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?

Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. Hey James, I felt short-changed a bit…. Wanted to hear more! Great start to a great topic!
    Also, you mentioned that you did not agree with Dr. Merrill’s “must bes” etc…. What exactly do you so confidently disagree with? It’s so easy for us novice budding theologians to flippantly throw in a comment like that not realizing that we are referring to a man who has more theological and historical bacground study and experience then all the contributors on this site put together 10xs over…


  2. Hi Kevin, Thanks for the feedback. Let me respond with a few things.

    1.Concerning the brevity, that was intentional. I was not out to review the work in detail, or dive into a particular theological point, so much as I was wanting to reiterate the point Merrill proves: in order to fully understand the bible, we must also learn about the history and culture surrounding the biblical writers and characters.

    2. A bit of background may be helpful here, so that you understand where I am coming from in these matters. I went from high school straight into a theology degree back in 98. I got much of that work done, but then joined the Navy where I studied Arabic to be a linguist. Unfortunately I had some injuries that halted that option, and I went back to school, and switched majors, finishing with a BA in history. I went immediately into an MA in history and finished the coursework for that program. All of my studies in history(when it depended on my choice) focused on how theological issues have shaped history. This ranged from why the Mongols rejected Christianity, to the last attempt before the pre-modern era to reunite the Latin and Greek Orthodox Church. As I began that thesis I was told that I could not use another theological theme, and so I decided to finish with an MA in theological studies instead, which I am finishing up this semester.I do not think this makes me the level of scholar Merrill may be, but it does give me a leg to stand on when I dislike some of his blanket statements.

    3. One easy example: God told Samuel Saul could have reigned as a king forever had he only obeyed instead of offering the sacrifice himself. Merrill says that this “must mean” God intended a split kingdom of Israel and Judah from the begining. It was inevitable because Saul can only be king forever if the prophesied king of Judah has his own kingdom. I have issue with this.

    First off, God told this to Samuel as a post-script, an explanation for why he was removing Saul along with a “this could have been” statement. A liberal scholar would say that this is a redaction added by later recorders to make it look like God was not wishy-washy with his choice of anointment ones.
    I don’t buy that either. I think it was important enough to include, and shows that God truly regretted having to cut Saul off for his disobedience. So what are we to take from this? There are several options. One could be that the king of Judah was always meant to be Jesus Christ, and that had Israel obeyed, Saul’s line could have endured until Christ came to rule in flesh and in Spirit. One option could be what Merrill Suggests. Another option could be that God foreknew the way Saul would fall, and he allowed Saul his chance, but always knew that it was from Judah that the eternal Kingdom would spring.

    The bottom line is, this is much to broad a statement to say “must mean.”
    I have a great deal of respect for Merrill, and for anyone who spends a lifetime developing a theory, and trend, a school of thought. But, Paul tells us to test every spirit, and weigh the words of every teacher against scripture. Therefore, anyone who says “must be,” or “must mean” had better have an iron grip on the issue at hand, or I will necessarily resort to honest doubt while I search God’s word and Spirit to affirm truth or falsehood.



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About James Grissom

We live in a world governed by thoughts. Let's share them.


Old Testament Studies, Theology