One month ago, it seemed that Bill Clinton's presidency might end rapidly. Then came his public relations counterattack and good poll results. Prosperity at home and peace abroad seemed to cover a multitude of sins.
News from the courtrooms may still bring Mr. Clinton down. It is hard to believe that the miles and miles of dikes he and his supporters have created against oceans of scandal will not spring larger leaks. But of the past 35 presidents, only six-Grant, Cleveland, Wilson, F. D. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Reagan-have served two full terms; Bill Clinton could become the seventh. Schoolchildren who look at a list of U.S. presidents a century from now, if Christ does not return first, may be impressed by our current president's longevity in office.
That list would not be the only one to contain some surprises. Look at a list of the kings of Israel in the eighth century B.C. and you'll see one name stand out: Jeroboam II. He reigned for four decades, from 786 to 746 B.C., during an era when some of the others in his line lasted only months. He must have been a wonderful king, wouldn't you think?
If we looked into Jeroboam II's successes while in office, we might be even more impressed. He was king during a time when the international situation was favorable to Israel. Assyria was going through a rough patch, and smaller powers fought against each other in Syria, so then (as now for America) the competition was muted. Second Kings 14 reports on how Jeroboam II's military might was able to push out the boundaries of Israel; even Damascus was captured.
Domestic prosperity went along with international triumphs. Chapter 6 of Amos, written during Jeroboam's reign, described the wealth of Israel's affluent folks: "You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions."
But did Jeroboam's long term of office, and his successes in both foreign and domestic policy, mean that he was a good king?
The Bible is succinct: "He did evil in the eyes of the Lord...." And so did his people.
Look at what was going on sexually: "Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name" (Amos 2:7). Look at what was going on economically, as those who had political power twisted laws to cheat their poorer neighbors: "You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts." Look at what was going on theologically, as Israelites did not show gratitude for God's mercy: "'You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to me,' declared the Lord."
The surprising thing, given Israel's record of sin to that point, is why God let the good times roll during the time of such an evil king and an ungrateful people. The only explanation, as 2 Kings 14 notes, is God's mercy: "The Lord has seen how bitterly everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering; there was no one to help them. And since the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash."
God's patience soon came to an end, however. Only one year after Jeroboam II died in 746, the vigorous and ruthless Tiglath-Pileser seized the Assyrian throne, and Israel's breathing spell was over. Two decades later Assyrians invaded Israel and after a three-year siege captured the northern capital, Samaria. God preserved the southern kingdom of Judea but the 10 tribes of the north, deported to Assyria, disappeared from history. God's verdict was clear, as 2 Kings 17 notes: "All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God."
And what of us? The stock market has soared during the Clinton years. Unemployment and inflation have been low. U.S. victory in the Cold War has left us without a major international challenger for the time being. According to the polls, Jeroboam Clinton has been a great king. But it is hard to imagine God's being pleased with the president's politics and activities. Was Jeroboam II a good king because peace and prosperity reigned? Not according to God's word.