What do cannibalism, child sacrifice, and church people all have in common? To answer, open the Book of Kings. Strange to combine those three in the same sentence, yet the writer of 1 & 2 Kings shows how God’s people can sink into the worst kinds of sin.

But how can a family of four sitting in the pew every Sunday possibly be in the same category as Hannibal Lector? Find out by grabbing some friends to study Kings. Between Moses’s burning bush and the Christmas angels’ song, you’ll discover stories of kings and prophets, miracles and murder, and a tragedy on display for all who care to read it.

But why would such a shocking book make a good Bible study? How can Israel’s degeneration impact one’s spiritual walk today?  I offer three ways they’ve helped me in mine.

You see how sin creeps in.

Kings starts off so well. As King David passed his scepter to his son Solomon, Israel was poised for greatness. She thrived under Solomon’s rule. However, underneath all the gold and glitter, the crown was cracking. Nine hundred wives plus three hundred concubines can do that to a man. Did they bring a lot of credit card debt into the marriage? Maybe PMS on a grand scale? No, they brought their false gods. And, by the end of Solomon’s life, his heart had fallen out of love with the LORD and in love with their foreign gods. Lesson? Close associations can steer your heart. Choose ones who have the same soul-spirations as you do.

Solomon wasn’t the only king who was disloyal to the LORD. We see this sort of creep in—marrying those outside their faith, welcoming other faith traditions, and living a life less in line with God’s law and more in line with the world—all along the way in Kings. This flirtation with sin happened back then—and now.

You see where sin can take you.

By the end of 2 Kings, we meet Manasseh. During his rule, Jerusalem, God’s favorite city—the place where He put His name—was overrun by foreign religions. In God’s own temple stood an Asherah pole and in His court were altars ready for astral worship. This is tantamount to a husband inviting his mistress into his wife’s bedroom to wear her lingerie, try out her perfume, and sleep in her bed. In this case, God is the one betrayed. Ezekiel 6:9 states plainly how that made their God feel, “how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols.”

Whoring? Can we say that word in a Bible study? We need to because we may be as guilty as Israel was then. Kings challenges us to ask, who are our Asherahs, our Molechs, and our Baals today? We may not bow down to the sun, but do we bow before people’s opinions? Do we overcommit to please family or to impress co-workers? A church leader may not offer child sacrifices but would she drive her daughter to get an abortion to cover up a teenage pregnancy, serving the god of her reputation? While an Asherah pole isn’t front and center in our living room, do we look at our bank balance or God’s word more?

You can see what it takes for sin to be defeated.

With a royal mess like this, what hope do we have? A huge lesson I’ve learned from Kings is that while God is offended by sin and hurt by His people’s spiritual adultery, His love overcomes His hurt. He just can’t help Himself; He must rescue them. For instance, He sent prophets over and over during their sinful escapades to turn them back to Him. Beautiful passages—ones that make it into our Christmas songs—were given during the worst of Israel’s evil. What kind of God sends love letters while His people betray Him?

The kind of God I need today.

While I chase after financial security, career successes, or family peace, my God is still loyal to me. As I create messes due to my fears and greed, He chases me back into His embrace. When I cry out in despair as I realize best behavior can’t fill my need for peace, His arms bring me close into His chest. Even if I have royally messed up my life, His forgiveness and restoration are not out of reach. As big as the mess is, how large His grace is.

So, read Kings and wonder. Be shocked at sin’s creep and reach. But even more so be amazed at God’s loyal love that drove King Jesus to fix the mess Himself.

Editor’s Note: Susan Tyner’s new Bible study, What a Royal Mess: A Study of 1 and 2 Kings is available now. Learn more here.

Susan Tyner

Susan Tyner serves as Women’s Ministry Coordinator at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, Texas. She is author of What’s SHE Doing Here? and a regular contributor for the enCourage blog and podcast, as well as one of the contributing authors of the Hinged Bible study. Susan enjoys speaking at conferences and retreats, but also enjoys a lazy Saturday cooking a big pot a gumbo. Susan and her husband, Lee, have five children, and an almost empty nest.