Prophets and Kings: Restoring Correct Worship
While Israel is given so many gifts, as Adam and Eve were, the presence of sin constantly threatens to master Israel. After the death of Joshua, the successor of Moses who actually led Israel into the promised land, the children of Israel fail to fully take the land promised to them and fall back into habits of idolatry. God raises up judges to lead and guide his people, especially in their battles with the various tribes left in the land. At the end of this period Israel is left to do whatever is seen as right in each person’s eyes (Judg 21:25). Chaos and violence reigns. Not only has Israel fallen into disarray but the priesthood has also fallen into disrepute. The sons of Eli sin against God and Israel in such a way as to nullify the sacrifice of the Lord (1 Kings 2:12–17). Their destruction in battle with the Philistines is also the occasion of the loss of the ark of the covenant (1 Kings 4–7). The sacred worship of Israel, the pattern as revealed to Moses, has been desecrated by her priests.
It is the failure of the priests of God which occasions the calling of Samuel, one chosen by God to serve in the tabernacle, act as a prophet seer, and to even lead Israel in battle. Samuel stands as a transitional figure from a broken and unfaithful Israel who, winnowed by the consequences of her sins, is brought into a renewed relationship with God. Unfortunately Israel desires a king, something given guidelines by Moses, which seems to indicate a desire to return to the idolatrous luxury of Egypt where the king multiplies horses, chariots, foreign wives, and gold and silver—all specific avenues of rejecting the boundaries of God. It is not wrong for Israel to have a king per se, as Adam was appointed as a king, but it was at this time seen by God to be a rejection of his rule for the sake of trusting in a human king to fight for Israel against their enemies.1
The appointment of Saul as Israel’s first king goes well at first. However, Saul falters by wrongly offering sacrifice to God and upon being rebuked shifts the blame towards the people (1 Kings 13). Later Saul’s wrath is kindled to a boiling point against his son Jonathan, who acts with courage and faith in God compared to the nit-picky and selfabsorbed path of Saul, coming inches away from imitating Cain (1 Kings 14). And, finally, Saul fails to complete the decree of the Lord to fully destroy Amalek, but instead keeps some of the spoils for himself. Another echo of Cain in his failure to rightly sacrifice (1 Kings 15). After these failures “God’s spirit leaves him, an evil spirit torments him, the Lord no longer talks to him, he consults a medium, and finally ends up falling on his own sword.”2 The breakdown of worship leads the way to the absence of the Lord, the introduction of the serpent back into the garden, and to dissolution and death.
David, the shepherd king, is anointed to replace Saul. He stands in many ways as the opposite of Saul. In the places Saul failed, David triumphs, especially poignant is his constant adherence and plea to God for help. When David faces Goliath he faces a man wearing “scale armor,” in other words, dressed like a snake.3 David not only defeats Goliath, but takes his head, an echo of the curse against the snake in the garden. David recaptures the lost ark, conquers Jerusalem, and reorganizes the priesthood. A lasting work of David is the placing of the ark-throne of Israel at Jerusalem. The right worship of God undone by the priests of Israel and further damaged under the leadership of Saul has been restored.
The enthronement of David coincides with a renewal of covenant with Abraham for Israel now specified through the house and throne of David (2 Kgdms 7). David will not build a temple of worship for God, but his house, throne, and Kingdom will be established forever. As soon as all of these blessings flow, sin creeps in and the house of David is divided due to the sins of King David. However, the covenant made with David, the promise of his throne being forever, is upheld throughout the rest of the Old Testament. The renewal of Israel, her final restoration, will come through a descendant of David.
We have found in Moses, Samuel, Saul, and David the great themes of the garden. The revelation of worship to Israel is essential to her return to the paradise once known to Adam and Eve. However, the serpent casts a long shadow throughout the Old Testament. Israel fails to follow the commands of God. She falls into idolatry, chaos and violence erupts, worship is corrupted, houses are divided, and the Lord is forgotten. This pattern repeats itself throughout the life of Israel. The royal house of David stands as a promise and pinnacle but is never reunited. The Temple of God is defamed by the life and practice of the priests of God. The pattern of falling away also explains the constant raising up of prophets. During the dissolution of the united kingdom under Solomon and his sons, God called out Elijah and Elisha. During the captivity and exile of the divided kingdoms Jeremiah and Isaiah were God’s voice to his people. And with the challenges that Israel faced upon her return to the promised land and the attempts to rebuild the Temple and restore her worship God spoke through Ezra and Nehemiah.
While it seems like Eden is ever so distant, the prophets of God maintain that God will be working to restore Israel to her God, that paradise will return, and that He will accomplish this through the house of David. In order to restore Israel and creation to the communion of God, the prophets speak of God’s judgment by referring to the Law God revealed to Moses and the promises made to Abraham and David. It is in calling Israel to repentance that God promises to finally reveal Himself and to provide the great consolation to creation.