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Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Legacy of Kings

The first few kings of Israel are well known: Saul, David, and Solomon. After that, Israel split never to reunify, and most of the remaining kings are far less known. Some of them reigned for long periods of time, and others very short. Some of them started very young and reigned for many years, and others began when they were more advanced in years. Near the end of the Israeli monarchy, before the nation was carried off into exile, the accounts become increasingly scant. I’ve been amazed at how little we know of some of them. “Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem” (2 Kings 23:31). Imagine that: a king of God’s chosen people whose legacy is little more than a pair of timestamps!

Even in the midst of very short accounts (and also in the longer accounts) there are some consistent facts mentioned with each one. One of these is to honor women. We know the names of the mothers who raised many of these kings because the Scriptures include them. A bit of explaining is in order for understanding another of the facts mentioned.

One of God’s instructions for kings was to “write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). If the nation obeyed, then “the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth” (Deuteronomy 28:1). One of those laws was with respect to what Israel might learn from other nations: “take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:30-31).

Sadly, eventually generations of Israel arose who forgot the LORD and did this very thing. This burning of children in the fire happened in the “high places”: “They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire” (Jeremiah 32:35).

It is these “high places” that are another consistent legacy marker of kings in Israel. Did they remove or take away the high places? Did they leave them in place? Did they rebuild them or build new ones? This is one of the few things that would consistently make or break a king’s legacy in Israel.

One of the kings of Israel named Hezekiah who “did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done” (2 Kings 18:3) was one who “removed the high places” (2 Kings 18:4). He was succeeded by his own son, Manasseh, who “did evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 21:2) in part because “he rebuilt the high places” (2 Kings 21:3). In fact, he “acted more wickedly than all the Amorites who were before him” (2 Kings 21:11). “Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides his sin by which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 21:16). This secular account of his reign ends two verses later.

The temple account of his reign included something the secular account did not. At first it sounds like it’s still bad news for Manasseh: “the LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not listen” (2 Chronicles 33:10). And it gets really serious, too: “Therefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon” (2 Chronicles 33:11)!

How does Manasseh respond? It’s beautiful: “Now when he was in affliction, he implored the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him” (2 Chronicles 33:12-13). How does God respond to that? “He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom” (2 Chronicles 33:13)! “Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God” (2 Chronicles 33:13). It doesn’t stop there either: “Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the LORD God of Israel, indeed they are written in the book of the kings of Israel. Also his prayer and how God received his entreaty … (is) written among the sayings of Hozai” (2 Chronicles 33:18-19).

The shedding of innocent blood has been and is a continual challenge for all nations. I believe the modern form of causing sons and daughters “to pass through the fire” would be the knives and chemicals of abortion providers. In some ways it’s a little different today. It’s very sanitized. We don’t hear the screams of agony, though silent screams there are. It’s easier to turn away our eyes. But no one should be mistaken: innocent blood is shed.

This evil is especially inexcusable because we have given it our blessing. Since Roe v. Wade, we have long ago passed the six million lives lost in The Holocaust and seem to be attempting to rival the tens upon tens of millions of lives lost under communism in the 20th Century. How many lives have been lost in China and other countries helped by funds provided under the auspices of foreign aid? A new turn has come under the Affordable Care Act whereby the partial participation of all Americans is now required through the HHS mandate for contraceptive coverage, the “full range” of which includes drugs that some of us believe go unacceptably beyond preventing conception.

Many years ago Jill Stanek, RN, blew the whistle on live birth abortions happening at Christ Hospital in Illinois. The Born Alive Infants Protection Act was passed in response. This issue resurfaced this year with the legislative actions in New York and attempted in Virginia. Since then Members of Congress have attempted to add enforcement to the Born Alive bill. These attempts have been unsuccessful, but they are persisting.

We, too, have “shed very much innocent blood” and have filled our land “from one end to another.” We have shed much innocent blood of our sons and daughters and our land is “polluted with blood,” as the Psalmist wrote (Psalm 106:38). Of the previously mentioned Amorites, the Scriptures once described their iniquity as “not yet full” (Genesis 15:16, KJV). When will America’s iniquity be full? When will God stop speaking to people who will not listen and turn to other means of getting our attention instead?

I have no desire to see America sent off into exile literally, financially, temporarily, or long-term. I do not desire “the day of the Lord” as it is “darkness, and not light” (Amos 5:18). Perhaps God is seeking for “a man among them” to “stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it” (Ezekiel 22:30).

We all need forgiveness from our sins. Thankfully, we have a heavenly Father who indeed forgives. In Jeremiah, just a few verses after the words from the LORD mentioned above about the high places, he records some of the most hopeful words in all of Scripture: “His mercy endures forever” (Jeremiah 33:11; see also every verse in Psalm 136)! I don’t seek anyone’s affliction. I seek for the legacy of our leaders to be that people would say, “he implored the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him.” I pray for our leaders to that end “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2).

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