The Book of Kings is a train wreck of a story. While the first number of chapters relate the building of the temple and Solomon’s wisdom and glory, they always have a bit of an ominous silence in the background. We know what’s coming. We know Solomon is going down. We know his wives will lead him into idolatry, and then it’s all downhill from there. King after king after king, doing evil in the sight of the Lord, leading Israel in idolatrous worship, bowing to shrines, making alliances with foreign powers, just like his father before him, like his father before him.
Peter Leithart has pointed out that part of the pastoral theology of the book of Kings is the nearly unbearable patience of God. By half-way through the book, we are about as desperate and depressed as Elijah. How is there anyone left who fears the Lord? If there is anyone left, the king is probably trying to kill them. The book of Kings is a painfully careful narrative of the nation of Israel circling the drain, round and round and round. And it’s pretty tempting to just get fed up with how patient God is with His people. Sure, He gets angry. Sure, He brings calamities and trials, but again and again God spares Jerusalem. And again and again, His people don’t get it.
But this means that one of the central themes of the book is God’s commitment to His own promises concerning His people. They may be wicked, they may be wayward, they may be worshiping other gods, but Yahweh is undeterred. The Lord God of Israel is steadfast, unmoved, unshaken. He does grow weary of their sin, and He will ultimately cast them off into exile. But He does not cast them off in order to get rid of them. God does not destroy Jerusalem and the temple in order shed the ugly, harlot nation. He sends her into exile to purify her. He sends her into exile and actually goes with her into exile.
The Elijah complex may be tempting for some, but I would think that the message of Kings is ultimately good news for most. What is your story? What does your life look like? Does your story seem hopeless? Have you failed repeatedly? Then Kings is for you. You need a God like the God of Israel, a God who is steadfast in His mercy and loving kindness. You need a God of grace. You need a God who is not deterred by your sexual sin, by your idolatry and greed, who is not put off by your ugly past, a God who is so committed to you that He will go with you into the dark of exile, into the dark of prison, into the dark of rejection, into the dark of loneliness, into the dark of death. And not only will He go with you there, He will go with you there in order to bring you back out into the light.
This is the God who came for us in Jesus Christ. This is the gospel of Epiphany. The gospel proclamation that God is Light and in Him there is no darkness at all. And yet that Light has come into the world, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Kings paints the story of human failure, human rot in all of its bleak, fatalistic darkness. But there is a God behind the story and in the story, a God of Light who refuses to leave the story, who refuses to let the darkness stay dark.