25 Nadab son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years. 26 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of his father and committing the same sin his father had caused Israel to commit.
27 Baasha son of Ahijah from the tribe of Issachar plotted against him, and he struck him down at Gibbethon, a Philistine town, while Nadab and all Israel were besieging it. 28 Baasha killed Nadab in the third year of Asa king of Judah and succeeded him as king. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)
Watching election coverage last week I knew I wanted to discuss Kings, which is basically one long chronicle of regime change. I wish I had a magic ball to tell you what is going to happen with the upcoming transition of power. Even as Biden is called winner while I sit here writing, the transition to his presidency still faces challenges – a lot of nonsense can happen between now and January, my friends. But in reading a few chapters of 1 Kings this week, I was reminded of this: transitions of power, whether they be peaceful, contested, or anything else, are a consistent part of human history, something to be expected and endured…not unlike death and taxes.
Parallels between Kings 15 and Today’s Politics
So much of Kings, particularly this chapter, has parallels in all of human history, up to and including today. Take v. 13, written about King Asa of Judah: “He even disposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole.” Just a few days ago I read an article about how the politics, policies and personal conduct of Trump and his supporters has torn families apart, with both sides disowning the other. I was also reminded of our own Civil War, where underage sons defied parental wishes to sneak North or South to fight.
In this story of regime change, there is also the accompanying story of changes in diplomatic relations: The same King Asa who disposed his grandmother went to a neighboring king, Ben-Hadad, to tempt him into a new treaty, breaking Ben-Hadad’s treaty with King Asa’s enemy King Baasha. (vv. 18-22) Biden has already promised changes in diplomatic relations, and he isn’t even in office yet. On November fourth, Biden tweeted “Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it.” It may not exactly be a treaty coup a lá King Asa, but it will dramatically change the diplomatic landscape of not only the US but also the world.
Even the division of Israel reminds me of the division of the US. In Kings, the unified Israel of Solomon is divided into a Northern kingdom of ten tribes and the Southern kingdom of Judah. To be clear, there are many countries and kingdoms that have been divided along a North/South line – I think it is dangerous to read the Bible looking for prophetic parallels to contemporary times. But the fact that it has been so read, and the fact that this division has existed in so many places and times, does speak to the universality of the text, and the universality of this human experience.
God keeps Their promises
It’s not much comfort that so many people throughout history can look at a contentious political climate and nod sympathetically, but at least it reminds us that politics is an endurance sport, not a sprint, as it always has been. There will be better rulers, such as Asa, who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 11), and worse rulers, such as Abijah, who “committed all the sins his father had done before him” (v. 3).
But the important thing to remember is that God keeps Their promises. Let’s start with the second half of this chapter, where Baasha rises up in the Northern kingdom of Israel and wipes out Jeroboam’s regime down to the last person. This, gruesome as it is, is in fulfillment of God’s promise. It’s a doubly tragic story, as Jeroboam had the opportunity to create a new covenant with God that went alongside God’s covenant with Israel. In Kings 11:38-39 God tells Jeroboam, “If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you.” (Emphasis mine.) Imagine what it would have been like to have two kingdoms blessed by God. It makes me wonder exactly how many such covenants could have existed and how it could have changed the course of history. Unfortunately, Jeroboam did not hold up his end of the deal, so that opportunity was not only lost, but he so angered God that God promised to wipe out his whole family. In Baasha’s uprising detailed at the end of this chapter, that promise of retribution was kept.
On the flip side of that coin, even the evil of all the kings of Judah could not move God’s hand against them. This is spelled out explicitly in vv. 4-5: “Nevertheless, for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him [Abijah] a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life — except in the case of Uriah the Hittite [a story for another day].” God so loved David that Xe made a promise to him that God upheld, despite the fact that David’s descendants did not honor the terms of the covenant.
God’s promise to us, and how we can make it even better.
So what is God’s promise to us, the ones who are living in today’s world? It is the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. God so loved the world, just as he loved David, that God sent his only son to prepare the world for a communion with the divine that would be open to all. And I mean all. Nothing we can do will change that ultimate salvation, because nothing we can do will negate God’s love for the world. This has been proven from Noah to Jesus and beyond.
But, if we look at the story of Kings, there is clearly a lot of wiggle room in the details. (Dare I say…the devil’s in the details? I crack myself up, at least.) Yes, David’s lineage was continuous. But because they turned from God’s ways, David’s descendants were relegated to one small part of the kingdom, and to regimes plagued by war and dissent, instead of ruling prosperously over all of Israel.
Back to today. What can we do to make our deal with eternal salvation even better? It is succinctly stated in the Greatest Commandment, given several times in the New Testament and actually adapted from Deuteronomy: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Again, emphasis mine.) Can you imagine how God would smile down upon us if we made our world a world where no one went hungry? How God would smile down upon us if we recognized the human dignity of every female, non-binary, and brown individual? If those suffering mental illness, disability, or addiction were not stigmatized but given the resources they needed to be fully participatory members of society? If everyone was able to live healthy lives through access to quality health care?
From a purely selfish standpoint, just think of all the contributions of those who have been lucky enough to “beat the odds” and contribute to society. Anecdotally, let’s look at Stephen Hawking. His remarkably long and productive life with ALS can be at least in part attributed to his access to early screening and a devoted family who could (afford to) care for him. Now, think of all the artists, from Oscar Wilde and Zora Neale Thurston to Judy Garland and Sammy Davis, Jr who could have continued creating and contributing if they hadn’t died in poverty brought on by medical bills and addictions. And those are just the famous ones. How many creative minds have succumbed to debt, disease, and death before they even had a chance to contribute? If we made a society that treated everyone compassionately, the potential blessings for all of us could truly be manifold.
A final word on the election
Biden winning is, at least for me, a small breath of relief. I won’t feel at ease until he is sworn in, to be honest. I know we all need that breath of relief, so please, go ahead and take it. But don’t forget the popular vote: over seventy million people, nearly half of those who voted, voted for Trump. We have a long way to go in order counteract the hate and vitriol of seventy million people who, in voting for Trump, voted for racism, homophobia, and intolerance of every sort.
This isn’t something that most Biden voters want to hear, but a large part of this reconstruction process needs to be reaching out to Trump voters and making allies of them, so someone like Trump doesn’t win them over again. We need to show them how an equitable society benefits them, as well (because it will). We need to work harder than ever now to make sure that someone like Trump doesn’t happen again, so that in future years we can look back and say, “Wow, that was really bad, and look at how close we got to it getting even worse!” Then, and only then – after the hard work of reconciliation and equity are done, not to mention the winning of hearts and minds – can we truly breathe easy. Because then we will not only have the promise of eternal (and universal) salvation, but all the bonus benefits of an inclusive and loving society, as God desires for us, and waits for us to achieve. I pray that this election is the first step down that road, and I’ll look for ways to keep traveling it. With God’s help, I hope you will, too.