Not done yet…2 Kings 25

I just finished reading through the history of Israel from creation to exile in the year-long Bible reading plan I’m doing.  My heart warms every time I read the last few sentences of this massive historical train of books that begins in Genesis and ends in 2 Kings. OT Scholars have often called this the “Deuteronomic history” of Israel, precisely for the way in which the latter books especially view the actions and events in Israel’s history in light of the covenant blessings and curses promised by Moses back in Deuteronomy.  A king is faithful to the Law; God blesses the nation.  The kings and people are unfaithful; covenant curses come upon them.  Of course, the bad kings, it seems, always outnumbered the good, the high places and idol worship remained more than they were removed, and the ultimate covenant curse of the Exile was brought first in devastating fashion to the 10 Northern tribes of Israel by Assyria and then later to the kingdom of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

2 Kings 25 is a terrible chapter.  The author recounts how the army of Judah is defeated, the walls are broken down, the kings’ palace and Solomon’s temple are burned, all the wonderful objects of worship (some going back to Israel’s glory days under Solomon) are melted down and/or carried off to Babylon like plastic rings from a Chuck E. Cheese evening. All is lost.  Israel failed the covenant.  The curses have come.

But it doesn’t end there.

27 In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month. 28 He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. 30 Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived.

The glimmer of hope.  This is that scene after the credits of the movie where it’s alluded to that the main character hasn’t really died, that hope remains still in the darkest hour, and that good is not finished.  Of course, the main character isn’t Jehoiachin.  It’s God.  And he’s still working.  He’s not done yet.  The pattern of Genesis where God’s chosen people (Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, the Israelites at the Exodus) stumble and trip over themselves into what appears to be accidental blessing is resumed here in these few verses.  The failed king is pulled out of prison and banquets at the table of a Gentile king.  The candle that was snuffed out by Assyria and Babylon and wicked kings re-ignites just before the curtain closes.  Israel may have failed YHWH’s covenant, but YHWH hasn’t failed Israel.  He’s not done yet.

Reading through the Bible? Encouragement from Bonhoeffer

I’ve been trying to read through the whole Bible this year, just about to finish Deuteronomy in my OT reading.  I’ve talked to many people who gave up trying to read the Bible after hitting the middle of Exodus (some multiple times).  I highly sympathize with them.  But I was encouraged by a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I discovered a few weeks ago, and thought I would share with the one or two of you who read my posts: (it’s a little longer…but if I could type it, you can read it!)

“Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of men.  We become a part of what once took place for our salvation.  Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land.  With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance [we] experience again God’s help and faithfulness.  All this is not mere reverie but holy, godly reality.  We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth.  There God dealt with us, and there He still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace.  It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, howsoever important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of the Christ on earth.  And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today also.

A complete reversal occurs.  It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved, but rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ.  It is in fact more important for us to know what God to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today.  The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ  rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the last day.  Our salvation is “external to ourselves.”  I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ.  Only he who allows himself to be found in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, his Cross, and his resurrection, is with God and God with him.”

from Life Together, chapter 2.

Strange Things Near Bethlehem…

I had the opportunity while in high school to go on a trip to Israel.  One of my favorite places was the fields just outside the city of Bethlehem.  It’s one of the few landscapes in Israel that look surprisingly like the mental image I had as a child of the Christmas story.  Big sky, rolling hills–a place where shepherds still do “keep watch over the flocks by night.” 

What is inescapable about standing there is one of the other sights within view, one that most of us probably know nothing about.  In the eastern horizon stands one hill that differentiates itself from the rest.  It looks more like a volcano in fact.  I don’t remember lava in the Christmas story, but I’m certain Roland Emmerich could take a stab at it for us.

It’s not a volcano.  It’s a palace.  Called “The Herodion,” this palace stands as testament to one of the architectural genii of the first century B.C., Herod the Great.

The palace is essentially a man-made volcano-esque cone at the top of a very steep hill.  Here, there were originally guard towers and walls at the top as well, providing a well-defended fortress.  Within it were luxuries and resources only a king could even dream of at the time.

I wonder if the shepherds in their fields that night sometime in 5-4 BC could see Herod’s great palace.  Were they mad?  Herod might be called “the Great” for his building prowess, but he was Idumean, not Jewish.  He was the puppet king of Rome.  Not exactly the fulfillment of prophetic hopes and dreams.  The palace itself, one of several Herod had, was a reminder perhaps of the shepherds’ own poverty.  It was a symbol of the spectacular resources of the rich and powerful.  It was also a reminder, with its extreme defensive measures, of the paranoia and evil embodied by King Herod.  The palace may have been intended more as a refuge from his own family than from any foreign ruler.  At least those of his family he hadn’t killed yet.

I wonder how surprising it was then to have an angelic army appear above their very heads and announce the birth of a different king.  I wonder how odd it seemed that the magnificent palace mountain before their eyes had been bypassed and replaced by a feeding trough in a place where animals slept in the small town nearby.  How strange that the heavenly messengers appeared to them and not to the royal guard stationed inside the citadel.

That first Christmas saw a lot of strange things.  And if we really believe the arrival of God’s Son changed the world forever, then maybe we shouldn’t be shocked if those strange things continue still.

CS Lewis’ View of Old Books

If you’ve never checked out the work by Athanasius, On The Incarnation, you should.  It’s a helpful reminder of some of the basic reasons why this whole Christmas thing was necessary; many parts will be more reminder than revelation, but we tend to forget rather easily.  Especially notice Athanasius’ emphasis on the restoration of the “Image of God” through Christ, a much ignored perspective in the recent past.

But attached to the most common English translation of that work is a small introduction by CS Lewis.  One can find an online version of it here.  A more common title given to it is “On Old Books” or something of that nature.

Lewis writes, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”

The reason, he explains, is that as we often note of men of the past but ignore about ourselves, is that we are all in some sense “products of our age.”  The blind-spots that we have because of the times in which we live, the culture into which we were born, the educational program we received, etc. affect how we think and act.  And blind-spots are so named because we can’t ourselves see them.  Therefore, we must read old books from other places and times to gain perspective on things we ourselves often miss.

“Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

“The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes…Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”

Lewis reminds of one great reason to read the “old books” in the opening paragraphs:

“The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. (emphasis mine) The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”

Top 5 for All Saints Day

In honor of “All Saints Day” being Saturday and because I am too busy this week to actually write anything, I am asking folks to submit their top 5 Christians who have impacted their lives in some way.  They can be living or dead.  Rules:

1-No Biblical People!  Maybe we’ll save that for a future one!

2-No slamming other people’s choices!

3- Only 5!!  No “ties” where you really include extra picks.  That’s cheating.

Alright.  Post ’em up.  I’ll add mine sometime later today if I get around to it!