Friday, November 18
2 Chronicles 24: Joash was a mere child when the throne was given to him after the violent deposition of his grandmother, Athaliah, and we may be sure that the government in those early years fell largely to the strong, influential figures who had been responsible for that overthrow. Chief among these was the priest Jehoiada (verse 2).
In fact, Jehoiada’s major role in the restoration of a Davidic king to the throne at Jerusalem touches a strong motif of the Chronicler himself—namely, the reliance of the Davidic monarchy of Judah on the priestly house of Levi. In the present case, moreover, it is the priest who chooses the wives for the king (verse 3).
Young Joash, raised in the Temple from infancy until he was seven years old, felt a special veneration for the place, a veneration that inspired his desire to see it refurbished and kept in good repair. For this work he sought the cooperation of the Levites (verses 4-5). After some difficulties and negotiations on the matter, a collection box was placed in the Temple itself to receive the necessary resources (verses 6-11), and the required repairs were made (verses 12-14; Flavius Josephus, Antiquities 9.8.2)
After the death of Jehoiada (verses 15-16; Josephus 9.8.3), however, the moral tone of the nation declined, including the wisdom and character of the king. An invasion of Syrians (verses 23-24; 2 Kings 12:17-21), after an initial battle in which Joash was severely wounded, constrained Judah to pay the Dane-Geld.
Prior to narrating this story, however, the Chronicler concentrates on the spiritual decline that preceded that military and political defeat (verses 17-19). Jehoiada’s son, Zechariah, prophesied against the national apostasy, apparently including the king’s part in it (verse 20). This Zechariah, we should recall, was of royal blood, for his mother was an aunt to King Joash (22:11). Thus he was a first cousin to the king himself, the very king who conspired in his murder (verse 21).
Furthermore, in the description of this murder we observe a striking irony: Joash had Zechariah stoned to death within the Temple precincts, whereas Zechariah’s own father, Jehoiada, would not permit Joash’s grandmother, Athaliah, to be killed in the Temple.
This Zechariah seems to be the one referenced in Luke 11:51, called “the son of Barachiah in Matthew 23:35, perhaps under the influence of Isaiah 8:2.
King Joash, wounded in the battle with the Syrians, was then slain by two of his own citizens, themselves angered over the murder of Zechariah (verses 25-26). Again, there is a notable irony in the story: King Joash was not buried among the kings of Judah, whereas the priest Jehoiada was buried among the kings. Josephus (9.8.3) explains that this latter honor was conferred on him because of Jehoiada’s restoration of the Davidic throne.
The Chronicler ends the chapter by referring to special sources that he has used. This reference explains why his account differs in several particulars from the corresponding story in 2 Kings 12.
Saturday, November 19
2 Chronicles 25: After the early, abrupt, and violent end to the life of Joash, we now come to the reign of his son, Amaziah (794-767). The Chronicler repeats the affirmation of 2 Kings 14:3 that this king “did what was right in the sight of the Lord,” but he also includes some of the very things Amaziah did that 2 Kings does not mention. The sole qualification that the Chronicler makes at the beginning of the chapter is that Amaziah’s heart was not pure, a point that he goes on to illustrate with examples.
Both 2 Kings (14:5-6) and the Chronicler (verses 3-4) speak of Amaziah’s conformity to Deuteronomy 24:16 by not visiting revenge on the families of his father’s murders. This judicial policy, in which each person is held responsible only for his own offenses, not for those of his parents—a policy already enshrined in the Mosaic Law—will in due course inspire the prophets to deeper reflection on the nature of conscience (cf. Jeremiah 31:30; Ezekiel 18:20).
The Chronicler elaborates at some length on Amaziah’s invasion of Edom, a story that takes only one verse in 2 Kings (14:7). Only the Chronicler tells of Amaziah’s hiring of mercenaries and the prophetic reprimand that he receives for this (verses 6-12).
It is worth noting that Amaziah’s obedience to the prophet on that occasion actually made things worse, because the dismissed mercenaries, in anger and vengeance, ravaged some of the towns of Judah (verse 13). It is possible that this misfortune is what prompted Amaziah to become less willing to listen to prophecy. We shall now consider an example of this.
After defeating the Edomites, Amaziah takes their gods for his own (verse 14), thus introducing another narrative that is missing in 2 Kings 14.
There was no logic to this devout assumption of the Edomite gods. After all, since these gods had been no help to the Edomites themselves, it should have occurred to Amaziah that they would not be of much help to him either. A prophet is sent to point out this obvious fact to the king (verse 15).
Amaziah, however, thinks that he has already listened to more than enough prophecy for one day, so he rudely dismisses the prophet (verse 16). This dismissal may indicate what the Chronicler had in mind when he said that Amaziah did not have a “pure heart” (verse 2). In any case, the prophet warns him solemnly that worse things lie ahead.
Although we readers take as obvious the prophet’s point that a victor does not reasonably adopt defeated gods, in fact those who profess to serve God often do this sort of thing. They catch hold on every discredited idea and unsuccessful practice and press it to their bosoms. Even when the discrediting of these ideas and the failure of these practices yet abide in the memories of living men, they are seized upon with fervor and hope. It is irrational, and those who do such things should take seriously the words of the prophet sent to Amaziah.
If we compare the Bible’s two accounts of Amaziah’s challenge to the King of Israel (verses 17-24; 2 Kings 14:8-14), we observe that the Chronicler’s version of the story bears particular features of interpretation.
First, he introduces the story differently by mentioning that Amaziah “sought counsel” (yiwa‘ats) before making his challenge to Joash of Israel (verse 17). This verb, ya‘ats, is a cognate of the noun ‘etsah, which was the last word in the preceding sentence (verse 16). Thus, the “counsel” that Amaziah now seeks—counsel apparently sought from within his court—is contrasted with the “counsel” that he has just refused to accept from the prophet who was sent to warn him. That is to say, Amaziah receives both bad and good counsel, but he walks “in the counsel of the ungodly” (ba‘atsath resha‘im–Psalms 1:1). Accordingly, he meets the biblical definition of a fool. Only the Chronicler mentions either of these counsels given to Amaziah, just as only the Chronicler speaks of prophets being sent to him (cf. verses 7-10).
Second, only the Chronicler explicitly tells of the Lord’s intervention in bringing low the throne of Amaziah. This intention was also related directly to the king’s refusal to hear prophetic counsel (verse 20). This interpretation of the events is related directly to the prophecy that followed that matter of the gods of Edom (verse 16).
Amaziah, released from arrest after his disastrous war with Joash of Israel, reigned fifteen more years (782-767), but like his father he was assassinated in a conspiracy.
The Chronicler omits the only positive accomplishment of Amaziah’s reign, his restoration of Judah’s control over the important southern port of Elath (2 Kings 14:22), a restoration made possible by his defeat of the Edomites.
In the Second Book of Chronicles, then, Amaziah embodies the worst and most characteristic sin of Israel, the senseless adoption of gods already defeated. After his conquest of Edom, he embraced the Edomite gods, not pausing to inquire whether gods that had already proved themselves useless to the Edomites were likely to be of any use to him!
Not only did Amaziah fail to ask that question, but he also refused to listen to the counsel of someone sent to ask it for him. Such is the spiritual deafness associated with idolatry. The hardening of the heart (verse 2) leads to the hardening of the ears.
Sunday, November 20
2 Chronicles 26: We come now to the era of Uzziah. According to the custom of counting both the first and last years of his time on the throne (793-742), Uzziah was Judah’s longest reigning monarch, fifty-two years (verse 3). During his final years, however, he shared the throne with his son, Jotham (verse 21). In spite of this lengthy reign, Uzziah is treated in Second Kings (15:1-7) in a mere seven verses.
The Chronicler, whose more detailed account gives a better idea of Uzziah’s importance, distinguishes this king in five respects:
First, he mentions the tutelage provided for Uzziah by the priest Zechariah (verse 5), whom he sees as a parallel to the ancient Jehoiada, the spiritual father of King Joash (24:2).
Second, only the Chronicler spells out all the details of Uzziah’s military interests and exploits (verses 6-9,11-15). Archeology has uncovered several of the military installations mentioned in these verses.
Third, only the Chronicler speaks of Uzziah’s pronounced enthusiasm for agriculture and animal husbandry (verse 10).
Fourth, only the Chronicler gives the reason for Uzziah’s leprosy (2 Kings 15:5), regarding it as a punishment for his proud usurpation of the priestly ministry (verses 16-21). In this respect Uzziah’s rejection by God corresponds to the earlier rejection of King Saul (1 Samuel 13:8-14). The Chronicler’s inclusion of this detail expresses his sustained interest in the ministry and privileges of the authentic priesthood.
Fifth, only the Chronicler relates King Uzziah to the rise of literary prophecy: “Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, from first to last, the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz wrote” (verse 22). Because Isaiah himself, in the sixth chapter of his book describes a mystical vision in the Temple “in the year that King Uzziah died,” it is possible that this verse in Chronicles refers to the first five chapters of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1). Both Amos and Hosea also prophesied during the time of Uzziah, albeit in the Northern Kingdom (Amos 1:1; Hosea 1:1).
The Bible’s final word on Uzziah is not encouraging, for he is accused of pride and anger (verses 16-19). The prophet Isaiah, who was probably was not even born when Uzziah came to the throne, seems to intend a contrast between Judah’s longest reigning king and the Lord, Judah’s true king: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up.”
Monday, November 21
2 Chronicles 27: In 2 Kings (15:32-38) scant attention is paid to the reign of Jotham. We know that he was co-regent with his father, Uzziah, from roughly 750 to Uzziah’s death in 742; he then reigned on his own from 742 to 735. The sixteen years of his reign (verse 1; 2 Kings 15:33) include both of these periods. This chronological complexity would explain why Josephus (Antiquities 9.112; 9.12.1) leaves out all time references for Jotham.
Both biblical historians attest of Jotham that “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” Each also confesses the king’s inability to exercise much influence over an unfaithful nation. We gain some sense of this national infidelity from the Books of Isaiah and Micah.
While 2 Kings mentions Jotham’s construction of the “upper gate of the house of the Lord,” the Chronicler goes into much more extensive detail about Jotham’s building projects and his conquest of the Ammonites (verses 4-6).
Jotham is at least praised for not pursuing his father’s example of usurping rights over the Temple (verse 2). Also unlike his father, Jotham “ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (verse 6). This is an expression that we do not often find describing the biblical kings.
It is possible that both Kings and Chronicles were puzzled by the reign of Jotham, particularly his inability to get the citizens of Judah to follow his lead. He is faulted in neither source, though they do not tell much about him. Jotham did not enjoy the longevity and success that the Book of Proverbs promises to a wise and virtuous man.
Jotham thus becomes a sort of tragic figure, even though the Bible does not stop to reflect on the nature and dynamics of the tragedy, as it does in the case of Job and Qoheleth. Jotham is treated, rather, the way Abner is treated—as a just man who did not, in fact, receive all that a just man can be expected to receive. In these two historical books, Second Kings and Second Chronicles, the Bible does not pause to reflect on this, no more than it does in the case of Abner or, even earlier, righteous Abel.
This chapter on Jotham is, in fact, the shortest chapter written by the Chronicler, and he limits himself to his precise task—to chronicle, to record the story. He advances no thesis with respect to the story. He does not suggest, in even the faintest way, how we should view the problem of theodicy implicitly posed by the story. He not only does not answer the question contained in this story. He does not even mention that the story has a question. On all this he remains silent.
We readers, however, taking into consideration the whole of the inspired literature, do acknowledge the question posed by the story of Jotham. We ourselves expect God to treat righteous Jotham as a righteous man should be treated. Jotham’s reign, then, becomes a sort of foreshadowing of the Cross, where the world supremely righteous Man is not treated as we believe a righteous man should be treated.
Tuesday, November 22
2 Chronicles 28: Having remarked that the Chronicler’s story of a good king is his shortest chapter, we now come to a very bad king, Ahaz (735-715). He is so bad that he is likened to the apostate kings of the north (verse 2).
The first fifteen verses of the present chapter contain two accounts that it is profitable to contrast. The first is cruel, but the second is kind.
The first event is Ahaz’s sacrificing of his son. Even though the Chronicler says “sons” (verse 3), it is possible that this is a rhetorical flourish. Both 2 Kings (16:3) and Josephus (Antiquities 9.12.1) speak of just one son being sacrificed. The time of this crime appears to have been the invasion of the Syro-Ephraemitic League (verses 4-5), early in the reign of Ahaz, when the new king, desperate in the face of this invasion (Isaiah 7:1-2), performed this filial sacrifice in order to win the favor of the Canaanite divinities to which he was devoted (verse 2). In this instance we have to do, not only with the abomination of child sacrifice, but also with the king’s endangerment of the royal line. It was on this occasion that the prophet Isaiah went to meet King Ahaz and reassure him of the downfall of Syria and Ephraim (Isaiah 7:3-9). Immediately afterwards Isaiah prophesied God’s miraculous intervention on behalf of God’s promises to the royal family: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (7:10-17, especially 14).
The second event is the kindness shown by the northern citizens toward the prisoners of war from Judah that had been brought to them by Israel’s invading army. Only recently a southern prophet named Amos had been preaching in the Northern Kingdom, and during the course of one of his sermons he had especially mentioned the ill treatment suffered by captives and hostages taken during war. He had criticized the Philistines and the Phoenicians for selling such captives into slavery to the Edomites (Amos 1:6,9). Moreover, another prophet named Obed suddenly appeared on the scene and upbraided Israel’s army for taking such captives on their recent invasion of Judah (verses 9-11). This reprimand became part of a general humane uprising against the retaining of these captives (verses 12-13), and this uprising brought results. All of the captives, after being well treated by the populace, were taken back to the border city of Jericho and released to go home (verses 14-15). This very edifying story, found only in the Chronicler, demonstrates the endurance of kindness and compassion even in that brutal period of the eighth century before Christ.
This story of good people in the north also prepares for Hezekiah’s overtures to the north in the following chapter.
Ahaz, for his part, had a tumultuous reign (verses 17-18) because of his infidelity to God (verse 19). Instead of turning to the Lord in repentance, he sought a political solution for what was certainly a spiritual problem; he appealed to the Assyrians for help against his enemies (verse 16).
Although the Assyrian emperor, Tiglath Pileser III (745-727), provided some relief to Ahaz by defeating his oppressors (2 Kings 15:29; 16:9), the Chronicler believed that this military intervention accomplished more harm than good for Judah (verses 20-21), because it placed Ahaz under the obligation of tribute to a foreign power and involved his throne with new forms of idolatry.
It is a fact, moreover, that the name of Ahaz appears in an Assyrian inscription (where he is called “Ia-u-ha-zi”), which records the kings of Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine from whom the Assyrians received tribute. That is to say, Ahaz is regarded in this inscription (in Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, page 282) simply as another defeated king beholden to Tiglath Pileser. Obviously the perception of the thing in Assyrian differed from the perception in the eyes of Ahaz!
In addition, Ahaz began to worship the gods of Damascus because these had proved victorious against him (verses 22-23). The king somehow failed to consider that these same gods had been shown to be of no avail against the invading Assyrians. Worshippers of false gods tend not to give sufficient heed to concrete points of evidence.
We know from the longer account of this matter in 2 Kings (16:10-16) that the priest Uriah seconded Ahaz’s fall into idolatry. The Chronicler, for his part, will not honor the memory of this priest by so much as mentioning his name.
At the end of a relatively short reign, Ahaz “slept with his fathers” (2 Kings 16:20). We should bear in mind that this expression was only a contemporary euphemism for “he died.” As a matter of fact, Ahaz did not “sleep with his fathers” in the sense that he was buried with them, for the Chronicler tells us that this awful king did not merit interment in the royal cemetery (verse 27). This fact indicates that the contemporaries of Ahaz recognized his infidelities and acted accordingly.
For the prophet Isaiah, the reign of unbelieving Ahaz was a weariness to both God and men: “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also?” (Isaiah 7:13)
Wednesday, November 23
2 Chronicles 29: We come now to the reign of King Hezekiah (716-687), a period to which the Chronicler, regarding Hezekiah as one of Judah’s greatest monarchs, will devote four whole chapters of his work. In particular the Chronicler’s treatment of Hezekiah lays the groundwork for the understanding of the later efforts of King Josiah and the deuteronomic reformers.
This latter point is significant because the reign of Hezekiah can hardly be understood except in the context of the social prophetic movement of the eighth century, chiefly the influence of Isaiah and Micah. What Jeremiah would later be to the period of Josiah, Isaiah was to the time of Hezekiah. This king, then, provides a link between two periods of biblical prophecy.
Hezekiah, because of the relatively short life of his father, was only twenty-five when he assumed the throne in 716 (verse 1; 2 Kings 18:2). Some historians speculate that he was as young as fifteen. Perhaps his youth and inexperience are what disposed Hezekiah to rely on the counsel and influence of the priests and Levites older than himself, a trait of which the Chronicler, needless to say, heartily approved (verses 4-5). There is an irony, nonetheless, in the young king’s addressing these men as “my sons” (verse 11).
Hezekiah began his rule by purging the Temple of pagan “rubbish” (verse 5) with a view to restoring the authentic Temple liturgy, so woefully neglected during the reign of his father, Ahaz (verses 6-9,19; 28:24).
The priests and Levites, in response to the royal summons, began to purge the Temple of everything that defiled it, evidently the instruments and apparatus of pagan worship (verses 12-16). This process required two weeks for completion (verse 17).
Unlike his faithless father, Hezekiah was aware of the spiritual origin of Judah’s political problems. Hard times had befallen the people, he was convinced, because Judah, and especially Judah’s king, had strayed from the path of righteousness (verse 8). We recall that King Ahaz had sought to deal with the national crisis by playing geopolitical games, seeking help from Assyria to deal with enemies closer to hand. This approach had simply gained him a larger and more serious enemy. Indeed, the most significant crisis in Hezekiah’s reign, the Assyrian invasion near the end of the eighth century, was the direct result of the efforts of King Ahaz to alter the power politics of the region.
Hezekiah, for his part, would have none of this. He was determined to deal with spiritual problems as spiritual problems, and not something else. Indeed, Hezekiah’s programmatic reform maintained the proper priority indicated by our Lord’s mandate that we “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. Nothing else in Judah’s national life, Hezekiah believed, would be correctly ordered if anything but the Kingdom of God was put in first place. What was first must be placed first—not second or somewhere else down the line.
The Kingdom of God is first, not only as a point of sequence, but as a matter of principle. It is first, not only in the sense that it precedes everything else, but also in the sense that it lays the foundation for everything else. The foundations of houses are laid prior to the rest of the house, because the rest of the house is impossible without that foundation. It is that foundation that supports the rest of the house. This is what is meant by the priority of a principle. This priority is more than mere sequence. It has to do with essence. It is silly to think that we can first build the house and then add the foundation. It is similarly silly to think that we can first have a well-ordered life and then start on the foundation of that life. The Kingdom of God, accordingly, must be put first, and the Lord warns us about those who build on any other foundation.
The Temple was not simply a building consecrated to God; it was a building consecrated to the worship of God. Consequently, after the Temple was purged of defilements, King Hezekiah saw to it that this sacred space was restored to the people’s sacrificial worship.
In fact, however, the first sacrifices offered in the restored Temple were part of the restoration itself, for they were expiatory sacrifices—“sin offerings” to atone for Judah’s recent infidelities (verses 21-24).
And not for Judah only. It is important and worthy of note that the expiatory sacrifices were offered on behalf of “all Israel.” As we shall see in the ensuing chapters, Hezekiah had in mind to restore all Israel to unity under the Davidic covenantal monarchy and around the one Temple in Jerusalem.
We recall that the Northern Kingdom, the schismatic kingdom started by Jeroboam I back in 922, had just been destroyed by the Assyrians in 722, only six years before Hezekiah assumed the throne of Judah. The Assyrians, under Emperor Sargon II, had deported great masses of Israel’s population to regions far east in the Fertile Crescent. At the time of that deportation, however, a significant remnant of Israelites had been left behind, and Hezekiah regarded this situation as the opportunity to undertake the aforesaid restoration of all Israel. His purpose, we may say, was ecumenical, in the sense of wanting to restore the earlier unity. The following chapters will describe how he went about this endeavor, but here in these initial sacrifices we see already the nature of his intention.
After these expiatory sacrifices, performed early in the morning (verse 20), came the first prescribed daily “burnt offering” of Israel’s common worship (verse 27), followed by other sacrifices, including “freewill offerings” made spontaneously for various petitions and for the rendering of thanks to God (verses 31-33).
In the Chronicler’s description of this worship we may particularly note the emphasis on sacred music (verses 25,26,28,30), because this aspect of the worship has represented a special point of interest for the Chronicler from the beginning. So pronounced is this interest that some literary historians have suggested, and not without merit, that the Chronicler himself may have been among the musicians of the Temple.
The Chronicler’s emphasis here, however, is congruous with what we know from the rest of Holy Scripture; namely, that sacred hymnody has always been regarded as a normal and expected component of the Lord’s true worship. The command to “sing to the Lord” is really a command, not a recommendation. Furthermore, our attention is drawn to the use of the Psalter, “the words of David” (verse 30), in the official worship of God’s people.
Thursday, November 24
2 Chronicles 30: Because of the special circumstances indicated in the Sacred Text (verse 3), King Hezekiah and his advisors determined to observe the Passover that year one month late (verse 2). This delay could be justified by an extension of a rule given in the Book of Numbers (9:6-12), according to which those who happened to be unclean at the time of Passover could observe it a month later.
This postponement also gave Hezekiah the opportunity to invite the Israelites who formed the remnant of the Northern Kingdom, which had been destroyed by the Assyrians just six or seven years earlier. Because of this gracious overture to the “separated brethren,” those Israelites from whom Judah had been estranged for two whole centuries, there has arisen in modern times the custom of referring to Hezekiah as something of an “ecumenist.” Given the context of its cause, that description appears just.
Hezekiah’s ecumenical effort was only partly successful, but it is instructive to observe the historical significance of that success. His overture to the north was rejected by the major northern tribe, Ephraim (verse 10), but not by everybody. “However,” the Bible says, “some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem” (verse 11 ESV). That is to say, for the first time in two hundred years, pilgrims came to Jerusalem from Galilee.
It was Hezekiah, therefore, who was responsible for the spiritual and theological reunion of Galilee with Judah, after so prolonged a separation. These Galileans had just experienced the real meaning of schism. They still had in their mouths the bitter taste of separation from their own roots. Given a month’s notice, they hastened to Jerusalem for the Passover, where Hezekiah and the men of Judah welcomed them to reunion. Hezekiah thus provides the ecumenical example to be followed.
In his endeavor to re-unite “all Israel,” Hezekiah appears in Chronicles as a kind of new David, for this was exactly what David is credited with doing (1 Chronicles 11:1,4; 15:28). 1 Chronicles 11—12 contains a list of the warriors that joined David from all of Israel’s tribes. It is this reunion of the tribes under the Davidic covenant that Hezekiah has in mind to restore.
The importance of these Galileans to Hezekiah’s reign is indicated by the fact that one of Hezekiah’s later wives was from Galilee (2 Kings 23:36), as was his daughter-in-law (2 Kings 21:19).
This religious unity of Judah and the Galilean tribes was to endure over the centuries once Galilee was again joined to the Davidic throne. From that point on, pilgrims would come, at the appointed times, to offer their devotion at Solomon’s Temple. We know some things about these Galilean pilgrims. Of one of these Galileans it was said, “His parents went every year to Jerusalem at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast” (Luke 2:41-42). Of this same Galilean, some years later, it is recorded, “He remained in Galilee. But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret” (John 7:9-10).
These Galilean pilgrims would be easily recognized by their curious northern accent, and people would remark on it. They would say such things as “Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it” (Mark 14:70). If a group of Galileans all started speaking at once, everybody present took note of it. They remarked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” (Acts 2:7 ESV).
In 715, therefore, the people of Judah, their ranks swollen by the reunited brethren from the north, gathered in Jerusalem to observe the first joint celebration of the Passover in two hundred years.
A first order of business was to purge the place of pagan altars and shrines that that King Ahaz had erected in deference to the Assyrian overlord (verse 14). We may remark on two points of significance about this action:
First, the destruction of the vile Assyrian symbols had to be especially gratifying to the people from the north, whose homeland had been ravaged and laid waste by Sargon II and the Assyrian army just seven years earlier (722).
This action on the part of Hezekiah was not only religious. It expressed an explicit, intentional affront to the Assyrian Empire, making it perfectly clear to everyone that he meant business and would go all out in resistance to Assyria. That is to say, Hezekiah was knocking the chip off the shoulder of Sennacherib, the new Assyrian emperor.
It was a very bold move for this young king, only twenty-five years old, directly and explicitly to defy the armed might of the massive Assyrian Empire. It clearly marked Hezekiah as a “leader,” in the sense used by the writer who remarked that “a leader is someone with a seriously underdeveloped sense of fear.” On the other hand, Hezekiah’s action most certainly won him new friends within the remnant of Israel’s northern tribes.
Many of these northern newcomers, who had lived in schism and even apostasy for over two centuries, were not ritually pure (verse 18), but they were permitted to share in the Passover anyway. Hezekiah, perceiving that this was a time when wisdom urged a certain latitude in the application of the Law, waived the rules about ritual purity, praying that the Lord would look indulgently on each man’s good intention (verses 19-20).
It is worth remarking that the Chronicler, who treated matters of ritual with singular respect and seriousness, not only did not criticize Hezekiah for this, but he also remarked, “And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (verse 20).
We see in Hezekiah’s attitude toward the letter of the Law a kind of foreshadowing of Jesus, whom the Gospels describe as applying the Law with a gentle and merciful hand. Indeed, this disposition of Jesus gave rise to a fierce and murderous response among His enemies (cf. Mark 3:6 for instance).
These observers of Hezekiah’s Passover feast were enjoying themselves so much that, when the week of the Unleavened Bread was over, they decided to prolong the fun and festivities for another week (verse 23). It would seem that, after being separated from one another for more than two centuries, these reunited Israelites simply could not get enough of one another. The likes of this great festival, over which Hezekiah presided, had not been seen since the reign of Solomon. Such is the joy that descends on the people of God when schism and animosity are bought to an end.
Friday, November 25
2 Chronicles 31: The Chronicler gives us to understand that those many Israelites reunited through the efforts of Hezekiah, doubtless inspired by the restoration of their common worship in the Temple, went without delay to other cities in the Holy Land to initiate its spiritual reform and renewal (verse 1).
It is impossible to say whether Hezekiah was conscious, ahead of time, that his ecumenical appeal to the north would also bring important economic and geopolitical benefits to his kingdom, but it is certain that such benefits did come about as results of his appeal.
A first benefit was economic. After all, the northern sections of the Holy Land were and have always been its more prosperous parts. Thus, the arrival of these northern visitors to Jerusalem automatically brought the place enhanced revenue (verses 5-6), being doubtless the first of many beneficial commercial contacts. The economy of the region improved.
This economic development should also be related to the teaching of the social prophets who had been so active in Judah during recent years, Micah and Isaiah. It is reasonable to think that the king, prompted by the preaching of these men, undertook the sorts of social reform that would lead to the prosperity we see here in Chronicles.
A second benefit was sociological, because the prosperity of Hezekiah’s reign led to the considerable growth of Jerusalem during that period. Indeed, archeologists estimate that the city doubled or even tripled in size while Hezekiah was king; the city’s western wall was extended to include a second hill. This growth can be explained in two ways, both of them plausible and both of them traceable to the greater economic prosperity: First, there was a higher birth rate. Second, Jerusalem became the home to many refugees fleeing from the north.
The next chapter of Chronicles will describe a third benefit, also derivrf from Judah’s financial prosperity; namely, a growing sense of political autonomy from the Assyrian overlord. Hezekiah could not seriously contemplate resistance to Assyria without the financial resources to make it stick. Now, from Judah’s increased wealth, made available by the king’s new friendship with the north, Hezekiah was able to construct fortifications and take other steps to enhance the kingdom’s military strength.
For example, Hezekiah was now able dig the underground aqueduct that would enable the capital to withstand a lengthy siege. While the city’s besiegers would be obliged to endure the heat and thirst otherwise prevalent in the Judean desert, its citizens would have plenty of water (32:30).
These benefits to Judah all came from its new association with the remnants of the Northern Kingdom. There is a lesson here, of course, because this story exemplifies those blessings, good and pleasant, that abound when the brethren, united under the Lord’s anointed king, live together in harmony, commonly served by His anointed priesthood. These blessings resemble that anointing oil upon the head, running down richly to saturate the priestly beard of Aaron, flowing further yet to consecrate the very fringes of his vestment. This blessing falls as the dew of the north, even from Mount Hermon, descending on Mount Zion, for there the Lord gives His blessing, life for evermore.
We also observe that King Hezekiah appointed twelve men to keep charge of the treasures collected in the Temple precincts (verses 12-13). It is worthy of note that this sacred number twelve, the measure of the months in the solar calendar, but more especially the number of Israel’s sons, is preserved in Hezekiah’s count, even though the twelve tribes no longer existed as political and social entities. To Hezekiah’s thinking this latter circumstance was of no significance to his action. He was thinking of kol Israel, “all Israel,” in its essence, in its idea, the fullness of Israel as he was endeavoring to reconstitute it after two hundred years of disunity and utter humiliation. For Hezekiah, these twelve men still represented God’s People in its essence and totality.
In the Gospels, centuries after the slightest living social or political significance was attached to the number twelve, we see Jesus similarly choosing twelve men, who will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Indeed, the Church’s first historian records the care that the Apostles took to maintain that twelve-fold symbolic leadership of the Church for the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:21-26), the day of the Church’s foundation, and in the Bible’s final book the names of these twelve are inscribed on the twelve foundation stones of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:14).
By way of further parallel with the New Testament, let us also observe that this list of twelve men here in Chronicles is followed by another list of seven men, these charged with the proper disposition of the accumulated treasure to the needs of the priestly and Levitical families (verses 14-19). Here there is a striking correspondence with the Acts of the Apostles, where Luke’s first list of twelve men (1:13-21) is followed by a list of seven men charged with the “daily distribution” of the widows (6:1-5).
Both numbers, of course, are significant. Each is a combination of the human number 4 with the divine number 3. In 12 the 3 and 4 are united by multiplication, in 7 by addition. Twelve is the number of months in the year, seven the number of days in the week. As the combination of the divine and the human numbers, both seven and twelve have to do with the union of God and man, which is the Incarnation, Grace, and Eternal Life. This is what we mean by calling seven and twelve the numbers of fullness and perfection.
If we attempt to distinguish between the twelve and the seven as these numbers appear here in Chronicles and in the parallel lists in Acts, we may say that the number twelve seems to be theoretical, while the number seven appears to be practical. In both texts twelve symbolizes the fullness of the institution. As is indicated by the names of the twelve apostles on the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem, twelve is foundational. Seven on the other hand, pertains to those men actually counted for a specific task. Thus, twelve may be called the number of essence or being (esse), and seven the number of action (agere).