A King and A Tyrant

2 Kings 20-21

2 Kings 21 9 NIV sgl

These two short chapters make me very glad for the American political system. Before I talk about what makes our system so good, I need to talk about the system in place in the passage that we read. Chapter 20 marks the end of the reign of a good king, Hezekiah, who accomplished many good deeds in the name of God. He was an iconoclast, one who destroys religious images (as an aside, archaeological evidence confirms the iconoclasm of Hezekiah’s age, very cool). He also increased the size of the Judahite kingdom and made it into a power on par with that of the Assyrians and Babylonians. Of course, all of this was made possible by the God who went before them in battle. Of all the kings of Judah, Hezekiah can be counted among the best, and under the guidance of a king such as he, a monarchy isn’t such a bad deal.

But when your good king is replaced by a 12-year-old tyrant, things aren’t so good. Manasseh reversed all the progress that Hezekiah made toward ridding Israel of idols and images of foreign gods. Manasseh turned away from God and brought Judah down with him. This is the power of a king. If he is good, then he can accomplish great things! But if he is evil, then he can accomplish even worse things. Somehow, Manasseh survived for fifty-five years as the king of Judah. Being a murderous beast of a man can certainly turn people away from the idea of overthrowing you. Luckily for the people of Judah, his son Amon was a bit more of a weakling, giving his advisors the opportunity to assassinate him.

This is the problem with monarchies. Everyone loves a prosperous generation under a king who does good, but if you are unfortunate enough to have a bad king (and there were a lot of them in Judah and Israel’s history), then the only way to get back on the right track is to murder the guy. Luckily for the Judahites, the next in line to the throne was an 8-year-old boy who ended up becoming arguably the greatest king of Judah. I wish I could talk more about how impressive Josiah is, but our passage cuts off just before his reign begins.

To summarize: a good king is great, but a bad king can only end in bloodshed, in the form of his people’s lives or his own. God knew this when he told Samuel that establishing a kingship was a bad idea. But God let the people have what they wanted. John Locke, a 17th century political philosopher whose thoughts helped lay the groundwork for the American system, knew this and argued against it in his treatises. The American system is designed to move slow, to never be controlled by one person long enough to do lasting damage. In America, you don’t have to wait a generation just to see political reform. Maybe if you are terribly concerned with nominal tax rates and zoning laws, then you can be frustrated with the snail’s pace at which the American political system moves, but the great advantage that we have in America is the lack of despotism and regicide. This alone gives you great reason to be happy to be alive in 2020 and not in the 8th century B.C. Let us thank God that the founders of this country were men of God who believed that each person is endowed with the spark of the Divine which is the source of our authority over our own lives, thus freeing us from the whims of tyrants like Manasseh.

Nathaniel Johnson

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+20-21&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be 32-33 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

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