Let’s zoom out and consider these chapters from a wide-angle lens. There is so much Godfather-like drama going on, the narrative gets dizzying.
The ruling families are enveloped in a world of deception, back-room maneuvers, murderous grasps for power, and scorekeeping. Certain consigliere are there – at least one of them (Jehoiada) was a voice for the Lord – though these chapters are difficult maneuvering for most of us. What gives, in these acres of Holy Scripture?
In short, we are reading a chronicle of the history of the fall of the kingdom of Israel, the struggling people of God. Having reached its zenith under David, the kingdom and its kings maintain a broken but steady descent thereafter.
Certainly, as this is a period spanning lifetimes, there were brief reprieves. Mostly there were long years of forgetting God, punctuated with brief periods of remembrance and seeking. In these chapters, an asymmetrical rhythm is evident: an inordinate amount of time is spent at low tide, and all manner of power-grabbing and murder pervade the story. (How many die political deaths in these three chapters?)
Still, there never wavers a sense that God remains central to the narrative. Even more, he is not simply central, but maintains control and “author-ity”. This history remains his-story, even as we hear that all-too-familiar refrain, “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” We hear often that “it was ordained by God,” that such-and-such should happen, or that someone (often a Gentile) was “anointed” by God to destroy, confound, expose or reveal.
In a strange way, we return to the familiar theme of receiving comfort, even from such chapters. Where can we go to flee from the presence, power and authority of God? The world and its evil seem a smaller place, in view of these chapters: there is not a God-forsaken inch in all of his creation.
What shall separate us from God? Shall famine, peril, tribulation, nakedness or sword? Shall the machinations of evil men or their mothers, or the more subtle but no less wicked workings of my own heart? If none of these things, nor anything else in all of creation, can remove us from the absolute freedom and authorship of God, then we yet have hope, and that hope has a name.
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (I Timothy 1:15)