Good morning! An argument of biblical interpretation can be made, with some textual evidence, for the evolution of God’s character throughout the Bible. Early on, God seems unpredictable and irrational, launching an attack at Moses or hardening Pharaoh’s heart against granting what God asks. The mystery of God’s will is the main explanation for whether things go well or not. But by the time of the divided kingdoms, biblical writers seem to have a stronger sense of God as always good and human beings as more inexplicable. Thus, human misbehavior is the cause of misfortune, not God’s capricious nature. We see this in the Chronicler’s theology today in 2 Chronicles 13-16, where success and failure in Judah—especially in battle—depends solely on faith in God.
We see success and God’s favor with the kings of Judah in the first three chapters. Abijah in chapter 13 is outnumbered by Jeroboam, but his rebuking speech at Jeroboam proclaims loyalty to God rather than to golden calf idols. For this reason, we read in verse 18, “the people of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord, the God of their ancestors.” A similar narrative happens in chapter 14 with Abijah’s heir Asa, whose efforts to counter devotion to other gods win him favor in God’s eyes. Facing an overpowering Ethiopian force, Asa prays to God as Abijah did, and the result is the same: victory for Judah. Azariah the prophet at the beginning of chapter 15 puts the understanding of God here in its clearest form: loyalty to or neglect of God will earn the same in return from God. King Asa takes encouragement from this, and shows zealous devotion by leading temple repairs, idol destruction, and recommitment ceremonies to God. Seeking the Lord “with their whole desire” results in finding God and longstanding peace. Proper devotion results in a harmonious, stable, bountiful society.
We see the other side of the coin in 2 Chronicles 16. Israel’s forces build a barricade against Judah, and Asa forgets the faithfulness of God, seeking instead to arrange for his own salvation. Silver and gold “from the treasures of the house of the Lord” and the palace are used to buy the favor of king in Damascus. This is high treason against God, with both heart and treasure. It works out well for Asa in the near term when Israel’s forces have to retreat, but Asa hears divine judgment from Hanani because he trusted in his own strength rather than that of God. He imprisons the prophetic messenger of God and treats some of the people with cruelty besides—signs that he’s no longer the man he once was. As a result, the writer suggests that God’s favor has left him on his own, symbolized by the foot disease that ultimately claims his life. Asa doesn’t seek help from God even in his worst suffering. In the theology of the Chronicler, Asa’s medical and military problems are of his own making, and he deserves what he gets because he was not able to stay the course with his former faithfulness.
This theology of God resembles using an ATM: put in the right code and you can get back what you want, guaranteed. Surely this is better than assuming that God is inexplicable, guided by no discernable moral compass. But there are also problems with assuming that righteous behavior will bring out blessings, as the book of Job tries to point out. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of time in the pages ahead for other images of God to develop. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 2 Chronicles 17-20. Thanks for reading!