11. Historical & Geographical Context

PART TWO: POST DAVID AND SOLOMON

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.

14. God of Variety (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  14. God of Variety (1)

Psa 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm of David – prophetic poetry)

Jn 20:30,31  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)  (Prophetic Aramaic fulfillment cry of Jesus Christ on the cross – historical narrative)

Continuation:  I am aware we have been through some challenging areas in the recent days and it seems right to step back with a lighter overview for a moment to give some readers some breathing space perhaps. I did wonder about putting this study much earlier in the series but it feels right to use it here to step back and catch a wider view of the Bible rather than the specific message, although that will almost certainly come through.

Variety: When we look at the world and we look at the Bible and we look towards God, if He is the Creator of all this – and the alternative is, in the words of one leading atheist, a meaningless mess – our conclusion has to be that He is a God who loves variety. I always remember, many years ago hearing someone say, “Did you know there are over 1200 sorts of edible bean in the world?” Since then I’ve heard so much more in science that says this world is a showcase of variety, no more so than when you look at people and cultures, and also no more so than when you look in the Bible.

Variety & the Bible: Every now and then I hear some smart character pontificating about the failures of the Bible and the moment you hear them using and deriding the word ‘literal’ you know they are speaking out of a weak limited area of knowledge and understanding. Hopefully, if you have been a Christian for any length of time, you will have sat in on a sermon or study where you will know that the word ‘literal’ is dismissed. “Is it literally true?” says this smart character trying to make a smart point. Whatever do you mean? Do you understand the variety of writing that is here in this book? Let’s consider some of the variety of genres or styles or writing we find in the Bible.

i) Historical Narrative: There is history, narrative if you like, and yes we can say that is literally true, it did happen in time-space history. The evidence is there, the writings so often supported by archaeology or other history sources. This isn’t always so but there has been an interesting phenomena over the past hundred and fifty years. Critics said, “Oh there is no archaeological evidence for those accounts in ….” and they name some passage, and lo and behold twenty years later the remains are unearthed. Absence does not mean it did not happen. Just be patient!

ii) Teaching: There is much straight forward teaching in the Bible. Let’s take that classic book, ‘Proverbs’ and let’s take one example from early on, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7) Time and space forbids us meditating on that, but is it literal? What does that mean? Is it literally true? Well, yes. Or consider Jesus teaching his disciples, to take a random example, many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Lk 10:24) To ask is it literal is meaningless without explanation. Yes it is literally true what he said. Look at Jesus’ parables and you find teaching within a story. Is the story literally true? Don’t be daft, it is a story! Watch out for similes, metaphors and personification and if you don’t know what they are, classes on Literature 101 are needed.

iii) Prophecy: There are big chunks of prophecy in the Bible, the biggest probably being the book of Revelation at the end. In the Old Testament, the big books are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel (and there are a number of what are called ‘The Minor Prophets’).  Each of those big four contain some narrative as well as prophecies. Is it literal? Well the narrative is but look at prophecy and you find that it is a complete mix of exhortation, teaching and picture language and the picture language (e.g. personification) is clearly not meant to be taken literally but simply conveys meaning. Is this allegory literal? Don’t be daft, it’s an allegory!!!

iv) Poetry: You will know that it is in poetic form because of the way it will be laid out in your Bible. If you ask a poet, is your poetry literal, they will look at you, seeing one who has not got a clue about the style and goal of poetry (this is not the place to do that – do your own research). Poems convey meaning, poems express emotions, poems come from and touch the heart. Read the Psalms and see this.

The Problem with Scripture: There is a problem from our point of time in history, in fact there are at least four problems.

i) The first is historical: The book is spread over a two thousand year period and covers a vast range of changes in history. An excellent example of historical data is that found in Luke’s Gospel (who we have referred to in an earlier study): In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” (Lk 3:1,2) Note 7 historical figures (if you don’t count John) and five geographical locations and three historical ‘job descriptions’.

 ii) The second is cultural: So often we see behaviour that was common in a particular culture and at first sight, without explanation, it may appear strange to us. We need to learn about the culture. (I will not give examples of these because they each will require too much explanation.)

iii) The third is linguistic: Some of the word patterns or uses of language appear strange to us, but it was the way they spoke back then. Again I hesitate to give examples for the sake of time and space but when you see phrases or sayings that seem strange, look them up on the Internet.

 iv) The fourth is geographical: The action of the Bible takes place over an area from Egypt to modern-day Iraq.  It therefore includes many countries (some of which don’t exist today), and many towns and cities (some of which either don’t exist today or have changed their names).  It also includes geographical features such as rivers, lakes, seas and mountains, that are clearly located.

Each of these things requires an intelligent reading and that will take time and effort.

And So: Our key point within this study is to highlight

a) the variety of styles of writing found in the Bible, each of which needs identifying if we are not to make wrong assumptions about it,

b) the indirect forms of speech that are often used, requiring us to identify them and not jump to false conclusions about what is being said, and

c) the various difficulties or gaps in understanding that may appear because of the Bible recording the ways and culture of people who lived two to four thousand years ago, in a different part of the world from that with which we are familiar.

Therefore, in these 66 books, written by over 40 writers, we find a rich variety of amazing literature, and once we overcome the obstacles I have referred to above, we find a rich vein of history that sheds light on who we are, why we are and where we are going. Oh, yes, this is not merely academic literature that we read for mundane interest, this is a book that reveals to us what life is all about and the One who brought it all into being. In the next study we will compare and highlight some of this ‘literature’ more fully so we can see the wonder of it.