instance refers back to the prophet Micah who a century earlier had spoken harsh words against the city, and yet Micah was not killed by the leadership then. The ‘elders’ override the ‘priest’ and the historical memory of prophetic witness and Torah piety hold out in this case and the elders too are able to see this as an opportunity for repentance rather than a certain doom. Unfortunately for the people the repentance does not come as the priestly and royal authority are hostile to this message that Jeremiah proclaim.

Jeremiah 26:20-24 The Risk of the Prophetic Challenge

 

                20 There was another man prophesying in the name of the LORD, Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words exactly like those of Jeremiah. 21 And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death; but when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt.22 Then King Jehoiakim sent Elnathan son of Achbor and men with him to Egypt, 23 and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and threw his dead body into the burial place of the common people.

 24 But the hand of Ahikam son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over into the hands of the people to be put to death.

King Jehoiakim is not receptive to Jeremiah’s message, and while Jeremiah apparently has some protection from Ahikam son of Shaphan another prophet, Uriah son of Shemaiah does not. The words of Uriah infuriate the king enough to send men into Egypt to capture, bring the prophet to the king and then to be killed by the king. This is not a welcome time for prophets and death and torture are real possibilities to ensure the message of King Jehoiakim is the dominant message heard.

The Place of Authority: A Brief History Part 2: King, Temple and the Prophetic Critique

David and King Saul, Rembrandt

David and King Saul, Rembrandt

 So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” 1 Samuel 8.10-18

 

At roughly 1,020 BCE a decisive change takes place and Israel enters the time of monarchy.  Power becomes consolidated briefly under King Saul.  Two men, King Saul and Samuel, whose title before had been that of a judge but functioned as a mouthpiece for God at this point, hold the religious and political authority.  Israel begins to act as a powerful actor in the region, constantly moving from one conflict to another, but internal conflict emerges when David emerges on the scene.  Without getting bogged down in the story or trying to parse out what happened historically  by 1000 David would unify his power as king and Israel became for a brief shining moment a power player on the world stage, Jerusalem becomes the capitol, and then perhaps decisively for this era the temple is established under Solomon.   Especially for the Southern Kingdom of Judah this is decisive because the monarchy and the temple become linked as the dominant secular/religious authority. There is a prophetic voice within that critiques the monarchy and temple, but for the most part the people give up a portion of their freedom for the relative security, power and identity of being a part of the unified kingdom of Israel.  That is not to say that family, clan and tribe have lost their power or authority, but that the people become much more linked to the kings and temple than at any previous point in their history.

This is probably a good point for a fun interlude, it is hard for us to imagine being bound in systems where our autonomy is defined so externally.  We don’t have any experience of a monarchical system and so our reaction might be somewhat like the peasants in this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Even a romanticized king when we look from our perspective seems like a tyranny or despot.

Even though King David is often looked upon romantically like the King Arthur of legend, one of the incredible things is that the recorded memory of David includes many ugly situations, many family struggles, many times where he is at odds with the prophetic voice of the time.  The whole Bathsheba and Uriah episode (2 Samuel 10-12), incest within the royal family (2 Samuel 13) and eventually the usurpation of the throne by his son Absalom (2 Samuel 15-19) as well as other internal rebellions are a part of David’s roughly forty years of consolidated rule.  Even though the King amasses incredible authority previously unattainable in anyone’s imagination the constant warfare and internal struggles begin to wear on the people.  By the time Solomon, David’s son, ascends to the throne it is a relatively peaceful time but the energy is directed internally on large building projects, the temple, but also many houses and palaces for Solomon and his entourage. The temple becomes, at least for a large group of people, the central focus of worship, and yet again just like with the idea of consolidating power with a king there is a large amount of space dedicated to the critique of the temple

 King Solomon conscripted forced labor out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men. He sent them to the Lebanon, ten thousand a month in shifts; they would be a month in the Lebanon and two months at home; Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor. Solomon also had seventy thousand laborers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, besides Solomon’s three thousand three hundred supervisors who were over the work, having charge of the people who did the work. At the king’s command, they quarried out great, costly stones in order to lay the foundation of the house with dressed stones. So Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders and the Gebalites did the stonecutting and prepared the timber and the stone to build the house.  1 Kings 5.13-18 NRSV

This is a huge commitment of people and resources which are directed internally.  In fact it is such a strain that immediately upon Solomon’s death when Rehoboam takes power the people come and plead for relief:

Your father made our yoke heavy.  Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed upon us and we will serve you. 1 Kings 12.4 NRSV

To which the narrative has Rehoboam reply three days later in our language, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet, you think my father made things hard on you?  Well prepare to be screwed!’ Most translations clean this up significantly…but the little thing that is thicker than his father’s loins is probably not a finger (see 1 Kings 12: 6-15 particularly v.10) Things are not nearly as clean in the Bible as we sometimes want to make them.  The people are offended, the kingdom splits apart and now there are two kings, two places of worship, a prophetic voice that continues to grow louder…but even with this prophetic voice within the Kingdom of Judah in the South and the Kingdom of Israel in the North growing stronger the fate of both nations is linked to the actions of kings and the worship at the temple in Judah and the worship at various sites in the North.  Particularly for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, so long as there is a Davidic king and the Temple who they are as the people of God seems secure.  Yet this too will change….

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