Friday, November 15
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 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 hand 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 (vv. 6–11), and the required repairs were made (verses 12–14; Josephus, Antiquities 9.8.2)
After the death of Jehoiada (verses 15–16; Antiquities 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 tribute.
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 (v. 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 (v. 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.
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 he has used. This reference explains why his account differs in several particulars from the corresponding story in 2 Kings 12.
Saturday, November 16
2 Chronicles 25: After an early, abrupt, and violent end to the life of Joash, we 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 deeds of Amaziah that 2 Kings does not mention. The sole qualification the Chronicler makes at the beginning of the chapter is that Amaziah’s heart wi not pure, a point 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 murderers. This judicial policy, in which each person is held responsible only for his own offenses and 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 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 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 obvious logic to this assumption of 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 much help to him either. A prophet is sent to point out this obvious fact to the king (verse 15).
Amaziah, however, thinks 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 “loyal 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 fall into this folly. They catch hold of 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.
Sunday, November 17
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 had the longest reign of any monarch of Judah, 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 2 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 (vv. 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 (Is. 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 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 18
2 Chronicles 27: In 2 Kings little attention is paid tothe reign of Jotham. We know that he was coregent 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 (v. 1; 2? Kings 15:33) include both of these periods. This chronological complexity would explain why Josephus (Antiquities 9.11.2; 9.12.1) leaves out all time references for Jotham.
Both biblical historians attest of Jotham that “he did what was right in the sight 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 “prepared his ways before the Lord his God” (v. 6). This is an assessment we do not often find with respect to the biblical kings.
It is possible that the writers of 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, 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, the Bible does not pause to reflect on this, any 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 it. 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 suggests 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’s supremely righteous Man is not treated as we believe a righteous man should be.
Tuesday, November 19
2 Chronicles 28: Having remarked that the Chronicler’s description of a good king is his shortest chapter, we come now 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 sacrifice of his son. Even though the Chronicler says “sons” (v. 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 (Is. 7:1–2), performed this filial sacrifice in order to win the favor of the Canaanite divinities to which he was devoted (v. 2). We have to do, in this instance, 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 to reassure him of the downfall of Syria and Ephraim (Isaiah 7:3–9). Immediately afterwards Isaiah prophesied God’s miraculous intervention on behalf of His 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 who 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 (vv. 14–15). This very edifying story, found only in Chronicles, 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.
Wednesday, November 20
2 Chronicles 29: We come next 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. 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 as 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 were put in first place. What was first must be placed first, not second or somewhere else down the line.
Thursday, November 21
2 Chronicles 30: Because of the special circumstances indicated in this 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. “Nevertheless,” the Bible says, “some from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem” (verse 11). 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 celebrate the Passover at Jerusalem, where Hezekiah and the men of Judah welcomed them to the reunion. Hezekiah thus provides the ecumenical example to be followed. In his endeavor to reunite “all Israel,” Hezekiah appears in Chronicles as a kind of new David, for this is exactly what David is credited with doing (1 Chronicles 11:1, 4; 15:28). First Chronicles 11—12 contains a list of the warriors who 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.
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 Jerusalem’s Temple. We know some things about these Galilean pilgrims. Of one of these Galileans it was said, “His parents went to Jerusalem every year 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).
Friday, November 22
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 (verse 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 size of the city doubled or even tripled 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, the greater prosperity brought about a higher birth rate and longer life span.
Second, Jerusalem became home to many refugees fleeing from the north.
The next chapter of Chronicles will describe a third benefit, also derivative of 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 to 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 besieged citizens would have plenty of water (32:30).