Now the rest of the acts of Ahab and all that he did, ….are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Israel?
So ends the First Book of the Kings. The period covered by First and Second Kings is a period of fragmentation with a series of very unsatisfactory kings sitting on the thrones of the now divided kingdoms of Isreal and Judah. As the state of kingship continues to decline there arises a new breed of prophet in the land. As typified by the great Elijah and his successor Elisha we encounter the rise of the political prophet as the antidote to the corruption of the monarchy. The office of the political prophet is to speak truth to power. The prophets function like the Supreme Court, guardians of the constitution. At the heart of the Hebrew constitution lie two key concepts:
The political prophets function like the Supreme Court, as guardians of the constitution. At the heart of the Hebrew constitution lie two key concepts:
As typified by the great Elijah and his successor Elisha we encounter the rise of the political prophet as the antidote to the corruption of the monarchy. The prophets function like the Supreme Court, guardians of the constitution. At the heart of the Hebrew constitution lie two key concepts:
- The definition of Israel as those who God brought out of the land of bondage. The Exodus is the defining moment in the birth of the Israelites as a distinct people, a people born in slavery and liberated by God to be his chosen race.
- There is to be no other God but Yahweh who is the only true King in Isreal.
In all ages and in each political system there needs to be a mechanism for judging unconstitutional actions by those in authority, a voice that speaks truth to power. Thus all the kings are assessed by how faithful they are to God. In Canaan the king was sovereign. He was God’s appointed surrogate. Like God, the king stood above the law. In Israel, the king was not sovereign, he was a servant of God with the responsibility to ensure faithfulness to the laws of God, sitting under God, not above him. This was easy for Isreal’s kings to forget when they become mesmerized by the example of real divine Canaanite models of kingship all around them.
First and Second Kings is a chronicle of the failure of each king to remember and to obey the founding principles of the covenant. So each comes to a sticky end – hastened by the work of the political prophet who declares what is valid and what is not according to the laws God has established in the Covenant with Moses.
First and Second Samuel and First and Second Kings comprise that phase of Hebrew history we refer to as the Monarchy. The struggles recorded reveal a universal tendency that without checks and balances power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts, absolutely. This is a powerful message for us to remember in our own current period. We see the resurgence of the figure of the nationalist dictator aided and abetted by the resurgence of an uncritical and paranoid nationalism. We see how this resurgence has not left America untouched. We witness the tensions when a dictatorial interpretation of presidential leadership, aided and abetted by a resurgent nationalism with all the xenophobic elements of fear of foreigners, those who are not of the tribe, of racism, and sexism expressions of the patriarchal systems of oppression, arises within a system founded on checks and balances designed to place limits on executive power.
To read the Bible is to read and learn that there is nothing new under the sun.Vigilance emerges from a knowledge of history and a long, long memory.