Friday is my writing day (yay, love to write!). Yesterday I have mainly been writing on an exegesis of 2 Kings 17:7-8, as this was an assignment for my theology course. An exegesis is ‘an explanation or critical interpretation of a text’. And the text in this case is two verses from the 2nd book of Kings, a book of the Old Testament, the first part of the bible. The books of Kings are historically and spiritually interesting, as they tell us about the lives of the kings of Israel over several hundreds of years (972-561 BC). The author of the book of Kings judges the lives of the kings based on their faithfulness to the laws of their God.
After the reign of the famous kings David and Solomon, the kingdom of Israel splits into two: the larger Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the smaller Southern Kingdom (Juda). From that moment onwards, both kingdoms have their own kings. God had made a promise to David: one of his descendants would always be on the throne, and Jerusalem would be protected from any harm. And for hundreds of years, this actually happens: there is always someone from the line of David on the throne of the kingdom of Juda, and the kings are more or less faithful to their God. In the kingdom of Israel, in the meantime, it is a bit more messy. Kings are being killed and the reign of the kingdom goes from one family to the next. Faithful kings are also harder to find in this kingdom.
This was not without consequences. Despite several warnings from a variety of prophets (who spoke on behalf of their God), the kingdom of Israel was overtaken by Shalmaneser, king of the then powerful nation of Assyria (Assyria was located in what is now northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey). Samaria, the capital of Israel, was invaded after a siege of three years, and its inhabitants were deported to Assyria. This was the end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
And this is where the text I have been looking at enters the scene. The aim of those verses (and of what follows) is to give an explanation of why all this happened. Not so much a socio-economic or political explanation, but more a theological or spiritual explanation. It is the bible, after all. This is what it says:
All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. (2 Kings 17:7-8)
When I was working on the exegesis of theses verses, I looked mainly at the meaning of these words in the context of the time and place when and where it was written. But what does it mean for me, you, now? So, the Israelites had sinned against the Lord. Their sin was basically a choice against the Lord, their God, who had liberated them from a situation of slavery in Egypt, a few centuries earlier. He had given them land and had promised them peace and prosperity, as long as they would obey his commandments and serve and love only him as their God. He had also warned them about the consequences of going after other gods and of modelling their way of life after that of the ‘locals’. This is most clearly expressed in the long speech of Moses, that he gave when the people of Israel were about to enter the ‘promised land’ (see Deuteronomy 30). Moses gave them a choice – a life or death decision:
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. (Deut. 30:15-18)
Does it still work like this? Love and obey the Lord and you will live – turn away from the Lord to worship other gods and you will ‘be destroyed’? These are very strong words. The passage continues like this:
Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life (…). (Deut. 30:19-20)
The Lord of the people of Israel is also my Lord. When Jesus came to be the long expected Saviour of Israel, he also came to be the saviour of the rest of the world, including me and you. In him is light and life. He is the way to God, the Father.
Jesus answered: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’. (John 14:6)
In that sense, the God of the Old Testament, the Lord of Israel, is still the same today. He wants his people for himself. Not because he is selfish, but because he is good and life-giving. So in the end, it is a matter of trust and choice. Do I trust the Lord to be good and able to give me Life? It is a choice to love the Lord, to listen to his voice and to hold fast to him. No matter what. Because the alternative is apparently ‘destruction’, slavery, worshipping other gods. Even to me it is not very clear what that means in our time. There is no immediate punishment for those who do not choose to love and obey the Lord. It is actually very well possible to live a good and meaningful life without paying attention to the God of the bible. But I do believe two things:
The need of societies for God
When God addressed the people of Israel, and gave them his laws and commandments, he addressed a nation. His laws were intended to make the nation flourish. There was to be justice, equality, no poverty (the economic laws in Leviticus 25 are quite interesting!). Jesus came not to do away with these laws, but to give them a deeper meaning and to show what it actually looks like to live according to these laws. He showed us was it means to love, to forgive, to bring justice and equality. Many of these ideas are still a strong part of societies that are built on a christian foundation (like most western societies). These ideas are even part of who we are as individuals, even if we don’t know exactly where they come from. So we do ‘keep the law of the Lord’ in many ways, whether based on deliberate choice or not. And in societies or situations where there is little justice, equality, love or peace, I do believe christian ideas and beliefs (and people living them out!) can make a difference.
The need of individuals for God
Still remains the need of individuals for God, for a deliberate and personal choice to love him, listen to his voice and hold fast to him. As the famous St. Augustine (354-430) once put it:
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
― Augustine of Hippo,