Good morning! What are we to think when bad things happen to apparently good people? Today in 2 Chronicles 9-12, we conclude a description of Solomon’s reign and then see what comes with his son Rehoboam’s rise to the throne. The Chronicler interprets events theologically, trying to identify the role of God in civil war and defeat. By identifying suffering as God’s will, and as divine punishment for sin, the author opens up the possibility for changing circumstances by changing hearts. The “cause and effect” may work for a theological historian writing after the fact, but I have a harder time accepting this logic to make sense of much suffering today.
The first chapter of this passage is the last chapter of Solomon’s life. We read in great detail about two emphases of Solomon’s life—his wisdom and his wealth. When the Queen of Sheba visits, she leaves impressed forever with his insights and his possessions. The show of opulence we see described in terms of the palace food, officials, servants, clothing and offerings all point implicitly to the righteousness of the office-holder. Despite his loud, public proclamation and prayer of humility before the temple’s consecration, Solomon believes in what we now call the “prosperity gospel”. Righteous people grow wealthy, and therefore displaying one’s prosperity communicates one’s holiness as well. Solomon didn’t have private jets and fancy cars to show off, but he makes the temple and palace almost gaudy with gold, and then the spectacle of exotic animals and other riches. While no doubt many were impressed with his flashy riches and winning ways —remember how temporary Solomon’s wealth is. It’s easy to benefit from plum times and to make a show of righteousness, but does he actually follow God’s ways and set the example for others? We don’t read about it here (since the Chronicler is less interested in personal matters), but elsewhere we’ve read about Solomon’s weaknesses for women and idols. Would that he had instead put energy into training his children in the righteousness and wisdom he professed. What comes next after his death might have gone very differently.
2 Chronicles 10-11 describe the transition to Solomon’s son Rehoboam—rocky, to say the least. We don’t get the back story here of Jeroboam son of Nebat’s attempted rebellion against Solomon (over the harsh treatment of workers) and flight to Egypt. You likely recall however the confrontation described here that results when Rehoboam decides to double down on harsh treatment. When things go awry, the Chronicler says that it’s “brought about by God”, even the civil war that divides the kingdom. Rehoboam response is to fight but the command of the prophets is to not resist what has come from God. Simply accept it. That’s the dilemma with saying that all things come from God, even the bad ones—by resisting, you are effectively resisting “God’s plan.” Those who work for peace and justice against the violent, unjust status quo do better instead to separate “the way things are” from God’s choice, though it means accepting that sometimes God’s will is not done.
Despite having a truncated realm, Rehoboam is still able to provide for his family. The loyalty of priests, Levites and God-followers from elsewhere in Israel helps to maintain his relevance and status. However, after a few years the king moves away from loyalty to God. The narrator suggests that this lapse is why King Shishak of Egypt is successful in besieging Jerusalem. Here’s another way of responding to calamity—look for what caused it, and blame appropriately. Rather than simply accepting anything that happens as God’s plan, this gives the guilty a chance to change their circumstances by amending their ways before it’s too late. Following that logic, Rehoboam and his officials repent of their disloyalty to God, and are given a partial reprieve from Shishak’s invading forces. The Egyptians do take all the wealth of temple and palace that was accrued by Solomon’s father. For the rest of Rehoboam’s life, he had to oversee the barrenness left in Jerusalem and perpetual fighting with northern Israel, grieving his lapses of judgment. We’ll find other answers to the question of why bad things happen to supposedly righteous people as we continue through the Bible. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 2 Chronicles 13-16. Thanks for reading!