Friday, November 6

2 Chronicles 27: In 2 Kings (15:32-38) scant attention is paid to the 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 (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 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.

Saturday, November 7

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 contains 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 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)

Sunday, November 8

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 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 a building simply consecrated to God; it was 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.

Monday, 9

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 came, 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 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 armed might of the massive Assyrian Empire. It clearly marked Hezekiah as a “leader,” in the sense used by the writer who remarked, “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.

Tuesday, November 10

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 that 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 derivative 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 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).

Wednesday, November 11

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 Caucusas 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 effective 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 Egypt 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 Hezekiah 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 that 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, sent a delegation 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, was 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, whole the citizens of Judah, enclose in the city, would enjoy ample water through 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 was not a foolish, superstitious, magic-like confidence. He took every human precaution dictated by wisdom and experience. This was 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 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 boast of having defeated.

Although the prophet Isaiah was arguable 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.

Thursday, November 12

2 Chronicles 33: We come now to Manesseh, 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, but Jeremiah (7:31) also, several decades later, described some of the evils of this time: “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, put down in turn by the populace, who installed Amon’s proper heir, Josiah.

Friday, November 13

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. Apparently born 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, and as preparations were being made for it 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 have been in progress for several years, did not measure up. The king had a sense of 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 the them 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 or put their 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 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.