The Result of Bad Kingship
2 Kings 17.1-7
(New International Version)
In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned for nine years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, but not like the kings of Israel who preceded him.
Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser’s vassal and had paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison.
The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the River Habor and in the towns of the Medes.
All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
I find the stories of the Kings of Judah and Israel, as written in 1 & 2 Kings, confusing, not just the dating system which predates our modern calendar, but the constant switching between the Kings of Judah, the Southern Kingdom and the Kings of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, sometimes referred to as Samaria.
This series of reflections is focussed on leadership in the bible as it relates to our faith with the aim of shedding the light of scripture, as we approach Advent, in the midst of what many may feel is a period of darkness in our lives.
Hoshea was the 17th and last King of Israel, he reigned for 9 years. He took the throne when he assassinated his predecessor, Peka, supported by the Assyrians. The people of both Israel and Judah had strayed from worshipping God and the law of Moses. The prophets, such as Hosea (not to be confused with King Hoshea), had warned the Kings of Israel not to stray from following God, not to rely on foreign armies to help them but had been ignored. Threatened by the Assyrians they had made themselves vassals to Assyria, owing allegiance to them rather than God. When Hoshea came to the throne he reneged on the deal with the Assyrians and sought an alliance with Egypt. This was the last straw for both the Assyrians and God. Assyria captured Israel and took many of the people into exile, re-populating Samaria with their own people.
The southern Kingdom of Judah survived for another 130 or so years before it too was defeated by the Babylonians and carried off onto exile. The apostacy of Israel was no worse than Judah, nor was Judah better than Israel but God was faithful to his promise to David that his descendants would occupy the throne for ever. Sadly, David’s descendants failed to live up to the mark.
The biblical concept of kingship was that the king was anointed (appointed) by God and therefore held power by divine authority that no power on earth should oppose. If you have a good king who obeys God, arguably like David or Solomon, then this shouldn’t be a problem but history has shown the flaws in this idea. Flaws that have led to many wars, civil wars, oppression, slavery, dictatorship.
Does this mean that God was wrong?
The problem of kingship, or any form of leadership (president, prime minister, bishop, Chief Executive, Mayor etc.), lies with human not divine nature.
We can easily point to the more obvious temptations of high office that come with power and status. Corruption, power-lust, fear of opponents, fear of showing weakness, failing to make the decisions we think they should make. Failing to live up to our own high standards. How many of us think that we could have handled Covid-19 better than the government, the town council, the archbishops?
I think we need to look deeper than simple right or wrong, than simple political ideology and consider how our leaders have to govern. How do they decide between two equally valid arguments? The need to protect the NHS against the need to maintain civil liberty in their response to the Covid pandemic. They need the wisdom of Solomon (see 1 Kings 3.16-28)
What makes a good leader?
Someone who earns respect, someone people will follow willingly, even sacrifice their lives for, someone people will believe in. Someone who stands up with a bible in their hand and declares that God is on their side?
Mm! If that is all it takes to be a good leader you only have to look at the lessons of History to see how wrong that can be.
A good leader is more than that, a good leader must first and foremost follow God’s law, must know God, be known by God, be faithful to God, in worship and word and deed. A good leader is judged by the way he or she lives their life. A life of honesty, integrity and sincerity, a life driven by a sense of justice and mercy that puts others needs before their own, that treats all people as equals, cares for the poor, the homeless, the sick, the refugee. That stands up against injustice, stands up for the weak and powerless against the powerful and strong. A life lived sacrificially for the sake of others without counting the cost or seeking any reward other than knowing that they serve our one lord Jesus Christ.
The Kings of Israel and Judah failed to live up to God’s standard of leadership and both nations were carried off captive into exile. The failings of many modern-day leaders have led their people into years of oppression or driven them to seek asylum elsewhere. Here in Britain we may not fear exile in this life, through the failings of our leaders, but if we fail to live up to God’s standard of leadership. as shown by the example of Jesus Christ, then we risk finding ourselves in exile in the life to come. Leadership is not solely the responsibility of Kings, we are all called to lead by following the way of Jesus Christ in our own lives.
O God our heavenly Father, whose love sets no boundaries and whose strength is in service; grant to the leaders of the nations wisdom, courage and insight at this time of change and uncertainty. Give to all who exercise authority determination to defend the principles of freedom, love and tolerance, strength to protect and safeguard the innocent and clarity of vision to guide the world into the paths of justice and peace. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(North East Hub)