Tag Archives: Complexity

The Simple Lesson Between the Lines

[Azariah] was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years.
2 Kings 15:2 (NIV)

Sometimes the greatest lessons that come out of the chapter are not within the text but within the context. The lesson isn’t within the lines, but between them.

The scribes who penned 2 Kings were chronicling the history of the kings of both divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. They wrote it so that I, as a reader, can get a sense of the timing of the overlapping reigns between the two kingdoms.

Today’s chapter begins with Judah’s king Azariah (aka Uzziah) who came to the throne at 16 and reigned for 52 years (FYI: He was a co-regent with his father for the first 25). A leper, he lived a relatively quiet and secluded life. The scribes point out that Azariah, while not perfect, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

The bulk of today’s chapter then goes on to describe a string of kings of Israel:

  • Zechariah (6 months) publicly assassinated by…
  • Shallum (1 month) assassinated by…
  • Menahem (10 years) handed the throne to his son…
  • Pekehiah (2 years) assassinated by…
  • Pekah (20 years) assassinated by…
  • Hoshea

Yikes! Talk about political chaos. In each listing of the this bloody string of successors the scribes point out the monarchs of the northern kingdom of Israel “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”

A long my spiritual journey I’ve learned that there is a balance between embracing that some things of the Spirit are very simple while also accepting that there are no simple answers to some of life’s complexities. It’s too simplistic say that Azariah had a long and prosperous reign because he did good and the kings of Israel had comparatively short reigns marked by violent ends because they did evil. That easily leads down the dualistic, transactional mindset of “If I’m good God will like me and bless me and I will succeed, and if I do bad God will punish me and I won’t succeed.” Both life and the spiritual journey are far deeper and more mysterious.

At the same time, there is simple wisdom in understanding that I experience a certain peace and stability to life when I’m following Jesus and actively attempting to conform my life to His will and His teaching (like Azariah). There is also a certain fear, anxiety and chaos to life when I’m living only for myself and the indulgence of my self-centric appetites for power, pleasure, and personal gain (like the kings of Israel).

This morning I’m reminded that it’s easy to get sucked into our popular culture and the obsession for power, popularity, prestige and worldly success. A quiet life in pursuit of Jesus may not make an exciting movie script, but there’s a peace and continuity to the path which shields me from a lot of other problems and cares.

 

Small Detail; Big Implication

The Uriah Letter
The mighty men were…

…Uriah the Hittite
1 Chronicles 11:26a;41a (NIV)

Great stories, both real and fiction, are layered with complexities and meaning. As both a reader and a writer, I am always fascinated and inspired with small details that add meaning to the overall story.

Weeks ago we read the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), in which David sleeps with the next door neighbor he’d been voyeuristically watching from his roof. She became pregnant and, to cover up his sin, David conspires to have her husband killed so that he can marry her. Her husband was Uriah, the Hittite. In today’s chapter we come across a small detail that adds layers of complexity to the story. Uriah’s name is listed in the roles of David’s “Mighty Men,” a group of elite special forces. Think about it: Uriah wasn’t just come random, no name infantryman. Uriah was one of David’s most trusted warriors and a member of “The Thirty.” When David arranged to have Uriah killed, it was a man he knew and with whom David had fought battles side-byside. Uriah was one of the best of the best, and a man in whom David entrusted his life. Killing Uriah wasn’t just a king using his power to whack some nameless peasant. Killing Uriah was a personal and professional betrayal in the most heinous sense. This is Judas’ kiss. This is Michael and Fredo. This is Iago and Othello.

I love that a little factual nugget buried in a “boring” chapter of lists can spark my imagination to contemplate so many additional layers of complexity to a story I thought I knew so well. No wonder Uriah lived in a building next to David’s palace. As a member of “The Thirty” he was the king’s body guard. David wrote orders to his commander-in-chief, Joab, to have Uriah killed and then sent it with Uriah back to the front line (talk about a Hollywood moment). This was probably a common. As a member of David’s body guard, Uriah was likely used to carrying messages. I also wonder if David’s orders created an erosion of respect from General Joab. There is a camaraderie among soldiers that is even tighter among special forces. Having Uriah killed would not have been popular move among his men. David’s mistake with Bathsheba was tragic failure on multiple levels.

Today, I’m thinking about how life imitates art and art imitates life. I’m thinking about David’s epic failure in light of my own epic failures. I’m enjoying thinking new and fresh about an old story I’ve known for years, and what that means to both the story and its meaning for me.