Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reflections on Esther 4

 Esther 04(Contemporary English Version)
  1. When Mordecai heard about the letter, he tore his clothes in sorrow and put on sackcloth. Then he covered his head with ashes and went through the city, crying and weeping.
  2. But he could go only as far as the palace gate, because no one wearing sackcloth was allowed inside the palace.
  3. In every province where the king's orders were read, the Jews cried and mourned, and they went without eating. Many of them even put on sackcloth and sat in ashes.
  4. When Esther's servant girls and her other servants told her what Mordecai was doing, she became very upset and sent Mordecai some clothes to wear in place of the sackcloth. But he refused to take them.
  5. Esther had a servant named Hathach, who had been given to her by the king. So she called him in and said, "Find out what's wrong with Mordecai and why he's acting this way."
  6. Hathach went to Mordecai in the city square in front of the palace gate,
  7. and Mordecai told him everything that had happened. He also told him how much money Haman had promised to add to the king's treasury, if all the Jews were killed.
  8. Mordecai gave Hathach a copy of the orders for the murder of the Jews and told him that these had been read in Susa. He said, "Show this to Esther and explain what it means. Ask her to go to the king and beg him to have pity on her people, the Jews!"
  9. Hathach went back to Esther and told her what Mordecai had said.
  10. She answered, "Tell Mordecai
  11. there is a law about going in to see the king, and all his officials and his people know about this law. Anyone who goes in to see the king without being invited by him will be put to death. The only way that anyone can be saved is for the king to hold out the gold scepter to that person. And it's been thirty days since he has asked for me."
  12. When Mordecai was told what Esther had said,
  13. he sent back this reply, "Don't think that you will escape being killed with the rest of the Jews, just because you live in the king's palace.
  14. If you don't speak up now, we will somehow get help, but you and your family will be killed. It could be that you were made queen for a time like this!"
  15. Esther sent a message to Mordecai, saying,
  16. "Bring together all the Jews in Susa and tell them to go without eating for my sake! Don't eat or drink for three days and nights. My servant girls and I will do the same. Then I will go in to see the king, even if it means I must die."
  17. Mordecai did everything Esther told him to do.

God's purpose in orchestrating Esther's placement as Persian queen now comes to light. Though God is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Esther, we have no doubt that God was behind the events that placed a crown on her head. Though it was Mordecai's refusal to bow to Haman that prompted the edict to kill the Jews, who knows but what it would have happened anyway in another way. The hatred that would move a man to annihilate a people could be triggered in more than one way. As Mordecai told Esther when urging her to approach the king to plead with him for her people, "If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place." (4:14) In the same way, perhaps, it may have been true that if Mordecai's actions hadn't prompted Haman to kill the Jews it would have come from another place, for Satan was no doubt behind his actions and would have brought it to pass in another way.

News of the king's edict to kill the Jews led to mourning in sackcloth and ashes by Mordecai and all the Jews. Esther was not aware of it until her servants reported it to her. We wonder why they reported it to her unless they knew somehow that she was a Jew. She had told no one. She sent clothes to Mordecai so he could take off the sackcloth but he refused, so she then sent her eunuch to inquire of Mordecai as to what he was doing and why. Mordecai explained the situation for her and sent a copy of the decree. Did he also explain how his actions inadvertently led to this calamity? Mordecai also instructed Esther to go to the king and plead for his favor on behalf of her people.

Esther sent word back to Mordecai that she couldn't just go in to see the king without being invited. To do so would incur a death penalty unless the king lifted his scepter to spare her. However, she wasn't confident the king would do this for her because she hadn't been summoned to appear before him in the past 30 days and she feared she was out of his favor. Mordecai's instructions for her to see the king presented a double jeopardy for Esther. Not only did approaching the king without an invitation pose a threat to her life, in light of the decree to kill the Jews, identifying herself as a Jew had the same effect. In what ways do we attempt to avoid a threat or an uncomfortable situation only to find that we have not avoided the situation at all or have placed ourselves in the path of an equally threatening or uncomfortable situation? As with Esther, it is usually best to face the situation head on and trust God with the outcome.

In the end, Esther concluded that there was a greater purpose to her going to the king on behalf of her people than trying to save her own life and probably failing in it. She sent word to Mordecai that she would go to the king to plead for her people, but she wanted him to do something too. He was to "Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me." (4:16) They were to fast for three days and nights and she and her female servants would do the same. With this, the situation was in the Lord's hands.

What is it that your fear and lack of trust keeps you from doing? And, what are the blessings and God's wonderful works you have missed as a result? We reason that it is not so much a lack of faith in God that keeps us from doing this thing we fear, it is just doubt that He will act on our behalf in this particular situation. So your problem is not that you lack the faith that God can bring you safely through the thing you fear, it is that you don't trust that He will. Is this not the useless faith James speaks of in James 2:17-20? Faith that does not lead to action is useless, he says. It is merely a mental exercise. It is impotent.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reflections on Esther 3

 Esther 03(Contemporary English Version)
  1. Later, King Xerxes promoted Haman the son of Hammedatha to the highest position in his kingdom. Haman was a descendant of Agag,
  2. and the king had given orders for his officials at the royal gate to honor Haman by kneeling down to him. All of them obeyed except Mordecai.
  3. When the other officials asked Mordecai why he disobeyed the king's command,
  4. he said, "Because I am a Jew." They spoke to him for several days about kneeling down, but he still refused to obey. Finally, they reported this to Haman, to find out if he would let Mordecai get away with it.
  5. Haman was furious to learn that Mordecai refused to kneel down and honor him.
  6. And when he found out that Mordecai was a Jew, he knew that killing only Mordecai was not enough. Every Jew in the whole kingdom had to be killed.
  7. It was now the twelfth year of the rule of King Xerxes. During Nisan, the first month of the year, Haman said, "Find out the best time for me to do this." The time chosen was Adar, the twelfth month.
  8. Then Haman went to the king and said: Your Majesty, there are some people who live all over your kingdom and won't have a thing to do with anyone else. They have customs that are different from everyone else's, and they refuse to obey your laws. We would be better off to get rid of them!
  9. Why not give orders for all of them to be killed? I can promise that you will get tons of silver for your treasury.
  10. The king handed his official ring to Haman, who hated the Jews, and the king told him,
  11. "Do what you want with those people! You can keep their money."
  12. On the thirteenth day of Nisan, Haman called in the king's secretaries and ordered them to write letters in every language used in the kingdom. The letters were written in the name of the king and sealed by using the king's own ring. At once they were sent to the king's highest officials, the governors of each province, and the leaders of the different nations in the kingdom of Xerxes.
  13. The letters were taken by messengers to every part of the kingdom, and this is what was said in the letters: On the thirteenth day of Adar, the twelfth month, all Jewish men, women, and children are to be killed. And their property is to be taken.
  14. King Xerxes gave orders for these letters to be posted where they could be seen by everyone all over the kingdom. The king's command was obeyed, and one of the letters was read aloud to the people in the walled city of Susa. Then the king and Haman sat down to drink together, but no one in the city could figure out what was going on.
  15. (SEE 3:14)

Five years passed since Esther was made queen and Mordecai saved the king's life by reporting an assassination plot. Chapter 3 brings us to the central point in this story of Esther and when we see what is at stake and the forces at work we are prompted to wonder if these events are as much a battle between God and Satan as between the Jews and their enemies.

The occasion of this chapter is the promotion of one of King Ahasuerus' officials, Haman, to a position second in command to himself. King Ahasuerus, in this promotion of Haman, set in motion events for which God, in His providence, had brought Esther to the throne as queen. Reflection on these events causes one to recognize that when we are submitting to God's direction in our lives we should never presume the events of our lives to be without purpose no matter how routine and unmeaningful they may appear to be. Certainly Esther must have wondered for what purpose she had so amazingly been made queen. Then five years went by in which seemingly nothing was happening and she must have doubted that there was any special purpose at all. That her ascension to queen was merely coincidence. This reflection on God's providential hand in making Esther queen is but one side of the story.

The other side of the story comes to light with the promotion of Haman the Agagite. This identification of Haman as an Agagite is thought by many to indicate that he was a descendant of Amalekite kings. If this is accurate, the book of Esther can be seen as another battle in the perpetual war God proclaimed against the Amalekites in Exodus 17:16, "my hand is lifted up toward the LORD's throne. The LORD will be at war with Amalek from generation to generation." On a larger scale, the account of Esther can be seen as a battle between God and Satan. As God was guiding the placement of Esther as queen, Satan was guiding the king in his promotion of Haman.

With Haman's promotion to second in command in Persia, eveyone was instructed to bow down to him, a command which Mordecai refused to obey based on his Jewish ethnicity and that he bowed to only one - the Lord. Mordecai's failure to bow was eventually brought to Haman's attention and he was enraged. If these were mere circumstantial events Haman would have simply dealt with Mordecai and his disobedience to the law. But driven by forces beyond himself, Haman elevated this to a much larger scale, making it a vendetta against the whole Jewish race. He took his case to the king, telling him, "There is one ethnic group, scattered throughout the peoples in every province of your kingdom, yet living in isolation. Their laws are different from everyone else's, so that they defy the king's laws. It is not in the king's best interest to tolerate them." (3:8) He didn't even mention Mordecai. If the Jews throughout every province of Persia were to be killed, this would include Palestine, the home of the Jews. This proposal of Haman's would have meant total annihilation of the Jewish people.

So Haman, no doubt driven by Satan, proposed to deal with Mordecai's failure to bow to him by annihilating the Jews. If anything so preposterous makes sense, one should be fearful of Satan's influence over them. Before Haman took his proposal to the king, he cast lots ("Pur was cast") to determine when his plan to kill the Jews should be carried out. Again, we see God's hand at work as the lots fell on a date a year in the future allowing time for Haman's plot to be thwarted. King Solomon, in his writing of the book of Proverbs stated that, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD." (Proverbs 16:33)

There is no indication in this account that King Ahasuerus questioned Haman's motives or the wisdom of taking this action. He simply gave Haman his signet ring to authorize implementation of his plan and told him, "The money and people are given to you to do with as you see fit." (3:11) And so the edict was translated into the language of each ethnic group in the various provinces and sent by courier to the officials of every province. Then, as an indication of the king's disinterest in the whole affair and his obliviousness to what he was doing, verse 15 says, "The king and Haman sat down to drink, while the city of Susa was in confusion."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reflections on Esther 2

 Esther 02(Contemporary English Version)
  1. After a while, King Xerxes got over being angry. But he kept thinking about what Vashti had done and the law that he had written because of her.
  2. Then the king's personal servants said: Your Majesty, a search must be made to find you some beautiful young women.
  3. You can select officers in every province to bring them to the place where you keep your wives in the capital city of Susa. Put your servant Hegai in charge of them since that is his job. He can see to it that they are given the proper beauty treatments.
  4. Then let the young woman who pleases you most take Vashti's place as queen. King Xerxes liked these suggestions, and he followed them.
  5. At this time a Jew named Mordecai was living in Susa. His father was Jair, and his grandfather Shimei was the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin.
  6. Kish was one of the people that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem, when he took King Jeconiah of Judah to Babylonia.
  7. Mordecai had a very beautiful cousin named Esther, whose Hebrew name was Hadassah. He had raised her as his own daughter, after her father and mother died.
  8. When the king ordered the search for beautiful women, many were taken to the king's palace in Susa, and Esther was one of them. Hegai was put in charge of all the women,
  9. and from the first day, Esther was his favorite. He began her beauty treatments at once. He also gave her plenty of food and seven special maids from the king's palace, and they had the best rooms.
  10. Mordecai had warned Esther not to tell anyone that she was a Jew, and she obeyed him.
  11. He was anxious to see how Esther was getting along and to learn what had happened to her. So each day he would walk back and forth in front of the court where the women lived.
  12. The young women were given beauty treatments for one whole year. The first six months their skin was rubbed with olive oil and myrrh, and the last six months it was treated with perfumes and cosmetics. Then each of them spent the night alone with King Xerxes.
  13. When a young woman went to the king, she could wear whatever clothes or jewelry she chose from the women's living quarters.
  14. In the evening she would go to the king, and the following morning she would go to the place where his wives stayed after being with him. There a man named Shaashgaz was in charge of the king's wives. Only the ones the king wanted and asked for by name could go back to the king.
  15. Xerxes had been king for seven years when Esther's turn came to go to him during Tebeth, the tenth month of the year. Everyone liked Esther. The king's personal servant Hegai was in charge of the women, and Esther trusted Hegai and asked him what she ought to take with her.
  16. (SEE 2:15)
  17. Xerxes liked Esther more than he did any of the other young women. None of them pleased him as much as she did, and right away he fell in love with her and crowned her queen in place of Vashti.
  18. In honor of Esther he gave a big dinner for his leaders and officials. Then he declared a holiday everywhere in his kingdom and gave expensive gifts.
  19. When the young women were brought together again, Esther's cousin Mordecai had become a palace official.
  20. He had told Esther never to tell anyone that she was a Jew, and she obeyed him, just as she had always done.
  21. Bigthana and Teresh were the two men who guarded King Xerxes' rooms, but they got angry with the king and decided to kill him.
  22. Mordecai found out about their plans and asked Queen Esther to tell the king what he had found out.
  23. King Xerxes learned that Mordecai's report was true, and he had the two men hanged. Then the king had all of this written down in his record book as he watched.

As interesting a story as the book of Esther makes, it is more than a story. It is an account of God's providential care for His people. Though His people had rejected Him for other gods and He had disciplined them by sending them into exile, God still cared for them and protected them against annihilation. This is what the story of Esther is about and we see in every event God's hand at work.

After King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) had a chance to reflect on deposing his queen, Vashti, he may have regretted his action to depose her. His attendants, however, quickly proposed that a search be made for a new queen from among the beautiful virgins of the kingdom. This pleased the king and he approved the plan. It is at this point that a Jewish exile by the name of Mordecai is introduced to the story. He had been captured when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had taken Judah captive and was now living in Susa, the Persian capitol and may have been an official at the palace gate. He had a cousin by he name of Esther whom he had adopted when, as a child, her parents died. She was now a very beautiful young woman and become one of the women taken to the palace to be groomed as a queen candidate.

Esther pleased Hegai who was in charge of the king's harem and he accelerated her grooming and assigned seven female servants to her care. This grooming process took a year before the women in this special harem would have their turn with the king. When their turn came, they would go to the king in the evening and return to the harem in the morning. Unless the king invited them back they would likely never see him again though they would remain in the harem. Esther's beauty no doubt was both inward as well as outward, for she found favor with everyone whom she met.

When Esther's turn finally came to go to the king she could take with her anything she chose to make herself pleasing to the king. Esther took only what was recommended to her by Hegai, the one in charge of the harem. When she went to the king the search for a queen was over for he "loved Esther more than all the other women." (2:17) He placed the crown on her head and made her queen, then held a banquet in her honor to announce his decision. Through all of this, Esther never revealed her ethnicity.

A short account at the end of chapter 2 further reveals God's hand in these events to give Esther and Mordecai favor with the king. As Mordecai sat at the King's Gate he had opportunity one day to learn of a plot by two of the king's guards to assassinate the king. Mordecai reported this to Esther who told the king. There was an investigation and this report of the planned assassination verified and the two guards were executed.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Reflections on Esther 1

 Esther 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. King Xerxes of Persia lived in his capital city of Susa and ruled one hundred twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia.
  2. (SEE 1:1)
  3. During the third year of his rule, Xerxes gave a big dinner for all his officials and officers. The governors and leaders of the provinces were also invited, and even the commanders of the Persian and Median armies came.
  4. For one hundred eighty days he showed off his wealth and spent a lot of money to impress his guests with the greatness of his kingdom.
  5. King Xerxes soon gave another dinner and invited everyone in the city of Susa, no matter who they were. The eating and drinking lasted seven days in the beautiful palace gardens.
  6. The area was decorated with blue and white cotton curtains tied back with purple linen cords that ran through silver rings fastened to marble columns. Couches of gold and silver rested on pavement that had all kinds of designs made from costly bright-colored stones and marble and mother-of-pearl.
  7. The guests drank from gold cups, and each cup had a different design. The king was generous
  8. and said to them, "Drink all you want!" Then he told his servants, "Keep their cups full."
  9. While the men were enjoying themselves, Queen Vashti gave the women a big dinner inside the royal palace.
  10. By the seventh day, King Xerxes was feeling happy because of so much wine. And he asked his seven personal servants, Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carkas,
  11. to bring Queen Vashti to him. The king wanted her to wear her crown and let his people and his officials see how beautiful she was.
  12. The king's servants told Queen Vashti what he had said, but she refused to go to him, and this made him terribly angry.
  13. The king called in the seven highest officials of Persia and Media. They were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan. These men were very wise and understood all the laws and customs of the country, and the king always asked them what they thought about such matters.
  14. (SEE 1:13)
  15. The king said to them, "Queen Vashti refused to come to me when I sent my servants for her. What does the law say I should do about that?"
  16. Then Memucan told the king and the officials: Your Majesty, Queen Vashti has not only embarrassed you, but she has insulted your officials and everyone else in all the provinces.
  17. The women in the kingdom will hear about this, and they will refuse to respect their husbands. They will say, "If Queen Vashti doesn't obey her husband, why should we?"
  18. Before this day is over, the wives of the officials of Persia and Media will find out what Queen Vashti has done, and they will refuse to obey their husbands. They won't respect their husbands, and their husbands will be angry with them.
  19. Your Majesty, if you agree, you should write for the Medes and Persians a law that can never be changed. This law would keep Queen Vashti from ever seeing you again. Then you could let someone who respects you be queen in her place.
  20. When the women in your great kingdom hear about this new law, they will respect their husbands, no matter if they are rich or poor.
  21. King Xerxes and his officials liked what Memucan had said,
  22. and he sent letters to all of his provinces. Each letter was written in the language of the province to which it was sent, and it said that husbands should have complete control over their wives and children.

This first chapter of Esther sets the stage for crucial events that took place during Israel's exile in which Esther played a key role. The events of chapter 1 that led to the placement of Esther as queen of Persia were no accident but were God's preparation for saving Israel from annihilation. Before Israel was even in danger, God had a plan to deliver her from the danger that was coming.

God's plan began with a royal banquet at which the wine flowed freely and the king became rather inebriated. It may have been due to his inebriation that he decided to show off the beauty of his queen. After all, part of the motivation behind the banquet was to display the wealth and power of the king and his beautiful queen was further display of his holdings. No indication is given in the account as to why the queen refused the king's request for her to come to him at the men's banquet hall. Although there is no suggestion that the king planned anything indecent for her, some suggest that he was asking her to appear unveiled which to do so publicly would have been degrading for her. This, of course, is only conjecture.

The queen's refusal of the king's command left the king with a dilemma. He could not ignore her refusal. He was trapped by his status. The king was free to do as he pleased except to break the law. And if he were wise, he also did not want to set a bad precedent. Verse 13 explains that, "The king consulted the wise men who understood the times, for it was his normal procedure to confer with experts in law and justice." Setting a bad precedent seems to have been their primary concern. They reasoned that when it became public knowledge that the queen refused the king's order, all the women of the kingdom would "despise their husbands." (1:17) Evidently they assumed the queen held sway over whether or not women of the kingdom respected their husbands.

It was concluded that a non-revokable edict should be decreed declaring that, "Vashti is not to enter King Ahasuerus' presence, and her royal position is to be given to another woman who is more worthy than she." (1:19) This decree was to be sent throughout the kingdom along with a letter stating that "every man should be master of his own house." (1:22)

The stage was then set for Esther to arrive on the scene, for the king would be looking for a new queen.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reflections on 2 Chronicles 36

 2 Chronicles 36(Contemporary English Version)
  1. After the death of Josiah, the people of Judah crowned his son Jehoahaz their new king.
  2. He was twenty-three years old at the time, and he ruled only three months from Jerusalem.
  3. King Neco of Egypt captured Jehoahaz and forced Judah to pay almost four tons of silver and seventy-five pounds of gold as taxes.
  4. Then Neco appointed Jehoahaz's brother Eliakim king of Judah and changed his name to Jehoiakim. He led Jehoahaz away to Egypt as his prisoner.
  5. Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he was appointed king, and he ruled eleven years from Jerusalem. Jehoiakim disobeyed the LORD his God by doing evil.
  6. During Jehoiakim's rule, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia invaded Judah. He arrested Jehoiakim and put him in chains, and he sent him to the capital city of Babylon.
  7. Nebuchadnezzar also carried off many of the valuable things in the LORD's temple, and he put them in his palace in Babylon.
  8. Everything else Jehoiakim did while he was king, including all the disgusting and evil things, is written in The History of the Kings of Israel and Judah. His son Jehoiachin then became king.
  9. Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled only three months and ten days from Jerusalem. Jehoiachin also disobeyed the LORD by doing evil.
  10. In the spring of the year, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia had Jehoiachin arrested and taken to Babylon, along with more of the valuable items in the temple. Then Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah king of Judah.
  11. Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he was appointed king of Judah, and he ruled from Jerusalem for eleven years.
  12. He disobeyed the LORD his God and refused to change his ways, even after a warning from Jeremiah, the LORD's prophet.
  13. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia had forced Zedekiah to promise in God's name that he would be loyal. Zedekiah was stubborn and refused to turn back to the LORD God of Israel, so he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar.
  14. The people of Judah and even the priests who were their leaders became more unfaithful. They followed the disgusting example of the nations around them and made the LORD's holy temple unfit for worship.
  15. But the LORD God felt sorry for his people, and instead of destroying the temple, he sent prophets who warned the people over and over about their sins.
  16. But the people only laughed and insulted these prophets. They ignored what the LORD God was trying to tell them, until he finally became so angry that nothing could stop him from punishing Judah and Jerusalem.
  17. The LORD sent King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia to attack Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar killed the young men who were in the temple, and he showed no mercy to anyone, whether man or woman, young or old. God let him kill everyone in the city.
  18. Nebuchadnezzar carried off everything that was left in the temple; he robbed the treasury and the personal storerooms of the king and his officials. He took everything back to Babylon.
  19. Nebuchadnezzar's troops burned down the temple and destroyed every important building in the city. Then they broke down the city wall.
  20. The survivors were taken to Babylonia as prisoners, where they were slaves of the king and his sons, until Persia became a powerful nation.
  21. Judah was an empty desert, and it stayed that way for seventy years, to make up for all the years it was not allowed to rest. These things happened just as Jeremiah the LORD's prophet had said.
  22. In the first year that Cyrus was king of Persia, the LORD had Cyrus send a message to all parts of his kingdom. This happened just as Jeremiah the LORD's prophet had promised.
  23. The message said: I am King Cyrus of Persia. The LORD God of heaven has made me the ruler of every nation on earth. He has also chosen me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. The LORD God will watch over any of his people who want to go back to Judah.

The death of Josiah brought an end to the good kings of Judah and released God to carry out His intended judgment which He had delayed due to His promise to Josiah. Josiah's extensive reform was not sufficient to turn God away from the destruction of Judah.

From this point forward, Judah's remaining years saw a continual rotation of kings with short tenures. First to succeed Josiah was his son Jehoahaz who reigned only 3 months before Neco, king of Egypt, invaded Judah and took him away to Egypt, imposing a stiff fine on Judah and replacing Jehoahaz with his brother Jehoiakim as king. Jehoahaz was not king long enough for there to even be a comment on his reign, but Jehoiakim was "evil in the sight of the Lord his God." (36:5)

This brought further judgment on Judah being dealt this time at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He attacked Jerusalem taking Jehoiakim captive and carried away some of the utensils from the temple. Jehoiakim's brother, Jehoiachin, became king and ruled in Jerusalem only 3 months. But he was also evil which brought further judgment at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. He took Jehoiachin away to Babylon along with further valuables from the temple and made Jehoiachin's brother, Zedekiah, king.

Zedekiah was the last king to rule in Judah or Israel. He, too, was evil and unwilling to submit either to God or Nebuchadnezzar. When he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar further controls were placed on him. When he continued to rebel Nebuchadnezzar placed Jerusalem under an 18 month siege at the end of which he killed their choice young men and showed "no pity on young man and virgin or elderly and aged." (36:17) He then carried away all but the poorest of the people after burning the temple and destroying Jerusalem's walls.

The chronicler comments in verse 21 that the land of Judah finally enjoyed "its Sabbath rest." The people had not kept the sabbatic year for nearly 500 years, but now it would be observed by force. 70 years the land would have rest while the Jews were in Babylon. At the end of this period God raised up Cyrus, king of Persia to subdue Babylon and release the Jewish people to return to their homeland.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reflections on 2 Chronicles 35

 2 Chronicles 35(Contemporary English Version)
  1. Josiah commanded that Passover be celebrated in Jerusalem to honor the LORD. So, on the fourteenth day of the first month, the lambs were killed for the Passover celebration.
  2. On that day, Josiah made sure the priests knew what duties they were to do in the temple.
  3. He called together the Levites who served the LORD and who taught the people his laws, and he said: No longer will you have to carry the sacred chest from place to place. It will stay in the temple built by King Solomon son of David, where you will serve the LORD and his people Israel.
  4. Get ready to do the work that David and Solomon assigned to you, according to your clans.
  5. Divide yourselves into groups, then arrange yourselves throughout the temple so that each family of worshipers will be able to get help from one of you.
  6. When the people bring you their Passover lamb, you must kill it and prepare it to be sacrificed to the LORD. Make sure the people celebrate according to the instructions that the LORD gave Moses, and don't do anything to make yourselves unclean and unacceptable.
  7. Josiah donated thirty thousand sheep and goats, and three thousand bulls from his own flocks and herds for the people to offer as sacrifices.
  8. Josiah's officials also voluntarily gave some of their animals to the people, the priests, and the Levites as sacrifices. Hilkiah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, who were the officials in charge of the temple, gave the priests twenty-six hundred sheep and lambs and three hundred bulls to sacrifice during the Passover celebration.
  9. Conaniah, his two brothers Shemaiah and Nethanel, as well as Hashabiah, Jeiel, and Jozabad were leaders of the Levites, and they gave the other Levites five thousand sheep and goats, and five hundred bulls to offer as sacrifices.
  10. When everything was ready to celebrate Passover, the priests and the Levites stood where Josiah had told them.
  11. Then the Levites killed and skinned the Passover lambs, and they handed some of the blood to the priests, who splattered it on the altar.
  12. The Levites set aside the parts of the animal that the worshipers needed for their sacrifices to please the LORD, just as the Law of Moses required. They also did the same thing with the bulls.
  13. They sacrificed the Passover animals on the altar and boiled the meat for the other offerings in pots, kettles, and pans. Then they quickly handed the meat to the people so they could eat it.
  14. All day long, the priests were busy offering sacrifices and burning the animals' fat on the altar. And when everyone had finished, the Levites prepared Passover animals for themselves and for the priests.
  15. During the celebration some of the Levites prepared Passover animals for the musicians and the guards, so that the Levite musicians would not have to leave their places, which had been assigned to them according to the instructions of David, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun the king's prophet. Even the guards at the temple gates did not have to leave their posts.
  16. So on that day, Passover was celebrated to honor the LORD, and sacrifices were offered on the altar to him, just as Josiah had commanded.
  17. The worshipers then celebrated the Festival of Thin Bread for the next seven days.
  18. People from Jerusalem and from towns all over Judah and Israel were there. Passover had not been observed like this since the days of Samuel the prophet. In fact, this was the greatest Passover celebration in Israel's history!
  19. All these things happened in the eighteenth year of Josiah's rule in Judah.
  20. Some time later, King Neco of Egypt led his army to the city of Carchemish on the Euphrates River. And Josiah led his troops north to meet the Egyptians in battle.
  21. Neco sent the following message to Josiah: I'm not attacking you, king of Judah! We're not even at war. But God has told me to quickly attack my enemy. God is on my side, so if you try to stop me, he will punish you.
  22. But Josiah ignored Neco's warning, even though it came from God! Instead, he disguised himself and marched into battle against Neco in the valley near Megiddo.
  23. During the battle an Egyptian soldier shot Josiah with an arrow. Josiah told his servants, "Get me out of here! I've been hit."
  24. They carried Josiah out of his chariot, then put him in the other chariot he had there and took him back to Jerusalem, where he soon died. He was buried beside his ancestors, and everyone in Judah and Jerusalem mourned his death.
  25. Jeremiah the prophet wrote a funeral song in honor of Josiah. And since then, anyone in Judah who mourns the death of Josiah sings that song. It is included in the collection of funeral songs.
  26. Everything else Josiah did while he was king, including how he faithfully obeyed the LORD,
  27. is written in The History of the Kings of Israel and Judah.

With the discovery of the book of the law, described in the previous chapter and Josiah's determination to be faithful in observing the Lord's instructions to him, it is natural that he would make plans to celebrate Passover. This Passover Josiah observed was no doubt the first observance since the days of Hezekiah over 50 years prior to this. The chronicler states in verse 18 that, "No Passover had been observed like it in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet."

This Passover took place in the 18th year of Josiah's reign. Previous to this he had led extensive spiritual reform in Judah, ridding the nation of all pagan worship sites and objects and had restored the temple. When the temple was repaired the long-lost book of the law was discovered and Josiah led the nation in making a covenant with the Lord to observe all that was in the book. So the nation was well-prepared spiritually for a great Passover observance. The king led the way in providing animals for the sacrifices and others followed in kind.

Great care was given to carrying out all procedures according to regulations outlined in the law. This required that certain individuals slaughtered the animals, that the Levites skinned them, and the priests sprinkled the blood. Only lambs were to be used for the Passover, roasting it with fire, while animals used for the sacrifices were boiled. The singers and gatekeepers followed the law in all their duties. Not only did all Judah observe this Passover, but also many Israelites who were in Judah at the time.

Verses 21-27 describe a rather strange event that led to Josiah's death. Since Josiah was such a godly king, the prophetess Huldah had foretold that although the Lord planned to bring disaster on Judah in keeping with the curses in the book of the law due to the sins of Judah, Josiah would be spared this disaster. It would come after he was gathered to the grave in peace. But the strange event that led to Josiah's death was evidently also preparing the way for the destruction of Judah that Huldah foretold.

Neco, king of Egypt, was apparently sent by God to assist the Assyrians against the Babylonians who had set out to destroy the Assyrians. Bringing Egypt into the fray set the stage for both the Assyrians and the Egyptians to be defeated by the Babylonians. For reasons not expained, however, Josiah favored the Babylonians and set out to intercept Egypt and prevent Neco from joining the Assyrians. Neco sent messengers to Josiah to dissaude him from becoming involved, saying, "What is the issue between you and me, king of Judah? I have not come against you today but to the dynasty I am fighting. God told me to hurry. Stop opposing God who is with me; don't make Him destroy you!" Josiah did not heed this warning, though. As godly a king as Josiah was, he failed to seek God's guidance in this situation and paid with his life demonstrating how we never reach a point at which we are no longer susceptible to sin.

All Judah mourned Josiah's death, including the prophet Jeremiah who wrote a dirge over Josiah that was sung for years afterward and established as a statute for Israel.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reflections on 2 Chronicles 34

 2 Chronicles 34 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Josiah was eight years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled thirty-one years from Jerusalem.
  2. He followed the example of his ancestor David and always obeyed the LORD.
  3. When Josiah was only sixteen years old he began worshiping God, just as his ancestor David had done. Then, four years later, he decided to destroy the local shrines in Judah and Jerusalem, as well as the sacred poles for worshiping the goddess Asherah and the idols of foreign gods.
  4. He watched as the altars for the worship of the god Baal were torn down, and as the nearby incense altars were smashed. The Asherah poles, the idols, and the stone images were also smashed, and the pieces were scattered over the graves of their worshipers.
  5. Josiah then had the bones of the pagan priests burned on the altars. And so Josiah got rid of the worship of foreign gods in Judah and Jerusalem.
  6. He did the same things in the towns and ruined villages in the territories of West Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, as far as the border of Naphtali.
  7. Everywhere in the northern kingdom of Israel, Josiah tore down pagan altars and Asherah poles; he crushed idols to dust and smashed incense altars. Then Josiah went back to Jerusalem.
  8. In the eighteenth year of Josiah's rule in Judah, after he had gotten rid of all the sinful things from the land and from the LORD's temple, he sent three of his officials to repair the temple. They were Shaphan son of Azaliah, Governor Maaseiah of Jerusalem, and Joah son of Joahaz, who kept the government records.
  9. These three men went to Hilkiah the high priest. They gave him the money that the Levite guards had collected from the people of West Manasseh, Ephraim, and the rest of Israel, as well as those living in Judah, Benjamin, and Jerusalem.
  10. Then the money was turned over to the men who supervised the repairs to the temple. They used some of it to pay the workers,
  11. and they gave the rest of it to the carpenters and builders, who used it to buy the stone and wood they needed to repair the other buildings that Judah's kings had not taken care of.
  12. The workers were honest, and their supervisors were Jahath and Obadiah from the Levite clan of Merari, and Zechariah and Meshullam from the Levite clan of Kohath. Other Levites, who were all skilled musicians,
  13. were in charge of carrying supplies and supervising the workers. Other Levites were appointed to stand guard around the temple.
  14. While the money was being given to these supervisors, Hilkiah found the book that contained the laws that the LORD had given to Moses.
  15. Hilkiah handed the book to Shaphan the official and said, "Look what I found here in the temple--The Book of God's Law."
  16. Shaphan took the book to Josiah and reported, "Your officials are doing everything you wanted.
  17. They have collected the money from the temple and have given it to the men supervising the repairs.
  18. But there's something else, Your Majesty. The priest Hilkiah gave me this book." Then Shaphan read it aloud.
  19. When Josiah heard what was in The Book of God's Law, he tore his clothes in sorrow.
  20. At once he called together Hilkiah, Shaphan, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah, and his own servant Asaiah. He said,
  21. "The LORD must be furious with me and everyone else in Israel and Judah, because our ancestors did not obey the laws written in this book. Go find out what the LORD wants us to do."
  22. Hilkiah and the four other men left right away and went to talk with Huldah the prophet. Her husband was Shallum, who was in charge of the king's clothes. Huldah lived in the northern part of Jerusalem, and when they met in her home,
  23. she said: You were sent here by King Josiah, and this is what the LORD God of Israel says to him:
  24. "Josiah, I am the LORD! And I intend to punish this country and everyone in it, just as this book says.
  25. The people of Judah and Israel have rejected me. They have offered sacrifices to foreign gods and have worshiped their own idols. I can't stand it any longer. I am furious.
  26. "Josiah, listen to what I am going to do. I noticed how sad you were when you heard that this country and its people would be completely wiped out. You even tore your clothes in sorrow, and I heard you cry.
  27. (SEE 34:26)
  28. So before I destroy this place, I will let you die in peace." The men left and reported to Josiah what Huldah had said.
  29. King Josiah called together the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem.
  30. Then he went to the LORD's temple, together with all the people of Judah and Jerusalem, the priests, and the Levites. Finally, when everybody was there, he read aloud The Book of God's Law that had been found in the temple.
  31. After Josiah had finished reading, he stood in the place reserved for the king. He promised in the LORD's name to faithfully obey the LORD and to follow his laws and teachings that were written in the book.
  32. Then he asked the people of Jerusalem and Benjamin to make that same promise and to obey the God their ancestors had worshiped.
  33. Josiah destroyed all the idols in the territories of Israel, and he commanded everyone in Israel to worship only the LORD God. The people did not turn away from the LORD God of their ancestors for the rest of Josiah's rule as king.

Why is one person's heart responsive to the Lord and another's is not? Why does one who has no godly influence around them begin to seek the Lord? This is the situation with Josiah who followed his father, Amon, as king at the age of 8. Amon was an evil king who ruled for only two years. His father, Manasseh, who ruled before him was also an evil king, probably the worst king Judah had. Though he turned to the Lord later in his reign and brought limited reform to Judah, it was no doubt his evil influence that stayed with his son Amon rather than the good that came later. But what about Josiah? Had the reform of his grandfather Manasseh planted a seed in his heart that directed him toward the Lord?

Whatever the influence, at the age of 16 Josiah "began to seek the God of his ancestor David." (34:3) Four years later he began "to cleanse Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherah poles, the carved images, and the cast images." (34:3) He personally oversaw the reform which was extensive. His reform inevitably led, six years later, to repairing the temple. This proved to be providential. It should be noted that providential events are to be expected when we set ourselves on a path to follow the Lord and continue on that path faithfully seeking the Lord's guidance. If we travel that path on "autopilot" allowing it to become a mindless routine we follow we will likely miss the providential events along the way. But if we are continually seeking the Lord's guidance we will see them and be offered the opportunity to follow new paths that the Lord lays before us. If recognized and accepted these new opportunities will lead to more and more significant and rewarding events in God's providence. Each new opportunity, however, becomes a crises of faith. Will I trust the Lord for this new turn in the journey or play it safe by remaining on my current pathway?

What was the providential event that occurred with the repairs to the temple? A long-lost copy of the "book of the law of the LORD written by the hand of Moses" was discovered in the temple. (34:14) We have already wondered about Josiah turning to the Lord without any obvious positive spiritual influence to do so. Now we wonder even more at his motivation to do so realizing he had no copy of scriptures available to him to guide him in his personal devotion to the Lord or in the reform he led. The book was brought to Josiah and a short passage from the book read to him. In hearing it he tore his clothes expressing his grief at what he had heard. He immediately instructed those who brought the book to him to inquire of the Lord concerning the words of the book, saying, "great is the LORD's wrath that is poured out on us because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD in order to do everything written in this book." (34:21) The passage read to him evidently revealed the curse that would be brought on the nation should it turn away from the Lord.

Those sent by the king to inquire of the Lord went to a prophetess by the name of Huldah. She told them, "This is what the LORD says: I am about to bring disaster on this place and on its inhabitants, fulfilling all the curses written in the book that they read in the presence of the king of Judah, because they have abandoned Me and burned incense to other gods in order to provoke Me with all the works of their hands. My wrath will be poured out on this place, and it will not be quenched." (34:24-25) The prophetess added for the king's benefit, however, "because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God . . ." the Lord says, "Your eyes will not see all the disaster that I am bringing on this place and on its inhabitants." (34:27, 28)

Having heard this word from the Lord, the king gathered the leaders and all the people of Judah and had the words of the book read in their hearing. Then he made a covenant with the Lord to keep His commandments written in the book and had the leaders and the people do the same. Throughout his reign the nation "did not turn aside from following the LORD God of their ancestors." (34:33)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Reflections on 2 Chronicles 33

 2 Chronicles 33 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled fifty-five years from Jerusalem.
  2. Manasseh disobeyed the LORD by following the disgusting customs of the nations that the LORD had forced out of Israel.
  3. He rebuilt the local shrines that his father Hezekiah had torn down. He built altars for the god Baal and set up sacred poles for worshiping the goddess Asherah. And he faithfully worshiped the stars in the sky.
  4. In the temple, where only the LORD was supposed to be worshiped, Manasseh built altars for pagan gods
  5. and for the stars. He placed these altars in both courtyards of the temple
  6. and even set up a stone image of a foreign god. Manasseh practiced magic and witchcraft; he asked fortunetellers for advice and sacrificed his own sons in Hinnom Valley. He did many other sinful things and made the LORD very angry. Years ago, God had told David and Solomon: Jerusalem is the place I prefer above all others in Israel. It belongs to me, and there in the temple I will be worshiped forever.
  7. (SEE 33:6)
  8. If my people will faithfully obey all the laws and teaching I gave to my servant Moses, I will never again force them to leave the land I gave to their ancestors.
  9. But the people of Judah and Jerusalem listened to Manasseh and did even more sinful things than the nations the LORD had wiped out.
  10. The LORD tried to warn Manasseh and the people about their sins, but they ignored the warning.
  11. So he let Assyrian army commanders invade Judah and capture Manasseh. They put a hook in his nose and tied him up in chains, and they took him to Babylon.
  12. While Manasseh was held captive there, he asked the LORD God to forgive him and to help him.
  13. The LORD listened to Manasseh's prayer and saw how sorry he was, and so he let him go back to Jerusalem and rule as king. Manasseh knew from then on that the LORD was God.
  14. Later, Manasseh rebuilt the eastern section of Jerusalem's outer wall and made it taller. This section went from Gihon Valley north to Fish Gate and around the part of the city called Mount Ophel. He also assigned army officers to each of the fortified cities in Judah.
  15. Manasseh also removed the idols and the stone image of the foreign god from the temple, and he gathered the altars he had built near the temple and in other parts of Jerusalem. He threw all these things outside the city.
  16. Then he repaired the LORD's altar and offered sacrifices to thank him and sacrifices to ask his blessing. He gave orders that everyone in Judah must worship the LORD God of Israel.
  17. The people obeyed Manasseh, but they worshiped the LORD at their own shrines.
  18. Everything else Manasseh did while he was king, including his prayer to the LORD God and the warnings from his prophets, is written in The History of the Kings of Israel.
  19. Hozai wrote a lot about Manasseh, including his prayer and God's answer. But Hozai also recorded the evil things Manasseh did before turning back to God, as well as a list of places where Manasseh set up idols, and where he built local shrines and places to worship Asherah.
  20. Manasseh died and was buried near the palace, and his son Amon became king.
  21. Amon was twenty-two years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled from Jerusalem for two years.
  22. Amon disobeyed the LORD, just as his father Manasseh had done, and he worshiped and offered sacrifices to the idols his father had made.
  23. Manasseh had turned back to the LORD, but Amon refused to do that. Instead, he sinned even more than his father.
  24. Some of Amon's officials plotted against him and killed him in his palace.
  25. But the people of Judah killed the murderers of Amon and made his son Josiah king.

From Hezekiah to his son Manasseh, Judah was ruled by one of its best kings to its worst king. Verses 3-7 provide at least a partial list of Manasseh's sins:
  • He rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had torn down
  • He reestablished the altars for the Baals.
  • He made Asherah poles
  • He worshiped the whole heavenly host and served them.
  • He built altars in the LORD's temple
  • He built altars to the whole heavenly host in both courtyards of the LORD's temple.
  • He passed his sons through the fire in the Valley of Hinnom.
  • He practiced witchcraft, divination, and sorcery
  • He consulted mediums and spiritists
  • He set up a carved image of the idol he had made, in God's temple
Not included in this list but mentioned in 2 Kings 21:16 was that Manasseh "shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem with it from one end to another." The chronicler concluded that "Manasseh caused Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to stray so that they did worse evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites." (33:9) If the Lord removed the evil Canaanite nations to allow Israel to have their land He could not fail to deal with Manasseh.

The Lord did deal with Manasseh but not without offering him a chance to repent. He spoke to Manasseh according to verse 10 which He did, presumably, through prophets though none are mentioned. However, Manasseh did not listen. We are not told how much time the Lord allowed for the king to respond to His message and repent but eventually the Lord "brought against them the military commanders of the king of Assyria." (33:11) The Assyrian's captured Manasseh and led him away with hooks and took him to Babylon.

Finally the Lord had his attention. After some time in Babylon Manasseh "earnestly humbled himself before the God of his ancestors." (33:12) He prayed and the Lord heard him and allowed him to return to Jerusalem. Through this experience in Babylon and the Lord's answer to his prayer, it is said that Manasseh "came to know that the Lord is God." (33:13) It wasn't as if he had never seen God act on behalf of the prayers of His people. God did great things for his father Hezekiah.

With Manasseh's return to Jerusalem and spiritual conversion the king brought reform to Judah, removing "the foreign gods and the idol from the LORD's temple, along with all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the LORD's temple and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside the city." (33:15) He also rebuilt the altar of the Lord and offered fellowship and thank offerings on it. He told the people to serve the Lord but they did so on their terms. Rather than worshiping the Lord as prescribed, they converted the altars on which they had worshiped foreign gods to the worship of the Lord.

Manasseh ruled Judah for 55 years. His was the most wicked reign of any of Judah's kings and the longest. We do not know how many years out of his 55 year reign were devoted to worshiping the Lord. The chapter concludes with a short account of his son's two-year reign following his death. Amon also did what was evil, returning Judah to the worship of foreign gods. Some of his servants plotted against him and killed him in his own house and his son Josiah became king in his place.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Reflections on 2 Chronicles 32

 2 Chronicles 32 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After King Hezekiah had faithfully obeyed the LORD's instructions by doing these things, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah. He attacked the fortified cities and thought he would capture every one of them.
  2. As soon as Hezekiah learned that Sennacherib was planning to attack Jerusalem,
  3. he and his officials worked out a plan to cut off the supply of water outside the city, so that the Assyrians would have no water when they came to attack. The officials got together a large work force that stopped up the springs and streams near Jerusalem.
  4. (SEE 32:3)
  5. Hezekiah also had workers repair the broken sections of the city wall. Then they built defense towers and an outer wall to help protect the one already there. The landfill on the east side of David's City was also strengthened. He gave orders to make a large supply of weapons and shields,
  6. and he appointed army commanders over the troops. Then he gathered the troops together in the open area in front of the city gate and said to them:
  7. Be brave and confident! There's no reason to be afraid of King Sennacherib and his powerful army. We are much more powerful,
  8. because the LORD our God fights on our side. The Assyrians must rely on human power alone. These words encouraged the army of Judah.
  9. When Sennacherib and his troops were camped at the town of Lachish, he sent a message to Hezekiah and the people in Jerusalem. It said:
  10. I am King Sennacherib of Assyria, and I have Jerusalem surrounded. Do you think you can survive my attack?
  11. Hezekiah your king is telling you that the LORD your God will save you from me. But he is lying, and you'll die of hunger and thirst.
  12. Didn't Hezekiah tear down all except one of the LORD's altars and places of worship? And didn't he tell you people of Jerusalem and Judah to worship at that one place?
  13. You've heard what my ancestors and I have done to other nations. Were the gods of those nations able to defend their land against us?
  14. None of those gods kept their people safe from the kings of Assyria. Do you really think your God can do any better?
  15. Don't be fooled by Hezekiah! No god of any nation has ever been able to stand up to Assyria. Believe me, your God cannot keep you safe!
  16. The Assyrian officials said terrible things about the LORD God and his servant Hezekiah.
  17. Sennacherib's letter even made fun of the LORD. It said, "The gods of other nations could not save their people from Assyria's army, and neither will the God that Hezekiah worships."
  18. The officials said all these things in Hebrew, so that everyone listening from the city wall would understand and be terrified and surrender.
  19. The officials talked about the LORD God as if he were nothing but an ordinary god or an idol that someone had made.
  20. Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz asked the LORD for help,
  21. and he sent an angel that killed every soldier and commander in the Assyrian camp. Sennacherib returned to Assyria, completely disgraced. Then one day he went into the temple of his god where some of his sons killed him.
  22. The LORD rescued Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from Sennacherib and also protected them from other enemies.
  23. People brought offerings to Jerusalem for the LORD and expensive gifts for Hezekiah, and from that day on, every nation on earth respected Hezekiah.
  24. About this same time, Hezekiah got sick and was almost dead. He prayed, and the LORD gave him a sign that he would recover.
  25. But Hezekiah was so proud that he refused to thank the LORD for everything he had done for him. This made the LORD angry, and he punished Hezekiah and the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
  26. Hezekiah and the people later felt sorry and asked the LORD to forgive them. So the LORD did not punish them as long as Hezekiah was king.
  27. Hezekiah was very rich, and everyone respected him. He built special rooms to store the silver, the gold, the precious stones and spices, the shields, and the other valuable possessions.
  28. Storehouses were also built for his supply of grain, wine, and olive oil; barns were built for his cattle, and pens were put up for his sheep.
  29. God made Hezekiah extremely rich, so he bought even more sheep, goats, and cattle. And he built towns where he could keep all these animals.
  30. It was Hezekiah who built a tunnel that carried the water from Gihon Spring into the city of Jerusalem. In fact, everything he did was successful!
  31. Even when the leaders of Babylonia sent messengers to ask Hezekiah about the sign God had given him, God let Hezekiah give his own answer to test him and to see if he would remain faithful.
  32. Everything else Hezekiah did while he was king, including how faithful he was to the LORD, is included in the records kept by Isaiah the prophet. These are written in The History of the Kings of Judah and Israel.
  33. When Hezekiah died, he was buried in the section of the royal tombs that was reserved for the most respected kings, and everyone in Judah and Jerusalem honored him. His son Manasseh then became king.

Hezekiah's faithfulness in following the Lord and bringing spiritual reform to Judah prepared him for the Assyrian invasion that came in about the 14th year of his reign. This invasion was a delayed reaction to Hezekiah's breaking of the treaty which had existed between his father Ahaz and the Assyrians. 2 Chronicles fails to mention that when the Assyrian army first invaded the country, in a moment of weakness, Hezekiah paid tribute to the Assyrians in an attempt to buy them off. But instead of turning them back they demanded an unconditional surrender. With his back against the wall, Hezekiah's faith was renewed and he courageously prepared to protect themselves against the inevitable siege on Jerusalem. This included a dependence on God.

Before initiating an attack on Jerusalem King Sennacherib of Assyria first engaged the city in psychological warfare in an attempt to tear down their morale. But Hezekiah had prepared them by assuring them that, "we have the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles." (32:8) And the people relied on this word from their king. The Assyrian taunts did, however, send Hezekiah to his knees as he and the prophet Isaiah prayed for divine intervention. And God intervened by sending an angel who annihilated the Assryian army sending Sennacherib home in shame.

Sometime later Hezekiah became deathly ill and prayed for healing and God miraculously healed him. But then Hezekiah became proud bringing God's wrath on Judah. Realizing what he had done, Hezekiah repented and God turned back his wrath. God's intervention on behalf of Judah against Assyria and His miraculous healing of Hezekiah had exalted Hezekiah in the eyes of the other nations and people were bringing offerings to the Lord and valuable gifts to the king. So Hezekiah became very rich.

Hezekiah's pride raised its head once again later in his reign when ambassadors from Babylon came to Judah to inquire "about the miraculous sign that happened in the land." (32:31) God used this as a test of Hezekiah to see what was in his heart and it revealed pride, for he foolishly gave them a tour of all his treasures which aroused their desire to have them. Though nothing came of it during Hezekiah's lifetime, it did come back to haunt Judah.

Hezekiah died and was buried with honors.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reflections on 2 Chronicles 31

 2 Chronicles 31 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After the Festival, the people went to every town in Judah and smashed the stone images of foreign gods and cut down the sacred poles for worshiping the goddess Asherah. They destroyed all the local shrines and foreign altars in Judah, as well as those in the territories of Benjamin, Ephraim, and West Manasseh. Then everyone went home.
  2. Hezekiah divided the priests and Levites into groups, according to their duties. Then he assigned them the responsibilities of offering sacrifices to please the LORD and sacrifices to ask his blessing. He also appointed people to serve at the temple and to sing praises at the temple gates.
  3. Hezekiah provided animals from his own herds and flocks to use for the morning and evening sacrifices, as well as for the sacrifices during the Sabbath celebrations, the New Moon Festivals, and the other religious feasts required by the Law of the LORD.
  4. He told the people of Jerusalem to bring the offerings that were to be given to the priests and Levites, so that they would have time to serve the LORD with their work.
  5. As soon as the people heard what the king wanted, they brought a tenth of everything they owned, including their best grain, wine, olive oil, honey, and other crops.
  6. The people from the other towns of Judah brought a tenth of their herds and flocks, as well as a tenth of anything they had dedicated to the LORD.
  7. The people started bringing their offerings to Jerusalem in the third month, and the last ones arrived four months later.
  8. When Hezekiah and his officials saw these offerings, they thanked the LORD and the people.
  9. Hezekiah asked the priests and Levites about the large amount of offerings.
  10. The high priest at the time was Azariah, a descendant of Zadok, and he replied, "Ever since the people have been bringing us their offerings, we have had more than enough food and supplies. The LORD has certainly blessed his people. Look at how much is left over!"
  11. So the king gave orders for storerooms to be built in the temple, and when they were completed,
  12. all the extra offerings were taken there. Hezekiah and Azariah then appointed Conaniah the Levite to be in charge of these storerooms. His brother Shimei was his assistant, and the following Levites worked with them: Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah, Mahath, and Benaiah.
  13. (SEE 31:12)
  14. Kore son of Imnah was assigned to guard the East Gate, and he was put in charge of receiving the offerings voluntarily given to God and of dividing them among the priests and Levites.
  15. He had six assistants who were responsible for seeing that all the priests in the other towns of Judah also got their share of these offerings. They were Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah. Every priest and every Levite over thirty years old who worked daily in the temple received part of these offerings, according to their duties.
  16. (SEE 31:15)
  17. The priests were listed in the official records by clans, and the Levites twenty years old and older were listed by their duties.
  18. The official records also included their wives and children, because they had also been faithful in keeping themselves clean and acceptable to serve the LORD.
  19. Hezekiah also appointed other men to take food and supplies to the priests and Levites whose homes were in the pastureland around the towns of Judah. But the priests had to be descendants of Aaron, and the Levites had to be listed in the official records.
  20. Everything Hezekiah did while he was king of Judah, including what he did for the temple in Jerusalem, was right and good. He was a successful king, because he obeyed the LORD God with all his heart.
  21. (SEE 31:20)

Hezekiah's reform was more thorough than any before. This may have been due to the fact that it didn't happen by royal edict ordering removal of pagan worship altars. Instead, Hezekiah began with spiritual renewal by organizing the first Passover Judah had observed in several generations. The people responded enthusiastically and as a result were renewed. It was the people, then, who went from the Passover celebrations and "broke up the sacred pillars, chopped down the Asherah poles, and tore down the high places and altars throughout Judah and Benjamin, as well as in Ephraim and Manasseh, to the last one." as described in verse 1. Previous reforms had removed many of the altars but not all. A remnant of pagan worship remained to continue to tempt people away from the Lord.

Now Judah was ready to establish proper worship which Hezekiah did by reestablishing "the divisions of the priests and Levites for the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, for ministry, for giving thanks, and for praise in the gates of the camp of the LORD." With the divisions of priests and Levites in place the king then told the people "to give a contribution for the priests and Levites so that they could devote their energy to the law of the LORD." (31:4)

The people were as enthusiastic with their contributions as they had been with the Passover celebrations and removal of pagan worship altars and paraphernalia. As a result the priests and Levites were fed and there was a surplus as well. So Hezekiah ordered that the surplus be stored for distribution and then assigned men to be in charge of overseeing and distributing the freewill offerings dedicated for support of the priests and Levites. An accounting was made of all who belonged to the ancestral families of the priests and Levites so distrubtion could be made to all who qualified.

Hezekiah was commended by the chronicler who says of him in verse 21 that Hezekiah: "was diligent in every deed that he began in the service of God's temple, in the law and in the commandment, in order to seek his God, and he prospered."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reflections on 2 Chronicles 30

 2 Chronicles 30(Contemporary English Version)
  1. Passover wasn't celebrated in the first month, which was the usual time, because many of the priests were still unclean and unacceptable to serve, and because not everyone in Judah had come to Jerusalem for the festival. So Hezekiah, his officials, and the people agreed to celebrate Passover in the second month. Hezekiah sent a message to everyone in Israel and Judah, including those in the territories of Ephraim and West Manasseh, inviting them to the temple in Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover in honor of the LORD God of Israel.
  2. (SEE 30:1)
  3. (SEE 30:1)
  4. (SEE 30:1)
  5. Everyone from Beersheba in the south to Dan in the north was invited. This was the largest crowd of people that had ever celebrated Passover, according to the official records.
  6. Hezekiah's messengers went everywhere in Israel and Judah with the following letter: People of Israel, now that you have survived the invasion of the Assyrian kings, it's time for you to turn back to the LORD God our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob worshiped. If you do this, he will stop being angry.
  7. Don't follow the example of your ancestors and your Israelite relatives in the north. They were unfaithful to the LORD, and he punished them horribly.
  8. Don't be stubborn like your ancestors. Decide now to obey the LORD our God! Come to Jerusalem and worship him in the temple that will belong to him forever. Then he will stop being angry,
  9. and the enemies that have captured your families will show pity and send them back home. The LORD God is kind and merciful, and if you turn back to him, he will no longer turn his back on you.
  10. The messengers went to every town in Ephraim and West Manasseh as far north as the territory of Zebulun, but everyone laughed and insulted them.
  11. Only a few people from the tribes of Asher, West Manasseh, and Zebulun were humble and went to Jerusalem.
  12. God also made everyone in Judah eager to do what Hezekiah and his officials had commanded.
  13. In the second month, a large crowd of people gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Thin Bread.
  14. They took all the foreign altars and incense altars in Jerusalem and threw them into Kidron Valley.
  15. Then, on the fourteenth day of that same month, the Levites began killing the lambs for Passover, because many of the worshipers were unclean and were not allowed to kill their own lambs. Meanwhile, some of the priests and Levites felt ashamed because they had not gone through the ceremony to make themselves clean. They immediately went through that ceremony and went to the temple, where they offered sacrifices to please the LORD. Then the priests and Levites took their positions, according to the Law of Moses, the servant of God. As the Levites killed the lambs, they handed some of the blood to the priests, who splattered it on the altar.
  16. (SEE 30:15)
  17. (SEE 30:15)
  18. Most of the people that came from Ephraim, West Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun had not made themselves clean, but they ignored God's Law and ate the Passover lambs anyway. Hezekiah found out what they had done and prayed, "LORD God, these people are unclean according to the laws of holiness. But they are worshiping you, just as their ancestors did. So, please be kind and forgive them."
  19. (SEE 30:18)
  20. The LORD answered Hezekiah's prayer and did not punish them.
  21. The worshipers in Jerusalem were very happy and celebrated the Festival for seven days. The Levites and priests sang praises to the LORD every day and played their instruments.
  22. Hezekiah thanked the Levites for doing such a good job, leading the celebration. The worshipers celebrated for seven days by offering sacrifices, by eating the sacred meals, and by praising the LORD God of their ancestors.
  23. Everyone was so excited that they agreed to celebrate seven more days.
  24. So Hezekiah gave the people one thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep to be offered as sacrifices and to be used as food for the sacred meals. His officials gave one thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep, and many more priests agreed to go through the ceremony to make themselves clean.
  25. Everyone was very happy, including those from Judah and Israel, the priests and Levites, and the foreigners living in Judah and Israel.
  26. It was the biggest celebration in Jerusalem since the days of King Solomon, the son of David.
  27. The priests and Levites asked God to bless the people, and from his home in heaven, he did.

Chapter 30 is the second chapter in 2 Chronicles devoted to king Hezekiah and in both chapters all the accounts are of his devotion to spiritual reform. Chapter 29 tells of his restoration of the temple and worship of the Lord and chapter 30 tells of the reinstatement of Passover observance. Religious reform was clearly Hezekiah's top priority.

The first month of Hezekiah's reign in which he restored the temple would normally have been the month for Passover, but there was no way they could have been ready. So it was decided they would observe it a month late. The law made accommodation to delay Passover a month under circumstances of duress so this plan was not out of line. The king and people were pleased with this plan and decided to also extend it to the northern tribes who were now under Assyrian rule. It is possible permission had to be requested from the Assyrians to journey into the territory and deliver the invitations. Many of the people in the northern tribes had been taken into captivity so only a remnant remained in the land. Most of those in the northern tribes laughed at those who delivered the invitations, but a few humbled themselves and made plans to attend. Among the preparations for the Passover festivities was also the ridding of pagan altars from Jerusalem.

There was a large gathering for the Passover festivities and great enthusiasm among the people. When the priests and Levites saw the enthusiasm of the people they were ashamed that they had not taken their duties more seriously for some of them had not consecrated themselves. So they did so. Many in the assembly of people also had to be consecrated. There were also many who were unclean and by law could not partake of the Passover, but Hezekiah interceded for them before the Lord and the Lord heard him and healed the people. More important than the observance of ritual was that they people's hearts were turned to the Lord.
Verse 21 says that "The Israelites who were present in Jerusalem observed the Festival of Unleavened Bread seven days with great joy." Many of those present had likely not ever celebrated Passover because it had been so long since it had been observed. In turning their hearts to the Lord they experienced a joy that can only be experienced when we are in right relationship with the Lord. It prompted them to extend the festivities for another week.

The rejoicing that took place during these festivities had not been seen since the days of king Solomon. Not only were the people pleased, but the Lord was also pleased.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reflections on 2 Chronicles 29

 2 Chronicles 29(Contemporary English Version)
  1. Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled twenty-nine years from Jerusalem. His mother was Abijah daughter of Zechariah.
  2. Hezekiah obeyed the LORD by doing right, just as his ancestor David had done.
  3. In the first month of the first year of Hezekiah's rule, he unlocked the doors to the LORD's temple and had them repaired.
  4. Then he called the priests and Levites to the east courtyard of the temple
  5. and said: It's time to purify the temple of the LORD God of our ancestors. You Levites must first go through the ceremony to make yourselves clean, then go into the temple and bring out everything that is unclean and unacceptable to the LORD.
  6. Some of our ancestors were unfaithful and disobeyed the LORD our God. Not only did they turn their backs on the LORD, but they also completely ignored his temple.
  7. They locked the doors, then let the lamps go out and stopped burning incense and offering sacrifices to him.
  8. The LORD became terribly angry at the people of Judah and Jerusalem, and everyone was shocked and horrified at what he did to punish them. Not only were
  9. our ancestors killed in battle, but our own children and wives were taken captive.
  10. So I have decided to renew our agreement with the LORD God of Israel. Maybe then he will stop being so angry at us.
  11. Let's not waste any time, my friends. You are the ones who were chosen to be the LORD's priests and to offer him sacrifices.
  12. When Hezekiah finished talking, the following Levite leaders went to work: Mahath son of Amasai and Joel son of Azariah from the Kohath clan; Kish son of Abdi and Azariah son of Jehallelel from the Merari clan; Joah son of Zimmah and Eden son of Joah from the Gershon clan; Shimri and Jeuel from the Elizaphan clan; Zechariah and Mattaniah from the Asaph clan; Jehuel and Shimei from the Heman clan; Shemaiah and Uzziel from the Jeduthun clan.
  13. (SEE 29:12)
  14. (SEE 29:12)
  15. These leaders gathered together the rest of the Levites, and they all went through the ceremony to make themselves clean. Then they began to purify the temple according to the Law of the LORD, just as Hezekiah had commanded.
  16. The priests went into the temple and carried out everything that was unclean. They put these things in the courtyard, and from there, the Levites carried them outside the city to Kidron Valley.
  17. The priests and Levites began their work on the first day of the first month. It took them one week to purify the courtyards of the temple and another week to purify the temple. So on the sixteenth day of that same month
  18. they went back to Hezekiah and said: Your Majesty, we have finished our work. The entire temple is now pure again, and so is the altar and its utensils, as well as the table for the sacred loaves of bread and its utensils.
  19. And we have brought back all the things that King Ahaz took from the temple during the time he was unfaithful to God. We purified them and put them back in front of the altar.
  20. Right away, Hezekiah called together the officials of Jerusalem, and they went to the temple.
  21. They brought with them seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven goats as sacrifices to take away the sins of Hezekiah's family and of the people of Judah, as well as to purify the temple. Hezekiah told the priests, who were descendants of Aaron, to sacrifice these animals on the altar.
  22. The priests killed the bulls, the rams, and the lambs, then splattered the blood on the altar.
  23. They took the goats to Hezekiah and the worshipers, and they laid their hands on the animals.
  24. The priests then killed the goats and splattered the blood on the altar as a sacrifice to take away the sins of everyone in Israel, because Hezekiah had commanded that these sacrifices be made for all the people of Israel.
  25. Next, Hezekiah assigned the Levites to their places in the temple. He gave them cymbals, harps, and other stringed instruments, according to the instructions that the LORD had given King David and the two prophets, Gad and Nathan.
  26. The Levites were ready to play the instruments that had belonged to David; the priests were ready to blow the trumpets.
  27. As soon as Hezekiah gave the signal for the sacrifices to be burned on the altar, the musicians began singing praises to the LORD and playing their instruments,
  28. and everyone worshiped the LORD. This continued until the last animal was sacrificed.
  29. After that, Hezekiah and the crowd of worshipers knelt down and worshiped the LORD.
  30. Then Hezekiah and his officials ordered the Levites to sing the songs of praise that David and Asaph the prophet had written. And so they bowed down and joyfully sang praises to the LORD.
  31. Hezekiah said to the crowd, "Now that you are once again acceptable to the LORD, bring sacrifices and offerings to give him thanks." The people did this, and some of them voluntarily brought animals to be offered as sacrifices.
  32. Seventy bulls, one hundred rams, and two hundred lambs were brought as sacrifices to please the LORD;
  33. six hundred bulls and three thousand sheep were brought as sacrifices to ask the LORD's blessing.
  34. There were not enough priests to skin all these animals, because many of the priests had not taken the time to go through the ceremony to make themselves clean. However, since all the Levites had made themselves clean, they helped the priests until the last animal was skinned.
  35. Besides all the sacrifices that were burned on the altar, the fat from the other animal sacrifices was burned, and the offerings of wine were poured over the altar. So the temple was once again used for worshiping the LORD.
  36. Hezekiah and the people of Judah celebrated, because God had helped them make this happen so quickly.

Hezekiah's ascension to the throne following the death of his father Ahaz is like a breath of fresh air. Why he would be so devoted to the Lord having grown up under the influence of an ungodly father and an idolatrous environment is hard to understand though a pleasant turn of events. Why do people who have had a godly raising choose to turn away from God and others who have had an ungodly raising turn to Him? It is obviously a matter of individual choice but what influences those choices?

Hezekiah wasted no time in beginning his reform of Judah. Though scripture does not mention what influenced him to be dedicated to the Lord, it is obvious from his message to the priests and Levites in verses 5-9 that he grasped the truth that Judah's problems to this point were due to her sin in turning away from the Lord. As he said to them, "For our fathers were unfaithful and did what is evil in the sight of the LORD our God. They abandoned Him, turned their faces away from the LORD's tabernacle, and turned their backs on Him. . . . Our fathers fell by the sword, and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity because of this." (29:6, 9) Hezekiah was determined to correct this matter beginning with the religious leaders.

Continuing his message to the religious leaders, Hezekiah told them he wanted to renew Judah's covenant with the Lord so the Lord's wrath might be turned away. He challenged them not to be negligent in fulfilling their duties in serving the Lord. And the leaders accepted the challenge. In doing so, their first act was to consecrate themselves, and then they turned to the task of cleansing the temple which was done in two parts. First they cleansed the courtyard outside the temple which took eight days and then the inside of the temple which took another eight days.

With the temple now ready for use, Hezekiah gathered the city officials and went to the temple to worship. Sin offerings of bulls, rams, lambs and goats were made for the atonement of all Israel. When the burnt offerings began trumpets played and the "whole assembly was worshiping, singing the song, and blowing the trumpets--all of this continued until the burnt offering was completed." (29:28) When these ceremonies were over, Hezekiah announced to the people, "Now you are consecrated to the LORD. Come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the LORD's temple." (29:31)

The people brought sacrifices and thank offerings with willing hearts. So many burnt offerings were brought by the people that there were not enough priests to process the animals and they had to call on their Levite brothers to help. Then, "Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over how God had prepared the people, for it had come about suddenly." (29:36)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reflections on 2 Chronicles 28

 2 Chronicles 28(Contemporary English Version)
  1. Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled from Jerusalem for sixteen years. Ahaz was nothing like his ancestor David. Ahaz disobeyed the LORD
  2. and was as sinful as the kings of Israel. He made idols of the god Baal,
  3. and he offered sacrifices in Hinnom Valley. Worst of all, Ahaz sacrificed his own sons, which was a disgusting custom of the nations that the LORD had forced out of Israel.
  4. Ahaz offered sacrifices at the local shrines, as well as on every hill and in the shade of large trees.
  5. Ahaz and the people of Judah sinned and turned away from the LORD, the God their ancestors had worshiped. So the LORD punished them by letting their enemies defeat them. The king of Syria attacked Judah and took many of its people to Damascus as prisoners. King Pekah of Israel later defeated Judah and killed one hundred twenty thousand of its bravest soldiers in one day.
  6. (SEE 28:5)
  7. During that battle, an Israelite soldier named Zichri killed three men from Judah: Maaseiah the king's son; Azrikam, the official in charge of the palace; and Elkanah, the king's second in command.
  8. The Israelite troops captured two hundred thousand women and children and took them back to their capital city of Samaria, along with a large amount of their possessions. They did these things even though the people of Judah were their own relatives.
  9. Oded lived in Samaria and was one of the LORD's prophets. He met Israel's army on their way back from Judah and said to them: The LORD God of your ancestors let you defeat Judah's army only because he was angry with them. But you should not have been so cruel!
  10. If you make slaves of the people of Judah and Jerusalem, you will be as guilty as they are of sinning against the LORD.
  11. Send these prisoners back home--they are your own relatives. If you don't, the LORD will punish you in his anger.
  12. About the same time, four of Israel's leaders arrived. They were Azariah son of Johanan, Berechiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amasa son of Hadlai. They agreed with Oded that the Israelite troops were wrong,
  13. and they said: If you bring these prisoners into Samaria, that will be one more thing we've done to sin against the LORD. And he is already angry enough at us.
  14. So in front of the leaders and the crowd, the troops handed over their prisoners and the property they had taken from Judah.
  15. The four leaders took some of the stolen clothes and gave them to the prisoners who needed something to wear. They later gave them all a new change of clothes and shoes, then fixed them something to eat and drink, and cleaned their wounds with olive oil. They gave donkeys to those who were too weak to walk, and led all of them back to Jericho, the city known for its palm trees. The leaders then returned to Samaria.
  16. Some time later, the Edomites attacked the eastern part of Judah again and carried away prisoners. And at the same time, the Philistines raided towns in the western foothills and in the Southern Desert. They conquered the towns of Beth-Shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, Soco, Timnah, and Gimzo, including the villages around them. Then some of the Philistines went to live in these places. Ahaz sent a message to King Tiglath Pileser of Assyria and begged for help.
  17. (SEE 28:16)
  18. (SEE 28:16)
  19. But God was punishing Judah with these disasters, because Ahaz had disobeyed him and refused to stop Judah from sinning.
  20. So Tiglath Pileser came to Judah, but instead of helping, he made things worse.
  21. Ahaz gave him gifts from the LORD's temple and the king's palace, as well as from the homes of Israel's other leaders. The Assyrian king still refused to help Ahaz.
  22. Even after all these terrible things happened to Ahaz, he sinned against the LORD even worse than before.
  23. He said to himself, "The Syrian gods must have helped their kings defeat me. Maybe if I offer sacrifices to those gods, they will help me." That was the sin that finally led to the downfall of Ahaz, as well as to the destruction of Judah.
  24. Ahaz collected all the furnishings of the temple and smashed them to pieces. Then he locked the doors to the temple and set up altars to foreign gods on every street corner in Jerusalem.
  25. In every city and town in Judah he built local shrines to worship foreign gods. All of this made the LORD God of his ancestors very angry.
  26. Everything else Ahaz did while he was king is written in The History of the Kings of Judah and Israel.
  27. Ahaz died and was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the royal tombs. His son Hezekiah then became king.

By the time Ahaz arrived on the scene as king of Judah, there had been been gradual decline into idolatry. A couple of previous kings had started well but did not end so well, furthering the decline into idolatry. Ahaz's father, Jotham, who reigned before him did not waver in his faithfulness to the Lord, but neither did he bring any reform to Judah to rid her of idolatry. So with Ahaz's arrival idolatry was well engrained in Judah. Ahaz took it to a level never seen in Judah. It became so bad that future kings were unable to correct Judah's fall.

Ahaz had no early years in his reign in which he sought the Lord. He quickly introduced Baal worship in Judah which brought with it human sacrifice. In particular, the burning of children. As a reader viewing these events through the eyes of the chronicler, it is no surprise that God took action against Ahaz. Ahaz didn't get it though. He seemed to see  no connection between his idolatry and the troubles brought on by the invading armies sent by the Lord. First came the king of Aram who attack Ahaz and took captives and then came the king of Israel who killed 120,000 of Ahaz's army and took 200,000 captives along with a large amount of plunder.

Though God had given victory to Israel over Judah, He was not favoring Israel but was rather punishing Judah for Israel was as bad as Judah. When Israel took the captives with the intent of enslaving them, this was too much. God sent the prophet Obed to inform Israel that they had gone too far and were to return the captives. "Are you not also guilty before the LORD your God?" Obed told the Israelites. "Listen to me and return the captives you took from your brothers, for the LORD's fierce wrath is on you." (28:10-11) The Israelites listened and returned the captives.

With great losses to both the Aram and Israel, Judah was in a very weakened state. Feeling vulnerable, Ahaz turned to Assyria for help but Assyria gave no help and both the Edomites and the Philistines attack Judah and took captives further weakening Judah. Still Ahaz did not turn to the Lord evidently seeing no connection between his troubles and his unfaithfulness to the Lord. So next Assyria with whom he had made an alliance turned against him and oppressed Judah. Though Ahaz took the treasures from the Lord's temple to give Assyria he got no help from the Assyrians. Still Ahaz did not turn to the Lord. Instead, he became even more unfaithful. He reasoned that if the gods of the Arameans had helped them defeat Judah he would turn to their gods. But Satan had blinded him, keeping him from recognizing the truth. On the one hand, he failed to note that the Aramean gods had not kept them from being defeated by the Assyrians, and on the other hand did not see that all of this was a result of his turning away from the Lord.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Reflections on 2 Chronicles 27

 2 Chronicles 27 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jotham was twenty-five years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled from Jerusalem for sixteen years. Jerushah his mother was the daughter of Zadok.
  2. Jotham obeyed the LORD and did right. He followed the example of his father Uzziah, except he never burned incense in the temple as his father had done. But the people of Judah kept sinning against the LORD.
  3. Jotham rebuilt the Upper Gate of the temple and did a lot of work to repair the wall near Mount Ophel.
  4. He built towns in the mountains of Judah and built fortresses and defense towers in the forests.
  5. During his rule he attacked and defeated the Ammonites. Then every year for the next three years, he forced them to pay four tons of silver, sixty thousand bushels of wheat, and sixty thousand bushels of barley.
  6. Jotham remained faithful to the LORD his God and became a very powerful king.
  7. Everything else Jotham did while he was king, including the wars he fought, is written in The History of the Kings of Israel and Judah.
  8. After he had ruled Judah sixteen years, he died at the age of forty-one.
  9. He was buried in Jerusalem, and his son Ahaz became king.

Verse 21 of chapter 26 says that, "King Uzziah was diseased to the time of his death . . . his son Jotham was over the king's household governing the people of the land." So Jotham was co-regent with his father for several years before his father's death and then he ruled alone. Verse 1 says that he was 25 years old when he became king, but the question is whether this was when he first began with his father or when he ruled on his own. Since it is mentioned here in the context of ruling after his father's death, we might assume it was when he began to rule alone.

His reign was not particularly dramatic. Based on the few details provided in this chapter, his reign was primarily one of maintenance. He repaired the Upper Gate of the temple and the Ophel wall around the old portion of Jerusalem, and he followed up on projects in the hills and forest areas that his father had begun. He also restored the payments of tribute by the Ammonites who were subjects of Judah. They had evidently stopped paying tribute at the death of his father. Jotham went to war with them to restore the payments.

The greatest tribute to Jotham's rule is given in verse 6: "So Jotham strengthened himself because he did not waver in obeying the LORD his God." Further tribute is made by what is not said. That is, he was faced with no threats by his enemies which would likely have been the case had he not been faithful to the Lord. One negative comment comes in verse 2: "However, the people still behaved corruptly." Though Jotham personally did what was right throughout his reign, he did not press reform on the nation failing to get rid of the high places, and evidently doing little to prevent the people from acting corruptly.

The history of Israel is not just an account of the descendants of Abraham but is an illustration of mankind's universal bent toward corruption. Israel turned to God only when inspired to do so by a leader, and sometimes had to be coerced to do so. But left on their own the people turned away from God. It was not, however, a question of being religious or non-religious but of who they would worship. In general, their preference was to worship a god that allowed them to follow a form of religion without disturbing their corrupt practices.