Introducing 2 Kings: The Mediascape of Downfall (@byers_andy)

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As we turn the page of the calendar from November to December, we turn the page of Scripture from 1 Kings to 2 Kings here at BIGBible.

What we find is a tragic story of bad media choices.

Back in 1 Samuel we read of Israel’s demand for a king. Reluctantly, God granted their wish… and then King Saul proved a fluke. By appointing David king, God was establishing a divinely approved royal dynasty that would govern his people not by replacing him as the ultimate King, but by exhibiting his divine kingship through David and his heirs.

The Scriptures portray the program of mortal monarchs as a tragic, humiliating failure. Under Rehoboam (Solomon’s son), the kingdom was split violently into Judah in the south and Israel in the north. The “sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat” haunt the account of Israel’s kings. Jeroboam’s decision to erect golden calves and offer an alternative form of YHWH-worship is the seminal event that plunged Israel toward disaster.  And though the line of David continued in Judah, their own eventual downfall was not long after Israel’s. For a sobering overview of this entire saga in biblical history, read 2 Kings 17.

In TheoMedia, I describe this political and religious saga in media terms. The idols to which God’s people bowed were a form of material media. They marked the visual landscape as religious media forms. Though God had called Israel to displace Canaan’s idolatrous media during the years of conquest and promote a new media program of saturating society with the media of God (“TheoMedia”) like Scripture and the Tabernacle, the people of God opted instead for a “mediascape of downfall.

Their media preferences are epitomized in the sad fact that they actually lost the Book of the Law (probably Deuteronomy) in the dust and debris of the Temple. This is from my chapter “The Story of the Great King and the Lost Book”:

There is no such thing as a media vacuum. Media are so intrinsic to society that when some fade away, others emerge. Over time, Israel embraced and constructed an alien mediascape. Back at Sinai, “the LORD said to Moses: ‘Write these words…'” (Exod 34:27). But those words were eventually lost by his people: the Hebrew title of Deuteronomy was eventually known as “These Words.” The Old Testament’s story of God’s people after the reign of King Solomon is an epic saga of national schism and eventual collapse and dispersion that can be traced along Israel’s media preferences, by how they allowed some media to fade into disuse (“These Words”) and others to become dominant influences in their media culture. (TheoMedia, 128).

So as we read 2 Kings as a faith community invested in thinking through the church’s media use in the digital age, let’s be attentive to the media practices of God’s people in the biblical story. Here are some suggested questions to keep in mind:

  • How are we in danger of embracing or constructing a “mediascape of downfall” today?
  • Are we being saturated by the media of God, or by media influences contrary to his values?
  • How might we become more receptive to TheoMedia in the life of the church?
  • And how might we as a church express through our own media channels the values of our Lord?

About AndyByers

I serve as the Chaplain for St Mary's College at Durham University while working on a PhD in the Department of Theology. CODEC has also taken me on to work as a theological consultant of sorts for the BigBible blog. My first book is about cynicism toward the church and disillusionment with God—'Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint' (IVP Likewise, 2011). My latest is ‘TheoMedia: The Media of God in the Digital Age’ (Cascade Books, 2013).