The Good Kings
Last week, we heard the story of Snagjaw, the wicked otter king. But we have not heard about what happened next. After the ranger dragged Snagjaw off to the zoo, there was a problem. The rules of the game demanded that there be a king. Otters are free spirits, generally, but once a game is begun, the rules have to be followed. The otters didn't want a repeat of Snagjaw, so they elected a soft-spoken zwerg named Finn. Finn was the polar opposite of Snagjaw. He listened to the Ranger's advice. He was a fair and kind king. He also protected the otters from marauding bands of hunting dogs. Life under Finn's rule was wonderful. Then one day, King Finn had a fight with another otter over a fish. The fight quickly grew out of control and Finn killed his opponent. Everyone was afraid that this new king was going to be a repeat of the last. They were surprised when Finn hung his head in shame and resigned himself to whatever punishment the Ranger would decide upon for his crime. Despite his act of murder, Finn was the most beloved otter king the valley ever had. It was decided that for as long as the king-game continued, it would be the descendants of Finn who would wear the crown.
Last week's sermon dealt primarily with Saul, but covered the entire period of the kings. We looked at the practices of the bad kings, and there were a LOT of bad kings. But today, I'd like to focus on the good kings.
David, the son of Jesse, is considered by many to be the greatest king of all time. Kings as far away as Hawaii have been named after him. What was it about David that made him so great? let's take a look at David's life and see.
The thing that seems most prominent about David's personality is that even though he was a man of violence, he refused to attack King Saul because Saul was God's anointed. It wasn't because Saul was king, nor was it because Saul was his father-in-law. It was because God had selected him to be king. David, morally, had every right to kill the man who had been spending the majority of his reign trying to kill him, but he refused. Several times, David counted coup on Saul. (This is a practice wherein a warrior proves that he could have killed an enemy if he so desired, usually by touching him with a weapon.) Even this brought David tremendous guilt.
This is not to say that David only valued God and no one else. Far from it. Fist Chronicles relates a story in which the Philistines were occupying Jerusalem and David mentioned within the hearing of his Mighty Men that he really wanted a drink from the well in Jerusalem. Several of the Mighty Men got up, fought their way through the Philistines and retrieved water from that well. David refused to drink the water. He felt that to do so would demean the value of those men's lives. It would have made him the kind of king who puts others lives at risk to get whatever little pleasure he wants.
And we all know how the story goes. David did exactly that. He betrayed one of his own Mighty Men unto death to cover up the fact that he slept with Bathsheba. Nathan showed up to confront David with his crime and pass sentence. A lesser king would have punished Nathan. David instead faced up to what he had done, confessed his sin and took his punishment.
David was everything that Saul was not. He cared about his people more than himself. He sought God's glory rather than his own. When he did wrong, he repented. And when I say repented, I am not using it in the modern sense, which is to say "I was wrong". But rather in the classical sense, which means he turned completely away from the way he was going. God very much approved of David, and because of his humble spirit and love of the Lord, God promised that there would always be a descendant of David as king over some portion of Israel.
Solomon, his son, was a most effective king. He maintained peace with other nations (something Israel has seldom been able to do), boosted the economy ridiculously, judged fairly, and was a fantastic scientist and philosopher. He also authored three books of the bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Now Solomon had his flaws. He was extravagant, a harsh taskmaster, and was easily swayed by the females. Despite his love of God which marked his early reign, Solomon allowed his wives to turn him to idolotry. As you can guess, this royally cheesed off the Lord. He vowed to take Israel away and give it to someone else. Still, in honor of David, He would not do it within within the reign of Solomon, nor would he do it completely. He would take it from Rehoboam, solomon's son, and He would leave Judah, Benjamin and South Manaseh to David's dynasty.
Many bad kings would follow. As Israel turned to idolotry, so Judah would follow. But not all of them. There would be good kings who followed the Lord. Asa would depose his own grandmother (who, it seems, was also his mother) and destroy the idols she had made. He did not completely destroy idol worship in Judah, but for his efforts, he was considered perfect before God.
Jehoshaphat, Joash, Uzziah, Jotham and Hezekiah would have similar reigns. Each was called good by God because they detested idols. Hezekiah was so beloved of God for his clean and upright heart that God not only spared him from death, he turned the world backwards to prove he would do it! Still, none of these fought idolatry like Josiah.
The first time I heard about King Josiah, my heart just sang. I had been hearing about all the terrible kings who did evil in the sight of the Lord. Then along comes Josiah. In his reign, a lost book of scripture is discovered in the temple. When it is read and the king learns how badly Judah has transgressed the law, he tears his clothes and goes into mourning. But he doesn't just stop at feeling guilty. He does something about it. Josiah begins a campaign to wipe out idol worship in Judah. He actively went around desecrating the sites of idol worship so that they were unusable. Interestingly, one of these places, known as the "mount of corruption" for all of the idol temples which stood there, is now an almost sacred place to us. We know it as the Mount of Olives. By making it useless for idols, though he may not have realized it, Josiah was making Olivet usable to the Messiah. Josiah also rebuilt the temple and renewed the covenant between God and His people. He also put an end to witchcraft and sodomy in Judah. 1 Kings 30:25 says
"And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him."
Sadly, this was not enough to prevent punishment of Judah for the things that were done in the time of his grandfather, Manasseh.
Judah would endure many terrible things after the death of Josiah. It would be carried away into Babylon for a generation. When the people returned, they spread out through the territory of what had been the northern kingdom. This would result in the creation of a race of half-breed hebrews in the middle of the land who would become even more hated than the philistines. In the four hundred years between Malachi and Matthew, Israel would be conquored by the Roman empire, who set up herod as their king. But God had not forgotten His promise to David. At what we now know as the beginning of the modern era, God established a new king. This one would not be a political king. Not yet. This king was the one whom Israel needed far more desperately. He would bring to completion the work of His ancestors. David praised God. Solomon taught about God. Joash served God. Josiah fought for God. This new king would be the living bridge to reconcile mankind to God. That king is Jesus. As David was humble, so Jesus adopted the lifestyle of a servant. As Solomon was a great teacher, so Jesus was THE great teacher. As Asa deposed the wicked queen mother who practiced the old ways, so Jesus denounced the wicked traditions of the Pharisees. As Joash rebuilt the decaying temple, so Jesus raised up the temple of His own body after His death. As Josiah cleaned Judah from evil, so Jesus lives to cleanse His people from sin. Praise be to Jesus! He is the rightful king of Israel, and all of God's people.
It is worth noting that Jesus was indeed declared king. It was not in a manner one might have hoped for, of course. His crown was made of poisonous thorns, his coronation was a torture session, and the proclamation of his kingship was the one item on the list of criminal charges posted on His cross. Yet even if it was done for the wrong reasons, it was done.
When does a king's reign end? It ends when, after his death, a new king is crowned. Jesus returned to life after only a single weekend of being dead. No one else was crowned king during that time. Though He is gone, He is still alive, which means that Jesus is still king. As Jesus is our Everlasting Father, that makes each and every one of us a prince! Yes, even the ladies. We are the princes not only of Israel, but of all that Jesus is heir to. This means everything.
So what does this mean to us? It means that we are the spiritual descendants of King David. After all, the Son of David is our Father. Just as we are the children of Abraham if we follow God's commands (as Paul says in Romans), we are David's descendants if we enact the behavior of the good kings. Like David, we need to be humble, caring, and praise the Lord. Like Solomon, we should endeavor to act wisely and to discharge our duty to teach others about God. Like Asa, we should discard all uncleanness from our lives. Like Joash, we should build up God's house. (Not with wood or stone, but by building up the people of His church.) And like Josiah, we must take a stand against God's enemies, fighting for and serving God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and bodies.
Today's reading: 2 Samuel 7:12-17
12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.
13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.
15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.
16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me ; your throne will be established forever.'"
17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.