Then Pul king of Assyria invaded the land, and Menahem gave him a thousand talents of silver to gain his support and strengthen his own hold on the kingdom. Menahem exacted this money from Israel. Every wealthy person had to contribute fifty shekels of silver to be given to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria withdrew and stayed in the land no longer.
2 Kings 15:19-20 (NIV)
When I was just out of high school, I took a manual labor job that I knew would only last four months until I went to college. I chose not to join the union, as was my right because I knew it was just four months. I was bullied, coerced, and threatened until I quit. When I complained I received a shrug of the shoulders. “This is how the world works.”
Another job I had as a young man was for a private company working in a government building. By federal law, there was no smoking anywhere in the building, yet two ladies sat at their desks every day smoking like chimneys as I passed by. When I asked about it, my boss told me that they were legacy employees protected by the local political machine that had been in power for decades. They could do whatever they wanted. They were untouchable. “This is how the world works.”
In another department within that same building was another legacy employee who refused to help me when I came in with a records request. I was a bit confused when she told me, “I’m not working today. Go to another window.” When I told my boss and co-workers what had happened I got the same familiar shrug. “This is how the world works.”
I worked for several different churches in different denominations when I was a young man. I learned very quickly that there were the official boards and consistories that were set up to govern the church, and then there were individuals (typically wealthy, prominent, legacy, and generational members) who really called the shots. By this time, I should have learned: “This is how the world works.”
Today’s chapter contains an overview of five successive kings of the northern Kingdom of Israel. Four of them were assassinated by the person who then claimed the throne. One of them, Shallum, assassinated his predecessor and sat on the throne for one month before he, himself, was assassinated in the same manner by a man named Menahem. Whoever has the guts to assassinate the king gets the throne. “This is how the world works.”
Menahem happened to be on the throne when the army of Assyria came raiding. Menahem was a big fish in a small pond compared to the ascendant Assyrian Empire. Menahem didn’t have the army to withstand a takeover, so he had one choice. He extracted money from his wealthy citizens and paid the King of Assyria. It was really no different than the mafia or a local gang extracting money from neighborhood businesses for “protection.” It was just done on a larger scale. “This is how the world works.”
In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same. With the dawn of the technological age, my generation has arguably experienced greater change than any other generation in history. And yet, what has not changed is the human condition. The culture wars being waged online are simply a reboot of tribal warfare. Throughout COVID lockdowns there were endless examples of those in power (on both sides of the political aisle) who made rules for constituents, then flagrantly violated those same rules.
“This is how the world works.”
Into this world, Jesus came to exemplify and prescribe an alternative. Before beginning His ministry Jesus was approached by the Evil One whom Jesus referred to as “The Prince of this World.” The Prince of this World offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” if only Jesus would bow to him. It was quite an offer. Jesus could then change the world as He wished in a top-down power grab. It would surprise no one. That’s how the world works.
Jesus declined the offer.
Instead, Jesus asked me and all of His other followers to live, think, act, speak, and relate to others “not as the world works” but as the Kingdom of God works. It’s one of the things that drew me to Jesus and continues to draw me in.
I learned how the world works.
I don’t want to live that way.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.