Personalities in the Bible
by Dan Seagren
|Solomon||From Fame to Shame|
|Rehoboam and Jeroboam||A Divided Kingdom|
|Abijah to Hoshea||Kings of Judah and Israel|
|A Casual Chart||Judah and Israel|
|Ahaz and Ahab||Two Despicable Kings|
|Hezekiah||A Warrior Reformer|
|Josiah||The Reformer Boy King|
|Elijah||A Prophet on the Run|
Solomon: From Fame to Shame I Kings 1-11
The history of Israel has revealed some great leaders: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel), Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and now his son, Solomon. Solomon was born to David and Bathsheba and technically was not next-in-line to succeed King David. Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan convinced David to name Solomon as successor just in time to rescue the throne from another of Davidís undisciplined, opportunistic sons.
David desperately wanted to build the Temple but God forbade him to do so awarding the honor to Solomon. David greatly expanded the kingdom which Solomon inherited allowing him to build on its foundation. He controlled the trade route from Europe and Asia Minor through Israel (Palestine) to the East and to solidify his kingdom, he married innumerable wives, many for political purposes, and added not a few concubines which was a major departure from the norm and unquestionably not Godís idea.
In some ways he was a genius although his knowledge also became his downfall. Early in his kingship, he asked his God for divine wisdom in ruling his people. This was granted, resulting in the notable writings that came from his prolific pen. Some of these classics have been preserved outside Scripture while credence to his skill is evidenced in the book of Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon (which ironically seems to describe his true love out of his enormous harem) and his famous book of Proverbs.
Among the memorable acts of the wise King, his solving the problem of two prostitutes both claiming the same child, is timeless. By suggesting that he divide the child so each could have a part, he determined by their gut reaction who was the true mother.
What boggles the mind is how a person with such a fine heritage, with such a humble beginning of his reign, with such skill with words and with wisdom knowing no bounds could deviate so far from the orbit God had in mind. David, whose hands were stained with the blood of innumerable wars, paved the way for a peaceable kingdom for his successor. Solomon wisely maintained the peace with only relatively minor skirmishes.
He had married, politically for the most part, 700 wives and added 300 concubines (I sometimes wonder if this isn't a typographical error but I'm afraid it isn't) which should stagger the mind of any sober person, male or female. He catered to their needs and desires, even building a palace for his royal Egyptian bride. He not only allowed them to worship their foreign gods, he built sanctuaries for them, eventually allowing himself to worship many of these deities in direct defiance of his legacy.
Solomonís reign tumbled but he toughed it out ruling for forty years after which the kingdom was unevenly split, 10 to 2, never to regain its prominence again. What really happened? He forgot who gave him his wisdom in the first place; he built the Temple according to plans he inherited but dwarfed it by the building of his own ostentatious palace. He abandoned his own God in favor of foreign deities and paid dearly for this.
We can be thankful that he did leave such a monumental written endowment for us in spite of his reckless proclivities. Otherwise, Solomonís legacy would be far less and we can be thankful that God does have infinite grace and mercy. And clemency. 7/2001
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Rehoboam and Jeroboam: A Divided Kingdom I Kings 12-14
Rehoboam, son of King Solomon through his wife, Naamah, a princess of the Ammonites, was crowned king of Israel after his fatherís death. The people, weary of Solomonís severe oppression, predicted by Samuel and promptly fulfilled, rebelled, demanding relief.
Rehoboam asked for three days before giving an answer. He then went to his advisors. The older, more experienced advice was to yield to the demands of the people but the younger, contemporaries of Rehoboam, recommended that the new king not be conciliatory but rather, oppress them even more to show them who was king. This led to a full-scale insurrection causing Rehoboam to flee to Jerusalem for refuge.
Only two tribes, Benjamin and Judah, remained loyal to Rehoboam, causing an uneven split of Israel into two divisions: North (ten tribes) called Israel and South (two tribes) to be known as Judah. The twelve tribes were never reunited again. Meanwhile, Rehoboam created an army to force a reunion but was stopped by the prophet Shemaiah. Later Judah was attacked by Egypt and other African nations. Rehoboam bartered for peace with the Temple treasures and ruled for another twelve years rather meekly.
Meanwhile, following in the footsteps of his father with eighteen wives, sixty concubines, twenty-eight sons and sixty daughters, Rehoboam chose Abijah, son of his favorite wife, Maachah, to succeed him on the throne.
Jeroboam, unrelated to Rehoboam, was noticed by King Solomon who elevated him into a powerful leadership role in the kingdom. Solomon grew to distrust him and sought to slay Jeroboam who fled to Egypt where he remained until the kingís death. Seemingly a leader of those who asked for but were denied relief by Rehoboam from King Solomonís oppression, Jeroboam was made king of the Northern tribes.
King Jeroboam did his best to disrupt the political and religious life of his people, weaning them away from pilgrimages to Jerusalem, introducing idolatry both as a pagan worship as well as an attempt to visualize Jehovahís invisible presence. He set up shrines at Bethel and Dan, at opposite ends of the kingdom. While officiating at an altar, he was visited by a prophet who announced the coming of a future King, Josiah, who would someday crush idolatry. Displeased, Jeroboam attempted to seize him but was stricken with palsy.
The king kept on with his idolatrous ways, often warring with Judah. Ironically, he led an army twice the size of King Abijahís force but lost the battle along with three cities, Bethel, Jeshanah and Ephraim.
Meanwhile, his son Abijah (same name as the son of Rehoboam) became deathly ill. In desperation, Jeroboam disguised his wife and sent her with Abijah to the prophet Ahijah who was not fooled informing her that her son would die. He died as soon as she reached home. Jeroboam seemed to take this death hard and died shortly after having reigned for twenty-two years.
Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam, while not brothers, were twin evils, not only denying the faith of their forefathers but defying it, ringleaders in apostasy who deliberately led their people into double bondages of sin and alienation, from each other and from their God.
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Abijah to Hoshea: Kings of Judah and Israel 1Kings 15, II Kings 17
Judah, the Southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah, lasted about 350 years and were ruled by approximately twenty kings. Israel, the Northern ten tribes, only lasted about 200 years before they were totally dispersed, taken into captivity and disappeared. According to the accounts, not one of the Northern kings were considered Godly or even good (morally) kings. Judah, however, did have a few God-fearing rulers who at least somewhat cleansed their territory of idols and idolatry, resurrected the Temple and its treasures including the sacred writings which had fallen into disrepute, and led the people spiritually.
Abijah succeeded his father Rehoboam as king but ruled only a short time. He was succeeded by a number of kings until Zedekiah who reigned during the fall of Jerusalem and Judea in 587 BC. Hoshea was king of the Northern tribes when Samaria fell bringing down the nation of Israel in 721 BC.
Although the Southern kingdom of Judah fell, a remnant of its people, known as the Jewish people, were kept intact by the grace of God and continued to exist, often as fugitives in strange lands and did not become a nation again until AD 1948. The Northern tribes of Israel were totally dispersed or annihilated because of their wickedness and departure from the living God. Some speculate that there is a remnant existing somewhere and the modern-day British Israelites have been identified with the lost tribes of Israel.
A study of the personalities in the Bible often includes the more well-known characters which is true of this series as well. At times there is insufficient evidence to build a case for a certain individual and in other instances only carefully selected personalities are chosen. In our case, since we are attempting to conduct a survey of the Bible through relatively brief personal vignettes, not every personality will be included.
It can be said that Judah and Israel continually were engaged in warfare, either physically, politically or religiously. Excursions were made into each otherís territory with certain geographical and other changes occurring. However, the twelve tribes were never reunited although they did enjoy some periods of tranquillity where they tolerated each other more or less. The lessons learned from ancient Israel (before the split) and after are invaluable, not only as biblical history but as a prototype guide to subsequent nations and individuals.
Interestingly, Pope John Paul II, has picked up the mantle of the ancients in stressing that the geoglobal world in which we live must embrace ancient biblical wisdom (for a fascinating study see The Keys of This Blood: Pope John Paul II versus Russia and the West for Control of the New World Order, Malachi Martin, Simon & Shuster, New York, 1990).
Abijah, second king of Judah, is known for his unsuccessful attempt to unite the twelve tribes. Although with Godís help he at great odds decisively defeated the king of Israel (Jereboam). Yet he elected to continue in the wicked ways of his father. Hoshea was the last king of Israel who gained the throne after slaying his predecessor, Pekah. Israel was finally doomed as Hoshea continued to do that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. After some attempts at appeasing its enemies, Assyria attacked Israel and after a three-year assault on Samaria, the ten tribes were carried away into oblivion beyond the Euphrates. Although Judah survived as a nation longer than Israel, it too succumbed to its enemies except that a remnant has endured throughout these millennia even until the present.
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A CASUAL CHART OF JUDAH AND ISRAEL
It is difficult to depict the exact dates and chronology of ancient history. Therefore, this is only a casual attempt to put the names into some kind of perspective. Dictionaries and atlases could be most helpful for a more accurate presentation. drs.
SolomonNEIGHBORS NORTHERN PROPHETS SOUTHERN PROPHETS
Damascus Rehoboam Jeroboam
Jehoram Ahaziah Elijah
Athaliah Jehu Elisha
Uzziah Zechariah Amos
Jotham Shallum Hosea
Ahaz Menahem Babylon Isaiah Pekahiah
Medes Josiah Jeremiah
Persians Ezra, Nehemiah, Malachi
The above are approximations with some overlapping and indecision regarding actual dates. Not all prophets are listed. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) expired in 721 BC and the Southern Kingdom lasted until 587 BC. Some of the inhabitants of Judah were taken into captivity but a remnant returned to help rebuild the city, its walls and temple. The Old Testament fell silent from approximately 400 BC until the New Testament era began.
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Ahaz and Ahab: Two Desperate, Despicable Kings II Chronicles 28,
I Kings 16, 21
This series will not delineate all of the kings or other personalities mentioned on the preceding page. Information can be found in any number of Bible Dictionaries. However, certain kings bear mentioning along with the intrigues of the day.
King Ahaz, the twelfth king of Judah, was caught in a serious predicament. Not only was he at enmity with the Northern tribes of Israel, he was threatened by King Resin of Syria who was collaborating with Israel. Jerusalem was under siege , Elath was captured, his army suffered the loss of 120,000 men, 2,000 civilians were taken captive and his son was slain. Desperate, he cried for help from another warrior-king, Tiglath-pileser (Assyria) who went to Ahazí aid, freeing him from the bondage of Resin.
However, King Ahaz paid dearly for this as he became a tributary to Tiglath-pileser appearing before him as a vassal. This forced him to liquidate some of his resources, including temple treasuries. While he was in bondage to this tyrant, he was obsessed with their pagan rituals. Upon his return built an altar patterned after the heathen model. He closed the temple, removed its sacred utensils and raised innumerable shrines to heathen deities. His death was not lamented and he was not accorded a place among the sacred sepulchers.
Ahab was the eighth king of Israel (the two were not contemporaries) and should not be confused with Ahaz. Ahab married Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, King of Zidon (or Sidon). Apparently this was a marriage of convenience (to guarantee peace between Zidon and Israel). She completely dominated the king turning him toward her favorite deities causing Ahab to build an altar for the storm-god Baal-Melcarth and create a grove for orgies of the goddess Ashtoreth.
Ahab had a penchant for architecture and indulged it by building an ivory house and several cities. As an entrepreneur, he was stymied by Naboth who owned a vineyard but wouldnít sell to the king. The ruthless Ahab,, inspired by his wife, trumped up a false charge of blasphemy to have Naboth killed which brought Elijah on the run. He warned the king that this act could result in the extinction of the house of Ahab.
Ahab repented and the extinction was postponed. He went on to win some battles demanding the release of captured Israeli villages while gaining some political and commercial advantages. For three years Ahab enjoyed peace but then struck a deal with Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, to attack Ramoth of Gilead. Michaiah, another prophet, warned Ahab that this attack would fail. Apparently Ahab took him seriously enough to disguise himself as he went into battle where he was slain by an archer and his army routed. Elijahís prophecy was partially fulfilled (I Kings 21:19).
Jezebel was Queen for some fourteen years more increasing the idolatrous nature of the kingdom to the extent that only a few thousand believers of Jehovah remained in the land. She also influenced her daughter, Athaliah, the queen of Judah, who also encouraged idolatry there. Jezebel maintained considerable power over her son Jehoram, who succeeded his equally wicked brother, Ahaziah, who died after ruling only two years.
Jezebel met a violent death by Jehu, who had made a name for himself. He was secretly anointed king by the prophet Elisha. Jehu then killed Jehoram and later his son, Ahaziah, who tried in vain to escape. He then approached the palace where she seductively awaited him. At his command, she was thrown from the window to her death and the final demise of the House of Ahab. Jehu, prudent, calculating and ambitious but also ruthless was off to a good start purging Israel of some idolatry but not all. His long rule was considerably less than it could or should have been, so often true of many of the kings who ruled over Israel and Judah -- and not a few contemporary rulers.
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Hezekiah: A Warrior Reformer II Kings 18-20
If we wonder about the sins of one generation visited upon the next, the account of Hezekiah dispells any doubt. His father, Ahaz made a mess out of Judah which Hezekiah had to fix. Not only did Ahaz ruin the country religiously, he bartered its soul to its enemy.
As a Godly king, Hezekiah purged the nation of its spiritual pollution by repairing and reopening the temple, rooted out the fertility cults and other pagan practices, demolished idols and didnít spare the high places as some of his predecessors had done. He destroyed the brazen serpent of Moses which had been elevated to an idolatrous level and reinstituted the Passover inviting the remnant of the ten tribes. So far so good.
Then the king went to war against the Philistines, retaking the cities his father had surrendered. More than that, he took over most of the Philistine cities. Realizing that Assyria posed a menace to Israel, Hezekiah began to strengthen his country by fortifying its moral and spiritual defenses, fortified the military, set up a series of defenses, enhanced its agricultural dimensions, expanded its trade and national economy.
However, it proved inadequate as Hezekiah revolted against Assyrian blackmail. The Biblical account attests to the siege mounted by Assyria as severe but not as critical as extolled by the annals of the emperor Sennacherib who declared his prowess by boasting that he took over 200,000 Israelites captive and imprisoned Hezekiah in his own city, Jerusalem.
The emperor was unable to conquer Jerusalem, in part because of the ingenious Siloam Tunnel. On one of my journeys to the Holy Land, I was able to traverse the tunnel, wading in the dark subterranean passage in water up to my knees (it often runs higher). The genius, a determined Hezekiah, stopped up the spring of Gihon, hiding it under a mound of dirt. Then he diverted the water through solid rock 1,777 feet into the city. In addition to the tunnel, he built the Pool of Siloam, guaranteeing an adequate water supply which kept his people alive during the siege.
In 1880 an inscription was found by a lad wading in the tunnel. It told the story of workers chiseling the tunnel from both ends who met each other face to face in a remarkable feat of engineering. The water flowed 1200 cubits (1777 feet) and where the workers met, it was about 180 feet below the surface.
In the story of Hezekiah we have both Biblical accounts as well as secular history to verify his existence and importance. Hezekiah did one thing some of his predecessors did not do: when he cleaned the spiritual house of Israel, he did so thoroughly. Half-hearted efforts do not satisfy, neither the Lord nor mortals.
He planned well as he thought ahead, put legs to his dreams and yet underestimated his adversaries and perhaps overestimated his own strength. Toward the end of his career, he became dangerously ill. In praying for more time, he was granted another fifteen years. After his death, his son Manasseh at the age of twelve became king and virtually undid all the good his Godly father had done. Although this is merely a guess, Hezekiah, who lamented earlier for having no heir, must have failed in his twilight years in properly preparing his son. Like grandfather, like grandson. Sins indeed are visited upon successive generations.
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Josiah: The Reformer Boy King 11 Chronicles 34
Judah was running out of time. Josiah inherited the throne from his father at the age of eight. No doubt he was surrounded by the kingís men but by the eighth year of his reign, he began to seek after the God of David, his ancestor. He first began by abhoring the idolatry which had permeated the kingdom and by the age of twenty began to purge the nation of its idolatry. He despised the idolatry so much that he not only threw down the altars and shrines, he ransacked the graves of the idolatrous priests of previous years, burning their bones on the pagan altars they had espoused.
When he was twenty-six years of age, he began to cleanse and repair the temple. In the course of this cleansing, the high priest Hilkiah discovered the book of the law by Moses. It was presented to the king who read it in the presence of royalty. Josiah became so alarmed at the threatening admonitions given to those who had forsaken the law that he made a solemn covenant with Jehovah. He also revived the long-forgotten Passover and celebrated it with a magnificence Judah rarely if ever had seen before.
Josiah, caught in an international web of entanglements, entered the conflict. When the King of Egypt planned to take a shortcut through Judah on his way to do battle with his arch rival, the Hittites and the victorious King Nebuchadnezzar, King Josiah disguised himself and entered into battle where he was struck by an Egyptian arrow. He was taken to Jerusalem where he died, greatly lamented by his people.
The life of Josiah gives us some poignant pointers which are significant for us today. He inherited the throne at an early age. We who do not live under royalty find this difficult to image living under the rule of a mere lad. He caught on quickly and in his short life span accomplished a considerable amount of good. How he developed a bitter distaste for idolatry and the rampant wickedness in the kingdom we do not know. When he saw for himself where it was leading, he acted, decisively without compromise.
For some of us it is difficult to imagine Godís chosen people becoming so secularized that their holy scriptures were not only forgotten and disregarded, they were lost. When discovered in the rubble of the uncleansed temple, Josiah read the books of the law and took the admonitions so seriously that he immediately instituted reforms. It was not enough to cleanse the land of idolatry; something had to fill the vacuum. A theology of doníts is impotent without a creed of action.
Josiah also reminds us that he was mortal. He was human, young, enthusiastic and determined not only to clean up the spiritual mess Judah was in (a most noble task) but he was also interested in safeguarding his country from foreign intrusions.
Some of his predecessors had taken on the giants of the day and were victorious. Some in their own strength; others with Godís help. This is being written in the wake of the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks of 9/11/2001 when the USA was forced to take action to defend its property, dignity and above all, its people. Josiah, for some reason disguised himself as he went into battle against the formidable Egyptians. Taking a fatal random arrow, did he try to do this in his own strength rather than seeking the guidance of Jehovah? We donít know. We can only hope and pray that we will learn from his experience. If God be for us, ultimately, who can be against us? 10/2001
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Elijah: A Prophet on the Run I Kings 18-21; II Kings 1-2
We will leave our study of the kings and turn to the prophets who are often closely associated with the kings. Elijah appears on the scene when he confronted Ahab (ineffectual husband of the infamous Jezebel) with Godís judgment of a famine which was about to come to pass. The famine lasted three and one-half years. Meanwhile, Elijah went into hiding because Jezebel issued an order to kill all the prophets. Many did meet a violent death.
Elijah continued hiding but near death of starvation. He was fed by a grateful widow whose son was brought back to life thanks to the compassionate prophet. They benefited from a supply of meal and oil which never went empty. He then returned to King Ahab and challenged him to a duel on Mt. Carmel where they were to call down fire from heaven. Elijahís God came through; Ahabís gods did not.
Elijah called for rain and it came, easing the famine. As the prophets of Baal were killed, Ahab was cowed but not Jezebel. She again vowed to kill Elijah who again ran for his life. He went into a deep funk and complained bitterly that he had been alone in his fight for Jehovah but was abandoned by everyone, including God Himself. In his despondency, he wished himself dead. Then a small, still voice spoke to him. Recognizing who it was, Elijah bowed reverently and waited for the divine communication.
He was to anoint Hazael king over Syria; Jehu king over Israel; and find Elisha who was to be his successor. Again Elijah confront Ahab and Jezebel who had killed Naboth because he wouldnít sell them his vineyard. Elijah pronounces a terrible curse upon them. Ahab shows remorse and the curse is delayed. Ahaziah succeeds his father on the throne but suffers a serious accident and fears death. Seeking insight into his predicament, he sends a delegation to a shrine of Baal.
This delegation is met by Elijah and report back to the king who is angered, ordering a captain with fifty men to take Elijah. They are consumed by fire from heaven and a second battalion who meet the same fate. The third battalion negotiate with Elijah who had his last confrontation with the house of Ahab. King Ahaziah dies shortly after this and is succeeded by Jehoram who had married the daughter of Ahab. Elijah warns the evil Jehoram, denouncing his wicked ways while predicting his demise.
Meanwhile, Elisha joins Elijah but Elijah seems to want to be alone but Elisha sticks closely with his mentor. Three times Elijah seemingly attempts to move on without Elisha who sticks to him like glue. Finally, the two trudge off together. When they came to a river, Elijah struck the water causing it to divide so they could proceed to the other side. Shortly after, Elijah ask Elisha what he can do for him before he departs. Elish asked for a double portion of his blessing. Elijah answered that if Elisha saw him when he takes leave, his request will come true.
Elisha did indeed see the firey chariot and horses sweep down to escort Elijah to his eternal home. Elijah seems to have been a recluse, hiding from danger, despondent, possibly even depressed. Yet, he was bold, obedient and loyal, dismayed at the evil done those who ruled his people, warning them of the dire consequences they faced. Judging by his incredible exodus, God must have regarded him as most unprecedented. 11/2001
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