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Friday, February 10, 2012

The Fall of Israel

My Old Testament Bible studies stopped with the split between Israel and Judah. The royal families continue to intermarry, and the faith continues to be diluted by foreign beliefs. In both countries, God is worshiped on the high places while true priests and prophets preach and teach. Both royal courts are served by God's prophets. The Temple at Jerusalem contains multiple altars and is the center of Judahite worship, but Israel maintains a similar culture and symbolism in the bull statues at its boundaries. Judah and Israel straddle major trade routes and are both subject to frequent invasion as the Syrian empire rises.  So... continuing the tale...

  1. What happened to the king of Damascus?
  2. Whatever happened to Jezebel?
  3. What had a bow and arrow to do with Israel and Syria?
  4. Whose court included the prophet Jonah?
  5. Where did the prophet Amos come from?
  6. Does the Old Testament God only love His own people?
  7. Does killing God’s enemies in the Old Testament guarantee God’s blessing?
  8. Does being anointed by a prophet in the Old Testament guarantee God’s blessing?
  9. Do Israel and Judah ever ally with each other?
  10. Do Israel and Judah ever ally with other nations against each other?

The Syrian empire, to the North of Israel, was often a threat, but Ben-Hadad of Damascus provided a valuable buffer for Israel and Judah. When when Ben-Hadad fell ill, he sent his servant Hazael to the prophet Elisha to ask God’s help. Elisha wept because Hazael was going to usurp the throne and attack Israel. Known in Assyrian documents as a usurper, and calling himself a dog, Hazael murdered Ben-Hadad, and did just as was prophesied (2 Kings 8). War between Damascus and Israel and Judah followed, and the line of Omri comes to an end. A new king Jehu becomes God’s chosen king of Israel, annointed by Elishah while Joram recovered from battle wounds in Jezreel. Jehu attacks Jezreel and treats all offers of peace as treachery (because Joram’s mother is the “witch” Jezebel). He shoots Joram in the back with an arrow, throwing the body in Naboth’s vineyard (poetic justice, since Jezebel stole the vineyard from its owner, 1 Kings 21). When Ahaziah flees back to Judah he’s shot in the back as well, but lives a little longer. Jezebel sues for peace from the parapet of her castle but is thrown down to die (2 Kings 9). Then Jehu kills off all possible contenders for the throne. He tricks the Baal-worshipers into attending a great feast and kills them. (2 Kings 10), but God is not pleased (because Jehu still values the golden calves at Bethel and Dan, or because God didn’t ask for all this slaughter?).

Hazael gradually reduces the territory of Israel, and Jehu’s successor, his son Jehoahaz, prays for relief (2 Kings 13). History records these prayers being answered in Hazael’s death when a weaker king (another Ben-Hadad) succeeds to the throne. Jehoash, son of Jehoahaz becomes king in Israel and seeks blessing from the elderly, and sick, prophet Elisha. Elisha tells Jehoash to shoot an arrow through a window. Jehoash then has to smash his remaining arrows against the ground, but only hits it 3 times, so Israel will only be delivered only 3 times from Syria. Jehoash, followed by his son Jeroboam, fight to regain cities lost to Damascus and succeeds three times, as prophesied. Israel’s territory expands southwards too, when cities lots to Judah are also recovered, heralding a golden age.

Jonah becomes court prophet in Israel, (2 Kings 14) perhaps taking Elisha’s place. Assyria is now the biggest threat and Jonah is called to Nineveh but famously swallowed by a whale (or kept alive in its mouth) when he tries to escape. Nineveh repents (Jonah 3), but non-Biblical sources don’t mention the event (it’s a big city, but it’s not a capital). Soon the prophets Amos and Hosea are called to warn Israel of the Assyrian threat. Amos even points out that the Exodus story means Israel’s subject to God’s harshest judgment, and other non-chosen nations have been blessed (Amos 3:1, 9:7). Israel relies on protection from Syria and Damascus, even when Amos prophesies Damascus will fall (6:1) and Israelites be scattered (7:11). Eventually Amos is banished home to Judah (Amos 7:12). His message against the oppression and injustice of Israel’s golden age is balanced by Hosea’s call to reject false gods, reflecting God’s concern for both the physical and the sacred. And things fall apart. Jerobam’s son, Zechariah, is assassinated after 6 months (2 Kings 15) by Shallum, who is assassinated one month later by Menahem. Ten years later, Menahem is followed by his son Pekahiah. The anti-Assyrian Pekah assassinates Pekahiah and allies with Rezin, king of Syria (2 Kings 16) who attacks Judah, attempting to force them to ally against Assyria. Hoshea assassinates Pekah, becomes subject to Assyria, then falls after trying to make an alliance with Egypt (2 Kings 17), at which point Israel finally falls as well.

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