Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Of shepherds and kings

For the last four months, I have had fun studying the word "kingdom" and the passages in which it appears. On Tuesday morning, I have met with some "nice guys" to study Kingdom in Context. At first there were only two others signed up for the study. When Lisa saw the short list, she laughed and said, "Those two nice guys - and you." One more joined us and now there are three nice guys - and me. When I told them about Lisa's assessment, they replied very politely that they had been called worse.

Now we are about to take a break for a few weeks after we wrap up the books Genesis through Deuteronomy. Sometime in August, we will begin again in 1 Samuel. Because we are closing a chapter so to speak, I am reflecting upon what I have learned. There are only a few references to the word, "kingdom," in Genesis through Deuteronomy. We have added a few more references than are found in English translations by including the occurrence of basileia and basileios from the Septuagint. Yes, those words are Greek to me, too.

Did you realize that Babel, in Genesis 10 and 11, is the same city as Babylon? Babylon then is the first kingdom of men recorded in Scripture. Babylon is also the last kingdom of men recorded in Scripture (Revelation 18). Guys, when we finally study Revelation 18, we will want to remember Genesis 10.

Did you know that the Bible refers to Egypt as a kingdom only once? Pharaoh, with his army, drowned in the Red Sea without a single mention regarding the greatness of his kingdom. The one reference to Egypt as a kingdom comes in Ezekiel when God says,

I will turn the fortunes of Egypt and make them return to the land of Pathros, to the land of their origin, and there they will be a lowly kingdom. It will be the lowest of the kingdoms, and it will never again lift itself up above the nations. And I will make them so small that they will not rule over the nations. Ezekiel 29:14, 15 (NASB)

I found these to be interesting facts. My explanation for Babylon being the first kingdom and Egypt barely rating a mention is simply this: Babylon represents the world system. It began when Nimrod rebelled against God, and it will continue until Christ vanquishes rebellion at his coming. Egypt, in Scripture, does not represent the world system so much as it represents man's bondage to sin. Scripture often calls Egypt the "land of Egypt" but never the "kingdom of Egypt." This is worthy of further research and meditation.

There are other interesting facts that we have not yet studied. For instance, missing from the Bible are popular euphemisms such as "kingdom of Satan", "kingdom of darkness", and "prince of darkness." If you find them in your Bible, buy a better translation. Why are they "missing" from Scripture but present in our liturgy? We shall need to look into this.

I have much to look forward to in coming months as I study Kingdom in Context, but looking back even from this early vantage, I see that an amazing pattern has emerged. God raises up shepherds to slaughter kings. Abraham and 318 of his men pursued the progeny of Nimrod who had taken Lot captive. Abraham divided his men and attacked by night. Hebrews 7:1 tells us that Abraham slaughtered the kings. Abraham then tithed the spoils of battle to Melchizedek who said,

Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.

Abraham's strategy alone was not sufficient to conquer kings, but God delivered them to Abraham, and Lot was rescued. Better to be a shepherd than a king.

Moses tended his father-in-law's flocks in Midian for forty years before confronting Pharaoh with God's power. Moses', the shepherd, stretched his staff out across the water and God sent a strong east wind and parted the sea. Israel walked across on dry ground. When Pharaoh's army pursued Israel, the water collapsed upon them and overwhelmed their chariots. Better to walk with a shepherd than to ride with a king.

The tribes of Reuben and Gad were very proficient shepherds. Moses writes, "Now the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad had an exceedingly large number of livestock." (Numbers 32:1 NASB) All of Israel had livestock, but Reuben and Gad excelled at raising cattle and sheep. To accommodate Reuben and Gad, Moses gave them the kingdoms of Sihon and Og. These kings had marched to war against Israel even though Israel merely asked to pass through the Sihon's territory. Their kingdoms were not part of Israel's Promised Land, but because they made war against Israel and against God, shepherds took possession of their kingdoms. Better to be a shepherd among God's people than to be a king against them.

Later in the study, we will see that God chose David, a shepherd, to be king of Israel. We will learn Saul lost his kingdom to a shepherd because of his pride and sin. Better to be a shepherd with a slingshot and God than to be a king with an mighty army but without God.

Still, the greatest shepherd of all is also the King of kings and Lord of lords. God established the pattern showing that he prefers shepherds to kings. He demonstrated that he exalts the humble while he throws down the mighty. Jesus, the Creator of all (John 1:1, Hebrews 1:2), came to earth in all humility. He was king of the Jews, but he was born in a manger. The angels announced Jesus' birth to shepherds, while the Magi (foreigners) inquired of Herod, "Where is he who was born king of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2). Jesus came to earth in such humility that he died in our place. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11 NASB)

Micah 5 contains a famous prophecy about Bethlehem in Judah becoming the birthplace of the Christ, the ruler of Israel. Do we remember that Micah prophesies that the Christ will be a shepherd? Micah writes,

He will arise and shepherd His flock
In the strength of the LORD,
In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God.
And they will remain,
Because at that time He will be great
To the ends of the earth.
This One will be our peace.

Micah says even more, he remembers Nimrod and the first kingdom of men, and he writes, "[He] will shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod at its entrances." The Shepherd will be exalted. John writes in Revelation 19,

From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written,

Revelation 19:15, 16 (NASB)

We will all know Jesus as "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS"; it is better to know him first as Shepherd.

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