Two good kings began so well ruling the empire, except for both Solomon and David, the latter half of their rule didn’t quite match the former half. However, this was about as good as the kings got for God’s people.
Solomon’s son, Rehoboam was the natural king, but he tried to rule with power rather than loving care, which gave the opportunity for another person, Jeroboam, to take the lead of ten of the tribes. The kingdom was split into two – the northern tribes of Israel led by Jeroboam and the remaining southern tribes, known then as Judah, led by Rehoboam. More than just a tragic event or a human power struggle, this was God moving in judgement for Solomon’s sinful ways.
In the wake of these two kings came two lines of successive kings. Precious few of them were godly kings, as the majority worshipped idols and committed significant sins, following the influence of the godless nations around them. The problem was this – as went the kings, so followed the people. So when there were good kings, the people followed God’s ways, but when the bad kings rose to the throne, the people spiralled into rebellion.
God did not merely leave them to their own devices. In his mercy, he sent prophets to speak his word and call his people to leave their sin behind and follow his ways. These prophets warned them of their covenant relationship, that if they continued in sin they would be under God’s judgement and removed from the land. But by and large, the people wouldn’t listen.
Having given so many chances over many centuries to turn to him and follow his ways, God finally followed through on his warnings of judgement. First, the northern tribes were taken away into exile by the Assyrians. This should have sent a clear message to the southern tribes, yet they too continued in their sins. 150 years later the Babylonians swept into the southern kingdom killing a third, capturing a third, and leaving the rest to pick up the pieces in a desolated land.
And so the people, having lost their homes, their land and their place with God, settled in a foreign land. They were no longer setting the agenda, but as God’s people they were still called to live faithfully to him in a pagan world. People like Daniel and Esther shone as examples in a godless society.
Though the time of exile was a sad and sorry state for God’s people, there was still hope that at some time later the people would be restored back to their land. While warning of judgement, the prophets had also given glimpses of a future hope and promises of a restoration.
After 70 years, those promises were beginning to be realised. The promises were focussed on a return to the land for resettling, rebuilding and then a perfectly reigning King who would come – the Messiah. Ezra and Nehemiah were among those who led groups and led projects to rebuild the temple and rebuild the walls in the main city, Jerusalem. All this happened under God’s clear leading.
Even as they rebuilt the temple, there was recognition that it didn’t quite match the last one – it was far from being as glorious as it was the first time around. In fact, the final chapter of Nehemiah closes with an air of disappointment as the people show their typical tendency to turn from God’s perfect ways.
The promises hadn’t been entirely fulfilled. Though they had resettled and rebuilt, there was still no king to turn the hearts of the people to God, setting them free from their sin. That promise still lingered, left to be properly fulfilled when the Messiah would finally come.
Next in this series: Emmanuel »