[This is a direct continuation of my previous post.]
The Big Picture (Continued)
A Son to Reign
Israel continued lapsing into idolatry, despite all the seers and judges God had given her. But for each of them, Israel did fairly well during his lifetime. It was generally only at death that the slide back into unfaithfulness began. There was also the problem of the tribes. Even if some tribes tribe was righteous under one judge, not all of Israel was on the same page. All of this, then, pointed in a certain direction. The new direction, however, was compromised from the beginning.
The Law God gave Israel had provisions for a king, and God did intend to give one at the right time. But Israel asked for a king, and this for the worst possible reason. She wanted to be like the pagan nations. They imagined a king like a totem, a visible Lord they could rely on. God granted their wish, but in Saul they received a king as bad as any pagan. So they paid the price for their demands.
Fortunately, God was still determined to save and bless His people. He would still make them great and glorify His name though them. So He chose another king, David. To David He promised an everlasting dynasty, a potential solution to the problem of faithfulness waning every generation. Rather than a judge dying and the people falling away, David the faithful king would leave behind another faithful king to lead the people. In this way, God, though His chosen king, could teach every generation true worship and justice. God would name the king as His son. He would be like God and follow God’s heart. God would grant him a share in His honor and rule the world through him. The glory of Israel’s godly, powerful king would exalt Yahweh’s name in all nations.
Once again, however, the next stage in God’s plan brought new trouble along with the new glory. David was, on the whole, a godly man and a wonderful king. But more than once he committed grave sins. His adultery, murder, and other errors lead to the downfall of the ill-conceived child Solomon. Though by God’s mercy and faithfulness, Solomon achieved Israel’s highest glory yet, he did not end well. He followed his father’s adulterous example. But rather than physical adultery, he committed spiritual adultery. He pursued women who pursued other gods and brought idolatry back into Israel. And where idols are invited, Yahweh departs.
This was a pivotal moment. God had glorified Israel wonderfully. He made her rich, safe, and influential. He lavished all the blessings He had promised in the covenant. And at her height, she broke that covenant. So began a rapid downfall. The promised blessings were gradually replaced with promised curses, and the kingdom was divided, just like the hearts of its people. But even this division served God’s purposes. While the people of the Northern Kingdom flung themselves headlong into becoming new Canaanites, the Southern Kingdom did not fall so far, so fast. In Judah, God preserved His worship to an extent. From this remnant, He would purify His people, maintain David’s throne, and prepare the way for a new kingdom. Israel was shortly wiped out. Judah, however, lived on.
Sadly, not even Judah could resist the lure of other gods. Some kings were faithful. Some were awful. They went back and forth, with occasional revivals. But in the end, they went too far. God packed up and left, destroyed the Temple, and sent them out of the land.
God among the Kingdoms
When God left Jerusalem, He did not leave His people. Instead, together they went to Babylon. Babylon ruled most of the known world, and God was wise. What appeared to be defeat was a strategic move. Many Jews remained faithful to Him in exile, and God planted them in the center of pagan civilization. There, He would bring new honor to His name through His displaced people. The figure of Daniel became chief here. God exalted him into the courts of many kings, even as empires passed. From there he repeatedly brought the pagan kingdoms to confess the glory of the true God of heaven and earth.
The exile did wonders for God’s people and God’s plan. It was a punishment, but a cleansing one. Daniel, Esther, and others glorified God in the most powerful courts in the world. The Jews, now a displaced minority, learned to cling more tightly to Yahweh. By God’s grace, His people were cured of idolatry. Though the sin had beset them for centuries, now they worshiped God alone.
This new witness of loyalty to the true God drew many around the pagan nations to faith in Him. It took casting Israel from her own land of promise, but God was spreading His honor to the nations. All that was left was for the exile to end, Israel to return home, and the pagan empires to finally give way entirely to God’s kingdom.
A New People
God soon brought the Jews back from exile to their homeland. This was not without difficulty, of course. But God was with them, and He disposed even the pagan kings to permit the rebuilding of Yahweh’s house. Israel returned less glorious than she left, but in many ways she was greater. She no longer served idols; she had a new heart and new spirit. With a renewed people, God could renew covenant with them. He promised a new era with a new future.
But not all was perfect. The people still had to struggle with trusting God’s provision and protection. They still had many enemies. More seriously, the empires were still largely pagan. Though they had acknowledged God a few times, they did not finally give up their allegiance to the rebel spirits. And most concerning, perhaps, is that the glory cloud never returned to the new Temple. Was God still with His people? What happened to their former glory?
Then there was the problem of intermarriage. Many of the Jews had taken pagan wives during the exile. The sin by which Solomon split the kingdom now threatened the whole community of returned Jews. But after the reading of the Law and the deliberation of the elders, they broke with Solomon’s example and put away their pagan wives. Israel took another step forward. She would worship no one but Yahweh this time.
[At this point, even this post is starting to go on too long, so I’ll save the end for a third part.]