The Folly of Man

In my journey through the Bible this year, I have recently found myself in the books of Kings, and it has not been pretty. Such seemingly relentless violence, depravity, idolatry, rebellion, and apostasy propagated by the kings of Israel and Judah! It has left me asking Holy Spirit why some of these stories are included in his Book.

I call this horrific history of the Jewish people “seemingly relentless” because there are a few notable exceptions among the kings of Judah.  I’ve titled this blog “The Folly of Man” because my study has shown me that even when leaders acted righteously and honorably, when their lives and reigns were largely pleasing to the Lord, they were quite flawed and their influence was fleeting. The next generation typically reverted to the same depraved apostasy and rampant idolatry of their forbears.

Folly, as defined by Merriam Webster, is a “lack of good sense or normal prudence and foresight…criminally or tragically foolish actions or conduct…lewd behavior…a foolish act or idea.” In biblical context, it is foolishness that leads to futility and ultimate destruction. As Paul describes it, “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Cor 1:25). This is obviously a figure of speech, because there is no foolishness in God. But it’s a way of saying that if God could have a “foolish” thought, it would still be infinitely more brilliant than the brightest thing humans could come up with. Thankfully, we do have some role models of men and women in the Bible who cared deeply about discovering and applying God’s wisdom.

Let’s look at Hezekiah, an especially interesting example amongst the kings of Judah. He started out very well! Scripture nearly gushes about him:

“He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it…Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.  He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.  And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook” (2 Kings 18:3-7).

In spite of Hezekiah’s godliness, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, began to stir up trouble. Like politicians and propagandists do so craftily today, this foreign intruder tried to undermine Hezekiah’s credibility and authority in the minds of his own Hebrew subjects. He told them not to trust their king when he insisted that they could stand firm and defend their nation against the aggressive Assyrians. Hezekiah’s response to Sennacherib’s threats was mourning in sackcloth, humility, and earnest prayer for God’s intervention. He declared back to Yahweh the history of his covenantal protection and provision. He pleaded for God’s help so that “all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God” (19:19).

The Lord responded miraculously, of course, as he always does when he sees true humility. The Jews didn’t even have to raise a weapon. The next morning 180,000 enemy combatants were dead on the ground, and Sennacherib was promptly murdered by his own sons while worshiping his pagan god. What better illustrates the folly of man than this tragic waste of human life and energy?

Sadly, Hezekiah became more and more selfish and boastful as his power and wealth was secured. When he died, his son Manasseh took the throne. In contrast to Hezekiah, he was an exceedingly wicked ruler from the start. He rebuilt the pagan altars his father had destroyed, and reinstituted the detestable Baal and Asherah worship Hezekiah had finally eradicated. Alas, more folly.

Two more generations of wicked kings passed until the reign of Josiah, who again established righteousness and justice in the land. An important distinction was that he also established the primacy of the ancient Scriptures, which had been discovered and pulled from the temple of the Lord. The priests and prophets taught the people the word and will of God. And this is where I bring this to a close:

The Scripture records about Josiah, “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses” (2 Kings 23:25).

The only real and lasting remedy for the folly of man is the wisdom of God. And this is to be found in his laws and covenants, his prophets, his poetry and proverbs, his narratives and histories, his gospels, and his apostolic letters. Mostly, in the unsurpassed teachings of Jesus Christ, the only perfectly wise God-man who ever graced this earth.

This is our only blessed hope.

I pray wisdom, revelation, and blessing to all. Lord, deliver us from folly.

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