I’m just finishing up 2 Kings, and having a couple thoughts to follow up on the call.
The first is that this tale of decline and eventual conquest of Israel seems eerily similar to the pattern of decline and weakening of the Roman Empire (I’ll probably revise this opinion when we read more about Rome): The rulers become ever more capricious and devoid of principle, the reigns become ever shorter and more marked by madness and excess, and the palace intrigues become ever bloodier as the kingship becomes a prize to be grabbed by force, purely for personal gain. Though David and Solomon look awfully compromised by our moral standards, they do look heroic by comparison with Ahab and Jezebel and their successors. The multiple slaughter of whole families brings to mind again Shakespeare’s MacBeth, his slaughter of MacDuff’s family, and the disintegration of MacBeth’s kingdom, concurrent with the disintegration of his mind. Shakespeare (or whoever wrote those plays–you may have seen the revived controversy) no doubt studied Kings as well as Samuel.
My second thought returns to Nancy’s point. After multiple appearances by The Lord, and crystal-clear enunciation of His commandments: Why didn’t the Israelites learn? It’s a great question that goes to the heart of the human condition: why do we keep doing evil? (I’m leaving aside the sense in Kings that evil constituted mostly worshiping Baal, and that slaughter in the name of the Lord was apparently a good thing.) There’s a tie-in with the earlier Biblical books, specifically Genesis. I’m reading a book that speaks to this, Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality.” Miller’s a Christian who uses startling language and outside-the-box imagery–it’s enjoyable reading, though he makes leaps I can’t always track. He makes a compelling case (unfortunately!) for the concept of original sin, put in ordinary practical terms: it’s just easier for people to do bad than to do good. Doing good requires effort, help and support. (In Miller’s case, he’s talking about divine help and support–grace.)
I think Nancy’s question is a fundamental one for us to keep in sight, as we go through the Bible and beyond. I’d add a few corollary ones: What do people need in order to do good? What conditions do we need? Can we make moral progress and become better people, individually and collectively?
End of thoughts.