God is the Ultimate Kingmaker

In the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah, Elah the son of Baasha began to reign over Israel in Tirzah, and he reigned two years. But his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him. When he was at Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was over the household in Tirzah, 10 Zimri came in and struck him down and killed him, in the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned in his place.

11 When he began to reign, as soon as he had seated himself on his throne, he struck down all the house of Baasha. He did not leave him a single male of his relatives or his friends. 12 Thus Zimri destroyed all the house of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke against Baasha by Jehu the prophet, 13 for all the sins of Baasha and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned and which they made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger with their idols. 14 Now the rest of the acts of Elah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 1 Kings 16:8-14 ESV

Being the heir to a king in Israel could be a dangerous occupation, particularly if your father was under judgment from God. There was Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, who was assassinated in the second year of his reign. Baasha, his murderer, took his place on the throne of Israel. And Baasha secured his kingdom by having the entire extended family of Jeroboam executed. That way there would be no heirs to try and reclaim the throne.

Twenty-four years later, Baasha’s son, Elah ascended to the throne after his father’s death. But he too would enjoy a reign of only two years before being assassinated by Zimri, one of his own military officers. And Zimri also took drastic measures to protect his newfound power and position.

Zimri immediately killed the entire royal family of Baasha, leaving him not even a single male child. – 1 Kings 16:11 NLT

Both Jeroboam and Baasha were under the judgment of God. In Jeroboam’s case, God had placed his entire lineage under a curse because he had led the northern tribes of Israel to worship false gods.

“You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made other gods for yourself and have made me furious with your gold calves. And since you have turned your back on me, I will bring disaster on your dynasty and will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. I will burn up your royal dynasty as one burns up trash until it is all gone.” – 1 Kings 14:9-10 NLT

And though Baasha was not a descendant of Jeroboam, he would find himself under a similar curse because he had chosen to follow Jeroboam’s example.

“I lifted you out of the dust to make you ruler of my people Israel, but you have followed the evil example of Jeroboam. You have provoked my anger by causing my people Israel to sin. So now I will destroy you and your family, just as I destroyed the descendants of Jeroboam son of Nebat. The members of Baasha’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures.” – 1 Kings 16:2-4 NLT

These two men had been elevated by God from obscurity to places of power and great influence. But rather than respond to God in gratitude and reverence, they let their success go to their heads. They lost sight of the fact that they had been placed on the throne by God and it was He who deserved their honor, worship, and faithfulness. It was the prophet, Daniel, who told King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, “Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings” (Daniel 2:20-21 NLT). And the psalmist, Asaph,  added, “it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Psalm 75:7 ESV).

Power is intoxicating. It has a highly attractive quality to it that, once tasted, can become addictive and habit forming. As has been made abundantly clear, the position of king was highly coveted in Israel. Since Jeroboam, a relative nobody had been able to enjoy his 15-minutes of fame and fortune, everyone believed the position was open to anyone with enough drive and ambition to take it. Baasha had deemed himself a far better candidate than Nadab, so he took matters into his hands, eliminated the competition, and crowned himself king. But in doing so, he failed to realize that he was nothing more than an instrument in the hand of God. The Almighty had used him to bring judgment against the house of Jeroboam. And God would have used Baasha if he had recognized the hand of God in his life and given Him the glory and honor He so richly deserved. But Baasha became blinded by his own glory.

The history of the kings of Judah and Israel has come a long way since the day when Solomon asked God for “an understanding mind” (1 Kings 3:9 ESV). As the newly crowned king of the still united nation of Israel, Solomon was aware of his shortcomings. He knew he was young and ill-prepared to rule over the vast kingdom his father had built. And, faced with the formidable task of following in his father’s footsteps, Solomon had sought the assistance of God.

“I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:7-9 NLT

Notice that Solomon understood that the people of Israel were God’s chosen people, not his. He was simply a figurehead, serving on behalf of God and by the sovereign will of God. At this early stage of his reign, Solomon seems quite aware of his place on the depth chart. He has no delusions of grandeur or shows no signs of an overinflated sense of self-worth. He is humble, submissive, and fully aware of his need for God’s help. But over his four-decades-long reign, Solomon would grow increasingly more self-reliant and obsessed with the trappings of power and success. He began to seek fulfillment and satisfaction in all the wrong places and, ultimately, he was forced to confess that his quest had left him unfulfilled and dissatisfied.

I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 NLT

In essence, Solomon had become an idol-factory. He manufactured all kinds of substitutes for God, hoping to discover meaning and purpose for his life. In the early days of his reign, he had turned to God. But as the years progressed, he began to seek help and hope in all the wrong places.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! – Ecclesiastes 2:4-8 NLT

He had it all, but he had nothing. Surrounded by all the trappings of success, Solomon found himself empty and trapped in an existential maze with no hope of finding the exit. He was lost. Yet the answer to his problem was all around him. It was God who had given him wisdom and wealth. His fame and fortune were the handiwork of God. But Solomon had begun to read his own press clippings and assumed that his greatness was his own doing. He lost sight of God, and that ultimately led him to seek help from his menagerie of false gods. That decision would have long-lasting ramifications, resulting in the division of his kingdom and the rise of men like Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Nadab, Abijah, Baasha, and Zimri.

The pattern established by Solomon continued for generations to come. Each successive king seemed to lose sight of his calling and, in time, lost touch with his God. They each became guilty of making substitutes for God, a fact that the author 1 Kings makes painfully clear.

So Zimri destroyed the dynasty of Baasha as the Lord had promised through the prophet Jehu. This happened because of all the sins Baasha and his son Elah had committed, and because of the sins they led Israel to commit. They provoked the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, with their worthless idols. – 1 Kings 16:12-13 NLT

Late in his life, long after his meaningless quest for significance had left him empty-handed, Solomon came to a painful, yet important epiphany.

Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him? God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him. But if a sinner becomes wealthy, God takes the wealth away and gives it to those who please him. This, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 NLT

He had allowed God to become obscured by the pleasures and trappings of success. He had spent his entire life pursuing wealth, treasures, fame, and influence. But in doing so, he had turned His back on the very one who had made it all possible. It was God who had placed Solomon on the throne. It was God who had blessed Solomon with wisdom and wealth. And it was God who would take it all away and give it to someone else. Now, years later, the pattern continues to repeat itself, providing further proof of the validity of Asaph’s words: “it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson