Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Give Us A King

Life of Christ 2  

        They wanted a king. A thousand years before Jesus came, God's people, looking with envy on the nations around them, demanded of Samuel a king (I Samuel 8.6). One king led to another over the succeeding four centuries until the last king, Zedekiah, blindly (II Kings 25.7) knelt in shackles before Nebuchadnezzar. The monarchy, the capitol city, Solomon's Temple, indeed, the very nation lay in ruins.

          An hundred years later, in the providence of God, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Malachi lead in a rebirth of the national consciousness and a rebuilding of the Temple. For the next century and a half the Jews ruled themselves under the nominal control of the Persian empire. 

          In 336 BC, a young man followed his father on the throne of an obscure Greek principality, and within 13 years Alexander the Great had conquered the entire eastern Mediterranean basin, North Africa, the Middle East, and large portions of southern Asia. This naturally shifted the nascent Jewish nation from the control of the now dead Persian empire to the budding Grecian one.

          When Alexander the Great died his empire was divided among his four top generals. These four areas became great regional powers in their own right. With one being based in Syria and another in Egypt, Israel was midway between them. Consequently, the Jews became a small mouse caught in a fight between two large and angry cats. Sometimes they were ruled by one and sometimes by the other.

          In 164 BC the Jews rose in revolt against the severe oppression of their Syrian overlords. The Syrian ruler, Antioches Epiphanes, had murdered thousands of Jews, sacrificed a pig on the Brazen Altar, dedicated the Temple to Zeus, and outlawed Judaism. Led by Judah Maccabee, the Jews revolted against their Syrian overlords and won. They ritually cleansed the Temple, which occasion is still celebrated two millennia later each December with Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights. The Maccabees would establish the short-lived Hasmonean dynasty. Finally, again a Jewish king sat on a Jewish throne, albeit an incredibly shaky one.

          Facing continued harassment from Syria, the Hasmoneans and the religious leadership of Israel began looking for external help. They found it in the fast growing power of Rome. In these years they initiated and signed four separate treaties with Rome in an effort to keep the Syrians at bay. To put it in the modern vernacular, in so doing, they jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

          In 63 BC the Roman general Pompey conquered the remains of the Syrian empire. He soon moved on to Jerusalem, and ignoring the previous treaties, simply annexed Israel to the Roman empire. The Jews of the time were powerless to stop him. Under Julius Caesar, Palestine (the Roman coined term for the land the Jews traditionally had claimed) was divided into several different provinces and placed under the rule of various procurators. In 36 BC, following a power struggle, Herod the Great, an Edomite, ascended the throne in Jerusalem, and would remain firmly ensconced there, amid paranoia and carnage, until that silent and  holy night decades hence when the Consolation of Israel would draw his first breath, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

          Give us a king, they cried. They got what they wanted but they lost what they had. They got kings, all right, kings to exploit them with heavy taxes, kings to take their sons away to battle, kings to live deliciously on the backs of the people (I Samuel 8.10-19), kings to tempt them away from Jehovah into the worship of false gods, and kings to bring wrack and ruin on the nation. At the dawn of the time of Christ the nation was cursed with a king, Herod the Great, a blood-soaked despot, and one of the great tyrants of human history. Over him, and demanding his loyalty, breathed the entire might of the greatest empire known to man, Rome, and its First Citizen, Caesar Augustus.

          We have often heard that it is darkest just before dawn. Jehovah, in His measureless mercy, would send Israel a King in the humblest of ways. But would Israel accept Him? Would they trade their selfish demands and their hollow religion for the real King?

          Give us a king, they cried. And God did.

Matthew 2:2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
Matthew 27:29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!

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