“I will return the cities my father took from your father,” Ben-Hadad offered. “You may set up your own market areas in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.”
Ahab said, “On the basis of a treaty I will set you free.” So he made a treaty with him, and let him go.
1 Kings 20:34 (NIV)
Over the years, my amateur genealogical and historic studies have led me to better understand the Dutch heritage I inherited on the paternal side of my DNA and family experience. Dutch culture is a fascinating study for a number of reasons. In the 1600s, the Dutch were arguably the wealthiest nation on earth because of Dutch trading ships dominating the seas. Amsterdam became a hub of global trade and commerce and Dutch bankers in Amsterdam became bankers to the entire world.
At this same time in history, an intense rift dominated the spiritual and political landscape. The Protestant Reformation had led to entrenched rivalries (and wars) between Roman Catholics and Protestant Reformers. The Dutch, much like other European nations, had citizens in both camps zealously holding to their beliefs.
I once read a historian who declared that the reason the humanistic Dutch Catholics and the pious Dutch Reformers got along was that both religious camps ultimately cared more about the commerce that was making both camps increasingly wealthy. When Catholics and Reformers argued, it was business and the money it generated that acted as the tiebreaker and peacemaker.
Today’s chapter deals with a dispute between the King of Aram and King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel. Israel, somewhat like the Dutch culture of a thousand years later in history, was spiritually divided between those who clung to the God of Abraham, Moses, and David, and those who were committed to the plethora of local and regional pagan deities.
Underneath the obvious events of today’s chapter lies a political undercurrent many readers miss. It was all about trade and the subsequent wealth it generated. Israel had key strategic ports on the Mediterranean along with treaties with Tyre and Phoenecia that were incredibly lucrative. Aram was landlocked and wanted access to those trade routes. The reason that both the King of Aram and the King of Israel were so quick to surrender to one another was the same reasoning between the Dutch Catholics and Protestants. There was still a lot of money to be made and a lot of wealth to be enjoyed by both Kings if they formed an alliance.
But this arrangement is spiritually revealing. Ahab and the Kings of Israel have been operating under a spiritual policy of appeasement. The King and officials allow the prophets of God and those loyal to the God of Moses to do their thing. However, they freely ascribe to the local and regional pagan gods because doing so is good for political alliances and lucrative trade deals with other kingdoms. At the end of the chapter, God speaks through a prophet to call out Ahab regarding his complicity. Ahab cares more about trade, political aspiration, and wealth than the things of God.
In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but feel the resonance between my cultural heritage and the story in today’s chapter. Art historians claim that a key to Rembrandt’s rise to artistic prominence in the 1600s was his ability to create portraits of wealthy Protestants that portrayed them in all of their religious piety while hinting at their immense wealth. It reminds me of a local resident my friend knows who drives around our small Iowa town in his old Buick, but his vacation home in Arizona has a garage filled with extravagant luxury cars and motorcycles.
This leads me to ask myself about my own priorities. Jesus taught that my heart would be where my treasure is. So what is it I most treasure, and where does that treasure lie?
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.