In high school, our physical education teacher would tell us “use it or lose it”. Of course, he meant use your muscles or lose your muscles. I’ll admit, I was pretty motivated by this approach to scare us into pushing ourselves harder at sport, especially since whatever muscle I did have, I was not prepared to lose it for not running an extra ten metres.
The common theme in the book of Kings reveals that God was eager to commission leaders of the tribes of Israel to fulfil his plan to guide them back to God. He was so passionate that he would offer wisdom at the drop of a hat to help them better lead his people, and yet, one after another, the Kings of Israel would fall short of the task for which they were abundantly resourced.
Not only would they fall short, but they would openly defy God’s will in favour of the tangible objects of Canaanite worship or the spoils of a war gone too far. The power and position given to them, was for the purpose of redeeming the people of Israel, not guiding them further away. Nevertheless, God was quick to correct these injustices by utilising his own ‘use it or lose it’ technique, often cursing the family line and removing them (sometimes brutally) from their position to make way for another.
The kings of Israel had a very simple role in God’s plan; rid Israel of idolatry, worship only the God of Israel, and remain faithful to the covenant, as stated at the beginning of the telling of each king in the book. What is clear is that God is not limited by resources such as people or time; he doesn’t become less powerful every time a king of Israel is disobedient, or because the people of Israel decide to worship a steel cow.
The second important element to this book is the installation of God’s accountability system for the Kings, which was kinda like having a personal trainer at the gym except they just tell you how fat you’ll get if you don’t do the exercises. God had raised up two prophets, Elijah and Elisha, to encourage some of the Kings to keep God’s commands and, if needed, warn the consequences of disobedience. With accountability as serious as this, it’s hard to see where the Kings could possibly go wrong.
Elijah came to confront Ahab (king of Israel) in chapter 17 after Ahab had built temples to the false gods in Samaria and announced to him there would not be rain for years unless God deemed it so. It’s said in chapter 16, “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him”.
Nevertheless, God gave opportunity to king Ahab numerous times to redeem his people and honour the covenant, but no matter how intense Elijah’s message came across, Ahab had sold himself to the gods of the earth, continuing his evil until he was eventually killed in battle.
Slight disobedience is okay, right?
Luckily towards the end of Kings, we see that there are actually a few good ones who were wise and attempted to redeem their kingdoms such as Hezekiah and Josiah—easy to say, God was pleased with them. Amaziah, King of Judah would’ve also been considered one of the good ones if it weren’t for the fact that he didn’t remove worship in the ‘high places’ which was a sign of disobedience to God regardless of the fact he had done most things right.
Even the most powerful, wealthy, chosen, blessed and wise kings were responsible for their own downfall because they didn’t remain steadfast on the task they were positioned for. These kings of Israel were servants of God but were lost in their own pride and saw themselves as being above God.
Small steps, big change
Each time kingship was passed on, the king’s actions were immediately compared to the previous ruler by only one criteria: “did he do more or less evil in the eyes of God than his predecessor?”
The kings who practiced ungodly evil weren’t considered evildoers among the people explicitly, because their actions were being measured by the standard of men, not the expectation of God. At one point of Solomon’s reign, he had drifted so far away from replicating his father, David’s revered leadership, and closer to echoing the likes of pharaoh and Ahab, which evidently made him the last king of a unified Israel.
The precedent of leadership in Israel was set by Solomon’s actions and sparked hundreds of years of domino effect monarchy, where each new king would fall short of the previous until their people were eventually defeated and exiled. If each of these kings had used God as a reference point and continually kept their kingdom in check, they wouldn’t have drifted off-course with small and gradual steps towards evil. Instead, they would have been echoing the nature of God.
Jesse Moore draws from the Bible and classical literature for insight into life’s tough questions. He is currently studying at university to become a film-maker.
Jesse Moore’s previous articles can be viewed at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jesse-moore.html