Historical Overview

Course: Old Testament Survey

Lecture: Historical Overview


It is always helpful when one deals with anything in the prophetical book area to understand the historical context. These prophets are talking about what is happening. What has happened, what is happening now and what is going to happen. If you do not have a sense of history, you do not appreciate them. If you do not give a sense of history to those to whom you are preaching the prophetical books, they will not fully follow what is going on. Thus, I think that anybody who preaches or teaches or leads a Bible study on the prophets has to figure out how they can make the historical setting come alive. Often that is for people whose least favorite subject in high school was history. That is a challenge. One of the things you might find is that people will say to you, “I always hated history but when you preach you make it so clear and so relevant that I actually enjoy finding out.” That is a challenge, but I encourage you to try for that challenge to see if you can do it.

I. The Divided Monarchy

Putting it in context we have what is called the divided monarchy.

A. A civil war never resolved

Divided monarchy is not a very new term to most of you, but one way to think of it is as a civil war never resolved. Here you have a situation where there just starts, right after Solomon’s death in 931, a rivalry. A lot of civil wars do get resolved but some do not. Here is one that never gets resolved. If you think about the American Civil War, it finally got resolved, it was painful and difficult but look at the Korean War and the fact that there is still division. That is a modern example that is parallel to the situation of Israel and Judah, the so called divided monarchy.

B. The nation is split permanently

40 kings - 20 north and 20 south. It turns out for our counting convenience that there are forty kings during that time period; three kings of the United Monarchy, forty of the Divided, and it turns out for our further counting convenience that there were twenty kings in the north and twenty in the south. That makes it a little bit easier to remember. The statistic that that should bring to your mind is simply this, you should be able to say, “Wait a minute, the north existed only until 722 BC; 931 to 722, so that is the north. The south goes on for almost 140 years until 586, yet the same number of kings.” This tells you that in the north the average king reigned only around sixty percent as long as the average king in the south.

What that really should say to you is that there is some kind of instability in the north. There is nothing about health that was a problem. It was not that life spans of people in Israel were shorter than those in Judah on average; nothing like that. Something else is accounting for it. That really is true. The north was a story during that 210 year period of rivalries; of usurpations, that fancy word for people being thrown out of kingship and somebody else put in their stead; many assignations, about half a dozen assignations; the big Jehu massacre that we already alluded to is another dramatic evidence of political instability in the north. So the north is a very rocky place; lots of rivalries, lots of infighting, lots of internal strife. The south, by contrast, has all twenty kings from one dynasty, David. The expression is used, “The kings who sit on the throne of David”. One finds that expression in a number of places. Even Jeremiah uses that expression a couple of times.

C. No decent northern kings, 8 decent southern kings

Furthermore, far more interesting for what you might want to use in your in preaching and teaching is that none of those northern kings are good, while there are eight relatively decent southern kings. Six of them are rather decent and two are really fine, Hezekiah and Josiah. Percentage wise it is not great. Eight out of forty, just twenty percent of the kings are called “good” by God. The expression, as you have read, “So and so came to power then and he did ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in the eyes of the Lord.” It is said of eighty percent that they did “evil” or “bad” in the eyes of the Lord. He said “good” of only twenty percent, and six of those eight are modified by the statement that, “It was good except for...” Only two out of forty, five percent, were unqualifiedly good. That explains a lot. When you are preaching through 1 and 2 Kings and you keep pointing out, “Well, here is another bad king,” there is a lot that that has to point to. If the ratio is so high that eighty percent of the kings are called evil, you know something has got to give. This is not going to go on forever. God is not going to say, “Oh, that’s fine, every fifth or sixth king is half decent. I’m happy.” That is not what God is going to say. You can see even from those individual judgments on the kings what must inevitably be coming and that is, of course, that God will have to enforce the stipulations of his covenant. The curses of the covenant say, “You keep these stipulations or I enforce them and I punish you accordingly.” The curses are evermore obviously waiting as you go longer and longer in time through these books of 1 and 2 Kings.

D. Increasing apostasy

There is also, as you can figure, increasing apostasy. Manasseh, who has the longest reign and is rather near the end near the six hundreds, he is one of the worst of all. But you can go right down to the time of King Zedekiah, the very last king of them all, the king that reigned over Judah from 598 BC to around 587 because he made a run for it but got captured before the city of Jerusalem finally fell in 586. He was a very affective king in many ways, very influential. What Ezekiel describes as going on in the Jerusalem temple during the days of Zedekiah is absolute, total, full-blown idolatry, and syncretism; that is the melding of all kinds of beliefs; polytheism, any number of gods and goddesses worshipped; and also pantheism, everything is a god and is alive and has divinity. So people are worshipping insects as Ezekiel describes it in Ezekiel 7, 8, and 9; they are worshipping lizards, they are worshipping birds, they are worshipping everything and it is a sad sight. It is really sad.

E. Rise of classical prophecy

This is also the time period of the rise of classical prophecy, 760 to 460 BC. Lots of changes, dynamic and massive changes from one empire to another. It will start with the Assyrian Empire, eventually the Babylonian, it will then become the Persian Empire. Grand changes that affect little Palestine and the little, tiny portion of that where God’s people are located. The prophets are there to explain this and to say it is coming; they are there to relate it to the covenant and also to relate it to what is coming in the future. “However,” says almost every prophet, “do not think that the massive destruction you are about to encounter because God is unleashing is covenant curses upon you is the end of God’s plan. God is an evangelist, God is a redeemer, God has got a future, so He will form a little remnant left over after all this destruction, raise for Himself a people that fulfill the promises to Abraham that his people will be like the stars in the sky or like the grains of sand on the seashore. There is a classical prophecy that says, “misery in the short run but wonderful, glorious, redemptive blessing in the long run.” Those are being preached by every prophet; every prophet is preaching some doom and some blessing at the same time. Isaiah will certainly manifest those contrasts, the doom and also the joy, that woe and the weal.

F. Heterodox south and north

The south is heterodox and the north is automatically heterodox. How so? The north, first of all, is never lead by a king who fits the Davidic covenant. The Davidic covenant from 2 Samuel says, “My purpose says the Lord is to have a descendent of David always over my people.” Ultimately, of course, it is a messianic promise, not just a Davidic. The Davidic covenant, by its nature, also a messianic covenant. How can the northern kings do that, none of them is a descendent of David? That is strike one. Strike two, they do not worship at the Jerusalem temple. Deuteronomy 12 says, “The whole nation must worship at the place where I cause my name to dwell,” and they just will not do that. Strike three is that they worship idols. Jeroboam the 1st, the immediate successor to Solomon in the north right after Solomon’s death, does something that even Solomon, who introduced idolatry into the nation, did not go so far as to do; Jeroboam created golden young bulls, they are called golden calves, as idols and sets them up in the north, one in Dan and one in Bethel. They are worshipped at these two northern shrines or worship centers as a counter culture. Idolatry is put into practice. So you have heterodox kingship, heterodox worship center (location, system), and you have heterodox worship, in the most obvious sense, idolatry. That is three strikes. Therefore, it just cannot be that any northern king can be called good nor can the north in general be called good.

G. One single orthodox prophet

Imagine that at one time, that is the time of Elijah, only one single orthodox prophet is preaching the Word of God. In a whole nation of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, we do not the exact number, one person holding forth the Word of God and at various times people are trying to hunt him down and kill him. That is really a very sad, low point. That is tuff but that is what we are dealing with. Some of the themes that we have talked about, I am sure you can exploit very effectively in your own preaching and teaching.

II. What are the "high places"?

The question relates to the statement that is made of six of the eight good kings. “So and so did good in the eyes of the Lord, nevertheless, did not remove the high places from Judah. “High place” is a funny term. It translates a single Hebrew word, not two words, but a single Hebrew word that basically means a shoulder. Those of you who know mountain language talk about the shoulders of mountains being high hills. I would translate these idolatrous shrines. In ancient Israel all the true, believing, and orthodox worshippers would come to Jerusalem and offer the sacrifices there in the temple; it is the only legitimate place you could do it, you could not do a sacrifice anywhere else. But the Baal worshippers and the Ashara worshippers and so on had a system whereby you could worship almost any place.

There were thousands of these little high places, normally located on a hill, although we do not know where everyone of them was. They would usually be under a tree, partly because both Jeremiah and Deuteronomy say that they are “on every high hill and under every green tree.” They are very common. You want to be in the shade, as it is bright in Palestine. A little alter would be there and maybe just a single priest. You might march up there with your goat kid and your family and there would be this priest just sitting there. You say that you would like to offer something and this priest would then say the proper incantations so that the little idol of Baal or Ashara or somebody would supposedly notice you doing this. The priest would then take your animal, kill it, butcher it, prepare it, and cook it. Every priest was a butcher by the way; you could not be a priest without knowing how to butcher. It would not take him long to butcher, prepare, cook, and serve it to you, and a portion would be reserved for himself. The theory was that some of the rest of the animal would then be burnt up on the alter and its smoke would be inhaled by the gods, so the term smell or inhale is actually employed.

That is what a high place is. It is a small scale pagan worship shrine of which there were many all over the place as opposed to the Jerusalem temple. So, when a king did well in general but did not get rid of those shrines there is a qualification—he did not go after what was not good and suppress it as he should have.

III. Syro-Ephraimite War - 2 Kings 16

Here is something that comes right before the little chunk of material in 2 Kings that you were to read tonight. It is background that is quite important. It really helps understand a very significant thing, so I have taken the trouble to outline it. It is described for us in 2 Kings 16 but it also has reference to, see where it says background to Isaiah 8:23 to 9:6, that is where we get a special prophecy about Naphtali and Zebulun, I will explain in a minute.

A. Tiglath-Pileser's conquests in Syria-Palestine

Tiglath-Pileser, this king that I mentioned, made a number of conquests in Syria-Palestine and this is not the first year. So, by 735 BC he had been getting heavy tribute, tax, and toll for several years. For the first couple of years everybody gives all their money and they can only sort of survive. After a while you are melting down all your jewelry, the government collectors are going around saying, “Look, we are all going to be killed if we don’t give this guy money.” Usually they did not impose light taxes, they were heavy, heavy, tribute, tax, and toll, and people were being impoverished. Judah and Israel and all the nations around there hated it.

B. Anti-Assyrian alliance

Rezin, the king of Syria and Pekah, the king of Israel decided to form an alliance. They went around to every king of all the nations, Moab, Edom, Philistine and so on, and they said, “We’re putting together an alliance. We are all going to join our armies.” You know how the Assyrians do it; they attack one country at a time, conquer it and attack another one and that is how they win and it is easy for them to do that. That is a strategy that many nations have used. Hitler did it in Europe in World War II, first Austria, then Czechoslovakia, then Poland, then Belgium, then France, and so on. You knock off all possible opposition and then you go after the bigger ones like Russia and so on.

C. Ahaz refuses to join alliance

They proposed to Ahaz, the king of Judah, to join them because they said that we can put together a pretty big fighting force if we are all united together, and it will be a lot of work for the Assyrians to marshal the troops to beat us. But Ahaz said, “No, I won’t join.” Why wouldn’t he join? Because Isaiah the prophet was preaching, “Don’t join. You trust in Me says the Lord, don’t you ever trust in military alliances. They’ll look good, they’ll look like the thing to do, I know you are suffering but you must trust Me.” Although he did not always listen to Isaiah, he did that time and he said, “Nuts, I won’t join.” That is a loose translation.

D. Syria and Israel attack Judah

Now, you are Israel and Syria, what are you going to do? You cannot easily go to war with this guy who will not join you right in the heart of the whole alliance because Judah is in the middle of it all, if you think of where the nations are located, right in the middle. So they say, “Let us attack Judah, that’s what we will do first. Our combined armies will attack Judah, we will defeat them, we will depose King Ahaz and we’ll place on the throne a king of our choosing.” It is all there in 2 Kings 16. They did that.

E. Judah appeals to Assyria

Now, you are King Ahaz, these guys are attacking you and you are scared because they come with big armies against you. They are attacking you because you will not fight against the king of Assyria. Who do you appeal to for help? The king of Assyria. So he sent, “Hey, help! They are attacking me because I won’t join them in attacking you.” The Assyrians did come; they rushed troops right in. The coalition had never been fully formed. Originally it was to have all the Edomites and everybody; that all fell apart when these guys decided to knock off the Judeans and so on, so everybody else was out of it.

F. Israel attacked by Assyria and Judah

The Assyrians came and attacked Syria and Israel, and they annexed all of Syria and virtually all of Israel. They left a little bit of the tribal territory of Ephraim and then Judah counterattacked. Again, not commendable. This is condemned, for example, in Hosea 5:5-8. Hosea condemns that counterattack. Ahaz is not clean in everything here. They did go right up and captured all of Benjamin and even a little chunk of southern Ephraim as far as the city of Bethel. This produced a bigger Judah. They took the southern part and then the northern part was reduced by capture.

G. Israel reduced to rump state

Israel ended up being what is sometimes called in history a “remainder state” or a “rump state”. The amount of territory may be eight or nine percent of what they previously had held. This is only from 732 on, just ten years later the Assyrians came and finished off even that; they just took all of it reducing Judah’s population and control down to Judah itself and they took the rest. This is very sad. No matter how unjustified they were in wanting to attack Judah, it is still a very sad, sad thing because it is the loss of ten northern tribes to the Assyrians. They are no longer an independent people, these are God’s people, they are His chosen people and He has really abandoned them. He has done what the covenant says, “I will turn My face from you,” and He has done it. “I will give you to your enemies, and you will go after them in one direction and flee from them in seven,” and they did. All of those covenant curses have come about.

IV. Isaiah 9

It is in this context that a famous prophecy from Isaiah is delivered. Here are some key portions from Isaiah 9. He says in Isaiah 9:1, this is Isaiah preaching right after that Syro-Ephraimite in which the north has been virtually destroyed and only a little bit of it is left and he says this, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,” he has done this because that is part of the north, “but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles…” and so on. Without going into all the details, the questions was rightly asked, how come Naphtali and Zebulun are singled out? He could have said, “Well, it is a sad situation now for Asher and Dan now that they are in captivity.” He could have named a lot of tribes. For some reason he picks Zebulun and Naphtali. Very interesting until you begin to check and see where exactly Zebulun and Naphtali are. The people walking in darkness did see a great light, wonderful things happen, and there is joy, all accomplished by a child that is born. The zeal of the Lord will accomplish this.

It starts with the relationship to Zebulun and Naphtali. Here is what you will find if you check out a map in the back of a Bible, if it happens to have the tribal districts. You will see that Nazareth, where Jesus was born, was smack dab in the middle of the tribal territory of Zebulun. And you will see that the western edge of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus did most of His preaching is in the tribal district of Naphtali. Jesus goes a lot of places, we all know that. He preaches all over the towns and villages of Samaria and Judea and so on. We do not just mean that He confined Himself to those places but most of the detailed stories about Him suggest that most of his time was spent right in Zebulun and Naphtali. Here is this messianic prophecy choosing those two relatively obscure tribal territories and saying, “That’s where the action will be,” seven hundred and some years before it actually occurs. But, sure enough, that is where the one who is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace shows up. That is the answer succinctly as I can give it. That is why it is so important.

V. Emphases in Chronicles

Let me jump to Chronicles for a minute. As you know, there are a lot of parallels between Chronicles, Samuel, and Kings. You can read many of the same stories almost identically. However, there are also some very special emphases of the chronicler. Even though Chronicles is written around 520 or 530 BC, Chronicles is a book that is looking at the past with much of the same coverage as you have in Samuel and Kings but with some special emphases.

A. The Temple

One is the temple. When you read Chronicles, anything that the chronicler can say about the temple, he will. It is very interesting. A lot of history in the temple. A lot more chapters about Solomon’s role in building the temple. A lot more emphasis on the temple and its furnishings. Why? Because the chronicler is writing at a time when the returned Jews after the exile are desperately trying to get the temple rebuilt. The work of the chronicler is partly to encourage them to do that very thing. So the chronicler is a pro-temple writer looking back and saying, “Just remember, the temple was a very, very important thing,” and it is. This is not some inappropriate bias; this is a very important emphasis. There is nothing more important than worship. The first, most basic responsibility of any believer is to worship.

B. The South

Then his emphasis is southern. Why? Because when he is writing, sometime around 530 or 520 BC, Judah is the only Israel there is, and it is a southern area. The north is completely different and just as province in the Persian Empire.

C. The Monarchy

He has a tremendous interest in the monarchy; he is especially interested in David but also Solomon. The chronicler wants you to know that anything that David did was good. Anything Solomon did that was good, he wants you to know it. He does even soft-pedal a little bit of what they did that was bad; he kind of minimizes it. Is this because he is changing history? No, it is because he is being selective for a purpose. They all knew, these post-exilic Jews, that God knows how to punish sin. That was real clear to them because they have just come out of a horrid seventy-year-period of terrible trial and exile. They did not have any mystery in their minds about that. What they needed was encouragement to say what was good from the past and how that can inform us, how can it serve as a model for us, how can it guide as we try to rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem, the ruins of the temple, etc. here in this time.

D. Theocracy

He also emphasizes theocracy a lot. What is theocracy? It is the rule of God. So, the chronicler pays a lot of attention to God’s superintending power. The people he writes to need to hear that; I would say we also need to hear it. A lot of these themes in Chronicles are also fabulous for a modern-day audience. They are not just appropriate to 520 BC; there are many parallels between them and us.

E. The Priesthood

He also emphasizes the priesthood. Because the chronicler is trying to get people once again to worship and honor God properly. The priesthood are the helpers. This is the clergy. If they do it right they will really help people fulfill God’s covenant worship responsibilities.

F. Proper worship

Proper worship in all of its details. If Kings does not mention how it all worked, the chronicler will say, “And there were this many Levites helping and this many doorkeepers and this many things and the offerings were brought in in this manner.” From his sources, all the detail he can get to encourage people in the right way it is to be done.

G. Lineages

Lineages are important to the chronicler. Therefore you have The Chronicles. Lots and lots and lots of genealogy because these are people who need to be able to realize that they are back in touch with the great tradition. They are God’s people, it is continuing, He has not destroyed His people utterly; he has decimated them, but there is a remnant and they are the remnant. They ought to feel connected and attached, and they should feel that they are at a key juncture in the whole progress of His dealing with His people.

H. Reconstitute around the temple

If you are going to do that, you have got to reconstitute them around the temple. You do not just have people, but you have worshipping people.

I. Judean restoration

The Judean restoration flows from all of that. If the nation can be rebuilt, if people can get reorganized, armed again, and have a healthy economic and political style, this will only encourage their sense of faithfulness to God and loyalty to Him. It will show that He is rebuilding His people.

J. Faith and hope of God's reward

Finally, ultimately, Chronicles really is good at encouraging faith and hope that God will reward those who do His will. It is big them in Chronicles. Of course, who would not want Christians to know that? If you are leading a youth group, you want that youth group to have faith and hope that God will reward those who do His will. If you are preaching to a congregation, teaching a class, leading a Bible study, it is the kind of thing you want people to know. Chronicles is good for that. It is a very positive book in its special emphases. We do not spend a lot time in this class on Chronicles. It is not because we do not like Chronicles; it is a question of efficiency. We are covering a lot of material fast, as you know, and therefore we slight Chronicles in one sense, because it does cover the same territory that Samuel and Kings does, but this was an attempt to try to lay before you some of the special emphases that are very valuable. You do not need to slight Chronicles. Do not say, “We did not do much with it in Bible Survey so it must not be that important.” No, I think you will find a series just on Chronicles will be rich for people if you do preaching series. You can preach for half a year from a book like this and have people feel it was very helpful and useful. A lot of great themes.