Nothing special, just life
2Kings 15: He was king for fifty-two years in Jerusalem.
The stories of the twin kingdoms are told in parallel but they’re very different stories. Judah is rather stable with kings generally ranked as “good with some failures” while kings of Israel receive failing marks. Because of that, God blesses Judah with consistency of leadership that’s lacking in Israel. In fact, Israel’s throne at this time has the feel of a revolving door. There are numerous assassinations and one fellow, Shallum, only manages to hold the throne for a month. Meanwhile, Azariah and his son Jotham, rule Judah for 68 years. Judah isn’t perfect, but there’s a spiritual, God-connected element that’s missing from Israel and during this period of their histories one place we see it is in the stories of their kings. While intrigue and subterfuge make for the best stories, I think most citizens will say that peace, security, and prosperity make for the best lives. Israel might be more often talked about in the region but Judah’s the better place to call home. Thank God for the blessing of living, more often than not, a life that doesn’t make the headlines.
Take Away: We tend to take common, day to day life for granted; but we shouldn’t.
Leadership and accountability
2Kings 14: God wasn’t yet ready to blot out the name of Israel from history, so he used Jeroboam son of Jehoash to save them.
Jeroboam II, king of Israel is another in the line of leaders of Israel who doesn’t make the grade. He could do better. In fact, he should. Instead he continues the march away from God, even as so many of his predecessors have done before him. Leaders can’t force morality but they can model it. Beyond that, leaders, even especially powerful ones, must give account of themselves to Almighty God. Still, Jeroboam has some successes: military victories that win back territory that’s been lost to their enemies. We’re told here that God is helping Jeroboam do that, not because he favors this pitiful king but for his own purposes. Although the day of destruction and defeat is coming, for now the Lord isn’t ready for Israel to be defeated. Because of that he helps Jeroboam lead Israel in some specific ways. This is good for Israel. Still though, Jeroboam will face a God who’s displeased with him. I see here that even though God acts according to his own agenda it doesn’t get people off the hook when they fail of their own free will.
Take Away: Ultimately, we will each give account of ourselves to the Lord.
2Kings 12: Why haven’t you renovated this sorry-looking Temple?
The sample we’re given of Joash’s leadership of Judah is his faithfulness to repair the Temple of God. Any building will deteriorate if it is not cared for and Joash realizes that the Temple is overdue for some serious work. He orders the priests who serve there to use offerings for that purpose, but it never happens. Instead of being used on the building, the money is absorbed in the everyday operations at the Temple. When Joash sees this, he changes tactics and creates a system by which money can be given for this specific purpose. The people respond and during his reign Joash sees the Temple restored to much of its former glory. So what do I see in this incident? First, I’m reminded that the building where worship takes place needs regular attention and that the Lord gifts some people for this task. The church needs to recognize that and both finance and empower these people for their work. Second, I see that without leadership things gradually fall apart. In this case, not only is the building deteriorating, but the plans for financing the renovations also come apart without Joash’s leadership. It isn’t enough for him to have the vision and then put a plan together. He has to be sure that the plan continues to completion. Third, I see that the best way to finance such an operation is with money specifically given for that purpose. The expenses of the Temple continue even through the building project so the money has to be given above the regular offerings. Finally, I see that people are willing to give to such a project. People don’t have to be brow beat to give if they see the need and that something is really happening. Clearly, these are good principles for today even as they were good so long ago.
Take Away: Leadership not only provides vision and plans. It also stays engaged as the vision is made reality.
Champion of evil
1Kings 16: Ahab son of Omri did even more evil before God than anyone yet — a new champion in evil!
Kings of Israel rise and fall and most die violent deaths. Zimri assassinates Elah, but only reigns seven days before he’s killed by Omri. Omri lives an “empty-headed, empty-hearted life” but does purchase a hill upon which he builds the new capital city, Samaria. It’s his son Ahab who so sells out to evil that he’s given the dubious title, “champion of evil.” The other kings are nothing to be proud of, but their spiritual failure is minor in comparison to his. He marries the wicked Jezebel, builds a temple for the worship of the idol Baal, and becomes an enemy to the remaining people of God. The long slide away from God and to paganism is nearly complete under Ahab’s leadership. However, God isn’t finished yet…here comes Elijah!
Take Away: Always remember this: no matter how dark the situation the Lord keeps his promises.
Weight of leadership
1Kings 15: He was openly evil before God, walking in the footsteps of Jeroboam, who both sinned and made Israel sin.
The writer of the books of the Kings gives us only snapshots of the parade of kings of both Judah and Israel. Sometimes there’s just one highlight (or “lowlight”) mentioned. Over in Israel, Jeroboam dies and his son Nadab comes to power. Nadab lasts for just two years before he’s assassinated and replaced by Baasha. Baasha knows that God rejected Jeroboam and his family because of Jeroboam’s sin but that doesn’t stop him from following the same road to ruin. He rules Israel for 24 years but his legacy is his spiritual failure and his leading of Israel farther away from God. We aren’t surprised when we see God rejecting him and sending word that he’s going to reduce Baasha and his regime to cinders. While I’m a firm believer in free will, I see that God holds Baasha responsible for the sin of all Israel. Leadership has privileges but it also comes with a hefty helping of responsibility. God expects leaders to not only be righteous themselves, but to influence those who follow them to greater righteousness as well. That’s true of pastors and churches, but, as I see here, it’s true for national leaders and their subjects too.
Take Away: Leaders who forget the responsibility side of their position are walking the road to failure.
1Kings 12: If you will be a servant to this people…they’ll end up doing anything for you.
Solomon gets all the credit for his impressive and massive construction projects, but he probably never did an ounce of actual labor. The common people did the hard work. Now that Solomon’s son Rehoboam is assuming the throne the people ask for relief. I know how this turns out, but I can’t help but note the wisdom of his father’s senior advisors in this. They recommend that Rehoboam be a servant to the people; that he respond with compassionate consideration, showing them respect. The result, they say, will be that he’ll get his own way. That is, they’ll work themselves to death for him. Centuries before Jesus tells his disciples that the greatest should be servant of all, these advisors tell Rehoboam the same thing. This principle applies across the spectrum. It works at national leadership levels, in business, and, yes, in the church as well. Rehoboam doesn’t get it and ends up with a rebellion on his hands. The same thing happens in other applications as well. The best leaders are servant-leaders.
Take Away: Good leaders understand the servant-leadership concept and practice it.
Time flies when you’re having fun
1Kings 1: King David grew old.
First and Second Samuel have told us the stories of two kings. The first failed miserably and the second became Israel’s greatest king. Now we come to the stories of all the rest. All fall somewhere between Saul and David. These “king stories” start with “King David grew old.” It’s interesting to be reminded that even great people grow old. Our days are numbered and, while it’s a blessing to live to old age, it isn’t really much fun to get there! Physically David’s wasting away. His circulation isn’t good and he’s cold all the time. His aids come up with an interesting solution for keeping him warm at night. They recruit the young and beautiful Abishag who serves as a sort of “electric blanket” for “poor” old David. It brings a smile to our faces now, but even the Bible writer notes that David’s advanced years assure that their relationship is purely platonic. The more serious issue for Israel is that there’s jostling among his surviving sons as to who will to take the throne. Throughout David’s 40 years on the throne of Judah and then Israel Absalom’s effort to take the throne has been the only serious threat to Israel’s stability. Now, King David grows old and national unity is threatened once again. David has just one more thing to do. He has to name his successor. Once that’s done the burden of leadership will be lifted from his frail shoulders. I can’t feel sorry for David. He’s lived a robust life. If anyone ever “grabs the gusto” it’s David. Now though, even though he’s bigger than life, it’s life (or maybe better, death) that’s winning. So it is for all of us. There’s only one alternative to getting old and it isn’t a very good choice. With that in mind, I want to live as large as I can; to serve God right now with all my strength. Then, when my turn comes I want to be able to look back on a life lived all out for God.
Take Away: We only have one opportunity to live our lives enthusiastically for the Lord, let’s not miss this opportunity.
2 Samuel 21: No more fighting on the frontlines for you!
As the story of David’s leadership begins to wind down we come to a time when things aren’t all that inspirational. Uprisings are put down; there’s an ugly story of the Gibeonites revenge against Saul’s descendants, and a series of one-paragraph accounts of significant battles with the enemies of Israel. Of course, for those involved these are all very big deals (especially for those executed by the Gibeonites!). For us, though, they’re just historical events. David’s army is still fiercely loyal to him but his power as a warrior diminishes with age. When he’s nearly killed in battle his men forbid him from leading the fight as he’s done for decades. He’s simply not up to hand to hand combat anymore and is more valuable as God’s chosen leader than he is as a soldier. In other words, this is a transitional time for David. His advancing age doesn’t hinder his ability to lead, but it does compromise his ability to fight. For each of us, as it is for David, life has times of transition. Generally, we don’t like that very well, but circumstances have a way of dragging us forward, even if we’re kicking and screaming all the way. God isn’t finished with us, but the role we play changes. Let’s be aware of what’s happening and cooperative with God as we move through the various chapters of our lives.
Take Away: As one period of life ends another begins with a new set of challenges and opportunities
Follow the Leader
2Samuel 6: I’ll gladly look like a fool.
One of David’s wives is Michal, the daughter of Saul. It may be that she remembers her father’s “kingly demeanor” as she watches David playing the drum major role in leading the Ark into town. In her eyes, David comes up far short of her father at this point and she simply doesn’t understand why David would make such a spectacle of himself. Not only that, but, frankly, the outfit he’s wearing doesn’t lend itself to such an animated, exuberant display and she tells him about it. David’s reply shows us his where his priorities lie. His joy – his dance – was energized by his love of God. If displaying that joyful love makes him look like a fool that’s just fine with him. Here we see that spiritual leadership isn’t all about programs, plans, and meetings. Christian spiritual leaders are, first of all, followers. We follow the King of Kings, and it isn’t all business. As the Ark is brought into Jerusalem, David isn’t afraid to rejoice openly and emotionally. As he points out to Michal, the maids she’s worrying about know the real thing when they see it and his leadership is enhanced rather than lessened by his transparent joy in the Lord.
Take Away: Christian leadership is as much about leading people in enjoying the blessings of the Lord as it is about organization, vision, and plans.
God, patiently working
2 Samuel 4: And so they anointed David king over Israel.
It’s been a long time coming. David remembers being called in from the fields as he cared for his father’s sheep to meet the old man of God, Samuel. In a private ceremony Samuel anointed him king of Israel. However, Israel already had a king and Saul wasn’t about to give up his position of power, so David waited. He faithfully served Israel, doing anything asked of him. He honored Saul, even as Saul became his enemy. It isn’t that David’s made no errors along the way; he has. The bottom line, though, is that he’s faithfully adhered to this philosophy: if God had him anointed as king, then he’ll be king in God’s own time. Now, the result of treachery in Ish-Bosheth’s camp, the door is finally open and all Israel comes to make David king. The deaths of both Saul and Ish-Bosheth were not by David’s hand. In fact, it isn’t the way he wanted it at all. Still, God works in all things, even things he doesn’t design, to accomplish his purpose. David isn’t the only one who’s been patient. God, Himself, has worked in and through and even around the events that have taken place to move history in the direction he desires. The end result is that, just as Samuel said years earlier: David is king of Israel. Here’s a picture of how God works: not orchestrating and micromanaging events to get his way, but directing the outcome of even bad things, like murder, to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t motivate the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite to kill Ish-Bosheth, but when they do, the Lord uses it to accomplish his purpose of bringing David to the throne of Israel.
Take Away: As Sovereign God the Lord works in this world, even though poor choices made by people, to accomplish his purposes.