This week I’m reading a book entitled Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel. By providing a history-reader flow to the Old Testament narrative of Jewish national development, and combining the Scriptural witness with extra-biblical sources, Merrill gives the reader an easy to follow interpretation of this turbulent era. The focus on dates and fitting the Bible in with external records can be tedious, but some of that is necessary to understand the external pressures on Judah and Israel, and how these events created opportunities for the People of God to seek other agents of security. Though I don’t agree with all of the authors “must-be’s” and “must mean’s,” it is a solid introduction to understanding that there are more forces at work, more contributors involved, behind every word of the biblical narrative.
To a modern reader it seems absurd to hear story after story of Israel and Judah embracing strategies that are quite opposite of what God spoke through His Law and Prophets. After all, are they not in the very presence of men who claim the authority of God Himself? Of men who call fire from heaven to consume false prophets, and mock powerless idols? How can one blatantly ignore the word of one acknowledged as a “man of God?” From Samuel and Nathan, and Ahijah to Elisha and beyond, God raised up men whose truth and miracles confirmed their “prophet-hood.” These men were feared, honored, hunted and killed because when they spoke, their predictions came true, and their convictions churned the hearts of the listener. How, then, could the hearers not listen?
This is where Merrill does the reader a service. By providing outside information about the threats, or opportunities, that confronted the People of God, one can begin to understand the fuller picture. We must all embrace the essentialness of extra-biblical references, at least to the point of a surface level understanding of the culture and history of the day.
In 2 Chronicles we encounter a prophet named Jehu (not the future king) who warned Jehoshaphat that it was unacceptable to work with “those who hate the LORD,” and yet, help he did. It was Israel and her king Ahab, who according to 1 Kings 1:30 “did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him,” that the prophet warned against. Jehoshaphat married into this family, joined Ahab in raids, and built a fleet of ships with him. How could he?!? When the student understands the power vacuum in the Levant at this time it becomes clear that a strong trading force and military alliance between Israel and Judah would create opportunities to reclaim the splendor of Solomon’s kingdom (in their minds it was splendor, even if not in fact).
This type of logic strikes a bit closer to home. After all, how often does a Christian, with the Spirit speaking within him, seek his own profit or protection in lieu of trusting God?