The image is of a painting by Peter Paul Rubens (17th c.), “The Defeat of Sennacherib.” King Sennacherib was the King of Assyria who attempted to conquer Judah and capture Jerusalem in the 7th century BCE. You can read a summary of the encounter with King Hezekiah of Judah in the first reading from yesterday.
The first readings at Mass for this 12th Week in Ordinary Time (Year 2) are all from the Second Book of Kings – excepting that today’s readings are replaced by the readings for the Nativity of John the Baptist. The first readings tend to be a bit long, they are filled with names that seem very “Old Testament”, and while being proclaimed you can almost see eyes glaze over. It is not that the stories are uninteresting, but they are only summary stories and are from a long time ago. Not a great combination to capture an audience. But it is the Word of God being proclaimed and so there is treasure in those words. In every reading is the consistent call to Covenant.
Did you ever wonder how Israel got a king? Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the judges and early prophets like Samuel – none of these were kings. Take a moment and read 1 Samuel 8, it is not long, but very revealing. The people come to Samuel and ask him to ask God to “appoint a king over us, like all the nations, to rule us.” They were not supposed to be like the other nations, they were a people set apart, led by God who had always watched over and protected them, and settled them in the promised land. The short history of the people in the promised land from the time of Joshua thru the time of the 12 judges, up to the time of Samuel (prophet and the last of the judges) is this: forget who they are, turn to other gods, the nations around them rise to attack them, the people then cry out to God to save them – and He does – through the leadership of the judges.
Seemingly they grew tired of the cycle, blissfully unaware that their own hard hearts were the initiator of the cycle, and they assumed having a king would solve their problem.
It is a story of “be careful what you ask for.” Despite the warning about all the privileges that the King and his court would assume and extract from the people, the people still want a king. And they get what they wanted. How does it work out?
Here is a list of kings:
- King Saul (that did not work out so well)
- King David (a faithful but flawed king who understood his role was to lead the people to a deepening covenant relationship with God)
- David was the king who united the 10 northern tribes (Israel) with Judah
- King Solomon (David’s son; started out great, but went steadily downhill)
- last of the kings of the United Kingdom (Israel and Judah)
- at the death of Solomon (d. 931 BCE), the 10 Northern tribes rebelled and formed their own kingdom (red line of succession in the image below)
- The descendants of Solomon ruled Jerusalem and Judah (green line of succession)
Here is what follows:
- Monday – King Hoshea of Isreal. He was last of the kings as Assyria conquered the North and the 10 tribes were deported and mixed into other lands and cultures. This is the source of the “Lost Tribes of Israel.” Some people were left in the land and in Jesus’ time they are known as the Samaritans. This is the result of God withdrawing his protection from a people who did not want to be in covenant with God and a series of kings who were not covenant leaders.
- Tuesday – King Hezekiah of Judah. A contemporary of Hoshea. When the North was conquered, Assyria turned their attention southward to Jerusalem and lays seige to the city. Hezekiah has to choose to trust his armies and advisors or to trust God. He chooses God. That night 185,000 soldiers of the Assyrian army are struck by disease, the army withdraws and Jerusalem is saved.
- Wednesday – You’ l have to read 2 Kings 22 and 23 to read about another great and God-fearing King of Judah: Josiah – “He did what was right in the LORD’s sight, walking in the way of David his father, not turning right or left.” This readings is not read this year because of the celebration of the Nativity of John the Baptist. As faithful and holy as were Josiah and Hezekiah, the momentum of the hard-hearted the people was too much.
- Thursday – King Jehoakim was only 18 when he ascended the throne of David. “He did evil in the sight of the LORD, just as his forebears had done” He surrendered Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and went into the first wave of the exile (c.597 BCE).
- Friday – King Zedekiah, the last of the Kings of Judah, was not the covenant leader needed. In 586 BCE the armies of Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to the city for almost two years. The suffering within the city walls was described by the Jewish historian Josephus in apocalyptic terms. The city and temple were burned to the ground and all but the poorest of the poor were taken into captivity in Babylon.
All these readings are also a reminder that in every age God provides the still small prophetic voice to prick our consciences to be covenant people.
Who is the prophetic voice in your life? Are you responding as a person of the covenant?