Saturday, March 29, 2008
Chronicles of the Kings- Lynn Austin
My wife has convinced me to read some of the books she has been reading. Normally I don't read a lot of novels from the Christian book market. I usually find them too tame. The truth is that the evangelical market can be easily offended and therefore the content often strays from the depths of reality.
Anyway, the books that were put into my hand were a series called "Chronicles of the Kings." The author, Lynn Austin has chosen to portray the life of King Hezekiah in fiction. Hezekiah was one of the few kings in the history of Judah to truly honour God and his law. As far as the novels have been concerned (I am reading the third book in a five part series), the over all enjoyment factor for a good read has been reasonable. I guess I would give them a score of 7/10. A couple of things have annoyed me though. The prophets seem rather weak. When Micah came to Hezekiah at the start of his reign he "prophesied" on his academic knowledge of the Torah, rather than by a burning of the Holy Spirit inside of him. This seems to all to easily fit in with an evangelical stream that would rather have the Father, Son and Holy Book, rather than the Holy Spirit. So many evangelicals seem to be afraid of the power of the Holy Spirit, and it certainly comes through in Lynn Austin's books. Secondly, there is no doubting that these books are written for women, as much of the Christian fiction market is (perhaps why it is seen as impotent by people like me). There are far too many times when the heroine of the story dreams of her love for her man, and of being held in his arms etc. Now this is all very good when these books are mostly read by women, but when is someone going to have the courage to write something a little more palatable for both genders?
Aside from the fictionalisation of the story (which I will not spoil for you) one of Lynn Austin's obvious goals was to get people to pick up their bible's and read the stories of the kings in a new light. This is something I am greatly appreciative to her for. She has put faces on the characters of the bible. This is necessary because the biblical stories are set so far in the past and in such different cultures, that it is often difficult to relate to them. It certainly encouraged me to read the stories of the kings again to get a better context for the story I was reading in a novel.
Lynn Austin manages to make the Assyrians seem rather mean, but not as ghastly as a writer like John Grisham or Steven Lawhead would have the guts to do. But then those writers (Christians as they are) have been given the cold shoulder by much of the evangelical world for publishing in the secular market. It does give the reader a better impression of why Jonah wanted to disobey God when he was called to prophesy to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrians.
So, I read the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. I decided to skip Samuel on this occasion, as I know the stories of King David better. A few things stood out to me as I read these books. (I calculated that they would be about 250 pages in normal paper back spacing, but the bible pages are rather thin with tiny type on them.) Firstly, Solomon was at once the biggest success and biggest failure that Israel ever had. It would be fair to say that God has accommodated our mistakes many times in his plans. Solomon is a big example of God doing this.
Let me digress. God never intended for sin to be in the world. But he lovingly decided to give us free choice. When sin entered the garden of Eden, God decided to come up with a salvation plan. Very early on God promised he would send a Saviour, who was yet unnamed. Later on, after many more human mistakes God let the Israelites know that it was his preference for them to not have a king like the other nations, because he wanted to be their King. Yet God showed grace to the Israelites and allowed them to have a king, even though it would be their down fall in the end.
Saul may have been Israel's first king, but David was God's choice for Israel's king. David was a man after God's own heart, yet even he had a lot to learn about God's will. Israel prospered under David. Israel began to fulfil its purpose as a light among the nations. Under Solomon, Israel prospered beyond imagination. Gold was so plentiful in his kingdom, that silver was considered worthless. He kingdom stretched up to the Euphrates river, just as God had promised Abraham. Kings and queens from all over the known world came to Solomon to seek his wisdom and hear where his wealth had come from. Israel was the most prosperous nation in the world under King Solomon.
But Solomon had a fateful flaw. He took on foreign wives. In fact the Torah already gave instructions that a king should not have many wives. It seems that Solomon did not know the law well enough. As Solomon took on 700 wives, many of them to form alliances with other nations, they also brought their foreign demigods. Solomon was tempted into worship of gods other than the true Creator God Yahweh. As he was tempted, he led his nation into the same sins. It was as a direct result of Solomon's sin of idol worship that Israel was split under his son Rehaboam. Rehaboam remained the king of Judah, and Jeroboam (not in the line of King David) became the king of Israel.
So many of the kings of Israel and Judah worshipped idols because Solomon led them into sin. So much of the old testament story is about Israel's struggle with temptation and God's desire for them to be a light to the world. Imagine if Solomon had remained a godly man and had not taken on extra wives. Imagine if his son had been a godly man too. It would stand to reason that a godly son would have inherited his kingdom and not only maintained it, but would have seen it prosper even more. The fame of Israel would have spread even further through out the world. Israel would truly have been a light to the nations. A succession of godly kings that did not take on idol worshipping wives would have made for a very different history.
The second thing that stood out to me, was that God promised that there would also be a son of David sitting on the throne of Judah. God promised that he would reserve a remnant for himself in the nation of Judah for "the sake of David." David is a "type" or a foreshadow of the Messiah Jesus. When God promised that he would do this "for the sake of David" he was in many ways saying he would do this for the sake of his Son, the coming Messiah.
When Jesus was born, he was the last King in the line of David to be born. He inherited the "throne" of Judah. This was declared to the world as he hung dying on the cross under the sign "King of the Jews" (Jew, being a derivative of Judah). Since Jesus rose from the dead, and lives for evermore, he continues to be the King of Judah, of the new spiritual Israel. No nation of Israel or Judah can exist without God's king in place.
Many believed that Israel being established in 1948 was a fulfillment of Ezekiel's prophecies that the Jews would return to Judah. But it would pay to read the return to Jerusalem in the days of Nehemiah and Ezra as a fulfillment of these prophecies. The modern nation of Israel does not pay any attention to the King in the line of David, therefore they are not the biblical nation of Judah. They are not some special fulfillment of prophecy. They need a saviour just like the rest of us, they need to call on King Jesus.
Reading 1st and 2nd Kings also helped me realise that I have both an earthly and a heavenly King in Jesus. He will return to establish his reign on earth some day. It is clear though, that Israel failed in being the light to the nations that God desired. The nation of Judah was destroyed in AD 70. His plan now is for the spiritual nation of Israel with Jesus as King to be his Light to the nations. But I do not buy into some notion in the middle east having a special part to play in that plan.