11. Historical & Geographical Context


Struggles of Israel Meditations: 11. Historical & Geographical Context

1 Kings 12:20  When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

Health Warning:  I think as we progress with this series I need to give a health warning – it is not for the faint-hearted. I have the feeling that this is possibly the most intense series – in terms of the amount of information and biblical quotes included – that I have ever written. It may be that you might find it more helpful to copy and paste the material (if you are reading it on something capable of doing that) in order to use this material as a future resource. I don’t think the church is usually very good at teaching of the history of the Old Testament and my hope is that this series may in a small measure remedy that or at least provide material to do that.

Recap: We have noted David’s successes and his failure and the consequences, and then Solomon’s success and then failure and further noted the Lord’s word to Solomon about dividing the kingdom. We now need to see how this works out and how the outcomes ‘fit’ our overall goal of examining the struggles of this nation. To do this we will have to now follow two streams, that of the north and that of the south. We will start with the northern kingdom as they lasted for roughly 135 years less than the south.

As we move on we are going to find a string of names of the various kings and I will endeavor to clarify them by printing them in bold. I will also seek to pick out their enemies similarly.  2 Chronicles describes the activities of the southern kingdom and 1 & 2 Kings mostly follows the northern kingdom (although there are some descriptions of the things of the south). For this reason, in the next part where we cover the northern activities, our resources will come from 1 & then later 2 Kings.

Warning: Now I am aware that as you read through this particular study, as I indicated above you may feel overwhelmed by ‘information’ which may leave you feeling that this is purely an academic study. In no way do I suggest you will remember all this detail but it may be in the subsequent studies you may wish to return here to put everything that follows into the historical and geographic context that I hope to provide here. I will make further comment at the end of this study.

Context:  Earlier on in the series, in Study No.7, we identified the various tribal nations that occupied Canaan when Israel went in to clear it out. Now many years later we will keep finding reference to other nations who the Lord used as a thorn in Israel’s side. It will be helpful therefore if we focus in this study  on the various nations interacting with Israel, and we gave a mini-description of each of these:

In study no.7 and into no.8, we covered the Philistines and saw them throughout David’s story. After that they ceased to be seen much and perhaps because of their geography (coastal plain in the south) they did not feature with the northern kingdom.

When Israel were transiting up the east side of the Dead Sea before entering the Land by crossing the Jordan, we identified the various nations to the south and east of the Dead Sea as follows: to the south is Edom, north of them is Moab and north of them Ammon, west of which dwelt the Amorites at the city of Heshbon, and then further north still, Bashan. Let’s pick up on some of these who also appear later in Israel’s history:

Edom: Edom was another name for Esau (Gen 36:1) and so the Edomites were descendants of Esau, who had clearly migrated there very early on (Gen 32:3, 36:1-8), absorbing the Horites who already lived there (Gen 14:6). Seir, which is often mentioned, was first a mountain in that area and then was the land in that area that became better known as Edom. Saul had fought against them when he came to rule (1 Sam 14:47), David subsequently conquered them (2 Sam 8:13,14). Later in Jehoshaphat’s time they joined with the Moabites and Ammonites to fight against the southern kingdom. In the reign of Jehoram in the south they rebelled (2 Kings 8:20-22). They were thus an opposition in the south mostly against the southern kingdom. They helped the north on one occasion (2 Kings 3:9)

Moab: Moab was the son of Lot (Gen 19:37) whose descendants settled the land that was to the east of the southern half of the Dead Sea, north of Edom. As we saw in the third study, they were protected by the Lord when Israel passed by on their way to enter the land further north. (Deut 2:9) Saul later fought with them (1 Sam 14:47) and David later subdued them (2 Sam 8:2). After Ahab died they rebelled (2 Kings 1:1, 3:5) against Joram but were routed by Joram, Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom (2 Kings 3:24). Later they simply took to raiding Israel every Spring (2 Kings 13:20). They were later subdued by Assyria until their power waned.

Aram: Otherwise known as Syria, the history is murky and complex but the name becomes associated with a people of the north and east of Israel, a land that stretched eastwards including northwest Mesopotamia, who are clearly established in the time of the Judges (see Jud 10:6). Absalom married a daughter of the king of Geshur and later fled there (see 2 Sam 3:5, 14:23, 15:8 – Geshur being identified as being in Aram).  David defeated a king from there (2 Sam 8:3) – Zobar is to the north-west of Damascus. Ben-Hadad king of Aram, attacked Samaria in the days of Ahab but was repulsed (1 Kings 20:1,29,30). It was the Arameans that Elisha spared at Dothan (2 Kings 6:8-23). Nevertheless Ben-Hadad again laid siege to Samaria but had ending up fleeing (2 Kings 6:24, 7:6,7). After Hazael killed him (2 Kings 8:15) the Lord used Hazael to subdue Israel (2 Kings 10:32) continuing into the reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:7,22)

The Kings of Aram we come across in the text are:

  • Ben-Hadad (there may have been a first and second) in days of Ahab (2 Kings 6:24, 8:7-15)
  • Hazael (843BC-) in later days of Ahab and into reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 8:7-15, 9:14, 10:32, 13:3-6,22
  • Ben-Hadad (the third possibly, 796BC-) in days of Rehoboam II (2 Kings 15:20)
  • Rezin – (pos. 750BC-) fought against the southern kingdom in the reign of Ahaz, but later killed by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 15,16, Isa 7:1)

Assyria: focused on the Tigris and upper Mesopotamia, in the period of our studies. Went through many phases through ancient history, and was strong and starting to expand about 900BC, lasting until the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Medes/Persians and Babylonians, Chaldeans in 609 BC.

The Kings of Assyria mentioned in the text are:

  • Tiglath-Pileser III: (745BC-) built the empire and came and deported some of Israel in Pekah’s reign (2 Kings 15:19, 29)
  • Shalmaneser V: (727-) came against Hoshea, overcame Samaria (722BC) and deported the rest of Israel (2 Kings 17:3,5, also 2 Kings 18:9-11))
  • Sargon II:  (722-) came and took Ashdod in the south (Isa 20:1)
  • Sennacherib: (705-) came against the southern kingdom (after the fall of the north) later in Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18 & 19 & Isa 36,37) but was withstood, and then later assassinated by his sons.
  • Esarhaddon: (681-) Sennacherib’s son reigned after his death (2 Kings 19:37)

Babylonia: In Babylon, which had earlier been part of Assyria, the rise of the city state under Nabopolasser (625-605) meant the end of Assyria in 609 and the ascension of Babylonia under Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) and subsequent kings, until the fall of Babylon in 539BC to the Persian, Cyrus, (539-530) who eventually sent the remnant of Israel back (538) to start to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (537). For the fall of Jerusalem and what followed see 2 Chron 36 etc. (All dates from The New Bible Dictionary)

And So: As I said at the beginning, lots of information and while we may not hold all of it in our memories, I hope that it may enlarge our perspective to see that Israel were just one small nation in a world of change, a world where nations grew and declined, grew and declined. It is for this reason that different nations appear at different times. The nations immediately to the east and south such as Moab and Edom, come and go as irritants in the life of Israel, but the bigger ‘empires’ such as Aram, the Assyrians and later the Babylonians became giants of influence over that area of the Middle East, as we now call it.

As we start to see the geography and see that these latter three empires all come from the north and north-east, we can understand why Isaiah prophesied about Galilee in the north, “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness  have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned,” (Isa 9:1,2) when he prophesied about the coming of Jesus. The north of the country had taken the brunt of the big powers from the north and north-east and in many ways had become a place of ‘darkness’.

And Us? From an intellectual point of view, may we be those with hearts open to learn. From a spiritual point of view may we catch something of the greatness of the working of the nations and, as the Bible shows it, the activities of the Lord as He interacts into all that is going on. In the studies as we progress, may we see this more and more and worship Him.

20. To Naaman

“God turned up” Meditations: 20 :  To Naaman

2 Kings 5:9-11 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” But Naaman went away angry

Throughout this series we have been considering the times when God turned up in people’s lives as recorded in the Old Testament, but the truth is that many people would prefer God not to turn up. They are very happy to keep God at a distance, or even ignore Him altogether. Naaman was such a person. I suspect that he considered himself such a ‘big man’ that he had no need for the gods, and as for the God of the Israelites, well He didn’t seem to be doing very much for them, so why bother with him.

Yes, Naaman was a big man: “Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier.” (2 Kings 5:1) Now the Hebrew writer acknowledges that it was the Lord who had given Naaman victory, but I doubt that that was how Naaman saw it. So here was Naaman with everything going well, but then we are told, but he had leprosy.” If only it had been a cold it would have been a different story, but leprosy can’t be ignored. Now fortunately for Naaman he has a slave girl who had been taken from Israel and she says to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (v.3). Well when you have leprosy beggars can’t be choosers!  So Naaman first goes to his king who sends him to the king of Israel who sends him to Elisha the prophet. When all else fails, people desperately resort to God. Elisha is God’s man, so go to Elisha.

So we find Naaman, the great army commander of Aram setting out to see an otherwise inconspicuous character called Elisha. Basically he wants God to turn up for him and heal him. He’s looking for a big spectacular healing. He’s a big spectacular man and he expects the spectacular from this God of Israel. “So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.” (v.9) Note the plurals – horses and chariots. When you are commander in chief you don’t travel alone. So what happened? How did God ‘turn up’?

“Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” (v.10). That’s not very spectacular! That’s just the messenger boy (Elisha) bringing a message from the boss (God). Moreover it’s a pretty mundane message! Go and dip yourself in the Jordan seven times! Whatever is that about? Naaman obviously thought similarly: “But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.” (v.11,12). There you are, that’s what Naaman wanted – a touch of the theatrical! Come out, call on God, wave a magic wand over the leprosy and lo and behold, it’s gone!

Well that’s not actually how God wants to do it, Naaman! Fortunately he had some wise servants with him: “Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, `Wash and be cleansed’!” (v.13) They recognised he wanted the great endeavour, or the spectacular, but isn’t this easier? Naaman takes the point and goes and dips seven times in the Jordon and on the seventh time, God turned up – quietly! He just healed him!

What’s the point here? Well certainly it is that God doesn’t turn up at our beck and call. He comes when He sees the time is right and He comes in the way He sees will be the most effective. Naaman needs to be humbled and needs to acknowledge the Lord and be obedient to Him – whatever He says!

So, have we learned these lessons? The Lord isn’t our servant; we are His! We don’t tell Him what to do, He tells us!   As little children the Lord tolerates our demands but that doesn’t mean to say He will give us what we demand!  We need to learn that He knows best and if the best involves bringing a dose of humility into our lives, so be it!  If the best means teaching us patience, then so be it! If the best means teaching us perseverance, so be it! Perhaps some of the most important words we can learn to pray are, “Lord, what do you want here?”  I am always impressed by some of the prophets; they listened to God, caught His will, and then prayed it! That’s a bit of a different approach to our demanding He conforms to our hopes and expectations. The trouble is that so often those hopes and expectations are less than God’s!  Dare we listen with ears that can hear big things? Perhaps there’s a new lifestyle to be taken on board?

14. Don’t be Afraid


Isa 7:4 Say to him, `Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood–because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.

Have you ever had circumstances conspire against you and you realise you are facing a most difficult time of life, and some bright character comes along and says, don’t be afraid, you’re a Christian, the Lord is with you? It is natural to be afraid in such circumstances and you can only overcome that fear by revelation from the Lord. We won’t overcome it by pretending it is not there and, in fact, we need to confront it with the Lord’s help.

In chapter 7 of Isaiah we move on at least sixteen years to when Ahaz is king of Judah, following his father Jotham (who had reigned sixteen years after Uzziah). Now when we look up Ahaz in 2 Chronicles we don’t find a very good picture painted of him: Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.” (2 Chron 28:1-4). Now I include that lengthy description to try and catch something of the awfulness of this man’s testimony.

Now what is therefore surprising is the good way God comes to his aid at this time. Let’s look at what happened. When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.” (7:1) Armies from Aram and Israel march south to conquer Jerusalem. War has always been one of the effects of sin in mankind and at this point of history, Judah and Jerusalem get the attention of these two armies who want to impose their will on the south. It is as simple as that – or is it. As part of the covenant blessings that God had declared over Israel in response to their obedience, we find, “The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.” (Deut 28:7) That wording seems to suggest that for no reason (other than sin) there would come from time to time, opposition against the people of God. The blessing, though, promised victory and for the moment, these two kings seem unable to overcome Jerusalem.

However when these two armies came, the word came ahead, Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” (7:2). Ephraim was shorthand for the northern kingdom, Israel. So the word came that they were going to be attacked by these two ‘nations’ from the north, and that left them seriously worried. But then we find the Lord intervening; “Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz.” (7:3). Now it is significant that the Lord tells Isaiah to go and meet the king and to take his son along. In Scripture, Hebrew names often had a significant meaning and the meaning of Shear-Jashub you will find from the footnote in your Bible is “a remnant will return.” Whatever would happen to Judah in the coming years, Isaiah’s son was to be a constant reminder that God would always save the faithful remnant.

But the Lord sends him with a message: “Say to him, `Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood–because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.” (7:4) THAT is a word of encouragement! Look at it: “Be careful.” It is easy to lose our sense of peace if we lose focus and lose contact with God. Oh no, be careful to make sure that doesn’t happen. “Keep calm.” In other words, there is no need to panic; it’s all right. “Don’t be afraid”. Fear comes from a sense of being along and facing an overwhelming invader but, actually, you don’t have to be afraid because you are God’s people and God is with you. “Do not lose heart”. To lose heart means to feel weak and inadequate. Yes, we the people of God may be that, but God isn’t! So hold on to the truth, our God is for us and with us.

So, all right, Israel and Aram have plotted your downfall (v.5,6), but listen to what the truth is: Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘It will not take place, it will not happen,’” (v.7). Wow! If God says that, then indeed there is no need to worry – but can you believe it? That is the whole point. Can you believe God? Is your knowledge of His history as seen in the Bible sufficient to bring you total confidence in Him? He tells of Israel’s limited future (v.8) and then brings a final warning: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (v.9b) This word from God does require a response of faith. It should produce a thankfulness in Ahaz, a sense of God’s goodness and love for them which will draw this king closer to the Lord.

Yes, we’ve seen what Ahaz turned out to be but that was not because of the Lord. The Lord had reached out and sought to draw him in love into a relationship with Him, but Ahaz wouldn’t have anything of it. He was stupid. That is the only way to describe someone who clearly has God on his side and has been promised security, IF he will only believe it – but he didn’t. He ends up in false worship even sacrificing his own sons. How terrible and what a waste! Here we’ve seen the Lord in His love reaching out to Ahaz but he submits to the folly of sin instead. How crazy! Let it be a lesson for us.