A Lamp in a Dark World

Reading Time: 7 mins

Through the often abominable and lamentable and occasional commendable season, there is one who remains unmoved by it all.

The fourteenth chapter of 1 Kings introduces a new literary style, which becomes typical for much of the remaining texts in the book. Up to this point, the historian has taken time to elaborate on the backstory and consider the circumstances surrounding the demise of each of David’s successors. He digresses to situate the reigns of Solomon, Jeroboam, and Rehoboam in their respective historical settings, spending a decent amount of time with each king. In 1 Kings 14:21, however, the historian’s word-count for each potentate shrinks dramatically, opting for royal abstracts and digests as opposed to detailed accounts.

Despite the brevity of these sketches, however, the historian’s summation of each monarch provides the appropriate prism through which we are able to witness the sheer incapacity and insufficiency of man juxtaposed against God’s steady faithfulness — bringing to light the One we truly, deeply, desperately need.

The Abominable One

After spending the majority of three chapters highlighting the debacles of northern Israel, the historian returns to southern Judah and its newly minted king, Rehoboam (1 Kgs 14:21). Last we heard, they were licking their wounds in the aftermath of Jeroboam’s dissent and secession from the kingdom (1 Kgs 12:24). Rehoboam’s ego, of course, had a large role in that development, provoking the rebellion which eventually led to Israel’s implosion. Here, though, we are given further insight into Rehoboam’s reign, including a similar sounding indictment of the king’s legacy.

These verses are indicative of the tragedies which belabor the southern tribes, much like 1 Kings 14:15–16 constitutes the calamities which castrated the northern kingdom. Judah’s deeds were utterly evil, “more than all that their ancestors.” They busied themselves with constructing their own centers for cultic worship (1 Kgs 14:23; cf. 12:25–33), dusting off the very same idols their forefathers had obediently destroyed. (Ex 34:13) The lurid sexual ritual of the goddess Asherah was both tolerated and promoted by those who were duly charged to serve and follow Yahweh alone. (1 Kgs 14:24) This abominable form of worship was allowed to infiltrate and influence the entire cultural and spiritual fabric of God’s covenant people.

Accordingly, the acceptance of these abominable and “detestable practices” is indicative of Judah’s covenantal compromise. It was a stark omen that the seeds of pagan influence were bearing the fruit of paganism itself, with Judah openly gravitating towards the very systems of worship God had expressly forbidden (Dt 7:5; 12:1–4; 16:21; 18:9). The very people whom he had graciously chosen to bless beyond comprehension had replaced him. Judah had snubbed Jehovah. They had categorically failed to uphold the standards of God’s covenant with them. Such is why Yahweh’s “jealous anger” was kindled against them, driving him to judge them. “In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, King Shishak of Egypt went to war against Jerusalem. He seized the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and the treasuries of the royal palace. He took everything. He took all the gold shields that Solomon had made” (1 Kgs 14:25–26).

The Egyptian Pharaoh, Shishak, sacks Jerusalem, plundering all her sacred “treasures.” But far beyond the loss of these material treasures was the loss of Judah’s God-given luster. The seizure of the treasuries of Jerusalem was a demonstrable sign that God’s blessings were being taken away, too. The glitz and glamor of the old regime had faded — and so, too, had God’s glory in their midst. Judah’s “slow fade” is further illustrated in Rehoboam’s response to this judgment via Egyptian invasion.

The gold shields of Judah, emblems of her prosperity, were stolen. Rehoboam, then, immediately sets about forging replacements (1 Kgs 14:25-28) — the point being, Judah was still sure that she could save herself. Yahweh was not only not a priority, he was unnecessary.

It goes without saying that these deplorable developments were not the result of overnight sins. Judah’s covenant infidelity wasn’t a one-night stand but a long gestating affair. These were the horrid fruits which stemmed from Judah’s abominable compromise with the world. Such was Judah’s truest abomination. They had undermined and imperiled the worship of Yahweh by entertaining other gods. They lost their faith by losing sight of their covenant responsibility. And so it is that you and I are consigned to stand steadfast in faith now — to sow the seeds of blessed dependence and devotion on the One True God and to resist the onslaught of idolatrous influences.

The Lamentable One

With Jeroboam firmly situated as Israel’s king, Judah is experiencing some turnover. (1 Kgs 15:1) Abijam takes the throne in what constitutes one of the more unremarkable reigns in Judean history. There’s not much to say about Abijam other than the insights the historian offers detailing his short-lived, sin-riddled reign.

Rather than live according to the Lord’s words and ways, Abijam “walked in all the sins of his father.” And just like Rehoboam, Abijam’s three-year-monarchy was fraught with conflict (1 Kgs 15:6–8). He carried on his dad’s abominable legacy. Such was his heritage. Such, too, is what is inferred by the historian’s remark about Abijam’s mother, Maacah. She was the descendant of Absalom, which also made her the great granddaughter of David. It is in that way that we are made to see the lamentable failure of Abijam. Despite being of the promised lineage, he botched that promise by failing to live according to his covenantal father (1 Kgs 15:3).

The Commendable One

After Abijam’s brief stint as king comes to a close, his son Asa takes his place on the throne. (1 Kgs 15:9–10) Asa’s reign is atypically commendable when considering the books of Kings, not only for its duration (41 years) but for its description. “Asa did what was right in the Lord’s sight, as his ancestor David had done,” notes the historian (1 Kgs 15:11). This is the first ever mention of covenant fidelity in the lineage of David. Unlike the litany of despotic rulers before him, Asa remains faithful to the words of the Lord, inaugurating a “religious renovation” project, of sorts, banishing all of the temple prostitutes of Asherah, and scrapping “all of the idols that his ancestors had made” (1 Kgs 15:12). Asa’s zealous reform is further evidenced in the passion with which he seeks to recover the worship of Jehovah alone (2 Chron 15:8–15), even going so far as to bring this reformation to the royal family: “He also removed his grandmother Maacah from being queen mother because she had made an obscene image of Asherah. Asa chopped down her obscene image and burned it in the Kidron Valley” (1 Kgs 15:13).

At this point, the era of King Asa seems to be that for which everyone longed. Judah is at peace with her enemies. (2 Chron 14:2–5) Her priorities are right, with all their spoils being consecrated to the Lord. (1 Kgs 15:15) Indeed, Asa appears to be checking all the boxes for what it means to be a “good king.” But, unsurprisingly, he fails, too.

While some of the pagan “high places” were torn down, not all of them were destroyed (1 Kgs 15:14). This oversight is exasperated by the trouble-making king of Israel, Baasha. Baasha begins to fortify Ramah, a city that was a mere 6 miles from Jerusalem proper. From there, he was able to forcibly control Judah’s trade relationships. This, of course, results in some seriously bad press, both politically and economically. Asa has the bright idea that in order to save Judah’s economy, he will withdraw all the “treasuries of the Lord’s temple and the treasuries of the royal palace” and use them to bribe the king of Syria to create a conflict further north (1 Kgs 15:18–19). With Baasha distracted by a Syrian invasion, Asa would have the bandwidth to re-establish Judah’s trade routes and fortify Judah’s defenses. And his plan works like a charm (1 Kgs 15:20–22). All of Judah is, no doubt, singing Asa’s praises right about now. But what does God think of the king’s shrewd political maneuvering?

We do not have to wonder:

At that time, the seer Hanani came to King Asa of Judah and said to him, ‘Because you depended on the king of Aram and have not depended on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from you. Were not the Cushites and Libyans a vast army with many chariots and horsemen? When you depended on the Lord, he handed them over to you. For the eyes of the Lord roam throughout the earth to show himself strong for those who are wholeheartedly devoted to him. You have been foolish in this matter. Therefore, you will have wars from now on.’ Asa was enraged with the seer and put him in prison because of his anger over this. And Asa mistreated some of the people at that time” (2 Chron 16:7–10).

Asa had gone from a king who had faithfully and successfully brought about sweeping cultural reform to a king who trusted more in his politics than in his God. Indeed, such is the chronicler’s estimation of Asa’s demise: “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa developed a disease in his feet, and his disease became increasingly severe. Yet even in his disease he didn’t seek the Lord but only the physicians” (2 Chron 16:12). Such, too, is why Asa remains a commendable but not an impeccable king.

The Impeccable One

In each of these royal specimens there are evidences of deficiencies that are more or less noticeable. We know that no one is without blemish, but these vignettes make that fact patently obvious. But throughout these decades of Judean royal history, what are we to see? What rises to the surface? What’s the point? Well, notice the city in which Rehoboam reigned:He reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city where the Lord had chosen from all the tribes of Israel to put his name” (1 Kgs 14:21). Notice, furthermore, the city in which Asa was buried: “Then Asa rested with his ancestors and was buried in the city of his ancestor David” (1 Kgs 15:24).

There is a beam of light in these references, almost imperceptible but still aflame, undoubtedly weaker than in past epochs but still burning. It is the fire of God’s covenant promises to David — promises of dwelling and dominion and deliverance and an unending dynasty (2 Sam 7:8–16). Such is the “lamp in Jerusalem” that had not quite yet flamed out: “But for the sake of David, the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up his son after him and by preserving Jerusalem. For David did what was right in the Lord’s sight, and he did not turn aside from anything he had commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hethite” (1 Kgs 15:4–5).

Through the often abominable and lamentable and occasional commendable season, there is one who remains unmoved by it all. There is one who sovereignly oversees all things. There is one who is never not faithful. There is one who is the same, “yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8.) It is Yahweh alone, the Light of the World. He is always overlooking his covenant people, working all things together to draw them to himself. Such is what he was doing all throughout Judah’s troubled years of division, disaster, and decadence. The Lord consented to his people’s rebellion in order that they might see their desperate need for someone better — yes, even better than David.

The shocking elements which comprise these stories are meant for us to adore Yahweh alone. They are meant for us to stand in awe at our doggedly patient Heavenly Father. Even more persistent than man’s ability to sin is God’s propensity to deliver. “Grace,” comments Dale Ralph Davis, “is not only greater but more stubborn than our sins” (172). Yahweh continues in immovable, impeccable faithfulness even, and especially, in times that are fraught with lamentable abominations.

Such is the prevailing message of Scripture itself. Such, too, is what God’s word is meant to do, i.e., it is meant, says Davis elsewhere, “to hearten you by showing you a God still keeping his promises even when his servants may not be all-stars...Don’t ever be shocked at the human slop God will throw into his compost to serve his faithfulness” (39, 41)

Long after the seeds of unfaithfulness bear their wretched fruit, God will still be keeping his promises. This lamp will never flame out.

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