Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2 Kings, Chapter 8

Elisha goes back to the woman whose son he restored to life a few chapters ago and tells her to move, because there's going to be a seven year famine. So she goes to the land of the Philistines. She returns seven years later and asks for her land back. The king turns to Elisha's servant and asks him for an exact accounting of Elisha's miracles. When he gets to the part about restoring the son, the woman cries out, like one-track mind much, lady? And Gehazi says it's her, like no one could tell. The king orders his officers to restore the woman's possessions.

Elisah, meanwhile, goes to the Syrian king, Benhadad, who is sick. Benhadad asks someone called Hazeal to ask Elisha if he'll recover. Elisha says he will recover, but he'll also die. Then he starts to cry. Hazeal asks why, and he says it's because he knows all the evil Hazeal is going to do to the Israelites. Hazeal asks if he has free will, and Elisha says he's going to be king one day. Hazeal goes back to his father and promises him he'll recover, then the next day waterboards him until he suffocates. Yes, the actual words are: he took a thick cloth and dipped it in water, and spread it on his face, so that he died (v. 15).

We get a quick update on the kings of Israel, in which we are told that Jeroham, of the tribe of Judah, is evil, but god keeps him around out of lingering affection for David. Edom revolts during his reign and there's a third Israelite king. Jeroham goes and smites them for their rebellion. Somehow, they keep waging civil war despite all being dead. Then another fire starts up when the people of Libnah start acting up. Then Jeroham dies.

He's replaced by Ahaziah, who is also evil. I'm pretty sure 'evil' is a synonym for 'human' here. Anyway, he teams up with the other Israelite king, Joram to fight the Syrians. They manage to injure Joram, who retreats to recover. Ahaziah visits him, a story I'm sure will pick back up in the next chapter.

Monday, August 30, 2010

2 Kings, Chapter 7

More miraculous deeds by Elisha.

First, he predicts the commodities markets and commits a little insider trading, telling his disciples how much flour and barley are going to cost the next day. One of them questions him and he threatens to have god smote him.

Next, four lepers enter the city and try to decide whether to just sit there until they die, or to throw themselves on the mercy of the Syrians. I'm pretty sure I know what Newt Gingrich would advise. They decide in the end to beg the Syrians for some food and wander over to their camp, which has been abandoned so quickly the horses are still tied up, because god made some trumpet noises and they thought the Hitites and the Egyptians had joined the Israelites against them, which should make it obvious how easy it actually was to defeat the Syrians in those days. The lepers set to plundering the Syrian tents.

Eventually they decide that hanging out in a deserted camp is a bit creepy, so they go to the king's palace, where they tell the porter what they've just seen. The porter is sufficiently impressed to go and wake the king, who is skeptical, thinking the Syrians are trying to lure his people out of the city. He is convinced by another servant to survey the camp in a chariot. He goes out and isn't attacked so the people come and raid the camp, causing the price of flour and barley to go up (or down, it isn't clear) as Elisha predicted.

The man who questioned Elisha is trampled to death by the returning scavengers. Lovely.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

2 Kings, Chapter 6

More miraculous works of Elisha the super-prophet.

Some of the sons of the prophets want to build a new city over by the Jordan river. Elisha agrees to go with them. As one of them is chopping down trees, his shoddy, Wal-mart-bought axe head flies off and lands in the river. The man dispairs because apparently axes are in short supply, but Elisha is there with his magic staff and he touches the water with it and behold! the axe head floats to the surface and starts swimming around. Freaky.

Next, the Syrians invade. No, the transition sequences in this book are not well done. Anyway, they invade and set up camp somewhere. Elisha warns the Israelite king not to go where the camp is. And he doesn't! Apparently that counts as a miracle. The Syrian king is frustrated at his inability to capture the Israelite king and asks his servants which of them is the mole, but it's none of them, because Elisha can hear what he says in his chambers. Spooky! He sends some of his chariots to capture Elisha.

Elisha is in the town of Dothan when the chariots arrive. His servants are afraid, but he's relaxed. He prays and suddenly a bunch of chariots and horses appears out of a mountain and surrounds him. Then he asks god to make the Syrians blind. He also makes them stupid, because Elisha then asks them to follow him, and takes them all the way to Samaria, where he asks god to restore their vision.

The king of Israel isn't quite sure what to do with the Syrians, and asks Elisha if he should smite them or what. Elisha is an early follower of the Geneva convention and orders him not to smite them but instead to give them food and water, then send them home. They don't come back for awhile.

When they do come back, they besiege Samaria for so long that an ass' head becomes worth 80 shekels and people are eating dove dung. One day, the king is taking a tour around the walls when a woman cries out to him that her neighbour proposed eating her son for dinner that day, and the neighbour's son the following day. So they did, only now the neighbour has hidden her son. Bet you never heard this story in Sunday school. He rends his clothes and sends for Elisha, but the people are getting mighty skeptical about god.

To be continued in the next chapter...

2 Kings, Chapter 5

Naaman is the captain of the Syrian army and a leper. His Israelite slave girl tells his wife that Elisha can probably cure his affliction. She tells Naaman, who convinces the Syrian king to write a letter on his behalf begging the services of the prophet. He also sends some money and cloth, which I think were more convincing.

The king, of course, has no idea how to cure leprosy, as no one did then, and has a fit. Elisha hears about it and offers to heal Naaman. His cure: bathe seven times in the Jordan river. Somehow I think even the most devout believer in biblical inerrancy would still opt for drugs in this situation.

Naaman is equally dissatisfied, because he was expecting Elisha to ask for god's help, and he's more than a little put out at traveling all this way to bathe in a river when there are perfectly good rivers at home. His servants remind him that he was prepared to do something difficult for this cure, so he shouldn't balk at doing something so easy. He gives in to the incontrovertible logic and takes his bath, which clears his skin right up. I think we need to chalk this incident up to looser definitions of 'cure.'

Nevertheless, the improvement is enough that he offers a gift to Elisha, who refuses. So Naaman asks if he can take home some earth from Elisha's garden, and vows never to worship another god. He does add a clause to his contract that when the king of Syria goes to worship and he has to help him into the temple, he shouldn't be punished. Then he leaves.

One of Elisha's servants still wants a present, so he chases after him. He catches up to Naaman and says two sons of the prophet have just arrived and want a tribute. The servant takes the loot home and sends his servants away before dumping it on the floor. He goes back to Elisha, who asks where he's been. He lies and says nowhere, but Elisha says he saw him receiving the present and punishes him and his children with leprosy.

Friday, August 27, 2010

2 Kings, Chapter 4

A woman comes up to Elisha and complains that her husband has died and her two sons are about to be put into slavery to pay off his debts. He tells her to go and get all the pots she can find. Then he repeats Elijah's trick with the olive oil, filling all the pots to the brim. Then he tells her to sell the bread and free her sons.

Next, as he's walking, a woman asks him to come inside and 'eat bread.' He starts going there a lot to 'eat bread.' He 'eats' so much 'bread' that the woman turns to her husband and says, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither. (v 9-10). Finally, it occurs to Elisha to thank the woman for all her 'bread.' He asks her what she wants: an introduction to the king? to the general? Nah, she's happy at home. What she doesn't have is a child, and her husband is old. Elisha promises her a son in one year. It shouldn't take long with all that 'bread eating' he's been doing.

One day a few years later, the kid goes outside to where his father is threshing, complaining of a headache. They carry him into the house, where he promptly dies. His mother lays him on the bed then rides off to find Elisha. She collapses at his feet and tells him the story. He sends his servant home with her with instructions to tap the boy on the face with his staff. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't work. Elisha then repeats the trick of lying on the boy, along with a little mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which has better success, as the boy awakes with seven sneezes.

Later on, Elisha comes to Gilgal, where there is a famine. He instructs his servant to put a pot on the fire and cook up some soup. The men, clearly not the sharpest spoons in the drawer, go around gathering up herbs and spices without any knowledge of which ones might be poisonous, and lo and behold, the resulting stew is tainted. Elisha nonchalantly orders them to bring him some meal, which he throws into the pot, curing them all.

For his final party trick Elisha turns a man's few ears of corn and barley into a feast for the whole village.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

2 Kings, Chapter 3

Sacrificing your children to prove what a crazy mofo you are and scare off your enemies. The bible, ya'll!

Jeroham becomes king of Israel. He's bad, but not in the Baal-worshiping sense, he worships that second set of golden calves that Jeroboam made. The king of Moab sends him 100 000 lambs, 100 000 sheep, and some wool. Then he rebels.

Jeroham goes to Jehosephat, king of Judah, and asks him to support him against the Moabites. Jehosephat agrees. They raise an army and march seven days towards the Moabites. Along the way, they run out of water. Jeroham is ready to give up and go home, but Jehosephat remembers Elisha and sends for him. Elisha tells Jeroham to fuck off and ask the gods his parents worshipped. He also says god did this to deliver them into the hands of the Moabites. However, because he has some respect for Jehosephat, he agrees to help them and asks for a minstrel. Apparently prophesying goes better with music.

Once he has some accompaniment, Elisha tells them to dig some ditches and in the morning they'll be filled with water. Then they'll be able to beat the Moabites. He instructs them to go all General Sherman on them and burn down everything, including the trees, which lots of people point out is forbidden in Deuteronomy. Big book, lots of verses, who can be expected to keep track of every single one? Only people who really, really care about denying gay rights. Not tree-huggers.

In the morning, as predicted, there is water in the ditches (miraculous dew!). The Moabites see it at sunrise and it's red, so they assume the Israelites slaughtered each other and go to grab the spoils. The Israelites pick them off like fish in a barrel, then tear down their city walls, cover the fields with stones, block the wells, hack down the trees and generally wage total war. The Moabite king tries to escape into Edom, but can't. In desperation, he sacrifices his oldest son, which convinces the Israelites that they are dealing with a proto-Kaiser Soze and gets them to leave. Hm...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

2 Kings, Chapter 2

Is this what Sarah Palin means when she talks about 'momma grizzlies'? Seriously read to the end and tell me.

Elijah is getting old and god has promised to carry him to heaven on a whirlwind. As David Plotz points out, this is the first mention of heaven and the only person who goes there on a whirlwind. I think this book was written at different times by different people and so yeah, it's inconsistent. There's some back and forth with Elisha, his apprentice, who knows Elijah's dying, even though he's not supposed to know. Elijah keeps running around the country trying to die in peace, but Elisha insists on going with him each time.

Finally, they come to the Jordan river, which Elijah smacks with his mantle so it parts, just like Moses did! Elijah tells Elisha to make a wish. Elisha asks for a double portion of his spirit, not that he's greedy or anything. Elijah says if he sees him after his death, he'll get it, but otherwise he won't. Then Elijah dies, and not only does a whirlwind appear, a horse and chariot comes, too! Ya'll, I think this might be a metaphor. I think Elijah got an elaborate funeral, possibly featuring show ponies. Elisha cries for a bit, then picks the mantle up and hits the river with it. It parts! I guess this is where the expression 'passing the mantle' comes from.

The other prophets acknowledge him as their new leader, then go looking for Elijah's body. They look for 3 days but don't find it. Then they start getting him to do tricks. First, they say the city's water sucks, so he throws some water in the river and 'heals' it. Then, as he's leaving the city, some kids start making fun of his bald head. He curses them, and two she-bears come out of the forest and kill 42 of them. Awesome! Go team god!

Now, Christian apologists will bend themselves into knots trying to say that the 'small boys' were really men up to age 40 and they deserved it and so on. Here's the thing: this didn't happen. It's a fairy tale written by a bitter bald guy to scare his mouthy kids into shutting up about his follicle issues. Or something like that. My explanation is just as good as the book's.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

2 Kings Chapter 1

Well, you know what they say about sequels.

The Moabites take advantage of the chaos caused by Ahab's death and invade. This somehow causes Ahaziah to fall out a window. He asks his advisors to consult with Baalzebub, god of Ekron (a synonym of Beezlebub? who knows). Not that I blame him. God only seems to want to scold and smite these days. Of course, an angel notices and tattles to Elijah. The angel instructs him to go tell Ahaziah's messengers that he's never going to get better and he's going to die in bed. Nyah! The messengers go back with that cheerful information. Ahaziah asks who told them, and they describe Elijah as an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins (v. 8). Ahaziah immediately recognizes Elijah.

In response, Ahaziah sends 51 men to find Elijah, who is sitting on a hilltop. They command him to come with them, and Elijah responds f I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty (v. 10. So god sends fire down to consume the 51 men. Ahaziah sends another 51 men who are likewise burnt to death. The third captain has leanred his lesson and throws himself at Elijah's feet and begs him to come down. God likes this guy and tells Elijah to go with him.

Elijah arrives and tells the king exactly what he told his messengers. Then Ahab dies, and because he has no sons, Jehosephat's son Jeroham rules all of Israel.

Monday, August 16, 2010

1 Kings, Chapter 22

Finally, the end of 1 Kings. Although, as the book's title suggests, we aren't done with these bloody civil wars, as there is another book of them coming up afterwards.

There has been peace between Israel and Syria for three years, a record that probably still stands in that region. The king of Syria, Jehosephat (of Jumping Jehosephat fame? I sincerely hope we find out), comes down to make a treaty with Ahab to fight the king of Gilead, Ramoth. He also suggests that Ahab check with his prophets as to god's feeling about this. They tell him god is all for it. Jehosephat still isn't satisfied, and asks if there's another prophet around. He's like those people who check their horoscopes out in 4 different papers and decide which one they like best. Ahab then remembers Micaiah, but says he hates him because he always prophesies evil. Who wouldn't hate someone who always tells you god's going to kill you?

Micaiah is sent for and the two kings just sort of hang out on their thrones, in their royal robes, with the prophets prophesying in front of them. One of them gets bored and fashions a pair of horns out of iron, saying they'll use them to defeat Ramoth. Finally, Macaiah is located and he advises the same as the others. Ahab reminds him how many times he's predicted doom and gloom and Macaiah dishes out a little more, saying he had a vision of the Israelites like sheep without a shepherd.

This unleashes a torrent of bad tidings: Macaiah saw god hanging out wherever he lives with his minions, and he asked one of them to volunteer to persuade Ahab to attack Ramoth. Finally one of them agreed to go and put lies in the mouths of the prophets.

Zedekiah, the prophet who made the horns, is justifiably offended and slaps Macaiah and asks him where the spirit of the lord went when it left. Macaiah babbles some nonsense about hiding in a room. Ahab tires of the bickering and orders Macaiah arrested. Then he and Jehosephat attack Ramoth.

Ahab is fighting in disguise but Ramoth cottons on and tells his soldier to ignore all the fighters and only go for the king, which strikes me as a spectacularly stupid battle strategy but hey, consider the source. There is some confusion as to whether that means Ahab or Jehosephat but eventually an archer manages to get between the chinks of Ahab's armour. He dies and is buried in Samariah. Just as predicted, dogs lick the blood off the chariot he bled to death in. His son Ahaziah takes over the throne and makes peace with Jehosephat. Jehosephat is pretty good as a king, even kicking out those dirty sodomites.

Jehosephat later tries to send some ships to find gold, and Ahaziah offers to go with him, but is rebuffed. The ships perish at sea. Then Jehosephat dies. His son Jeroham takes over and is also a good king. Ahaziah, on the other hand, worships Baal and is therefore doomed.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

1 Kings, Chapter 21

Ahab's neighbour Naboth has a vinyard. Ahab wants it, but Naboth refuses to trade or sell it, because he inherited it and he's a twit. Anyway, rather than seize his land like any good Israelite, Ahab goes home and gets into bed and refuses to eat. What is he, a 16 year old girl? Jezebel comes in and asks him what's wrong. Jezebel promises to get the vinyard.

The first thing she does is write a letter to the elders of Naboth's tribe commanding them to have a fast and put him in a prominent place. Then two other men are to accuse him of blasphemy and stone him to death. They do as they're told and Naboth is summarily stoned to death. What an extraordinarily complicated and gruesome way to get hold of a vinyard. Has no one ever heard of expropriation?

Ahab goes to view his new vinyard and Elijah shows up like the little black raincloud he is to tell him he's going to be punished for killing Naboth, even though Jezebel set the whole thing up. He issues a bunch of threats about killing off his entire male line and taking his property and blah blah blah because every king hears this at some point in his reign and it just illustrates the adage of 'shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.' Jezebel is going to be eaten by dogs.

We are told that Ahab is the worst person ever, an insult that loses some of its strength when it's the fifth king in a row to earn the title, who worships false idols. When Ahab hears that he really is the worst, worse than every other contestant, he cries and puts on a sackcloth and prays. God sees it and softens his stance, deciding to only punish his children instead of him.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

1 Kings, Chapter 20

War and death. Death and war.

Benhadad, king of Syria, makes war on Samaria. He sends Ahab a taunting letter, threatening to take away his wives and gold. Ahab is sufficiently intimidated that he surrenders his own children. Best father since Abraham! Or Jepthah. Benhadad is a bastard on the scale of David, however, and sends his servants to search the house and make sure they didn't miss anything Ahab likes.

Finally, Ahab calls his advisors together. They tell him to ignore the bully. Yeah, cuz that always works. He tells the servants to go home empty-handed and tell their boss to stop being a bully. Unfortunately, the news reaches Benhadad when he's drinking, and the Dutch courage makes him attack the Israelites. But never fear, yet another prophet tells Ahab that god will help him prevail.

Ahab drafts an army of 7000, which is still pretty high, about the same size as modern-day Latvia, but a real let-down compared to the millions in Numbers. The head for Syria, where Benhadad is drinking himself into a stupor. He instructs his scouts to take them hostage. They slay his entire army, though he manages to escape on a horse, which much have been quite the feat considering how drunk he was.

Sadly, this isn't enough, as the prophet returns and predicts that the Syrians will be back by the end of the year. The Syrian captives say they expected to win because the Israelite god is a hill god and theirs are plains gods, so they figured if they fought in the plains, they'd win. That is some shitty logic, there. They advise him to replace his noblemen with seasoned officers (exceptionally good advice that would not be followed again for centuries) and replace his army.

Sure enough, Benhadad attacks again. This time the Israelites only have to camp to drive them home. A prophet informs Ahab that the Syrians are now being told that the Israelite god works in the mountains, but not in the valleys. Silly Syrians. A hundred thousand of them die in just one day. The survivors flee into the city of Aphek, where a wall falls down and crushes 27 000 people. Benhadad escapes yet again. His officers beg him to surrender. He agrees and they go. Their captors ask for Benhadad.

Benhadad comes out all contrite and promises to restore the Israelites' territories to them.

Somewhere, in a complete non-sequitur a prophet asks his neighbour to smite him. The neighbour refuses, like any sane person, and is killed by a lion. Remember that the next time your crazy neighbour asks you to do that. The same prophet goes to another man and asks him to smite him. This one is more willing, because of the lion, and injures him. Then the prophet goes along to Ahab with ashes on his face. He hails the king, saying he was in the battle when someone handed him a captive and told him to look after him or he'd have to pay some silver as a penalty. But with this that and the other, the man managed to escape. Ahab tells him to pay the money. He wipes his face and Ahab recognizes him. He informs Ahab that he's going to be killed for letting Benhadad go back there. The king leaves for Samaria, displeased.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

1 Kings, Chapter 19

Jezebel hears what Elijah did with the prophets and sends him a nice little death threat that she's going to do the same to him by the following nightfall. Elijah runs off into the wilderness, where he finally sits down under a juniper tree and prays to die.

He doesn't get his wish, and is awakened by an angel, who gives him water and cake. Angel food cake? Whatever it is, it sustains him for the next 40 days until he gets to Mount Horeb, where he sleeps in a cave. God speaks to him and asks why he's there. Elijah claims that only he keeps god's covenant, and the other Israelites want to kill him for it. Well, telling people they aren't righteous usually gets that response.

God tells him to leave the cave, then sends an earthquake, a wind, a fire and a small voice. Elijah hears the voice and goes back into the cave. It asks him what he's doing there. He repeats the bit about being the only true follower left. God tells him to go to Syria and anoint Hazael king, then Jehu the king of Israel then Elisha his prophet. He'll take care of the rest, namely that Jehu will kill anyone Hazael misses, and anyone Hazael misses, Elisha will get. All except his 7000 true believers.

Elijah then finds Elisha and tells him he's now the prophet. Elisha pauses to say goodbye with a barbecue, then follows Elijah.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

1 Kings, Chapter 18

A three-god cage match in which there will only be one survivor. Can you guess who?

God tells Elijah to go and talk to Ahab again, and promises rain. He goes, but the famine continues. Not very impressive, god.

Ahab calls his chief steward Obadiah, who is a faithful man who hid a hundred prophets in a cave when Ahab's wife Jezebel went on a priest-killing spree. Nope, that wasn't mentioned before.

Ahab instructs Obadiah to go on a water hunt to keep his horses alive. He doesn't mention children, so we can assume they aren't important enough. Oddly, they embark on this adventure themselves, mainly so Obadiah can stumble across Elijah in a field and prostrate himself. Elijah tells him to go find Ahab, but apparently this has happened before: someone finds Elijah, who sends them off to get Ahab, then disappears when they return, and it's really starting to annoy Ahab. Elijah promises that this time he won't disappear, and Obadiah goes off to find Ahab.

Ahab starts off on the wrong foot, accusing Elijah of troubling Israel. Elijah says it's Ahab, with his pagan worship, who is the troublemaker. He throws down the gantlets: gather 450 priests of Baal and 400 of Asherah and bring them to Mount Carmel at dawn for a shoot-out. Winner takes all.

Ahab gathers his minions and Elijah invites the Israelites. He instructs the priests to take a bull and cut it up. He'll do the same. They'll all call out to their gods and whichever one sets fire to the bull wins. The pagans pray all day, but nothing happens. Elijah comments that Baal must be busy. The pagans self-flagellate.

Elijah tells the Israelites to gather in close, then rebuilds the altar and places 12 stones on pillars. Then he tells them to douse the bullock in lighter fluid water three times. At sunset, he calls on god to prove himself, and god lights the fire. Try this at home, kids.

Elijah orders the pagan priests rounded up and kills them in a riverbed, then turns to Ahab and forecasts rain. Elijah goes up the mountain and gets into an extremely painful position with his face between his knees. He tells one of his followers to climb higher up the mountain and look towards the sea. Nothing! Well, Elijah proves that the definition of crazy is indeed 'a person who does the same thing over and over expecting a different result every time' and makes the guy do it seven times. Finally, a cloud appears on the seventh run. He sends him down to inform Ahab. Ahab has taken off for Jezreel, but god gives Elijah's feet extra speed and he races ahead of him.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

1 Kings, Chapter 17

Elijah the proto-Jesus.

Elijah is a prophet and he predicts to king Ahab that god is going to send a drought to Israel. Elijah himself is going to be fine, because god has told him to go to a brook (in other versions it's a wadi, a dry riverbed common to the Middle East, along with droughts. God has also promised that the ravens will feed him. Uh-huh. Indeed, the ravens bring him sandwiches twice a day and he drinks from the creek.

Eventually, the water dries up because of the drought, but not to worry! God has ordered a widow to feed Elijah. So Elijah goes along to Zidon, the city where she lives, and finds her gathering sticks in a field. He commands her to get him some water. Rather than throwing the damned sticks in his face and telling him to get his own damned water, she just goes and gets it for him. While she's on her way, he calls out to her to also make him a sandwich. I've broken up with people for less. But this meek example of biblical womanly virtue replies that she only has a handful of meal and oil left and she was gathering sticks so she could bake a last loaf of bread and die along with her son. That right there is the bible's strongest argument for women's liberation.

Elijah the pig tells her not to worry, but to make him a sandwich, then make a smaller sandwich for herself and her son. If she'll do that, god will magically fill the flour barrel and the oil jug forever after. And he does! Just like the loaves and the fishes!

Next, the woman's son falls ill and stops breathing. She accuses him of making the kid sick, proving once again that gratitude is the shortest-lived human emotion, but Elijah hasn't used up his entire bag of tricks. He carries the boy upstairs and lays him on his bed. Then he stretches himself over the boy three times (I really hope this isn't homoeroticism) and cries out to god to save his life. Lo and behold, the boy revives! Can I get a Lazarus over here?

This finally convinces the widow that Elijah is the real thing.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

1 Kings, Chapters 15 & 16

Chapter 15

Jeroboam's son Abijam is a bad king, repeating all his father's sins, but god goes easy on his son because of his great love for David. We don't hear much about Abijam, except that a civil war is going on between his house and that of Rehoboam.

Abijam rules for 3 years, then his son Asa takes over for 41 years. Asa is a better sycophant to god, expelling the homosexuals and tearing down his father's false idols. He even removes his mother's royal title because she once set up an altar to another god. The only thing he doesn't do is remove the temples on the mountains, but god overlooks that.

Asa is continually at war with Baasha, current scion of the Rehoboamites. Asa takes all his gold and silver and bribes the king of Syria to form an alliance with him. Together they stage some raids into Baasha's territory and do some vandalism. Baasha is scared and flees his city of Ramah. Asa eventually dies of foot disease. Can you have a fatal case of athlete's foot? Bunions? Corns?

Asa is succeeded by Jehosephat, then Nadab. Neither is distinguished by anything, except that Nadab is as sinful as his father Jeroboam. Baasha (the same one? Another? Who knows? Who cares?) eventually kills him and all his family members, as god promised, and takes over the throne. Baasha is also a sinner, even though he did what god told him to do.

Chapter 16

God talks to Jehu, telling him to destroy Baasha and become king. Then the corpses will be eaten by dogs and fowls. Lovely imagery there, god. Why? Because he killed Jeroboam! After god told him to! God is such a wild and crazy guy.

Anyway, Baasha dies a normal death and his son Elah takes over. The captain of his guards immediately starts conspiring against him, eventually killing him and all his family and friends. Wait, friends now? Who was even left alive after all this mayhem?

Zimri manages to reign for seven days until, like the small African kleptocracy this is, he's overthrown by the captain of his guard, Omri. Zimri is beseiged for a few days in his city, then, oddly, burns himself to death, which we are told is punishment for his sins. Gotta love a god that comes up with ever-more cruel and unusual punishments!

The end result of this bloodbath is that there are still two kings: Tibni and Omri. Omri's army triumphs and Tibni dies. Omri manages to hold onto his crown for 12 years andexpands Israel's territory, but he's an even worse sinner than his predecessors.

When Omri dies, his son Ahab takes over. Somehow, Ahab manages to top his father in the sinning game. He marries a woman called Jezebel and worships Baal with her and sets up shrines and tempels. The humanity!

The final verse is particularly gruesome, telling us the story of Hiel who rebuilds the city of Jericho, at the expense of his two sons' lives, which is on god's orders.

Yes, these chapters are a confusing succession of coups and insurgencies. I'm not reading this to become a biblical scholar, so forgive me for not taking the time to untangle all the confusing successions and overthrows. I've tried to tell it as straightforwardly as possible, but haven't invested a whole lot of time in the matter.

Monday, August 2, 2010

1 Kings, Chapter 14

The continuing misadventures of Jeroboam and his evil twin Rehoboam.

So, Jeroboam's son is sick. He asks his wife to disguise herself and go to Ahijah the prophet in Shiloh to ask what's going to happen to him. She goes to Ahijah's house, but god gets there first and whispers in his ear that she's in disguise and he's to ask her why she did that. He tells her to go back to Jeroboam and explain that this is all punishment for not following the covenant like David did. Because David was such a prize.

He finally finally gets around to dunning Jeroboam for the golden calves. We're informed that casting false idols is the worst thing anyone's ever done ever, which says a lot considering the source. He informs the wife that god is going to destroy Jeroboam's male line and their bodies will be eaten by dogs if they live in the city and by birds if they live in the country. He then tells her to go home, telling her that when she enters her own city, her child will die. That's harsh, killing a child for his father's sins. And just a little bit petty.

God's anger still isn't spent. He also outlines his plans to throw the Israelites off their land because they dedicated poles to Asherah. All of this is Jeroboam's fault, by the way.

The wife leaves, and as predicted, as she crosses the threshold of her house, her son dies. The people mourn, and we are informed that the rest of Jeroboam's story can be found in a book called the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, which didn't quite make the final cut, thank god.

The final word on Jeroboam is that he reigned for 22 years, then died and was succeeded by his son Nadab, which causes one to ponder what all those threats were about.

Meanwhile, over in Rehoboam's kingdom, things are also not going well. The people of Judah are likewise worshipping other gods and men are sleeping with men and it's just a whole big mess. Finally, the Egyptian king comes along and steals all the gold, and Rehoboam replaces it with brass. All of Rehoboam's other deeds are recorded in the book of the kings of Judah, which, alas, also isn't in this version.

Rehoboam and Jeroboam never do make peace, and finally Rehoboam also dies and his son takes over the throne.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

1 Kings, Chapter 13

God sure is capricious!

Jeroboam is doing some sacrificing in Bethel when an old man approaches and prophesies that one of his descendants, Josiah will sacrifice priests on that very same altar. So much for that argument that the Israelites are somehow better than the worshippers of Baal because they don't sacrifice each other! He also predicts the destruction of the altar.

Jeroboam orders his men to capture the prophet, but as soon as he touches him, his arm shrivels up à la Bob Dole or John McCain. Then the altar falls apart. Then Jeroboam asks the prophet to ask god to restore his hand. And god does. Remember how thousands of people died after the first golden calf debacle? And now Jeroboam's arm is temporarily shrunken? God sure is inconsistent!

Jeroboam invites the man back for dinner, but he says he can't: god told him not to eat or drink until he gets home.

As he's on his way, another prophet waylays him and asks him in for dinner. He convinces the first prophet by saying an angel told him it would be okay. That convinces prophet one, who makes merry until the holy spirit takes over prophet two and informs him he's broken god's commandment. He informs him that his punishment is he won't be buried with his ancestors. The host sends the prophet away. The prophet is immediately killed by a lion, who then hangs out on the road with the body and the ass he was riding on.

Prophet two goes around like a member of The Hills cast, telling everyone who will listen that the visitor was punished by god. Of course he doesn't mention his own role in all of this.

He does feel some guilt, however, because eventually he goes and collects the body and puts it in his own mausoleum and tells his sons to put him next to the other prophet on his death.

Jeroboam, meanwhile, hasn't taken anything away from the incident. He continues to make anyone and everyone a priest, kind of like those web sites now where you can be ordained so you can perform your friends' wedding ceremonies. It is predicted that eventually this will destroy the house of Jeroboam.