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A Study in Contrasts: 2 Kings 16–20

January 07, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: 2 Kings 16–20, Psalm 7, Proverbs 7.

One of the recurring themes of the books of Kings (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings) is the distinction between those who “did what was right in the eyes of Yahweh” and those who “did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh”, e.g. 15:34, 17:2 respectively–to name just two of the many passages echoing this refrain in these books. Whereas 1 and 2 Samuel zoomed in on the contrast between Saul and David, 1 and 2 Kings take nearly all their successors at a very high level, often sparing them few more words than necessary to note their parentage, whether they did what was right or what was evil in the eyes of Yahweh, and a reference to other records of their deeds.

One of the dominant themes of these books, then, is that doing what is right in Yahweh’s eyes has an enormous reward, while doing what is evil in his eyes eventually brings a great judgment. 2 Kings 17—19 brings this message home, and hard. Centuries of rebellion on Israel’s part culminated in the Assyrian capture of Samaria and the forcible exile of the Jews of Israel from their homeland. The author pauses from his otherwise quick-moving narrative to explain this point in detail for the better part of a chapter. Israel’s fall was not the mere ordinary turn of regional political events it might have seemed. It was, instead, God’s final judgment on a people who had continuously rebelled against him generation after generation, worshiping in a way they knew was abhorrent to him.

By contrast, when the same mighty king with his mighty army came to take Jerusalem, the city stood. Judah had its share of wicked kings, to be sure–but unlike Israel, it also had many kings who “did what was right in the eyes of Yahweh” and in particular it had Hezekiah, who “trusted in Yahweh, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him” (18:5).

The armies of the greatest power in the region–unstoppable Assyria–surrounded the capital city en masse. Their leaders boasted in their victories, tried to bully Hezekiah and the people into surrendering without a fight, and insulted the name of Yahweh. Attacking the people of God is always a bad idea; attacking him directly is an even worse idea. The Scriptures are a long record of the lengths to which God will go to defend his name: he will quite literally die to defend the glorious reality that he is most righteous and most powerful being there is, most worthy of worship. When Sennacherib boasted, “Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that Yahweh should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” (18:35), he missed something. Hezekiah points it out in his prayer: “[They] were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. So now, O Yahweh our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Yahweh, are God alone” (19:18b—29).

God has always been about the business of making his name known to the ends of the earth. Not because he is a braggart, but because he is the end for which all things exist–the end for which we exist. In setting ourselves against that, we are setting ourselves against reality. We are trying to fly by pushing away from the ground with the hairs on our head–and for some reason, gravity comes out victorious. So when God brings judgment on blasphemers, that is a mercy to the nations who have a chance to repent and kneel before the king of all.

What is amazing to me is just how profoundly longsuffering God is. Were I so often insulted, ignored, and injuriously assaulted in character, I would not wait hundreds of years, sending prophet after prophet to give people opportunity after opportunity to respond. I sometimes have a hard time restraining my impatience for a few minutes with my wife or my child. And yet the God who ultimately struck down 185,000 Assyrians waited generation upon generation to bring his judgment on Israel–and he likewise gave the Assyrians the opportunity to repent (c.f. Jonah). This God is shockingly merciful, even as he brings judgment.