Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 94. Zechariah And Shallum: Two Short-Term Kings Of Israel

Prophets And Kings
Day 94
Zechariah And Shallum
Two Short-Term Kings Of Israel

Today we looks at two kings of Israel who reigned for a very short time.

2 KINGS 15:8-16
Yesterday we studied the reign of Azariah, more commonly known as Uzziah, the king of Judah. He was afflicted with leprosy because of his sins, with his son Jotham handling all the affairs of the kingdom. Azariah/Uzziah eventually died and his son Jotham became king of Judah.

While these events have been going on, it's been like a game of musical chairs in Israel concerning the throne. So now the author backs up a bit so we can get caught up with what's happening in Israel. "In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned six months. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as his predecessors had done. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit." (2 Kings 15:8-9) Zechariah is the son of Jeroboam II but is continuing on in the sin of Jeroboam I who introduced the golden calves to Israel. Ever since Jeroboam I brought in the practice of making offerings and sacrifices to the calves, making them a stand-in for the God of Israel, all the successive kings have continued in this sin with the exception of King Ahab who brought in Baal worship, an even more abominable sin. The throne has changed hands many times and it has even changed from one family to another, but these kings have continued to do wrong in the eyes of the Lord. God has sent many prophets during this period of time but none have been able to turn any of the kings away from false worship.

Usually when we find a king reigning for only a short time it's because he's exceedingly evil. "Shallum son of Jabesh conspired against Zechariah. He attacked him in front of the people, assassinated him, and succeeded him as king." (2 Kings 15:10) A man who is not even of the royal family manages to take the throne from Zechariah without any protest from the citizens. This is evidence that Zechariah was despised by the people. To illustrate that point, we can look at an assassination that took place in our own country, when Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy in front of the people. Crowning Shallum after he assassinated the king would be like us giving the oath of office to Oswald after he assassinated the president. But nobody in the USA did that because to most people Oswald was no hero. In Zechariah's case, he is so wicked that Shallum is considered a hero and the people reward his actions by putting him on the throne. 

"The other events of Zechariah's reign are written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel. So the word of the Lord spoken to Jehu was fulfilled: 'Your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.'" (2 Kings 15:12) The Lord promised King Jehu that his descendants would sit on the throne to the fourth generation, but He didn't promise long and prosperous reigns unless they did what was right in His eyes. The men of Jehu's family have not worshiped the Lord as He commanded and so, even though the Lord keeps His promise, the house of Jehu is cut off quickly in the time of Zechariah. 

Shallum is no better a king than Zechariah. Can we expect much from a man who is willing to assassinate a king? This is something King David never did even though he had many opportunities to kill the wicked King Saul. "Shallum son of Jabesh became king in the thirty-ninth year of Uzziah king of Judah, and he reigned in Samaria one month. Then Menahem son of Gadi went from Tirzah up to Samaria. He attacked Shallum son of Jabesh in Samaria, assassinated him and succeeded him as king." (2 Kings 15:13-14) The author doesn't tell us whether Shallum did evil in the eyes of the Lord but I think we can probably assume so since his reign was so brief. He only sat on the throne for about four weeks. 

"The other events of Shallum's reign, and the conspiracy he led, are written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel. At that time Menahem, starting out from Tirzah, attacked Tipshah and everyone in the city and its vicinity, because they refused to open their gates. He sacked Tipshah and ripped open all the pregnant women." (2 Kings 15:15-16) Menahem is a very evil man. Because Tipshah won't surrender to him, he retaliates by murdering all the expecting women, a barbaric practice common in the surrounding nations but not practiced by Israel or Judah. 

The ten tribes that make up the northern kingdom are falling into chaos. Israel is on a downward spiral, likely because of the idolatry rampant in the nation. The state-sponsored religion has drawn the people away from their God and has allowed lawlessness to grow. The two golden calves that supposedly stand in for God don't make any demands on the people. The calves don't insist on righteous living. The calves don't bring up anyone's sins to them. The prophets have been ignored and even persecuted to the death because they have dared to stand and speak up for what is right. Because the northern kingdom has insisted on going her own way, the Lord is going to let her hit bottom. 

Sometimes that's what the Lord has to do with us: let us hit bottom. We keep thinking we are in control of our lives, able to manage them without any interference from Him, and so God in His mercy has to let us keep going our own way until we find ourselves trapped. Then, deep in a narrow pit of sin, we can look up to His light and see that He has been there all along, loving us and reaching out to us. 

I don't know what it was like when you came to Christ, but my conversion was exactly like the paragraph above. I had dug a deep pit for myself and instead of reaching up for His hand to pull me out, I illogically kept digging deeper, as if some way out could be found at the bottom. But there's nothing at the bottom but more sludge, more filth, more undrinkable water. I think that's what is happening to Israel during the times of these kings we have been studying. In abandoning the right worship of God, the people have been steadily digging themselves deeper and deeper into a pit, and so the Lord is going to allow them to hit bedrock where they can dig no further. Trapped, they will have no choice but to look up, and He will be there. The God who promised never to abandon Israel will never abandon her. When she seeks His outstretched hand she will find it.

We conclude today with this worship song link.

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