June 22, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament books tell story of Israelites

John F. Fink(Tenth in a series of columns)

King David was a great military commander, and the Old Testament’s Second Book of Samuel details some of his victories.

It also tells about his many wives and his rebellious children, and, of course, his affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.

After Bathsheba becomes pregnant, David arranges to have Uriah killed in battle and he marries Bathsheba. Because of his sin, their son dies, but Bathsheba eventually becomes the mother of Solomon, who succeeds his father as king.

The two Books of Kings begin with David’s death. Solomon is known as a wise king. During his reign, Israel is at peace and prosperous. The Queen of Sheba visits Solomon and is impressed with his wealth and wisdom. He constructs a magnificent temple, importing artisans and materials for it. But he also keeps a large harem of foreign women who lead him to other gods than the God of Israel.

The Scripture writers tell us that God punishes Solomon by splitting his kingdom after his death between the kingdom of Judah in the south and the kingdom of Israel in the north. From then on, there’s a long line of kings in both kingdoms, some of them good but most bad. At times, Judah and Israel war against one another, and at other times, they join forces to fight invaders.

The Second Book of Kings also contains stories about the great prophet Elijah and his confrontations with King Ahab of Israel, his wife, Jezebel, and the prophets of the god Baal. Elijah then transfers his authority to Elisha before he is taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Later in the book, the prophet Isaiah warns the people that the kingdom will be destroyed because they have not been faithful to the Lord.

Both kingdoms are destroyed, first Israel by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. At that time, Judah is spared because of a great miracle. But eventually Judah, too, is conquered because the people will not obey the words of the prophet Jeremiah. Jerusalem falls to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586 B.C. The temple is destroyed and the people are exiled to Babylon.

After the Second Book of Kings come the two Books of Chronicles. They repeat the history of Israel, starting with Adam and through the Babylonian exile. The first nine chapters contain genealogical lists from Adam to the returnees from the Babylonian Exile, for each of the tribes of Israel—a remarkable achievement but dull reading. The Jewish Scriptures are arranged differently from ours, with Chronicles at the very end. So the last words in their Bible are a call to return to Jerusalem.

The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe the return to Jerusalem by some of the exiled Israelites after the Persian emperor Cyrus conquers Babylon and allows them to return. Ezra takes the Torah that was completed during the exile back with him and promulgates it to the people.

Jerusalem is resettled and the temple is rebuilt, much smaller than Solomon’s original temple. †

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