Monday, May 21, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Kings 16-17 and Luke 1:39-80

1 Kings 16 – For modern readers, the cast of characters in Kings can be very challenging. We have Ahijah the prophet from Shiloh – a good man who prophesies against Jeroboam and his line because of their unfaithfulness to the one God. Then there is the Ahijah from the tribe of Issachar – a different man apparently – whose son Baasha takes over the northern kingdom and has all of Jeroboam’s line killed. It is tempting to think they might have been related Ahijahs but apparently they are not.

Now we have a prophet named Jehu – son of Hanani who speaks God’s word to Baasha, telling him that he too has provoked God’s anger and that he too will be “consume[d]” (16:3). Later there will be another Jehu, a different man, who will become king of Israel for a while. The prophet Jehu sends a message to King Baasha, telling him he has also led God’s people into sin and will also die – with his whole family – just as Jeroboam was eliminated. It is interesting that one of the sins listed against the house of Baasha is his killing of Jeroboam’s “house.” So even though this was prophesied, it was not seen as the will of God.

Baasha manages to live out his life as king. His son Elah succeeds him. Elah only reigns for two years in Israel.  It is through Zimri, the commander of Elah’s forces that the prophesy of Jehu s comes to pass. Zimri kills Elah when he is drunk one day, and then Zimri has all of Baasha’s family killed. “Because of their idolatry and because they led Israel into sin, Baasha and his son Elah had aroused the anger of the Lord” (16:13).

Zimri rules for only seven days in Tirzah. Israelite troops fighting in Philistia, learn of Zimri’s coup and they plot against him. When Zimri learns of their plot, he “went into the palace’s inner fortress, set the palace on fire and died in the flames” (16:18). They set their chief commander, Omri, as king. This revolt ends with the people of Israel are divided—half loyal to one Tibni, and the other half to Omri.  But Tibni dies, so Omri is left in charge. 

Omri reigns for 12 years.  It is Omri who builds the city of Samaria on a hill that he buys. Around 875 BC, Omri’s son Ahab becomes the king of Israel. Ahab “sinned against the Lord more than any of his predecessors” (16:30). He takes as his wife Jezebel, daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon. “He built a temple to Baal in Samaria, made an altar for him, and put it in the temple. He also put up an image of the goddess Asherah” (16:32-33). A Jerusalem Bible note says Ethbaal was a priest of Asherah (Astarte) who seized power in Tyre at the same time as Omri in Israel.  They allied themselves to each other. The “effects on the religion of Israel of this association with the Philistines were to be increasingly felt throughout the reign of Ahab.

During Ahab’s reign a man named Hiel builds (or rebuilds) the city of Jericho—and sacrifices his eldest son Abiram as part of it.  The gates of the city are consecrated with the sacrifice of his youngest son Segub.

1 Kings 17 – This first appearance of Elijah the Tishbite (of Tishbe in Gilead). He goes to Ahab and prophecies drought.  He himself goes, at God’s command, to live in the Wadi Cerith, east of the Jordan.  There the ravens feed him bread and meat every morning and evening; and he drinks from the wadi. Soon it dries up, so he goes to Zarephath where the Lord tells him a widow will feed him.  He meets the widow at the gate gathering sticks and asks her for bread.  She has nothing—only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil.  She is gathering sticks to prepare one last meal for her and her son.  Elijah tells her not to fear, to do as she planned, but to give him a little something first—that the meal and oil will not fail until the day the Lord sends rain to the earth again.  It happens.
After, the widow’s son becomes ill.  She yells at Elijah for bringing this problem on them by “bring[ing] [her]sin to remembrance” (17:17). He takes her dying son to his (Elijah’s) room and lays him on his bed; he asks the Lord why he has brought this calamity on them.  He lies on the child three times and begs the Lord to let the child live. The Lord “listened to the voice of Elijah” (17:22). She acknowledges then that he is a man of God.

Luke 1:39-80 - Mary visits Elizabeth and when Elizabeth hears Mary coming in to their home, “the baby [John} moved within her” (1:41). Mary’s “Song of Praise” follows. This “Magnificat” is among a number of hymns that appear in New Testament writing. Brown notes that the “canticles reflect the style of contemporary Jewish hymnology” of the time, that “every line echoes the OT so that the whole is a mosaic of scriptural themes reused for a new expression of praise” (232). This hymn is patterned on the hymn of Hannah, Samuel’s mother in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

She remains with Elizabeth and Zechariah until the birth of John, then returns to Nazareth. Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit to prophecy, speaks of the “mighty savior” God is sending to save his people “from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” (1:71). The savior expected is one who will rescue his people “from the hands of [their] enemies” so that they can “serve him without fear” (1:73). The purpose of his own son John will be to “go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins” (1:77).
So both John and Jesus are introduced here before they are born as fulfillments of the promises God has given his people over the years. 

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