Saturday, December 10, 2016
LOOKING FOR A KING--by Linden Malki
Reading the Bible is sometimes like missing episodes of a series--at the end of the latest book of the Old Testament, Malachi, the Judeans are back in Jerusalem, under a reasonably benevolent Persian Empire, with a Jewish governor and the Temple back in full working order. Then fast-forward 400 years, and we see what had been David and Solomon's Kingdom divided into three Roman provinces, and the provincial rulers and the people are puppets of Rome—or its enemies.
What happened in between? We see through the Old Testament the tension between the calling of God, the temptations of the neighboring tribes and nations, the politics of a series of aggressive empires, and the stubborn, selfish human choices that people make. We see God offering a relationship to people that He chose to demonstrate His plan for His creatures, based on their response to His offered way of living. They get off track, find themselves in trouble, God sends them a judge, king, or prophet to get them back on track, which works for awhile. The political challenges get bigger and more dangerous. The rivals that Abraham faced were pretty much the same strength as his own tribe. The Philistines were tougher; the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians were successively stronger and more dangerous, militarily and culturally. We see the later prophets warning of God’s displeasure, and longing for His intervention.
We see an early change in Israel's way of dealing with these challenges, when instead of dealing with God and the leadership of individuals called by God, and their own knowledge of His requirements, they ask for a king. They wanted a political answer, and they got mostly bad kings.
The Persian empire was conquered by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, about a hundred years after Nehemiah and Malachi. At Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his empire was divided among his generals. Judea was originally ruled from Egypt under a Greek dynasty friendly to the Jews, but in 198 BC it was taken over by another Greek ruler based in Antioch in Syria. His son, Antiochus IV, was determined to make Jerusalem into a Greek city, and replaced the worship of God by offerings to Zeus. This led to a revolt led by a family of priests, the Maccabees, who took back control of Jerusalem and the Temple. The rededication of the Temple in 163 BC is still celebrated by the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah in December. The Maccabeans became more and more concerned with their own political issues and less with God, and made a treaty with Rome, which took over the area in 63 BC. Their intention was to recreate the Kingdom of David, but they did it by military conquests and power politics. The dream of the restored Kingdom by a God-called military hero was very much in the air when Jesus was born.
The dream of the righting of all wrongs and creating the ideal society through politics is very much still with us. Jesus often said that His kingdom is not “of this world.” What does this mean for our