Saturday 4 July 2009

Walter Brueggemann on 1 and 2 Kings

Walter Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary 8 (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 645pp., ISBN 1573120650.

The publishers provide a pdf sample of this commentary, which includes a helpful five-page introduction.

1 and 2 Kings is ‘royal history’, tracing the ups and downs of kingship from the death of David to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Brueggemann notes that the narrative does not purport to be a full account of ‘factual data’, not least since it directs readers to other sources for further information (e.g., 1 Kings 15:7; 16:20). It is an ‘interpretive commentary… a “theology of history,” an attempt to understand the vagaries of lived public experience… with particular reference to Yahweh’ (2).

Brueggemann highlights four reference points by which to understand this theological interpretation (the one-word summary headings are mine).

1. Jerusalem
‘The defining “fact” is that, in the end, the Holy City of Jerusalem was destroyed by an assault of the Babylonian armies’ (2), with Babylon acting as the Lord’s agents.

2. Temple
‘The defining “fact” of the destruction of Jerusalem reminds us that the subject of this long narrative is finally Jerusalem, the people, the government, and the God who abides there’, plus the temple, ‘the core symbol of the city’s holiness’ (2), to which much of the narrative is devoted.

3. Torah
‘It is unmistakably evident, however, that the temple is a penultimate agenda for the narrator, for in the end, it is Torah that primarily occupies the interpretive energy of the narrative’, with 1 and 2 Kings being ‘a Torah-focused assessment of the royal history’ (3). The books begins with David charging Solomon to keep the Torah (1 Kings 2:2-4; cf. 11:1-11) and ends with Josiah, ‘the quintessential Torah-keper’ (2 Kings 23:25). Torah-obedience rather than power is the measure of prosperity or trouble.

4. Prophets
‘In close connection to the Torah, this narrative account of royal history allots huge amounts of space to the prophets who are seen to be advocates of Torah requirements’ (3), including Ahijah (1 Kings 11:31-34), an unnamed ‘man of God’ (1 Kings 13), Isaiah (2 Kings 19:20-34), Elijah, Micaiah, and Elisha.

‘All of this means that the reader of these books must not expect too much “royal history,” but can watch as royal history is variously enhanced by the temple, critiqued by the prophets, and judged by the Torah. The clue to the whole is that Yahweh is the definitive actor in the public life of Israel’ (4).

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