Friday

07 October 2011

"The Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, bands of the Arameans, bands of the Moabites, and bands of the Ammonites, he sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, for all that he had committed." (vv. 2-3)

Background

Johoiakim, eldest son of Josiah, was the last king of a free Judah before the people were taken into exile in Babylon.

Looked at from today's perspective, Johoiakim and his nation were very much captive to global politics. Judah was trapped between two superpowers: Egypt to the southwest and Babylon to the northeast. Judah occupied a strategic piece of geography located in the corridor through which both armies needed to march in order to attack each other; and Judah was not nearly as rich or as populous as her superpower neighbours.

Captive to the Judean geography, the reigning king will naturally want to back the superpower that is most likely to be the winner. The problem is that both powers have sufficient force to do a lot of harm to this small nation.

Johoiakim's brother, Jehoahaz, rebelled against the pharaoh and only reigned for three months. Pharaoh Neco installed Johoiakim on the throne of Judah as his vassal but Johoiakim allied himself with King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon for three years and then before rebelling against him. Nebuchadnezzar then sent mercenaries to attack Judah. Babylon later triumphed over Egypt and then ransacked Jerusalem and the temple and took the Judean people captive into Babylon.

According to today's passage, all of these events were directly related to the fact that the people and kings of Judah had sinned by worshipping foreign gods rather the one God.

This is another difficult text with which we must wrestle in our own contemporary context. Implicit in this story is the idea that God has punished the nation of Judah for not being sufficiently faithful and that God has used Egypt and Babylon as agents of divine punishment.

Within the lifetimes of the last three generations of our culture, various factions have claimed that God was on their side and against others. Some themes have been: the allies versus the axis powers in World War II; western elected democracies versus international communism; 'Christianity' versus 'Islam'. The claim that God loves my people and hates your people can be a very powerful. Should societies try to avoid such thinking or does it have value?

To Ponder

During in your lifetime, when do you believe that God has taken sides for one category of people (eg country, political party, nationality, ideology) over another?

Why might it be either dangerous or valuable to believe that God takes sides?

What do you think that Jesus would say to our world with respect to the idea of God taking sides?

Bible notes author: The Revd Pam Garrud

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