by Tom Burns
(Editor’s note: This is the 5th post in a series called “A Journey of Evangelism in Scripture,” where we travel from Genesis through Revelation to look into the intersection of evangelism at various points of time.)
Many read 1 & 2 Kings as approximately 400 years of boring Old Testament history that doesn’t lend itself easily to devotional reading and they doubt the relevance and practicality of studying events that occurred 3,000 years ago. So how could it help us in our evangelism?
The answer begins with the root of the very word evangelism—“good news.” To appreciate and understand the good news we need to know the whole news, including the bad news. For it is in the context of the bad news that we come to realize our need for a Savior.
1 & 2 Kings isn’t just the spiritual history of Israel; instead, it is a microcosm of the history of humanity. Without knowing history, we are doomed to repeat it. Thus, some ask today, “How could a good God punish His people?” After reading through this history of Kings, we are left wondering, “It’s about time! What took God so long?” Kings reveals the incredible patience of God who is both long-suffering and compassionate.
1 Kings begins with the last days of David and Solomon’s building of the Temple; 2 Kings ends with the destruction of the Temple. What we find in between is a litany of the wickedness of human kings. Beginning with Solomon and a united kingdom of Israel, then through the divided kingdom of Israel in the north and Judah in the south, 1 & 2 Kings records the spiritual history covering 41 kings in all.
Solomon begins as the wisest, wealthiest, and most powerful king in the world. When Solomon finishes the Temple in 1 Kings 9:2-8,
…the LORD appeared to Solomon a second time… And the LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins.”
By 1 Kings 11, Solomon already turns away from God and towards idols and foreign women. And God appears to Solomon a third time, now provoked to anger, and subsequently divides the kingdom north and south, Israel and Judah.
As we read through the rest of the divided kingdom’s 40 kings to follow, the kings get worse and worse. Only eight kings are assessed as good, but six of those failed to remove idol worship from their people. One of the greatest kings, Hezekiah, is followed by perhaps the worst, his son Manasseh. Through this long litany of wicked kings, God is gracious, sparing Israel and Judah from destruction, and the Temple still stands as the symbol of God’s presence with His people.
Two hundred and eight years later Israel is exiled to Assyria; 135 years after that Judah is exiled to Babylon and the Temple is finally destroyed. The survival of the kings for this long was clearly not due to anyone’s goodness, but to God’s grace. In the end, royal wisdom fails. The kings walk according to what was right in their own eyes and consistently rejected following the Lord.
Within this context comes for us a mirror to read the story for today’s world. The 40 kings are introduced with an accession notice and then concluded with a death notice. And there is a formula: For most, the king is described as having walked in all the sins of his father, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father. Each king had a choice: to walk in the ways of David, loving God with all his heart, or to walk in the ways of evil, the sins of his father.
You and I have the same choice. Which of us by human wisdom or in human strength has been wholly true to the Lord our God? Which of us is wholly true in walking in the ways of the Lord, or instead at times walks in the ways of this world? Have we “done what was right in the Lord’s eyes” or done what was best in our own eyes?
Paul sums it up for all of us like this in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yet while we are convicted of this throughout history and in our own life, the gospel remains the good news. John 3:16 proclaims: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God delivered on His promise to David, and sent a descendant of David to save us all. Jesus Christ died for our sins, so that we may not end in ruins. For all who believe, we are forgiven and reconciled with God for eternity.
1 & 2 Kings is more than history; it is evangelistic. In it we see God as He appeared to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7:
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”
This is truly the good news!
Tom Burns is a chaplain at the Chicago O’Hare Airport Chapel, ministering to travelers and the over 40,000 employees working at O’Hare Airport. He is an executive coach and consultant, working with Christian business executives and church/nonprofit leaders.