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 derived 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).
Saturday, November 26
2 Chronicles 32: The beginning of this chapter is abrupt. We have been reading about the reforms of Hezekiah, his renewal of the Temple worship, and his endeavor to restore the ancient unity of “all Israel.” Now, all of a sudden, we encounter somebody named Sennacherib, coming out of nowhere, invading Judah and threatening the kingdom of Hezekiah. How did all this come to pass?
Six years or so before Hezekiah came to the throne of Judah, Sargon II became the Emperor of Assyria (721-705). As so often was the case when a new emperor came to power, various disgruntled elements in the empire, sensing that the political transition was their chance for rebellion and a new political order, chose the moment to foment insurgencies. This was a common pattern, and when a new emperor had to deal with more than one insurrection at a time, he could have his hands full for several years. This is exactly what transpired when Sargon took the throne in 721.
First, there was a rebellion of the Babylonians, led by their king, Merodach-baladan, who will appear in the next chapter of Chronicles. Then, on the northwest corner of the empire King Midas of Phrygia stirred an insurrection among the Syrians in 717. Meanwhile, a barbarous Indo-Aryan group called the Cimmerians was moving south from the Caucasus and threatening several northern sections of the Assyrian Empire. Finally, on the empire’s southwestern border, the border closest to the Holy Land, the Ethiopians were effectively taking charge of Egypt and would, in 710, create Egypt’s Twenty-fifth Dynasty.
With so many problems facing the new emperor, some of the smaller nations within the empire were prompted to contemplate a little rebelliousness on their own. As the Phrygians had encouraged an uprising among the Syrians, so Egyptians fostered an impulse toward rebellion in the Holy Land.
The first to act on this impulse were the Philistines, who began to rebel in 714, at the very time when Hezekiah was initiating his reforms in Judah. Because Egypt promised military aid to whoever would join in that uprising, the temptation was strong for Edom, Moab, and Judah to throw in their lot with the Philistines. Both 2 Kings and Isaiah testify to the extraordinary geopolitical pressure brought to bear on the smaller kingdoms of Palestine during this period.
Isaiah himself strongly opposed this rebellion against Assyria. Not only did he distrust Egypt’s intentions in the region; he perceived that Egyptian and Philistine foreign policy was something quite distinct from the will of God. He urged Hezekiah and Judah not to take part in the rebellion inspired by the political machinations of Ethiopia and Egypt (Isaiah 18—19).
Early in 712 Isaiah pleaded with Hezekiah not to become involved. Later that very year, when Sargon invaded the Holy Land to deal with the Philistines, Hezekiah could be glad that he had hearkened to the counsel of Isaiah (Isaiah 20). In the Assyrian’s eyes, of course, Hezekiah was already compromised by his destruction of the Assyrian altars in the Holy Land, but at least he had not joined the open rebellion of the Philistines, and in 712 Judah was spared the destruction inflicted on the latter, thanks to the prophetic counsel of Isaiah.
Everything changed, however, in 705, when Sargon II was killed in a battle with the Cimmerians, who had invaded Asia Minor. The Assyrian Empire was once again agitated by various insurrections, rendered more serious and volatile by the fact that the emperor had perished so far from the center of political power at Nineveh. The new emperor, Sennacherib (704-681), faced trouble on all sides. For example, the Babylonians immediately revolted, as they would continue to do periodically until they were strong enough to conquer Assyria itself a century later.
Hezekiah, concluding that the time had arrived for Judah’s independence, joined a general revolt that was taking shape on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, largely under the leadership of Phoenicia. Indeed, it seems that Hezekiah himself brought pressure to bear on some of the Philistine cities in order to bring them into the coalition (2 Kings 18:8). He further saw to the fortifications of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32:3-5) and the digging of the underground aqueduct (32:30).
Meanwhile, Hezekiah also sent delegates to Egypt, seeking assistance in the rebellion. Isaiah thoroughly denounced all these efforts (Isaiah 30:1-7), but the king apparently paid him no mind.
Sennacherib needed nearly three years to fight Babylon to a standstill, but by 701 he was ready to move against the rebels in the west. He went straight for the strongest among them—Phoenicia—replacing the king of Tyre, who sought refuge on Cyprus. Indeed, this crushing of the Phoenician uprising in 701 led to the serious demise of Phoenicians as the great maritime power of the Mediterranean. In due course they would be replaced by their own colonies, such as Carthage, and also, of course, by the Greeks.
Once the Phoenicians fell, Hezekiah realized that the game was up and sued for terms of peace. Sennacherib, destroying forty-six walled cities of Judah and deported their populations, and not interested in dragging out the campaign, agreed to peace terms but made them severe. Hezekiah was obliged to strip the Temple of its gold and empty the royal treasury. The whole adventure, taken up over the objections of Isaiah, proved to be very expensive.
This is the point at which 2 Chronicles once again picks up the narrative in the present chapter. According to Josephus, Sennacherib was not satisfied with the amount that Hezekiah paid; he planned to lay siege to the city anyway.
This chapter, then, treats the siege of Jerusalem as the occasion when the Lord vindicated Hezekiah’s loyal service to the Temple and its worship—“these things and these acts of faithfulness”—verse 1 RSV).
As Sennacherib approached Jerusalem, Hezekiah knew that the die was already cast. There could be no peace negotiations this time. Capitulation to Sennacherib would certainly mean the city’s destruction. As had happened in the Northern Kingdom in 722, the masses of Judah’s population would be deported. Hezekiah saw that a fight to the death was now the only option open to him. Indeed, the reader may gain the impression that Hezekiah had long looked forward to this hour of showdown with Assyria.
Among their preparations for the coming siege, Hezekiah and his men took care to deprive the invading Assyrians of all access to local water (verses 3-4). This act of stopping up the wells, recorded only in Chronicles, would render the siege far more arduous for the besiegers, while the citizens of Judah, enclosed in the city, would enjoy ample water by way of the underground tunnel (six feet high) that Hezekiah had dug through solid stone, extending from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam (verse 30).
Hezekiah also fortified the city walls with battlements and further organized Jerusalem for military resistance. Afterwards he exhorted the people to put their faith in the Lord’s deliverance. None of these details (verses 2-8) are found in either 2 Kings or Josephus.
It is instructive to observe that Hezekiah does all that he can do, along with putting his trust in God’s assistance. He does not neglect the human efforts to defend the city. His trust in the Lord is not a foolish, superstitious, magic-like confidence. He takes every human precaution dictated by wisdom and experience. This is the context for his trust in the Lord’s deliverance.
Sennacherib sent to Jerusalem a delegation charged to discourage those besieged within the city walls. Comparing this account of the activity of this delegation with the other extant versions of the story (2 Kings 18—19, Isaiah 36—37, Josephus, Antiquities 10.1.1-5), the reader observes the Chronicler’s lack of interest in the many details recorded in those other sources. For example, unlike 2 Kings, he does not provide the date of the invasion, nor does he provide the names of those in Sennacherib’s delegation. In addition, he does not, unlike 2 Kings, tell of the great number of the Assyrians who perished (verse 21).
For the Chronicler the great offense of the Assyrians, which he elaborates through verses 16-19, consisted in their equating Israel’s God with all the other gods that they boasted of having defeated.
Although the prophet Isaiah was arguably the major religious figure of the day, this is the only place where he is named in the Books of Chronicles (verse 20).
In the event, of course, Jerusalem did not fall to the Assyrians. There were two reasons that seem to have been complementary. First, an angel of the Lord intervened, evidently in the form of a plague that destroyed the bulk of the Assyrian forces (verse 21), and then Sennacherib received word that he was needed back at the capital (2 Kings 19:7). That first explanation is corroborated somewhat by the observation of Herodotus that a plague of mice overran the Assyrian camp. Mice are common bearers of disease and infection.
In any event, the faith and fame of King Hezekiah was extolled in the outcome (verse 23).
The one verse devoted to Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery (verse 24) might be a disappointment to students of the Bible except for the many interesting details filled in by 2 Kings 20:1-11; Isaiah 38:1-8,21-22; and Josephus, Antiquities 10.2.1.
It appears to me that the Chronicler presumes the reader’s prior acquaintance with the details of this story, but he passes over them in order to say more about the king’s state of soul, his lack of gratitude, his pride, but then also his punishment and his humble repentance. This description of Hezekiah’s spiritual trial is found only in Chronicles.
Whereas in Chronicles the description of Hezekiah’s great wealth stands outside of an historical context (verses 27-29), in 2 Kings (20:13) it is placed in the context of the visit of the Babylonians delegation. The Chronicler, in his account of this latter event, shows more interest in Hezekiah’s spiritual state. The diplomatic visit itself is treated without physical details. Indeed, the Chronicler seems to suppose that his readers already know this story; he writes, completely en passant, “and so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon (verse 21—RSV).
In short, throughout this section the Chronicler manifests more interest in Hezekiah’s state of soul than in his political and military accomplishments. In this respect he receives from the Chronicler pretty much the same attention as David.
Sunday, November 27
2 Chronicles 33: We come now to Manasseh, whose reign (687-642, but with a co-regency from 697) was an unmitigated failure. First, he rebuilt, or permitted to be rebuilt, all of the idolatrous shrines throughout the land, places his father Hezekiah had taken great pains to destroy (verse 3). Second, he defiled the Temple itself by the erection of pagan altars within its precincts (verses 4-5). Third, he resorted to human sacrifice in the case of his children. Fourth, he engaged in magic and sorcery (verse 6).
Not only were these same sins of Manasseh recorded in 2 Kings 21:3-6; Jeremiah (7:31) also described some of the evils of this period: “And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire.”
It would appear that the biblical authors were most offended by Manesseh’s erection of an idol in the Temple (verse 7; 2 Kings 21:7). Both the Chronicler and the author of Kings cite the promise of the Lord to Solomon that His “name” would abide in His house in Jerusalem (2:1,4).
The Bible-reader is stunned by this massive apostasy within a single generation. What can account for so thorough and swift a fall from grace? It is likely that it should be ascribed to several causes, but I suggest that among those causes should be counted a certain erroneous and unwarranted sense of security, nearly unto superstition and magic. When Manasseh was but a child, Jerusalem had been miraculously delivered from Sennacherib’s siege. That deliverance, which had arrived as though out of nowhere, gave rise in many minds to the persuasion that Jerusalem was invincible and would never fall to the enemy. Once saved, Jerusalem would always be saved.
My suggestion is not without basis in the actual history, because we know from the prophet Jeremiah that such a superstitious attitude toward Jerusalem, accompanied by a magical sense of the city’s invulnerability, would endure throughout the rest of that century and, indeed, all the way to that day in 587 when the Babylonians destroyed it:” Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these’” (Jeremiah 7:4).
There are few impressions more deceptive than that of invincibility, and this story of Manasseh is one of the Bible’s clearest illustrations of the danger.
Nonetheless, Holy Scripture gives us two views of King Manasseh:
In 2 Kings he was a thoroughly bad man, whose reign had no redeeming aspects. He was not only an idolater of first rank (21:3-5,7,11), but also a murderer and sorcerer. Manasseh offered at least one of his children in sacrifice (21:6) and "shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another" (21:16). Flavius Josephus must have had this text in mind when he wrote that Manasseh "barbarously slew all the righteous men that were among the Hebrews; nor would he spare the prophets, for he every day slew some of them, till Jerusalem overflowed with blood" (Antiquities 10.3.1).
The most notable of the prophets murdered by Manasseh was the great Isaiah. According to an account recorded in the apocryphal story, The Martyrdom of Isaiah, Manasseh caused the prophet to be sawn in two. A passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews, because it mentions this detail, is often thought to refer to the era of Manasseh: "Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword" (11:36-37).
There is a rather different–or at least a more ample–account on Manasseh's reign in 2 Chronicles. As we have seen the Chronicler tells the same story of the evils of Manasseh, but he assigns them only to the first part of his long reign (verses 1-10).
Then the Chronicler goes on to tell quite another story of Manasseh: "Therefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon."
Whereas the prophets had failed to convert Manasseh, the Assyrians succeeded: "Now when he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God" 33:11-13). When at last he returned to Jerusalem, Manasseh was a changed man (33:14-17). This repentance on his part inspired a much later apocryphon called The Prayer of Manasseh, often included among the Odes in the Septuagint and an authorized part of the Vulgate.
This sojourn of Judah's king in Mesopotamia is also recorded in an Assyrian source called The Prism of Esarhaddon. According to this archival document, the new emperor, Esarhaddon (680-669), compelled the kings in the western part of the Assyrian Empire to come to the capital of Assyria to render their obeisance. The Prism names all these kings, among whom was Me-na-si-i Ia-ú-di—Manasseh of Judah.
This text is of great assistance in understanding the account in 2 Chronicles. Josephus, unfamiliar with the Prism, rather seriously misinterprets the biblical story by supposing it was the Babylonians who abducted Manasseh (Antiquities 10.3.1). This was scarcely possible, because the event antedated the rise of Babylon by several decades.
The truth is deeper and more interesting. According to The Prism of Esarhaddon, these subject kings were brought to Nineveh, which is exactly what we would expect, that city being the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Why, then, does 2 Chronicles say "Babylon"? Surely this does not mean the city of Babylon, which would make no sense in that historical setting. "Babylon" here refers, rather, to the region of Babylon—"Babylonia”—a territory then contained in the Assyrian Empire. In the much later perspective of the Chronicler, Nineveh was a place in “Babylon,’ much as it is now a place in Iraq.
We perceive, then, what the Chronicler has done. He has portrayed Manasseh's forced journey to Mesopotamia as a kind of small Babylonian captivity, prefiguring the great captivity of the Jews a century later. Thus the repentance of Manasseh in exile and his subsequent liturgical reforms at Jerusalem foreshadowed the repentance of the Jews, languishing in Babylon, and their subsequent restoration of worship at Jerusalem. This subtle historical analogy touches a dominant theme of the Chronicler, who regarded the orthodox worship of God as the final goal and the true significance of biblical history.
Conversion seldom carries with it the ability to set right all the harm that one has accomplished by doing evil. We see this in the case of King David, whose crimes, even after he had repented of them, continued to harm his kingdom.
Similarly Manasseh repented and mended his ways, but the evil he had done continued to outlive him. Manasseh’s devout grandson, Josiah, would be obliged to deal with the evil legacy of his repentant grandfather. Indeed, even the reforms of Josiah were unable to do more than delay the doom that would befall Jerusalem by reason of that evil legacy (34:23-28). In fact, when Jerusalem fell at last to the Babylonians in 587, “at the commandment of the Lord this came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done” (2 Kings 24:3).
Most of us have noticed how wickedness, once committed, appears to take on an independent existence. However, this existence is only apparently independent, because in truth “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Satan has his own designs on history.
Unfortunately the son of Manasseh, Amon (642-640), followed the earlier rather than the later example of his father (verses 21-23). The brief description of his death (verses 24-25; 2 Kings 21:23-24) suggests that a kind of palace coup, was put down in turn by the populace, who installed Amon’s proper heir, Josiah.
Monday, November 28
2 Chronicles 34: Josiah’s chronology seems pretty well established for us. Reasonably placing the beginning of his reign (under a regency, of course) in 640, we surmise he was born in 648 (verse 1), fathered by the 16 year-old Amon (cf. 33:21). Josiah himself became a father at age 16 (cf. 36:2). It was 632, and he had a serious religious conversion that same year (verse 3). Fathering children and getting serious about God often go together.
On reaching age 20 in the year 628, Josiah took the kingdom in hand and initiated a religious reform of the nation (verses 3-7). There are five things noticeable about this reform:
First, Josiah got rid of only Canaanite gods (verses 3-4). Evidently the Assyrian gods had already been purged by the repentant Manasseh (33:15).
Second, in the pursuit of this reform Josiah ignored his northern border (verse 6). He could afford to do this, because the recently weakened Assyrian warrior would never again show his face at the walls of Jerusalem. The last of the great Assyrian emperors, Asshurbanapal (668-633), had lately died, and none of his feeble successors could ever again threaten the western end of the Fertile Crescent. The Assyrian Empire was already in grievous decline, and the Babylonian king, Nabopolassar (626-605), would soon be in full revolt against it. Asshur would fall to the Babylonians in 614, Nineveh in 612, Haran in 610, and the dreaded Assyrian would be no more.
Third, only the Chronicler notes that the Levites were charged with the financial oversight of the refurbishing of the Temple (verses 11b-13). This is not only the kind of detail we expect in Chronicles, but it also ties the Levites to the discovery of the scroll in the Temple. In the next chapter it will be obvious that the priests and Levites were very much involved in Josiah’s project of reform.
Fourth, Josiah’s reform was seconded by the prophet Jeremiah. Born apparently in 640, the very year of Josiah’s succession, Jeremiah received his prophetic call in 627 (Jeremiah 1:2), five years before the discovery of the scroll in the Temple. Thus, Jeremiah was only 18 when the scroll was discovered. Josiah’s reform seems to have been something of a youth movement. In 627 Jeremiah complained, in fact, that he was still a mere boy (Jeremiah 1:6).
Fifth, Josiah’s reform involved the refurbishing of the Temple. As preparations were being made for refurbishing in 622 a mysterious scroll was discovered there (verse 8). Except for the mention of the Levites, the Chronicler (verses 9-11a,14-18) describes this discovery pretty much as it is described in 2 Kings 22:3-7. The scroll is described as containing “the law of the Lord given through Moses,” and biblical scholars since patristic times have suspected that it was either the Book of Deuteronomy or a significant portion thereof.
On hearing the scroll read and learning its content, Josiah was horrified, realizing how woefully he and the people had failed to observe the Law (verse 19). Even his extensive reforms, which had been in progress for several years, did not measure up. The king sensed an impending doom by reason of the nation’s accumulated sins over many generations, so he sent his companions to seek prophetic guidance on the matter (verses 20-21).
They consulted the prophetess Huldah (verse 22), who did them the kindness of telling them the worst. The accumulation of evil was already too great, she said, to evade its inevitable results. The scales were already overbalanced to the point of a relentless crash, and there was no way to stop the forces of history unleashed by so much sin. The nation would soon perish because of its chronic infidelities (verses 23-25). Only thus, remarked Josephus, could the Lord vindicate the warnings of the prophets (Antiquities 10.4.2).
The sole consolation held out by Huldah was the guarantee that the punishment of the nation would not come to pass during the lifetime of the present godly king (verses 26-28). Since Josiah was a relatively young man at the time, perhaps there were those who took comfort in the thought that they, too, would be spared the vision of the impending punishment. Alas, they did not know how little time Josiah had left in this world. The king would be dead in thirteen years.
Josiah took this prophecy of Huldah in the same spirit of humility that he displayed when the Law was first read to him. Resolving that whatever time was left would be spent in the pure service of God, he caused the book of the Law to be read aloud in the presence of the national leaders and whoever else could join them (verses 29-30). He would not spare them the bad news. He would not permit them to walk blindly into the future, putting hopes on a vain sense of security. Their days were numbered, after all, and Josiah thought it a mercy that they should know it. God was still God, and man still owed Him pure service (verse 31). Josiah, meanwhile, would continue to love God “with all his heart and all his soul,” an expression that he had recently learned from reading the Sacred Text of Deuteronomy!
The chapter’s closing verses (32-33) are proper to the Chronicler.
Tuesday, November 29
2 Chronicles 35: Although 2 Kings 23:21-23 tells of the Passover observed in Jerusalem in the year that the scroll was discovered, the account of that same celebration here in Chronicles is far more ample and detailed. Indeed, verses 2-18 of the present chapter are peculiar to the Chronicler.
Josiah entrusted the organization and preparation for this feast to the ever-reliable Levites, who were especially charged with the actual slaying of the paschal lambs (verses 3-5). At each part of the ritual the Levites performed their sundry duties as assistants, musicians, and doorkeepers (verses 10-15).
So great was Josiah’s celebration of Passover that the Chronicler’s mind was forced back to the time of Samuel to find its equal (verse 18). For two reasons this high estimate is unexpected. First, it makes Josiah’s celebration of Passover eclipse the notable Passover celebrations of David, Solomon, and Hezekiah. Second, it suggests a liturgical standard in the pre-monarchical period, a time about which, as we have seen, the Chronicler had fairly little to say at the beginning of the book. These considerations render the Chronicler’s assessment very surprising.
The Chronicler is careful to note that this Passover celebration involved “all Judah and Israel” (verse 18). Josiah’s ability to bring together the entire Chosen People, all the descendents of those who celebrated that first Passover on the night before the Exodus, indicates the recent political changes in the Fertile Crescent. Obviously no one was any longer afraid of what the Assyrians might think.
It is very significant of Josiah’s thinking, moreover, that the remnants of the northern tribes were invited to the feast, as Hezekiah had done in the previous century. The Passover was not just any feast. It was the feast in which Israel was separated from all other peoples of the earth. It was the feast that rendered Israel God’s Chosen People. Therefore, it was preeminently the feast of the unity of the People of God.
Being restricted to Jerusalem, Josiah’s celebration of the feast, we observe, corresponded to the prescription of Deuteronomy, which we believe to have formed, at least in part, the scroll so recently discovered. In that text it was commanded, “You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, but at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice” (Deuteronomy 16:5-6 ESV).
Perhaps more than any other feast in the liturgical calendar, Passover roots Israel’s worship in the concrete, documented facts of history. The annual feast itself is part of the historical continuity inaugurated by the events remembered on that holiest of nights. Israel represents, in this respect, a religious adherence profoundly different from that of the religions of India, which involve various efforts to escape from history into some kind of experience transcendent to history. Israel’s worship does not endeavor to escape the flow of history but to place the worshippers into the People’s historical identity established by historical events. Those who keep this feast become one with those who have always kept it, including those who stood to eat the Passover on that first night, protected by the sprinkled blood of the paschal lambs.
The proper celebration of the Passover, however, is more than a “then and now.” The “then and now” forms only the two extremes of the greater continuity. The full continuity is also important, because this feast is essentially an inherited feast, and the inheritance is received, not simply from the distant past, but from the more immediate past of the previous generation of worshippers.
What was true of Israel’s celebration of the paschal feast is, of course, likewise true of that new Pascha celebrated by Christians (in the identical historical continuity, for those Israelites were our own forefathers!). This is how we should understand the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians at Passover season, “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
The closing verses (20-27) of this chapter bring us to the year 609, when the final remnants of the Assyrian army were destroyed at the Battle of Carchemish. Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, had fallen to the allied forces of the Medes and Babylonians three years earlier in 612 (to the great joy of the prophet Nahum, who made this the theme of his book). In 610 the vestigial, refugee government of Assyria were driven out of Haran, at the top of the Fertile Crescent. The Assyrian situation had become desperate.
To the new pharaoh who took the throne of Egypt that very year, Neco II (610-594), this was not a good development. He felt certain that the Babylonians, after they finished off the Assyrians, would begin to cast their gaze down toward the southwestern border of the Fertile Crescent. Deciding to cast in his lot with the remaining forces of Assyria, Neco marched his army northwards along the coastal road through the Carmel range, heading toward a rendezvous with the Assyrians at Carchemish on yje Euphrates River, with the hope that with joined forces they might stop the march of the Babylonians and the Medes.
This road lay, of course, right through the territory of Judah, and Josiah was forced to make some determination about the matter. Perhaps recalling that his great-grandfather Hezekiah had been friendly toward Babylon (32:31), and certainly remembering all that the Holy Land had suffered at the hands of the Assyrians, Josiah determined to throw in his lot with Babylon and resolved to march counter to Pharaoh Neco and stop him from reaching Carchemish. When their two armies met at a crossroads on the plain beneath Armageddon, the “hill of Megiddo,” King Josiah perished in the battle.
Whereas in 2 Kings this story is told in two and a half verses (23:28-30a), the Chronicler provides a longer, more detailed, more colorful account. According to this account Pharaoh Neco tried to dissuade Josiah from fighting him, claiming even the will, protection, and providence of God for the side of the Egyptians (verse 21). What is important here is not the nature of Neco’s claim, but the fact that the Chronicler apparently agreed with it (verse 22). In the narrator’s eyes, this was one more occasion when a king of Judah refused to pay heed to a message from on high, with disastrous results for the kingdom. He will summarize this theme in the next chapter (36:15-16).
Wednesday, November 30 2 Chronicles 36: Whereas 2 Kings (23:31—25:21) devotes 58 verses to narrating the history of Judah after the death of Josiah, the Chronicler needs only a dozen verses to describe the same period (609-587 B.C.). It was a miserable time, easily summarized, and the Chronicler was not disposed to dwell on it.
As we have suggested, Josiah’s own motives may have been mixed when he determined to attack the invading army of Pharaoh Neco. The decline of the Assyrian Empire, a process requiring two decades until its fall, had created something of a political vacuum in the western half of the Fertile Crescent. In Judah itself at least one political faction favored the rise of Babylon, and this faction apparently included Josiah himself. The books of 2 Kings and Jeremiah indicate the emergence of another party that preferred an alliance with Egypt. One side or the other would prevail, because it was becoming evident to everyone that Judah’s days of political independence were at an end.
The first part of the present chapter (verses 1-10) illustrates the political struggles in which these competing forces worked themselves out. Josiah at his death was not succeeded by his eldest son Jehoiakim. A popular uprising, apparently motivated by pro-Babylonian sympathies, gave the crown to another son, Jehoahaz/Eliakim (verse 1). Within three months, however, Pharaoh Neco intervened and took this son hostage into Egypt. To replace him on the throne of Judah he chose the older son, Jehoiakim, who was perhaps more favorable, and certainly more acceptable, to Egypt (verses 2,4,5). The annual tribute that Judah paid to Egypt made manifest the de facto subjugation of Judah (verse 3).
After eleven years, nonetheless, Babylon decided to make its move on the southwest end of the Fertile Crescent, deposing Jerhoiakim and replacing him with his son Jehoiakin (verses 6-9). (In verse 9 read “eighteen” instead of “eight,” following the Greek manuscripts and 2 Kings 24:8). Within three months the Babylonians found the latter also unacceptable, so he was deposed and replaced by his uncle, Zedekiah (verses 10-11), the youngest son of Josiah. (In verse 10 he is called Jehoiakin’s “brother,” but this noun is to be understood in the normal biblical sense of “kinsman.” Only rarely does the word “brother” carry in Semitic languages the strict and limited sense that it has in English.)
The Chronicler especially blames Zedekiah for ignoring the sound counsel of Jeremiah, the last of the pre-exilic prophets. Indeed, the entire leadership of the nation is charged with polluting the Temple (verse 14), apparently with various forms of both idolatry and neglect, an indictment found only in the Chronicler.
In addition, the Chronicler speaks of two pre-exilic spoliations of the vessels of the Temple by the Babylonians (only one of which is mentioned in 2 Kings 23:13). These sacred vessels of the worship thus suffer, as it were, an early captivity in Babylon. (The Book of Ezra will give much attention to their return.)
The Chronicler perceived such defilements of the Temple and its worship, by both the Chosen People and their enemies, as attacks the very being of Israel. Eviscerating the very reason for Israel’s existence, these defilements led inevitably to the downfall of Jerusalem.
The Chronicler indicts the leaders of Judah for their sustained refusal to take seriously the warnings of the messengers of the Lord, who “sent warnings to them . . . , rising up early and sending” (verse 15). This quaint latter expression the Chronicler took straight out of the Book of Jeremiah, where it is common (7:13,25; 25:3,4; 26:5; 29:10; 35:15; 44:4; cf. 11:7; 32:33), though it appears nowhere else in Holy Scripture.
The Chronicler, even as he invokes the prophetic literature against his countrymen, appeals to the Wisdom literature by accusing them of mockery (mal‘bim), contempt (bozim) and scoffing (mitta‘t‘im) (verse 16). That is to say, the leaders of Judah have proved themselves to be the consummate “fools,” who not only refuse to receive instruction but treat with malice those who would instruct them. Against such as these, says the Chronicler, there is no remedy.
As our reading of Chronicles would lead us to expect, Jerusalem’s fall is described chiefly in terms of the Temple (verses 17,19) and its sacred vessels (verse 18).
Judah’s exile in Babylon lasted until 517 B.C. (verse 20), exactly seventy years after Jerusalem’s fall in 587. The Chronicler notes that Jeremiah (25:12) prophesied this detail (verse 21). That number—seventy—serves in the Bible as a kind of ironic Sabbath, because during all this period it is a fact that the land lay fallow and no one worked on it.
Because there was no Temple, active priesthood, nor sacrifice during the seventy years of the Babylonian Captivity, that period held no interest for the Chronicler. He skipped it completely and went straight to the downfall of Babylon and the return of the exiles in the Book of Ezra.
In a later editing the Book of Chronicles was separated from Ezra and Nehemiah, which had originally served as a narrative sequence, and became the final work in the Hebrew Scriptures. Hence, this became the last page of the Hebrew Bible. When this editing was done, the opening verses of the Book of Ezra were borrowed and added to the end of Chronicles, an arrangement that permitted the Hebrew Bible to end on a positive and optimistic note.
Thursday, December 1
Revelation 5:1-7: Because the earliest Christians were Jews, their experience of worship was tightly tied to the style of the synagogue. In the weekly worship at the synagogue, a special liturgical moment came when a reader took the Sacred Scroll of God’s Word, opened it, read it to the congregation, and then explained it.
For Christians, this solemn rite held a particular significance, because they believed that the Words of the Sacred Scroll were completed and fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah. Thus, the opening, reading, and interpretation of the Sacred Scroll was perceived as a symbol of what Jesus accomplished in His ministry, death, and resurrection.
There is a story bearing this symbolism in Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus Himself took, read, and interpreted God’s Word in the synagogue at Nazareth, finishing by referring the entire Text to himself. That Lukan passage at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry forms a literary inclusion with the action of Jesus at the end of Luke, where the wounded Lord (“Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself”) explains the meaning of Holy Scripture to the Church by referring it to His own ministry, death, and resurrection (24:25-27,32).
That is to say, the Church believes that the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ the Lord have an exegetical quality; it is interpretation in act. This primitive conviction of the Christian faith—that only Jesus can “open the Scroll”—is at the heart of what John now sees in the throne room of heaven (verse 7). The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, can open this Scroll precisely because He died and rose again (verse 9). This Lamb “stands” before God, standing being the proper posture of a priest (cf. Acts 7:55-56; Hebrews 10:11).
Although the image of Christ as the Lamb is common in the New Testament (John 1:29,36; 19:36; Acts 8:32; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19), it is utterly dominant in the Book of Revelation, where it appears twenty-eight times. The Lamb in Revelation 5 stands in His immolated, mactated state, “as though slain,” still bearing in His flesh the wounds of His Passion (cf. John 20:25,27). This picture of Jesus as the wound-bearing Lamb, opening the Scriptures, is strikingly parallel to that of the risen Lord at the end of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24:38-46).
Friday, December 2
Revelation 5:8-14: In this scene “the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb” (verse 8) in the posture of adoration. This is the posture that we commonly find people assuming in the presence of Jesus in the gospel stories, but more especially in the Gospel according to Matthew (cf. 2:2,8,11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9). Jesus is adored as equal to the Father.
Likewise, two of the three short hymns in this chapter are addressed to Christ. The first is called a “new song,” an expression derived from the Book of Psalms and Isaiah 42:10-13. It is a “new song,” not in the sense of the “latest hit,” but because it comes from—and gives expression to—the definitive newness of life given us in redemption. The new song is of a piece with our new name, the new heaven, and the new earth. This is the eternal newness purchased by the blood of Christ (verse 9), who makes us kings and priests (verse 10; cf. 1:5-6; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Exodus 19:6).
He has drawn us “out of (ek) every tribe and tongue and people and nation”; this idea, which appears repeatedly in Revelation (79; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15), is largely inspired by the Book of Daniel (3:4,7; 5:19; 6:25).
In verse 11 the whole choir of heaven joins in the “new song” of the twenty-four elders who ascribe seven things to the Lamb (verse 12), and in verse 13 the whole of creation follows suit. This hymn extends the praise of God in Chapter 4 and joins the Lamb to that praise, in which heaven and earth are united in a common worship. To understand the significance of this common worship, we should bear in mind that the context of these visions is the Church at worship in the Sunday Eucharist (cf. 1:10). These hymns in Chapters 4 and 5 were surely sung by the Church on earth as well as the Church in heaven.