2 Kings 9:14-10:31; Acts 17:1-34; Psalm 144:1-15; Proverbs 17:27-28
Summer in LA is, in many ways, practically perfect. The days are long and sunny; the nights retain a bit of warmth, but cool off enough to bring house temperatures down overnight; traffic eases (a tad); and cultural events abound. You can watch movies at the park, listen to symphonies under the stars, or take in a free Shakespearean production or two.
Last night, we did the third. We drove out to Griffith Park, near famed Dodger Stadium, to see a performance of Richard III with our children. As an English major and live theater enthusiast, I was confident in my own ability to understand the movement of the play. For our kids, aged 4 to 14, I wasn't so certain. So we read through a plot summary and made connections to real-life events and made sure that everyone knew "who the bad guy was." It was a great show, but the title character is unrelentingly self-serving. His single-minded thirst for the crown leads to deception, seduction, and murder. It's a bloody, evil road that ends at the throne.
You can see, I'm sure, why I'm reminded of Richard in our Old Testament reading today. Jehu eliminates more than 115 persons of the royal family (see 2 Ki. 9:24, 27, 33 and 10:7, 11, 14), and then a whole temple-full of Baal's priests. This is a one-track, violent purging of the house of Ahab. Not for his own self-interest, though, but in fulfillment of the word and judgment of God (see 9:7-8). Hundreds of people, some children and innocent, killed. There's no respect for the dead (as we see when Jezebel's body is eaten by dogs, see vs. 35-37) or for national identity (as we see when Jehu kills men from Judah as well as from Israel, 9:27-28 and 10:13). This slaughter passes gender, age, political allegiances - and is commanded by God. Unsettling as it is, this regicide is God's tool to cleanse the land of Israel of its adultery. Jehu is even commended by God for his dedication: "You have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do" (10:30). All these people dead, and God says "good job."
If I take this portion of Scripture as revealing a true aspect of God's character, I have to sit in this tension. I have to accept that God is both merciful and Judge, returning life to the Shunammite's son (see 2 Ki. 4:18-37) yet demanding the same from idolaters. God brings famine (8:1) and appoints awful leaders (vs. 12-13). God is faithful to his promises (9:25-26) and concerned with holiness (10:18-28), even when those promises and that holiness require death.
I want God to be neat and tidy, to be comfortable and palatable. I want him to be easy for my neighbors to acknowledge and to be undemanding in what he asks of me. The God of today's reading exposes my desires; I'm uncomfortable with this reading because honesty requires me to admit that I'd really prefer a tamer God.
Once again, I am grateful for Scripture and the way it casts my own heart and misconceptions into relief. If I didn't read passages like this from the Old Testament, I would live with a false view of God, making him into my own image. Instead, I am pushed and prodded into a fuller understanding, one that can hold both 2 Kings and Psalm 144 ("What is man that you care for him, the son of man that you think of him?" [Ps. 144:3]) together.
And, because I can't let verses like these pass, I rejoiced in my family last night. Yes, the four-year-old asked repeatedly for her brownie, and, yes, the children poked each other frequently with sticks, but still! I leaned over to my husband during the intermission and said, "I am a rich woman and I live a rich life." It was my modern experience of the psalmist's joy: "Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace. Our barns will be filled with every kind of provision. Our sheep will increase by thousands, by tens of thousands in our fields; our oxen will draw heavy loads. There will be no breaching of walls, no going into captivity, no cry of distress in our streets. Blessed are the people of whom this is true; blessed are the people whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 144:12-15).
- Sarah Marsh
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