Kings was not what I expected, after all the others. It had a way of contributing to the progression of the story without actually being a part of the story. Except that this is where Solomon has the first temple built. Most of the rest of it is a succession of the kings without a lot about their deeds.
In the second book there were some interesting women who come from a wide range of backgrounds to do a wide range of things. The final chapters had so few that I had almost forgotten those in the beginning who showed faith, who made bad deals, who took what wasn’t theirs, who saved the future, who were the victims of some of the worst crimes, who gave birth to kings, and who gave counsel to King Josiah. This was an interesting set of women and I enjoyed reading about them. I feel like some need to be talked about more at church. And King Josiah. He was awesome too, as kings go.
- Abishag, whose entire presence is mentioned to warm David at night.
- Bathsheba, who we should remember from the last book as David’s wife and Solomon’s mother
- The Queen of Sheba who seeks Solomon’s wisdom
- the unnamed widow who hid Elijah
- Jezebel who is just awful and in no redeemable way.
- The unnamed woman who goes to Elisha for help with a bill collector
- The Shunammite woman who shows kindness to Elisha and an incredible amount of faith
- The woman who made a terrible deal during a terrible famine
- Jezebel finally meets her end
- Athaliah, who was queen of Judah for a while after killing just about everyone else with a claim to the throne
- Jehosheba, who managed to save one son from Athaliah
- the pregnant women who were “ripped open” by Menahem when he staged a coup
- Shallum, the prophetess who counsel’s Josiah.
- the many mothers of kings named in this book
This entire book is about how everything went down hill after David. There were a few “not so bad” times when Solomon was still behaving and basking in his wisdom and when a few others were following God but not in a leadership type fashion. It’s pretty much a decline. This is the book where Elijah and Elisha come on the scene, which are familiar names, but I’m sure they have more great deeds than just what’s mentioned here.
In the second book there are some lessons learned. Following God’s command to the letter will yield good results for whatever your endeavor is, but this appears to be dependent on having personally received, through an actual prophet, the orders from God. This is different from the general idea that is espoused in modern times, at least by many Christians, that if you follow God your life will be what you think is perfect for you. You don’t have to be one of God’s people for Him to see fit to heal you, see Naaman and the Shunammite woman above. As with rewards, punishment doesn’t come right away with God, but it does come. Promises made to one king are carried through but if he deviates, other consequences do happen, sometimes to his children instead.
The first book had a lack of women doing stuff but some were present. For those who were mentioned, they were doing different things that what might give a bigger picture as to the wisdom and activities of the women of the time. There were several queens who were known for differing reasons, a poor widow who helped a prophet in hiding, and a young girl whose sole job was to keep the king warm. This is not the “wife in kitchen” narrative that some want us to believe was the only thing women of the time did.
In the second book, however, there are several women mentioned and they all play different kinds of roles again. Well, the queen mother’s appear to play the same role, except Athaliah. Some are victims and some are the perpetrators of crimes. They may be sparsely mentioned among the kings, but they are there and many are ordinary women who have stories that are worth being told, no matter how gruesome in some cases. I found it interesting that Shallum and Josiah don’t get more attention in storytelling at church. She is among the few female prophets and he was a more faithful king than David.
The second book also gives the impression that the kings each had multiple wives. That’s part of what I get from the need to name the mothers of the new kings as well as Athaliah killing off so much of the family after her own son dies. Having multiple wives seems like the thing to do during this time in Israel and Judah. It’s a difficult issue to talk about in this context though. It’s so normalized in discussions about the Bible and the Old Testament but that doesn’t make it good. It’s not God’s main problem with all the kings in this book or the one before it, but that doesn’t make it good either.
Not surprisingly, the Old Testament books that I’ve read so far have lots of rules and lots of people breaking them all the time but the main cause for God’s anger with the people as a whole or individuals is their breaking away from Him. Sometimes this is made obvious through their deeds, but most of the time it is explained through the worship of other gods and objects. This makes it difficult to make the stance that God cares about what we do amongst ourselves or to each other in the same way. It makes it difficult to make a stance on how God feels about violence against women, rape, sexual assault or anything else not specifically addressed as part of turning away from Him. At the same time, the old laws should still stand and they were not the most women-friendly laws to begin with.
So I ended this book with the feeling that women weren’t all that involved, though they were present the whole time. There were not that many prophets mentioned in this book by name, but one was a woman. We were definitely involved. One of the kings was actually a queen. We were definitely involved and we were definitely there. We just weren’t as central to what was going on perhaps due to this being a strongly patriarchal society. Still, some got through. Some made a name for themselves in their own right. At the same time, it is also pointed out that the way they lived did not make God happy and that they achieved varying levels of wickedness. Was their extreme in patriarchy a part of that? If so, God being against it would be part of their eventual downfall. Unfortunately, the queens mentioned don’t go a long way to helping out the idea that women had any more virtue than men during this time, which is it’s own sort of equality.
On a separate note, I find it interesting that we forget about the Old Testament when we talk about women in the Bible. Well, that we only remember a few and not the plethora of diverse personalities that we find here. I’ve seen it asked at church whether you are a Martha or a Mary, but why would it not be just as interesting a question to ask if you are an Athaliah or a Jehosheba?
I get how these two questions may appear like pitting women against each other, and I’ve seen it done that way, but I’ve also seen it done to prompt introspection. With Martha and Mary it’s about whether or not you want to do the work that makes the world run or the work that sets it on a new course. In an ideal world, we’d all have time and energy for both because both are important. For Athaliah and Jehosheba, it would be questioning who you aim to serve. Do you serve yourself or your family? Surely, there is a happy medium somewhere, like the Shunnamite woman who appears to simply serve who she can in the best way she can whenever she can but isn’t afraid to go out and bring that prophet back when her son is dying.
This book had an interesting set of women, and I know they won’t be the last.