The Story of God and Us Chapter Four: Blessings and Cursings
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The Story of God and Us: Chapter Four
After Moses dies, Joshua leads the people of Israel over the Jordan river (which parts for them, a clear sign of divine favor) and into the land of Canaan. God powerfully works to drive the other nations out before them, dwelling among them and making them prosper. As they listen to his voice, they are blessed, though a few of them (like Achan), disobey his voice and are cursed. And then, after the conquest is mostly complected, Joshua gathers the people together at Shechem and they renew the covenant that they had with Yahweh: they choose to serve and worship him alone (Joshua 24:14-28). Joshua erects a pillar at Shechem to mark the solemn occasion.
If the story were to end there, all would be well. But….
The Cycles of Disobedience in Judges
The period of the judges reveal that the people are incapable of living directly under Yahweh’s authority. They continually sin, and the progression goes from bad to worse. Things have gotten pretty bad by the last Judge, Samuel. As even Samuel’s children begin to go astray, the people demand a king to rule over them (so that they can have someone to secure Yahweh’s blessing, like the other nations), and Yahweh reveals that this is because they’ve essentially abandoned divine rule (1 Samuel 8:1-18).
Nonetheless, God grants Israel’s request for a king (it was always his plan to give them a king anyway, as the book of Ruth shows). But the king that the people get is a reflection, not of good leadership, but of the people themselves: Saul, fickle and violent and stiff-necked. As Saul continues to rule, his disastrous reign becomes more and more rebellious, and eventually Yahweh vows to take the throne away from him and give it to another (1 Samuel 15).
At this drastic low point in the story, we see God acting again to be faithful to his promise. He has Samuel anoint David as king, who in time unifies the nation around the new capital, Jerusalem. God’s relationship with David is unique and significant, and he shows what it looks like to live a life of faith and faithfulness to Yahweh (Psalm 23). David is by no means perfect, but through him God chooses to establish a dynasty, promising to build him a house to set one of his descendants on his throne forever (2 Samuel 7:1-17). Even more, Yahweh promises to use his son to build a house for himself, an emblem of the covenant between David’s house and God’s. The promise of an offspring who will bring shalom seems almost in grasp, so much so that God instructs David to name his son Solomon, which comes from the Hebrew shalom (1 Chronicles 22:9-11).
And for a minute, it seems as though that peace has arrived. Solomon ushers in a season of peace and prosperity for the people of Israel. He builds the temple (the ultimate sign of God’s presence), and when the Ark of the Covenant, the mark of his promise to Israel, is brought there, Yahweh’s glory fills it (1 Kings 8:1-11). Solomon rules as a great king, and nations come from around the world to be blessed by him. Yahweh appears to Solomon and promises to build Solomon’s house as he is faithful to Yahweh’s covenant (1 Kings 9:1-9).
All is not well, however. Solomon hasn’t followed the covenant closely enough, and he’s begun to act as any old king, multiplying wives and slaves and possessions. And, eventually, Solomon proves himself to be more like Adam than David, succumbing to the voices of his wives and worshipping other gods (1 Kings 11:1-8). While before Yahweh had blessed him, now he curses him by sending adversaries to attack Israel. Solomon dies, and sets off a chain of events that would lead to the ultimate destruction and exile of the nation of Israel.
After Solomon, the people rebel against the harsh and foolish hand of his son, and the kingdom of Israel divides into two disparate nations, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Jealous of Jerusalem (in the southern nation of Judah), the rulers of the northern kingdom of Israel decide to create their own holy cities and create two golden calves for the people to worship there. As time goes on, both of these nations deteriorate, and God continues to level worse and worse punishments on them for their covenant unfaithfulness.
With a few exceptions in Judah, the kings of both kingdoms act in faithlessness like Solomon and not faithfulness like David. God sends them prophets like Elijah and Jeremiah to remind them of the covenant and of the coming destruction for their disobedience, but they don’t repent. They worship idols, practice injustice, and turn from Yahweh’s rules. In other words, both nations, and the people they represent, fail to keep the covenant with Yahweh, and therefore God curses them. God hides his face from them (Deuteronomy 31:17-18; Isaiah 8:17), sends foreign nations to oppress and conquer them (Deuteronomy 28:45-57; 2 Kings 17; 24:10-17), and eventually sends them into exile (Deuteronomy 28: 64-68; 2 Kings 17:21-23; 24:14-17).
Now, as Israel sits in exile, the serpent-crushing offspring seems really, finally lost. Not even David’s son could accomplish the task, and now all hope seems gone. No king has lived up to the standard set before them, and with each one the people’s hopes were dashed as they fell into disobedience. They began to realize that they needed a new anointed king, who would bring them back to what they were meant to be.
And so, the prophets will ask, and the people will wonder, “who can truly bring shalom back again? Who is this king of glory?”