1 Kings 15 – A Response to the 2020 Election: Transitions of Power

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.

Matthew 6:19-34 and 7:7-12 – Money and Worry

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.


“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

This is a rather wonky way to break things up, but I think it is best to discuss these verses altogether, as it all boils down to worrying about what money can buy.  Everything I’ve read on these passages assumes a rather privileged position of already having that money.  I’ll admit, the first question that came to my mind was, “Is saving for retirement Christian?” What about those who aren’t able to save for anything, let alone retirement?  Those living paycheck to paycheck?  The very idea of Godly saving is kind of a moot point.  We’ll get to that.

Let’s start with the easy one.  Let’s assume that yes, you do have the money.  I know, I know, we could all use more money, but hey, if you’re able to save at all for retirement, or your kids’ college, or really for anything, that means your basic needs are being met, and you have the privilege and responsibility to wonder, “If I’m saving up my earthly treasures to buy more earthly treasures, doesn’t this mean I’m serving Money and not God?”

The answer comes down to attitudes. As discussed previously, God knows our secret hearts. The question is, do we?  I don’t think saving is inherently un-Christian.  In fact, there are other places in the Bible that praise a wise man’s stores, such as Proverbs 21:20: “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.”  Let’s look closer at the example of retirement, since that’s (supposed to be) our largest savings goal.  First, I see saving for retirement as an act of love towards my children: I do not want to be a financial burden unto them in my old age.  Second, I don’t plan on just kicking back on a beach and frittering the last thirty years of my life away.  Of course I want some rest, but I’m the kind of person that cannot be happy without a project.  What that project might be, I don’t know, but as retirement draws near, I’ll be looking for that thing that gives me purpose, that keeps me young.  Perhaps it will be as “small” as just being there for my family.  Perhaps it will be something “larger,” like becoming a CASA volunteer.  Whatever it is, having some money in the bank will allow me to take on a project that may be one the world needs, but not one that could pay me a living wage.  Do you want to do nothing other than drink beer and sit on a lounge chair in your retirement?  I’ll be honest, God didn’t make you for that, and the proof is in the pudding: retirees who give up “doing stuff,” if you will, lose their health, and, quite frankly, die faster.  This article sums up the myriad of studies that prove seniors with a sense of purpose live longer.  However, if you want the freedom to pursue a passion and continue making a positive impact on the world in your retirement, then no, saving for retirement is not turning away from serving God.

Now, let’s get to the real worrying.  Again, in the grand scheme of things, I’m guessing most of you, dear readers, have your basic needs being met.  Maybe not as comfortably as you might want, but they are being met.  That being said, who hasn’t worried, in a very tangible way, about having enough money?  I recognize my privilege in that.  Yes, we have debt I’d like to clear up, and I can’t make large – or really even medium – purchases without planning for them, but I can go through the grocery checkout without worrying if I need to put some things back.  You know how many people can’t do that?  But even from this place of relative privilege, I know viscerally what it feels like to not have enough.  Just this year, with the government shutdown in January, Chris and I were in very real danger of having to deplete our savings, max out our credit cards, and possibly shut down the farm.  It didn’t come to that, but we had some stark conversations about what no contract work (on which we still rely) would look like.  As it was, our finances still took a hit.  (Mom, if you’re reading this, don’t worry, we’re fine!) Our debt went up instead of down, and we had to skip a rent payment.

In trying times it is easy to forget to pray, but this is just when we need to pray the most.  And I believe God will come through for us – I have to.  It may not be as soon (or as much) as we would like, but Xe will.  We are Xyr children, and Xe wants to see us thrive.  This small slice of the Bible contains many of my favorite verses.  High on the list is this one:

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

God wants to provide for us, but even Jesus says we need to ask.  Let’s make a parenting analogy!  I have the capacity to get my kids just about anything they want for snack.  They probably want ice cream sandwiches and gingerale.  What I’m going to give them is pita and hummus and apple juice.  And I’m going to make them say “please, Mommy” when they ask me for more.  God has the capacity to provide us with anything, but Xe’s going to provide us with what we need.  Rest assured, even if it’s not exactly what you thought you were going to to get, Xe wants to see our needs met.

Also, not worrying does not mean we can just sit back and wait for the free blessings to rain down upon us.  “Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus tells us.  “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”  True, but they also spend their whole day in search of seed.  The birds are working, but in an in-the-moment sort of way.  One of my other favorite passages (one I need to remind myself of often) is this one:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Jesus isn’t telling us to not worry at all, but just to not worry needlessly.  Perhaps this whole passage could be summed up as: Do what work is in your power, pray for God to fill in the rest, and all will be well.  Simple to say, hard to do, but I have to believe it’s true.  Let’s look at my own personal example again, of how the government shutdown effected us.  Our debt went up, but now the farm is doing better than ever before, and we are slowly working it back down.  My side hustles look like they might start making some money in the not-too-distant future, too, something I never would have expected in January, so relief is on the horizon.  As for skipping a rent payment, we are fortunate enough to live in a house owned by my very generous father in law, and he made it clear to us that he did not expect rent that month.  Now, is any of this how I would have chosen to be provided for?  No, I would have had that money and then some in the bank so I could pay down the debt right then and not have to worry about relying upon the generosity of family, but that is how God chose to provide for me.  Who knows, maybe Xe did it exactly so I could write this blog post – to testify how I know what it’s like to have to pick which bills to pay, to worry about the money running out, to have to humble myself and ask for help from family.  And how even from that low point,  I was able to trust that God would provide for me, and that you can, too.

I can hear the doubters now: “So what about all the untold millions who have died throughout history waiting for God’s mercy, for God’s provision? Did they not pray hard enough? Did God not love them?” To be honest I don’t have a good answer, and it troubles me, deeply.  The only thing I can say to that is I believe this life is only temporary, and perhaps God provided for those mentioned in ways that we cannot see or comprehend – maybe even beyond the bounds of this life and this world.  This in no way excuses the evils that mankind can visit upon each other, or grants us immunity from trying to rectify those evils, but I must believe that there is something greater at work, and that those who have suffered have not suffered in vain, but are now with God, who wipes every tear away.

My closing plea is this: Just try it.  Try turning to God with your needs.  What can it possibly hurt?  I’m not asking you to stop working, saving, paying off your debt, or even to stop wanting the things you want. Really the only thing I’m asking you is to stop worrying, and that’s behavior that even non-religious people would agree is detrimental to one’s mental and even physical health.  I know it’s hard, and the results may not be exactly what you’d thought, but try praying for what you want, what you need.  Do it with an open heart, and with patience.  Seek God first, and the rest will fall into place.

Matthew 5:33-37 – Oaths

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

A super-short quote and a short-ish blog post for you this Friday.  At the time of this writing, I think I have strep – mothering little kids is not for the weak! Hopefully by the time this goes live I’ll be on antibiotics and feeling better already.  But I digress.

I love passages like this because the longer you sit with them, the more they unfold, like a rose blooming.  I’ve found four key points in this passage.  I’d love to hear if you got anything else out of it, too.  My four takeaways are:

  1. The sacredness of everything.  Heaven is God’s throne, Earth God’s footstool, Jerusalem God’s city.  Xe created everything, and therefore everything is sacred: every cloud, tree, stone, street, and person.  It’s beautiful and overwhelming to think about.  Here, Jesus talks about not using anything to swear an oath, but beyond that, we should not defile God’s beautiful creation in any way, but view it with awe and appreciation.
  2. Our lack of power.  I believe we have free will, but that doesn’t mean that we have absolute power, even over our most personal selves – our own bodies, as Jesus so eloquently points out.  We may make decisions, we may swear promises, but in reality, if God has a different plan for us, those decisions and promises may be out of our control to fulfill.
  3. Even if we shouldn’t swear oaths, our word should be our bond.  In other words, say what you mean and mean what you say.  Again, things may be out of our control.  For example, you promise to help with the school field day but then come down with a stomach bug day-of. (Can you tell my latest kids and health obsession from that example?)  But do your best.  Say “yes” if you can do something, and “no” if you can’t.  It sounds easy, but it means knowing yourself, and sometimes turning down things you really want to do.  I’ve read countless Cosmo/Oprah/Woman’s Day type articles that talk about the power and importance of saying no, and how women tend to say yes too quickly and overwhelm themselves.  Having kids forces me on a daily basis to re-learn the saying “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”  Know your limits, and promise within them. A quick sub-point: respect other people’s limits and do not ask too much of them.
  4. Strong oaths are an invitation to self examination.  The passage ends with “anything else comes from the evil one.”  The “evil one” is Satan, and as I’ve discussed before, I’ve come to see Satan as a kind of undercover cop/moral auditor.  So, when we use the exact language Jesus is warning about here (or someone uses it to us), we (or they) are revealing something about ourselves.  The question is what are we revealing?  If someone is in a rage and says “I swear I’ll beat his head in,” (I know, extreme, but I’m having trouble being creative today and it gets the point across) we know that they are angry.  But we learn more about what triggers them so strongly, can later discuss whether it’s rational or not, and what a better solution might be.  All this is assuming it’s just letting off steam, if someone is actually about to beat someone else’s head in, you should probably call the cops.  In a few posts I’ll talk about how Jesus tells us to guard our secret hearts, and I think this passage alludes to that, too.  Swearing so strongly leaves our emotions, desires, and ambitions out there for unscrupulous people to prey upon, and leaves us susceptible to their manipulations.

May you have a wonderful and healthy weekend everyone!  I’ll finish Matthew Chapter 5 next week, God willing and health permitting.