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I grew up in a what I consider to be a very typical suburban American family. Mom, Dad, Sister, and a rotating cast of pets. In our house, there were definitely rules and expectations for how everyone was to live. And in their effort to make sure we actually learned and followed these rules, my parents would consistently remind us of them… no lying, hitting, or name-calling; everyone eats dinner together and you eat what’s put before you; get your chores done before someone has to nag you…. and so on. We knew the rules, but sometimes we forgot to follow them. And it was in those forgetful moments that my parents would have to remind us.
But sometimes, instead of directly telling us how she expected us to behave, my mom would tell us stories from her past. Now these stories were not simply for her or our entertainment. They were just as instructive as the rule-reminders, but much more subtle. Through these stories, it was clear that Mom was trying to guide our behavior.
Sometimes she would tell us stories that were meant to dissuade us from bad behaviors. I don’t know how many times I heard the story of Mom’s older sister Louise; when it came to after-supper time and the kids’ were expected to do the dishes, how Louise would “desperately” need to use the restroom, and “mysteriously” wouldn’t finish until after the dishes were done. Mom wasn’t SAYING, “Don’t be like Louise. YOU have to help with the dishes,” but her point was made clear through her story.
Similarly, she would also tell us stories meant to elicit good behaviors. When my sister and I didn’t give a hoot about school, she’d tell us the story about how she worked hard and became her high school valedictorian. Her “hidden” expectation: “Do your homework, ya lazy-bum.”
Well, for the past 2 weeks, we’ve been reading some pretty important stories from Israel’s past. And like my mom’s stories, these stories aren’t in the Bible simply for our entertainment. They serve a purpose. To understand their purpose, we need to also understand their context.
Brief history excursus: David became king over the united kingdom of Israel around 1010bc and ruled until 970. David’s son Solomon ruled from 970-931, after which the kingdom divided into factions, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah).
As you read last week in 1 & 2 Kings, the people continually did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They just couldn’t seem to get themselves to follow the rules that they and God had agreed on way back at Mt. Sinai. And so, after many, many efforts to bring them back, God finally let the people experience the full consequences of their actions and they were exiled. Judah fell to the Assyrians in 722 and most of their citizens deported forever. And Israel fell to Babylon in 586. The people who were allowed to remain alive were deported to Babylon, where they remained for the next 70 years.
1 & 2 Kings was written during those 70 years. These stories were told as an attempt to understand what had happened and how they ended up in exile. In telling these stories, the people remind themselves just how far off track they had gotten. God had tried to warn them, but they hadn’t listened. As they recounted the past 300+ years’ worth of stories to one another, they retaught themselves what God expected of them.
Another history break: Now it’s 536bc. And Babylon has been conquered by Persia. And the Persian king doesn’t want these Israelites hanging around. He allows them to return home to Jerusalem. This is when 1 & 2 Chronicles gets written.
Though the stories of Kings and Chronicles may seem mind-numbingly similar, they are BOTH necessary, for they serve two different purposes. Chronicles was written to remind the people that, throughout their history, obedience lead to blessing and disobedience to trouble. Through telling these stories again, this time with a little twist, the writer of Chronicles now isn’t interested in focusing on the people’s failures, but on God’s faithfulness. They can look to the future with hope, because they now know that of they commit themselves to God, God will always commit Himself to them.
These stories are important. Without laying out the rules explicitly, they still tell the Israelites and they tell us what God expects of us. And what God expects is that He would be number one. No matter how strong we think we are on our own, our strength is no match for God’s. And no matter how weak or fearful we feel, we can take courage that God is on our side. He’s the One upon whom we can depend, no matter what. And that’s exactly what He expects us to do.