I was raised in a sports family, and of the teams we followed most, The Lakers were tops. I often associated the end of a school year with the basketball playoffs, in fact. As a family, we would visit our friends’ houses for BBQs and a group viewing party of the games. I have quite fond memories of the early-80s rivalry with the Celtics and then the mid-to-late 80s rivalry with the Pistons. I wasn’t that good at basketball (I’d only played pick-up games at school or shot HORSE at recess—I was a little leaguer), but I had learned by watching games with my brother and father (and other males of our close families) about what made for a good player and what made for a good game.
If you watch enough basketball (or any sport, actually), you can tell when the game is slipping away, and when a championship is on the line, it can be downright sad. You almost knew when it was going to happen, too. Magic would have had an off series or Kareem wasn’t playing up to his own standard; or maybe the team wasn’t playing with their usually chemistry. Or maybe, they were simply outmatched and being outplayed. In any event, you could just feel the end coming, and when the final buzzer sounded and the opposing team’s crowd exploded in celebration it made you mad: that should have been us. How’d we let them beat us?
The Israelites sins had been building for generations—they had bad rulers, they’d turned their backs on God, they’d constructed high places and altars to different gods, and, in general, they’d simply strayed from the path which God laid out for them (and had so often struggled to shepherd them back to). They’d been given one too many chances, and God was done.
This is about as frustrating to watch as a skilled team who continues to turn the ball over at crucial moments of a game.
Out of all the sins God has allowed to pass within Israel and Judah, the breaking point involves the final insult of Manasseah: succeeding Hezekiah, he rebuilds the altars his father worked so hard to destroy (21:3). He also sacrifices his son (21:6) and shed far too much innocent blood (21:16). And when you think about how much blood has been shed in the Old Testament thus far, this is saying something.
So, out of all the momentous moments discussed in 2 Kings, the biggest one is this: Jerusalem falls, and its people carried off to captivity in Babylon (25:4). They had been involved in several battles and they came up short when it counted most.
God waits, of course, until several rulers have come and gone to allow this to happen. After Josiah arrives to renew the covenant with God, it’s too little, too late. Too much damage has been done and not enough effort expended at the right moments to make a difference. Under the rule of evil king Jehoiakim, Judah is conquered by the Babylonian king. There’s no praying the Israelites out of this one. God’s temple is burned and its treasured stolen (25:9).
This momentous event is given little development, as if it’s an aside and not the event that was responsible for the loss of the Ark.
Since the Bible is long, you know the Israelites will find a way out of their captivity (everything works in cycles in the Old Testament). But in the moment, hope is gone.
I pictured the people being led away, looking as sullen as the players on a losing team’s bench. And like at the end of a basketball finals series when I’d watch the winning team celebrating amidst confetti on the court, I couldn’t yet think about next season, about the changes my team could make, the ways they could rededicate themselves and rebuild. No, in the moment, all I could feel was the loss amidst the quiet of the other people with which I had been watching the game.
Next up: 1 Chronicles. Every time I hear this title I think of Rush’s Greatest Hits. Perhaps this is fitting, for this band s finally being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.