Tuesday, July 01, 2008

One Useless King After Another: 1 Kings 14:21 - 16

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

With Jeroboam out of the way, 1 Kings launches into a long and confused summary of the reigns of the dynasties of Judah and Israel, moving back and forth fast enough that it's easy to get confused. The general theme is that all the kings are sinful and all the kings support the worship of false gods, and that as a result God abandons the kingdoms to their depravity and lets foreigners win in battle (a partial return to the traditional militarist yardstick).

In Judah, Rehoboam (whom we talked about before already) lets his people set up Asherah poles on every hill and under every tree (a bit of an exaggeration, perhaps?). There are "even male shine prostitutes" in the land now, which is particularly disgusting to the Israelites because of the threat that sex between men poses to the traditional gender order. After a few years, Judah is invaded by the Egyptians, who ransack the palace and the Temple and carry off most of Solomon's gold trinkets. Rehoboam tries to replace them, but he can only afford cheap bronze replicas.

Rehoboam's son Abijah (confusingly, Jeroboam also has a son named Abijah, which makes one wonder whether there's a mistake here somewhere) becomes king of Judah after his father and apparently does no better. The author of 1 Kings makes the ridiculous and totally false claim that God let Abijah remain as king because David was without sin in the eyes of the Lord, with the singular exception of the murder of Uriah the Hittite. God does permit a continuous civil war between Judah and Israel, however.

Abijah's son Asa is the next king of Judah. He seems to be a decent guy: he expels the shrine prostitutes, dismisses his own grandmother for idol worship, and disperses the royal treasury to make peace with Aram. (This is where the good news stops - once Asa is at peace with Aram, he convinces the foreigners to join him in making war against Israel.) His punishment for this, 1 Kings records, is that as he grew older "his feet became diseased." How awful for him.

Over in Israel, Jeroboam is replaced by his son Nadab, who is as sinful as his old man. He also has to deal with some rebels, one of whom - Baasha - succeeds in assasinating Nadab and becoming the new king of Israel. Baasha promptly murders Jeroboam's entire family. But Baasha turns out to be no better, and God sends a prophet to try and scare the king straight. (It doesn't work.)

It's rapidly becoming apparent that, unlike Judah, Israel can't even maintain political stability (both sides are united in their general sinfulness, but Judah has a functioning monarchy to oversee its depravity - is this better or worse? I'm not sure...). Baasha's son Elah becomes king, but after only a couple of years, the commander of his chariots, Zimri, stages a coup. Zimri tries to proclaim himself a king, but he's committed one of the most basic mistakes of military conspirators - he's forgotten to make sure he actually has the support of the military. The infantry refuses to recognize a charioteer as king and names a competing king, Omri. Then they march on Israel's new capital of Tirzah, where Zimri sees the approaching masses and promptly sets his palace on fire, immolating himself in the process. Yet another Biblical ritual suicide, it would seem. Omri eventually does become king, though only after killing a few other challengers to the throne. He's a pagan too, though, so God is still angry.

The last king in this sequence is Omri's son Ahab, who rules Israel for 22 years and is more evil than anyone yet. He marries a foreign girl named Jezebel (always a bad idea) and introduces Baal worship to the various other pagan faiths already in Israel. He also lets his subjects begin rebuilding the city of Jericho, which has been laying fallow since Joshua's time and was never supposed to be rebuilt.

At this point God has basically stepped out of the narrative. Aside from the occasional grumpy prophet, the only role he plays is to stand around progressively getting angrier and angrier.