How the mighty have fallen!
One day you are sitting on top of the world, and the next day you are sitting on the dung heap. One day the whole world loves you, the next day everyone hates you. One day it seems like things could not get any better, and the next day you have sunk to the lowest of lows.
The Bible is full of such up and down stories. Think of Job for example. One day he is wealthy and healthy and prosperous and blessed, and the next day he loses everything. Or think of Saul, who started out so very well but ended up so very bad. I just now read again about his tragic downfall and abandonment/judgment by God in 1 Chronicles 10.
However it is not just individuals but whole nations that can go through this as well. The story of Israel is certainly a clear example of this. Consider especially Judah, the southern kingdom, and its capital Jerusalem. Under David and Solomon Israel was one of the greatest nations on earth, and God was certainly with the people and their kings.
But just a few hundred years later we see that it has all gone pear-shaped. What an incredible turnaround. How the mighty have fallen. It is such a jarring contrast. But this contrast can be lost on us when we just skip around here and there in our Bible reading, or when we read very slowly.
The ideal when reading some of the narrative portions of Scripture is to read as much of it as you can in one sitting or in a few sittings. That way you can so much better see the whole sweep of the story, and get a better feel for what is going on.
That is certainly true of the rise and fall of Judah. The events described in 1 and 2 Kings are not only separated by hundreds of years, but by dozens of chapters in the Old Testament. Unless we read large blocks of Scripture, the flow of history will be somewhat lost on us.
It was not all that long ago that I was reading in the early chapters of 1 Kings about the greatness of Israel. And just recently I read the last chapters of 2 Kings about the downfall of Judah. The contrast is really quite astounding. In 1 Kings 2-4 we read about the reign of King Solomon and all its grandeur and glory. It really is the highpoint of Israel’s history. This king had it all, and all the world marvelled at him, his rule, his nation, and his people.
But a mere 40 or so chapters later we read about its horrific end. In 2 Kings 24-25 we are provided with all the grim details of the fall of Judah, the sack of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the temple. It really does jar the system to see this remarkable contrast.
As to the timeline of events, we have something like this to run with in abbreviated form:
930 Divided Kingdom (Jeroboam in the northern kingdom, Rehoboam in the southern kingdom)
722 The fall of Samaria (capital of Israel, the northern kingdom) to the Assyrians
597 First siege of Jerusalem (capital of Judah, the southern kingdom) by the Babylonians
587/6 The destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews to Babylon
If the high point of Solomon’s reign is set at, say, 990, and the end of Jerusalem at roughly 590, that is a period of 400 years. So yes, this entire process took some time to work itself out. But to read about it all in a rather short period of time really makes the difference between the beginning and end of Judah so very striking – and so very sad.
From the greatest of the greats to complete and utter destruction. Mind-boggling really. But in case you are not familiar with the story, let me offer just a few passages on the two bookends to this story. In 1 Kings 4:20-34 we read this glowing report:
Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing. So Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life. Now Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty kors of fine flour, sixty kors of meal, ten fatted oxen, twenty oxen from the pastures, and one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted fowl.
For he had dominion over all the region on this side of the River from Tiphsah even to Gaza, namely over all the kings on this side of the River; and he had peace on every side all around him. And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan as far as Beersheba, all the days of Solomon. Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. And these governors, each man in his month, provided food for King Solomon and for all who came to King Solomon’s table. There was no lack in their supply. They also brought barley and straw to the proper place, for the horses and steeds, each man according to his charge.
And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore. Thus Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the men of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men—than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five. Also he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; he spoke also of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish. And men of all nations, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom, came to hear the wisdom of Solomon.
Wow, that is some king and kingdom. But contrast all this with what we find in 2 Kings 1-16:
In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him raiding bands of Chaldeans, bands of Syrians, bands of Moabites, and bands of the people of Ammon; He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord which He had spoken by His servants the prophets. Surely at the commandment of the Lord this came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also because of the innocent blood that he had shed; for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon….
At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city, as his servants were besieging it. Then Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his servants, his princes, and his officers went out to the king of Babylon; and the king of Babylon, in the eighth year of his reign, took him prisoner.
And he carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and he cut in pieces all the articles of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the Lord, as the Lord had said. Also he carried into captivity all Jerusalem: all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths. None remained except the poorest people of the land. And he carried Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officers, and the mighty of the land he carried into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. All the valiant men, seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths, one thousand, all who were strong and fit for war, these the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon.
Wow again. That is some massive turnaround. Talk about a hardcore reversal of fortune. Talk about a topsy-turvy world. No wonder we find heart-breaking passages like Psalm 137:1-4 describing the situation of the exiles in Babylon:
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”
So what is the application for today? The same truths are still in play: both individuals and nations can rise and fall. As to the latter, think of all the great empires that have come and gone over the centuries. Once so proud and mighty, now they are part of the dustbin of history.
And we need to keep that in mind for nations today. Not only will China and North Korea one day be no more, but so too nations that are “better” than they, such as Australia and America. No nation is exempt. All will one day cease to exist, and their former greatness and glory will long be forgotten.
The same holds true of individuals. As to evil pagan rulers for example, where are cruel dictators like Stalin or Hitler or Pol Pot today? They have joined the ranks of Caligula, Genghis Khan and others. They are now history. And it’s a good thing too.
But what about others? What about Christians? What about those believers – some more famous than others – who started well but did not finish well. They certainly do exist. We all know of some, and the more noted ones sadly make the headlines all too often.
This is not the place to get into the complex debate about whether a Christian can lose his salvation, but suffice it to say that we all need to press on in the Lord and strive – by God’s grace – to finish as strongly and resolutely as when we first began.
We want to be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). By the grace of God, let us not go from greatness to disaster, but from greatness to greatness.
And let God get the full glory for that outcome.