Posts Tagged ‘Bible Answer Man’

Caveats and Provisos

I have several friends who often reach out to me as a kind of “Bible Answer Man.” I enjoy answering their questions whenever possible. Something that happens rather frequently however, is that I’m not always so sure my friends realize that they are not necessarily asking simple questions, and therefore texting or messaging an answer isn’t really practical. This happened earlier today, when one such friend messaged me that he had finished reading a significant portion of the Old Testament and was struck by how violent and ungodly the history of the Jews was at times. The following is my reply—a highly condensed summary of Old Testament history and at least one lesson we can take away. I hope you enjoy it.

 

What Not to Do

One of the keys to understanding the Old Testament in general, and the Old Covenant in particular, is that it is often more an example of “What Not to Do,” rather than “What to Do.”

From the beginning (Garden of Eden), God instructed humanity that they were free to do what they wanted (free to eat of any tree in the garden; Gen. 2:16), as long they understood that He alone determines what is good and what is evil (prohibited to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; Gen. 2:17), and that the consequences of humanity setting its own standard for good and evil would result in calamity (surely die; Gen. 2:17).

Large portions of the Old Testament are stories that are examples of this paradigm working itself out in the material realm—humanity trying to direct and control their lives independent from God—and the result is exactly what is to be expected—confusion, frustration, and all manner of problems.

The Hebrews, despite being God’s “chosen people” were no exception.

God sent them a deliverer to free them from slavery in Egypt, and yet once free they complained to go back (Numbers 11). This lack of faith in God’s way of doing things caused them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Once the 40 years were over and a new generation came of age that had the faith to face the challenges of the Promised Land, the Hebrews crossed the Jordan River to enter the Land.

Under Joshua’s leadership the nation generally prospered, but also saw its fair share of problems (for doing things their own way), like the defeat at Ai (Joshua 7).

Next, the Hebrews entered the period of the Judges. A particular phrase that is found twice in the book of Judges characterizes this period—“Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). Independence from God–not a good idea.

The end of the Judges came because the Hebrews demanded a king (1 Sam. 8). A king was not God’s intention at this time, and the prophet Samuel, speaking to the people on God’s behalf, warned them what would happen if they had a king (1 Sam. 8:10–22).

The first king, Saul, was a mixed bag. He wasn’t necessarily a good king, but he was good at “being king.” He was a strong leader, and the nation of Israel generally prospered under his leadership. But in keeping with our theme, he sought to do things his own way, relied on his own abilities, and eventually paid the ultimate price for it.

The second king was David, who is the Hebrew king by which all others are judged. He was a valiant warrior, a strong leader, and quite the musician. And yet despite his glowing reputation, he was acutely human and committed grievous sins including adultery and murder. The key distinction about David, and the precise reason why he was a great king, was because his heart always (re)turned to God.

The third king was David’s son Solomon. Solomon was a strong leader, but again had equally strong human weaknesses. He had 700 wives and concubines (the Old Testament equivalent of a porn addiction), many of whom were foreign. His foreign wives brought along their foreign gods, which would prove to be Solomon’s demise. Despite building the renowned Jewish Temple and having extraordinary wisdom, Solomon was undone by his human weaknesses.

Under all three kings, the Hebrew nation was united. This unity was not artificial, it was genuine, but it also relied heavily upon the strength and leadership of the Hebrew kings, and Saul, David, and Solomon were all strong, capable, if not always exemplary, leaders.

By the end of Solomon’s reign, the Hebrew nation had defeated their enemies, built the Temple, developed a flourishing economy, become the center of the civilized world, and achieved peace and unity. Israel had reached the pinnacle of its strength and influence. The problem with reaching the top however is that the only way to go is down.

When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam assumed the throne. He was young, inexperienced, arrogant, and worst of all, prone to following bad advice.

Rehoboam’s nemesis was a young leader named Jeroboam ben Nebat. According to the Talmud, he was “an extraordinarily gifted, superior person with an abundance of charisma, as well as a great organizer and, above all, a magnificent scholar.”[1]

Had Rehoboam genuinely sought the best interests of the people, the people, and even Jeroboam himself, would have likely united behind him. But in one of the most colossal blunders of all time, Rehoboam ignored the sound advice of older wiser men, and listened only to the advice of younger less experienced men who told him to deal harshly with the people. Realizing that Rehoboam was not listening to them or even his own father’s advisors, ten of twelve tribes declared their independence and made Jeroboam their king. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the House of David. Jeroboam ruled over the ten tribes of the “Northern Kingdom” called Israel, while Rehoboam ruled over the two tribes of the “Southern Kingdom” called Judah. Both men claimed to be God’s chosen king.

Judah’s capital remained Jerusalem, while Israel established their capital at Samaria. This fact is critical because the Torah commands all able-bodied males to engage in three pilgrimage festivals each year. Jeroboam knew and therefore feared allowing citizens of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) to travel to Jerusalem for the feasts. He knew that if he allowed it, the hearts of the people would “turn back” to Rehoboam. Consequently, he made the fateful decision to forbid his citizens from travelling to Jerusalem, and as an alternative established idolatrous worship practices in the Northern Kingdom. All subsequent monarchs of the Northern Kingdom of Israel followed Jeroboam’s lead.

In the Southern Kingdom, however, good and bad kings were cyclical. Every other generation or so a good king would step forward and strengthen the faith of the people. This never happened among the kings of the Northern Kingdom. They followed the mold of Jeroboam for the next 200 years.

In 721 B.C., the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom (Israel), razed Samaria, and deported their leading citizens.

In 605 B.C., the Babylonians invaded the Southern Kingdom (Judah) and after three separate sieges, eventually destroyed the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., and carried the bulk of the population into captivity.

Both the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities were the result of the Hebrews turning way from God and doing things “their way.”

God’s intention, as expressed in the Everlasting Covenant cut by the members of the Godhead before the foundation of the world, has always been to be a loving Father to His children—approachable, kind, compassionate, and most of all—intimate—directly and easily accessible to each individual child of God. It is humanity that has made things difficult by defaulting to the (wrong) idea that God is distant, separate, unapproachable, and judgmental. Humanity exacerbated this problem by always inserting “something” between themselves and God, whether a person (priest/mediator) or a system (code/religion), or both—when God’s intention has always been relationship—unmediated, dynamic, and organic.

The violence, unrest, idolatry, and all manner of chaos that is rife throughout the Old Testament can be traced to a single source—humanity attempting to go its own way independent from God. The result has been that we have always attempted to create God in our image—always wanting him to do things the way we want them done. Classic “What Not to Do.”

Jesus Christ came to set that right.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 102a.

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