Thursday, March 26, 2009

Faith Works 3-28-09
Jeff Gill

Kings and Other Rulers On the Air, In the Bible

If you know your Old Testament, then you know that I & II Samuel and I & II Kings are in many ways one great work of history, starting with Eli and Samuel – ok, actually starting with Hannah and Elkanah – and ending with Zedekiah carried off, blinded and in chains, to Babylon and exile.

It is a vast and sweeping narrative, broken up to fit onto Hebrew scrolls, four even using the largest and longest that could be handled. The four books can be understood as -- I Samuel being about Saul becoming Israel’s first king, and David’s ascent from shepherd boy to de facto crown prince; II Samuel starting with David’s crowning as second king and detailing his remarkable successes and horrible failures.

I Kings opens with David’s son Solomon reaching the throne (over more than a few brother’s bodies) and building a great temple for worship of God in David’s newly established capital city, Jerusalem, but with Solomon’s decline into apostasy, shifting focus to a prophet named Elijah. In II Kings we begin with the literal root of “passing the mantle” from Elijah to Elisha, as the Israelite kingdom is first fractured into two, then destroyed from without and within, first the northern kingdom of Israel and finally Zedekiah’s southern remnant of Judah around Jerusalem . . . while a remnant remains behind on the land, near the now ruined temple.

Doesn’t that make you wonder why no one’s made a movie out of such a tale? In fact, NBC has gone and done just that, and I must confess to only having realized this last week, so I missed the first two-hour entry entirely but caught up on Hulu.com.

It’s a mini-series simply called “Kings,” and they’ve taken the plot, not “ripped from the headlines,” but pretty directly from I Samuel. As you can tell, if they get renewed from the first 13 episodes, there’s plenty of material for them to follow right on into II Samuel and beyond.

Except they are “ripping” or maybe “riffing on the headlines.” Ian McShane, he of the foul-mouthed character Al Swearingen on HBO’s “Deadwood,” is King Silas Benjamin, who rules over a sort-of modern day city with a light sci-fi spin called “Shiloh” (check your Bible dictionary, nice . . .), where he now rules as an absolute monarch over a land called “Gilboa” (ditto) which is at war against a neighboring country called “Gath” which is Canada in a really, really bad mood, and a huge, you might say giant tank called . . . wait for it . . . a “Goliath.”

Does a young soldier named David Shepherd kill the Goliath with a humble, homemade bazooka and become a national hero? Yep.

Which takes us to the mix of modern day family and political intrigue woven right into the Biblical plot, which is front and center in the most thought-provoking ways.

You think the whole “king’s daughter” being shoved at a hero to let the aging ruler pick up some gloss on his image by marrying the fellow into the family is some Mafia movie schtick? Nope, Michal is right there in Scripture, with her almost understandable mix of admiration and disgust with this nouveau poseur that she loves but was virtually forced to love. How to reconcile this tension? Princess Michelle is a vivid depiction of a somewhat shadowy figure near the core of a major Biblical story, and you’ll find yourself grabbing your Bible if you watch to see “is that actually in there, or did they add it for the modern plot?”

Over and over you’ll find as I did last week – it’s in there. I’d missed it, skipping along across the plot points I already thought I knew.

Or the role Saul, (sorry) I mean, King Silas plays in keeping the war going to keep him in power, wanting to be a hero to his people, but not enough to let his grip on power be threatened, either.

This mini-series may start Sunday nights at 8:00 pm, but it isn’t for the kids. It’s a TV movie with all that implies, and I’m not sure I really love it or even entirely like it yet, but to see Scripture brought to life in this way has certainly made me want to watch a few more episodes.

What do you think? I’ll keep you posted and would love to add some other viewpoints to my own. And feel free to e-mail me any sunrise services or special Easter programs your church has coming up in the next few weeks.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at knapsack7@gmail.com.