I have been reading 1 and 2 Kings in my bible reading and I have noticed something terrifying and fascinating.
By way of background, 1 and 2 Kings provides a sweeping history of Israel’s monarchy:
– Their golden age under Kings David and Solomon
– The civil war between Solomon’s dodgy heir Rehoboam and the politically savvy public servant Jeroboam
– The splitting of Israel into the Northern Kingdom, Israel, following Jeroboam and the Southern Kingdom, Judah, following Rehoboam.
– A long list of the kings and their antics in both kingdoms until their invasions by Assyria and Babylon, respectively.
People who have read this collection of books or did some thorough Old Testament work in Sunday School will know that the kings in Judah, who followed Rehoboam, were all descendents of Kings David and Solomon. God had promised to keep David’s descendents on the throne and he stuck fast to his word with each generation, even when the king in question was awful. In the end Judah’s monarchy was a mish-mash line of kings, all with the same genes as David but not always the same good practice. Some were great. Some were flaky. Some were pretty evil.
This time around I have paid more attention to the line of kings in the Northern Kingdom. Without exception they were all evil and manipulative. All the kings replaced the LORD with pathetic fake gods, which made it easier for them to control the population (Marx anyone? A classic example of using religion as the opiate of the masses!). Some of them engaged in the practice of child sacrifice. There are records of violent wars and attacks. And nearly every king was replaced, not by his own son, but by a crafty military man or public servant, who grabbed power after a terrifying round of assassinations or family-wide homicides. Could you imagine living in a society where your government was run like that?
However what stood out most for me was the way that the author describes every king in the North in pretty much the same way:
“He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.
He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.”
How is it that this line of kings, where every second or third king is assassinating the prior king’s family, how is it that they are so consistent with their evil behaviour? Only a handful of them were actually related to Jeroboam, yet his poor governance and evil behaviour runs through the line of kings like a genetic disease. Somehow the lineage of each king is traced back to Jeroboam, like an evil stepfather, with a consistency that screams for our attention.
Judah’s kings, on the other hand, the actual family line (with the actual family connections) are the opposite. There are very few genetic hark backs. Hardly anyone exhibits the noble behaviour of their great ancestors, David and Solomon.
Maybe such awful behaviour is a family trait after all. But, sadly, it looks like the family in question isn’t David’s kids or Jeroboam’s kids. It looks like it’s the entire human family. Lame! This kind of trait is a really hard one to shake.
Postscript: The Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES) have published a helpful infographic of the kings in these books – you can see it here.