The Law of Divine Succession

tornado
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/villamon/5078997859/">Vicente Villamón</a>

2 Kings 2:1-12

When God was ready to transport Elijah to heaven in a tornado, Elijah and Elisha were leaving the Circle of Stones. Elijah said to Elisha, “You stay here. God’s calling me to God’s house.”

But Elisha said, “God help me if I ever leave your side as long as you live.”

So off they went, down toward God’s house. The truth-tellers from God’s house came up to meet them, and said to Elisha, “Do you know that today is the day God is going to take Elijah away from you?”

Elisha said, “Yes, I know. You don’t need to tell me.”

Elijah said to him, “Stay here. God is calling me to Palm City.”

But Elisha said, “God help me if I ever leave your side as long as you live.”

So, on they went, and fifty of the truth-tellers went along with them, following at a distance. When they reached the Jordan River, Elijah rolled up his cape and struck the water. The water parted, as if in a pile on both sides, and they crossed over on dry ground.

Once they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “What do you want me to do for you before I am taken away from you?”

Elisha said, “Let me inherit your spirit, only twice as much.”

You’ve asked for a hard thing,” Elijah said. “But if you see me as I am taken from you, it will be so. Otherwise, not.”

They continued to walk along, deep in conversation, and as they walked a fire in the shape of a chariot and horses separated them, and a tornado came and swept Elijah away into heaven. Elisha watched the whole thing, crying, “Father, the chariots and charioteers of Israel! Father!”

Then, when it was over and Elijah gone from sight, Elisha took hold of his clothes and tore them in two.

A great prophet gets swept away by a tornado and another even greater prophet takes his place. It’s a story of succession, complete with fifty eyewitnesses to vouch for the new leader of the movement.

The prophets were, and still are, a resistance movement. They were and are the ones who dare to tell the people in power what they don’t want to hear. As such, the lines of succession don’t follow the same patterns as the politics and economics the movement stands against.

In spite of all Elijah’s miracles, Elijah never had any politically actionable power. Kings came and went with all the dynastic intrigue and politics that goes along with rulers of nations. Kings and political rulers rise and fall with assassinations and plots and coups. Economic power flowed (and still flows) along family lines.

The leadership of the opposition movement that stands against those in power and wealth, goes to the one who understands the spirit of the movement. When one truth-teller is swept away in the whirlwind of events, there is no telling where the next one will arise. There is only the certainty that one will. Conversely, you can be pretty sure that a movement has devolved into a political party when its leadership is determined by dynastic considerations, or even (gasp!) votes.

Ockham’s Razor and the Bible

motorcade
Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tjc/413204218/">Timothy J</a>

2 Kings 5:1-14

¬†General commander of the Aramean army, Naaman, was the king’s favorite, because God had won the war for Aram. But, even though he was a great soldier, he was a leper.

As it happened on one of their raids against Israel, the Arameans had captured a girl who had become Naaman’s wife’s slave girl. She said to her mistress, “If my master went to the truth-teller in Samaria, he would cure his leprosy.”

So Naaman went to the king and told him what the girl had said. The king said, “Go, and I’ll send this letter with you for the king of Israel.” So Naaman went, with the letter to Israel’s king and besides that took ten bars of gold, six thousand gold doubloons, and ten changes of clothes. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, who read:

This letter is my order that you must cure my general, Naaman, of his leprosy.

When Israel’s king heard this, he tore his clothes, saying, “He’s trying to start a war with me. How am I supposed to cure this man of leprosy? Who does he think I am? God?”

When news of the king’s exasperation reached Elisha (God’s man), he sent a message to the king, saying, “Why are you so upset? Send him to me. He’ll soon know the truth about Israel.”

So Naaman rode up to Elisha’s house with his motorcade and tanks. Elisha sent a messenger out to tell him, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times and you’ll be fine.”

Enraged, Naaman went away saying, “I was expecting him to come out and save his hand over the spot and say some magic words about God. That would have cured me. I’ve got better rivers back home in Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, just to name two. I could have washed in those and been better off than going to that muddy trickle of the Jordan.”

But his advisers said, “Sir, if the truth-teller had asked you to do something difficult, you’d have done it. Why not give washing in the Jordan a try, since it’s so easy.” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan River seven times, and sure enough, his skin was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

Ockham’s razor is the principle that, all other things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones. In other words, if you have a spot, wash it a few times and it will probably come off. More often than not, the simplest way forward is the best. It doesn’t matter how highfalutin you are. Simple wins every time.

That’s a lesson enough in itself.

The point of this story, though, isn’t about simplicity. It’s about humility. In the opening line, Naaman is introduced as being highfalutin and successful, not because he’s so great, but because God had handed him his successes. Elisha’s message to the king was, send him to me and I’ll take him down a peg. Sending a messenger out was about humiliation, and Naaman understood the “I’m not at all impressed with your importance” message clearly.

The time we spend worrying about our reputations is wasted time. Our accomplishments are often not nearly as much ours as we give ourselves credit for. Even the best of us stand on the shoulders of the greats who came before. And just because you worked hard doesn’t mean you deserve your wealth and fame any more than the next person. If it did, there would be no such thing as the working poor.

Not many of us are as rich or famous as Naaman, but we can still remember that what we have and are able to accomplish is owing to something greater than ourselves. Call it Elisha’s razor.

Empires Come and Go

Fall of Jerusalem2 Kings 25:8-12

On August 14, 586 B.C.E (which was the 19th year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon), Nebuzaradan, the commander of the king’s crack troops came to Jerusalem. He burned the temple, the palace, and the rest of the city. He burned the whole thing to the ground. And the whole army tore down the walls around the city. General Nebuzaradan took everyone who was left away into exile. Even the turncoats who had supported Babylon were taken. The only people left were the poorest of the poor, the nobodies. They were left to work the vineyards and farms.

Here’s the real-life story behind Jesus’ so-called parable of the evil vineyard tenants.

The thing to remember about empires is that as powerful as they are, and as many people as they affect. They’re built solely on hubris. Advancing technology, economic theory, not even God, has ever saved a single one of them.

The empire surrounding Jerusalem falls to Babylon.
Which falls to Persia.
Which falls to Medea.
Which falls to Greece.
Which falls to Rome.
Which falls to the Goths.
Which falls to Charlemagne.
Which falls to Spain.
Which falls to France.
Which falls to England.
Which falls to America.
Which falls to …

You get the picture. Hubris.

Lesson? Don’t bother to build an empire. And certainly don’t expect God to bless, or save, your empire. Better to find a way to help all the people who are falling off the imperial wall.