1 & 2 Kings

Righteous Jehu’s Righteous Lies and Slaughter (By Peter Lyon)

I’m currently teaching a course at BTS on the books of Samuel and Kings. One of the assignments is to write a blog about a controversial passage in these two books.  This one is written by MDiv student Peter Lyon, who chose to write about Jehu (the subject of my dissertation: Righteous Jehu).

When one hears a story about a man ordering 70 young princes to be decapitated, and then hears of that same man stacking those heads in two large piles at the entrance to the city gate, it would be natural to assume that the man in question is the villain of the story. In 2 Kings chapter 10 however, the text presents the perpetrator of these gruesome acts, Jehu, as the hero – the man carrying out God’s justice on the evil heirs of Ahab and Jezebel.

How did we get here? Ahab and Jezebel are the most notorious villains of the book of Kings – unrepentant idolaters, barbarously brutal, and viscously greedy – after witnessing their acts of evil it is only natural to wish for their righteous judgement. The prophet Elisha anoints Jehu, commander in the army, King over Israel and commissions him saying:

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anoint you king over the Lord’s people, Israel. 7 You are to destroy the family of Ahab, your master. In this way, I will avenge the murder of my prophets and all the Lord’s servants who were killed by Jezebel. 8 The entire family of Ahab must be wiped out. I will destroy every one of his male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. ”  2 Kings 9:6b-8

Jehu carries this judgement out swiftly. He kills the king in his chariot, and has Jezebel thrown from a window. He has the princes decapitated, and stacks their heads as a message to the people. He then deceives the prophets of Ba’al into gathering all together and has them executed without exception. And how did the Lord respond to this rampant slaughter?

…the Lord said to Jehu, “You have done well in following my instructions to destroy the family of Ahab. Therefore, your descendants will be kings of Israel down to the fourth generation.” 2 Kings 10:30

Needless to say, this passage of Scripture is not flannelgraph material, I do not expect the Children’s Minister at my church to be lesson planning this one for the kids. I find it difficult myself for a number of reasons:

  1. Generational Judgment: it makes me uncomfortable when children are punished for the crimes of their parents. Or the idea that four generations of Jehu’s descendants will rule as a reward for his obedience.

  2. Imperfect Judge: Jehu was a witness to Ahab’s evil up until this point and had done nothing. And when he is called to act as judge, he uses violence and deceit. Is lying and killing acceptable in the service of God? When are we allowed to break commandments?

  3. Judgment Contextualized: Now none of this is particularly strange or brutal for the time period it is occurring in. In the ancient world, if one is assuming the throne by force, it is only natural to eliminate all those who have a “right” to the throne by birth. Would I be as uncomfortable with the way in which God’s justice was enacted if I lived then instead of now? Most likely, no, this would not have been as strange to me then, but does that ease the discomfort of my 21st century self?

I have chosen the word uncomfortable a lot here instead of something stronger because I stand firmly in the understanding that all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death. Perhaps how those wages are paid out is immaterial, but how do we reconcile this picture of obedience with the obedience we are called to live out?

Too Weird for Hollywood (by Jason Craig)

I’m currently teaching a course at BTS on the books of Samuel and Kings. One of the assignments is to write a blog about a controversial passage in these two books.  This one is written by MDiv student Jason Craig.  

Although biblical blockbusters like Noah and Son of God have been trending in Hollywood, certain biblical accounts would never work on film. The “man of God” narrative from 1 Kings 13 is one example of a screenplay disaster. The story begins with Hollywood potential, but quickly spirals into a Christian Baleconfusing mess.

Visualize the scenes: King Jeroboam (Christian Bale) has defied God by constructing unauthorized temples in the hill country of Ephraim. A scraggly prophet (Kirk Cameron) ascends the wind-swept mountain of Bethel, screaming rebukes and predicting the demise of Jeroboam’s dynasty. Then, reaching for the prophet’s throat, the king’s hand shrivels and the altar explodes. Fantastic!

The story, though, takes a surreal turn when the man of God encounters another prophet (Christopher Walken), who is so desperate for a houseguest that he convinces the man to break his fast. Then, dissolving to the next scene, the man of God is mauled to death by a lion. What?

What is God the formula for meting out punishment?” Idol-loving Jeroboam lived a long life. The old prophet feigned a word of the Lord without consequence. The hillside hero, however, eats early and—boom—big cat justice. The prophet’s death creates a tension that offends our sense of fairness. Disorienting as it may be, several lessons emerge from this narrative:

  1. God’s sin-punishment gauge is different from our own. Jeroboam maintained a trajectory of evil, but continued to reign for 22 years (1 Kings 13:33). God delayed judgment until Josiah’s reign (2 Kings 23:15–17). The man of God began on a righteous path, but failed to seek the Lord before breaking his vow. His trajectory of disobedience led to a swift death. The old prophet started off poorly but ended honorably by mourning the man’s death and burying him in his own tomb. God honored this trajectory of obedience.
  2. God is gracious in an environment of disobedience. Jeroboam’s hand was restored even though he stood in direct opposition to God. Likewise, the old prophet lived a long life with the message of God on his lips (1 Kings 13:32). Even God’s command to the man of God was gracious gift. The vow was a protection for the prophet, lest he divide his loyalties and join the hill-country corruption.
  3. Serving God does not preclude us from punishment.. An aching stomach and the wooing words of a stranger were opportunities for obedience. Instead, the prophet broke all three components of his vow by walking to house and compromising at the table. Sin compiles to form a dangerous trajectory. Let us not be fooled into thinking that a life of ministry gives us a special dispensation. A vigilant spiritual life is restrained in the face of temptation, preferring the voice of the Lord to the world.
  4. The lion models perfect obedience. Not only does the lion obey the voice of the Lord, but it defies its natural inclination to consume the man, the donkey, and curious bystanders.

 How can we prevent our sin from forming a dangerous trajectory?

Good Stories Bear Repeating

sluggo-on-repetition1I received an email from a friend a few days ago.  She asked about the duplication and repetition in Scripture, specifically why there were two versions of the Ten Commandments.

I’ve expanded and edited it, but this is basically what I said.

Scripture is full of repetition.  There are four gospels, with a lot of overlap, particularly among the three synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke).  Chronicles overlaps with major sections of Samuel/Kings.  Isaiah 36-39 seems to be cut and pasted directly from 2 Kings 18-20.  David’s song of thanksgiving of 2 Samuel 22 is found almost verbatim in Psalm 18.  Speaking of psalms, 14 and 53 are literary doppelgangers.  This doesn’t even count the places in the New Testament where the Old Testament is being quoted.  There are two accounts of the Ten Commandments (or as I like to say, The Fourteen Commandments).  There are more examples, but I think I’ve made my point.

Why the repetition?  Some things bear repeating.  In the same way a text will repeat a word to emphasize it (and I highlight it to bring out the repetition), Scripture repeats stories to highlight and emphasize important themes.  Paul’s conversion is retold 3 times in Acts, but each time with slightly different things included.

Good films are worthy of being watched more than once, and with each repetition you discover new things, and your appreciation grows.

I find it curious when a story isn’t repeated, like why do only two of the gospels (Matthew and Luke) include the story of Jesus’ birth?  And yet in Christian culture, Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year.  Hmm…

Thinking about the Ten Commandments, for the command about the Sabbath (#5) the Exodus version refers to creation (Exo. 20:11), as taking a Sabbath is to remind us of how God rested on the seventh day.  But the Deuteronomy version of the Sabbath command (Deut. 5:15) recalls the deliverance from enslavement in Egypt, because God gave them rest and deliverance from oppression.  They are emphasizing different aspects of God’s story.  Immediately after they came out of Egypt they didn’t need to be reminded of the deliverance, but of the creation.  They just lived the deliverance.  However, forty years later in Deuteronomy as they were about to enter the Promised Land it was appropriate to recall the Exodus, to help the next generation remember.

Since we humans often forget what God has done in the past we need to be reminded, so there is a lot of retelling of the story.  Good stories bear repeating.  Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 retells the Old Testament story with a negative spin (your ancestors were hard-hearted), while the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 retells the OT story with a positive spin (your ancestors were people of great faith).

Why else does Scripture repeat things?

“I Will Strike You Down and Cut off Your Head”

If you are into trash talking, you may want to check out my recently published article,

” ‘I Will Strike You down and Cut off Your Head’ (1 Samuel 17:42) Trash Talking, Derogatory Rhetoric, and Psychological Warfare in Ancient Israel.”

It just appeared in a collection of essays entitled,

Warfare, Ritual, and Symbol in Biblical and Modern Contexts, edited by Brad Kelle, Frank Ames and Jacob Wright, from SBL (June, 2014)

Who trash talks in the Bible?  David, Goliath, Elijah, Jezebel, Jehu, the Rabshakeh, and even Yahweh himself.  David is the one who promises to “cut off” the head of his opponent Goliath from the title.

So, is it OK, or even good to trash talk?  Do you trash talk?  Should we trash talk today?  

I also have a series of nine blogs about OT trash talking (click here).

I begin with Shakespeare’s Henry V, then move quickly to John Cleese’s French knight in The Holy Grail (how often do you encounter Monty Python in academic works?) before working through examples in literature of the ancient Near East and the Bible.

I really like some of the section titles,

1) Introduction
2) Insults, Boasts and Predictions
3) Trash-Talk Research
4) Bulls and Birds, Falcons and Foxes: Trash Talking in the ANE
5) Flailing Flesh and Smoldering Stumps: Trash Talking in the Hebrew Bible
6) Canine Consumption: Elijah, Jezebel, Jehu, and Others
7) Eating Dung and Drinking Urine: The Rabshaheh, Hezekiah, and YHWH
8) Lions, Bears, and Dogs: David and the Philistine
9) Biomorphic and Zoomorphic, Scatological and Theological

I first gave an earlier draft of this in Oxford in July 2008, but many of the scholars weren’t familiar with the term “trash talking”, instead they spoke of “sledging” which is apparently what taunt speech is often called in cricket.

Other contributors to the volume include the three editors, as well as,
Saul M. Olyan
Nathaniel B Levtow
Thomas Römer
Kelly J. Murphy
Deborah O’Daniel Cantrell
Rüdiger Schmitt
Mark S. Smith
Susan Niditch
Jason A. Riley
T. M. Lemos

Where else do we find trash talking in the Bible?