There Is No Hope in Men–Thank God! (Part 2)

  • Steve Hatter
Stream flowing through rocks
“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” (Proverbs 21:1-2)

If you read my blog last Monday, I set out to provide some words of comfort, if not reassurance, regarding the coming November elections. I argued that biblical theology is the antidote to the Christian’s temptations to despair at the “wrong” candidates winning. This hope is because we can see the Holy God faithfully at work through the arc of Scripture carrying out His gracious salvation plan for mankind. The Old Testament Book of Kings provides a very reassuring narrative that God is always in control and on schedule employing His amazing grace, despite the vagaries of good and bad human leaders. In this two-part blog, my approach has been to show you how Yahweh worked in and through a representative example of His raised-up kings of Israel. I determined to show you how God advanced His highest plans, while He simultaneously worked providentially in the details of each man’s individual life, blessing, and punishing them according to their heart and deeds.

You’ll recall that Kings narrated the tragedy of Israel’s post-Davidic monarchies and that the book was as much a story of God’s prophets confronting the royals as it was recounting individual rulers and reigns. Through the prophets, Yahweh advanced His larger plans for salvation while also judging the hearts and specific choices of men in the historical moment. They were His voice to the leaders and their people. Most of the monarchs earned wrath, proving human kingship would always fall short as the means for Yahweh to fulfill His salvific promises. However, even as Israel descended spiritually and circumstantially, Yahweh’s grace remained on display through these inspired prophetic revelations. They pointed to the need for Christ, who would be the promised human king, but also divine!

In Part One, we looked into the life of King Solomon. We saw that despite his promise as a gifted man who was also supernaturally blessed, he ultimately failed through tragic spiritual drift. Therefore, his legacy was one of calamity and pain. So, on the heels of Solomon’s evaluation, let’s look at two representative kings among the many that followed Solomon. We’ll consider a representatively wicked king, Jeroboam, in contrast to one of the few good kings, Josiah (1 Kings 12–13; 2 Kings 22–23). Then, I want to point out a critical summary, or “parenthetic commentary,” found in 2 Kings 17:7–23. This commentary is the author’s—most likely the prophet Jeremiah—summary theological evaluation of the time of the kings.

Bad King, Good King

First and Second Kings essentially narrated the long road to Israel’s exile—the tearing away of the kingdom—first initiated by Solomon’s drift. Through multiple dynasties, Israel’s kings predominantly did evil in the sight of the LORD. After Solomon’s death, an heir of David emerged—Jeroboam—who was instrumental in Judah’s permanent split from Israel. As Israel’s king, he veered her far from the fruitful path of obedience to Yahweh.

First Kings 12:25–33 described Jeroboam’s selfish heart and blasphemous decrees designed to solidify his power base in Israel. He made golden calves for worship and placed them at the far geographic reaches of Dan and Bethel as an alternative to legitimate worship to Yahweh in Jerusalem (12:28). Jeroboam made houses in high places and created his own priesthood outside the lineage of Levi (12:31). He instituted a feast in the eighth month—one “devised in his own heart”—and made heretical sacrifices and burned incense on the altar “which he had made” (12:32–33).

Yahweh sent “a man of God” (13:1) to Bethel to challenge Jeroboam, establishing a repeated pattern throughout Kings. First Kings 13 described the dramatic confrontation that would foreshadow eras of monarchic failure that were all consistently addressed by Yahweh—for His just and salvific purpose—through prophetic evaluation. Prophets such as Elijah and Elisha emerged as heroes in Yahweh’s larger covenant-advancing plans.

If Jeroboam was representative of an evil king, Josiah was one of a few obedient kings. Josiah, ruling after Israel had fallen to the Assyrians, “did right in the sight of the LORD and walked in all the ways of his father David” (2 Kings 22:2). Josiah aggressively reformed Judah, ejecting Baal and Asheroth vessels, eliminating idolatrous priests, confronting sexual cult practices, and reinstituting Passover (22:23).

Yahweh’s sovereign placement of this kingship in Israel’s history is noteworthy because despite Josiah’s heart attitude and obedience—there “was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart” (2 Kings 23:25)—it was too little, too late. Yahweh “did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath” (23:26), and Judah soon went the way of Israel, removed from God’s sight at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.

A Parenthetical Evaluation (2 Kings 17:7–23)

The Holy Spirit-inspired author of Kings communicated a parenthetical analysis within the historical narrative—the “why?” behind the historical “what?”—regarding Yahweh sovereignly at work. Second Kings 17 is an example of a parenthetical discourse that served as a summary theological evaluation of the book by explaining why the exile came to be. The author boldly asserted in verse 7, the exile occurred because the people sinned against the LORD. The next fourteen verses then offer an airtight defense of Yahweh, juxtaposed against a scathing indictment of Israel/Judah. Yahweh, the covenantkeeper, brought them out of Egypt (17:7). He provided, He protected, He gave guidance and warning. He was slow to anger, though His justice was always sure (17:13, 18). In short, the true God gave His heart.

Israel responded with woeful disobedience in thought, word, and deed. Among their many transgressions, they “did secretly against” (17:9) Yahweh and chased after foreign gods, especially in the “high places” (17:11), thereby defiling the holy things of God. Israel and Judah both corrupted the ceremonial statutes with false priesthoods and counterfeit offerings. They even “burned their sons and daughters” (7:17). Throughout Israel/Judah’s descent to spiritual nadir, Yahweh spoke faithfully through His prophets, “but they would not listen” (7:14). When exile came, they were without excuse.

However, the terrible outcomes of Kings also proved an extraordinary testimony to Yahweh’s sovereignty and grace. The darkness of Kings argued for the one salvific solution man could never produce, a worthy human king. Kings made clear that only the coming Son of God, King Jesus, would alone fulfill Yahweh’s covenant with David—to deliver an eternal house, throne, and kingdom.

In Kings, Solomon’s failure, the contrasted kingships of Jeroboam and Josiah, the Prophets’ role as sovereign truth agents, and the use of parenthetic evaluation within the narrative, all combined to beautifully magnify the hope of Christ. It is awesome that we 21st Century Christians can see the fulfilled promises this side of our Savior’s cross. As I ponder the weakness of men contrasted to our gracious Lord’s strength, integrity, and majesty, I know that there is no hope in men. And, I thank God for that truth because God wants to be our hope. I can choose Him over men by faith, and so can you.

Salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone. Resist the temptation to stress in the coming weeks, Christian!