Saturday, April 3, 2010

2 Kings 21-25: The End of Judah

Now we've come to my third favorite king (David is my second): Manasseh.  However, I'm not going to tell you why he's my third favorite king, and it's not going to make sense either unless you've read 2 Chronicles, because Manasseh is bad.  He is arguably the most evil king of Judah, because it is Manasseh's evil acts that move God to decide to hand Judah over to Babylon, and do it soon.  Manasseh rebuilds the high places that Hezekiah had just gotten rid of, he puts altars to false gods in the temple, he worships heavenly bodies, he sacrifices his son, he practices witchcraft and divination, and so forth.  It says that "Manasseh seduced them [Judah] to do evil more than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the sons of Israel."  Remember that when the Hebrews took the promised land, they were not just fulfilling God's promise to give the land to Abraham; they were executing God's judgment against the sins of the Canaanites.  The Canaanites were so evil and so unrepentant for so long that God decided to wipe them out.  Judah, under the reign of Manasseh alone, becomes even more evil than the people they destroyed.  That is bad.

And this is all that the book of Kings has to say about Manasseh.  I find that really odd, because there is a lot more to his story than this, but since the Tanakh puts Chronicles at the very end, you won't find out the twist for a long while.  So you'll just have to sit there and wonder why the heck this evil evil person is my third favorite king of Judah.

Manasseh's son Amon becomes king, and he is evil like Manasseh.  His servants conspire against him and assassinate him, but the people of Judah round up the conspirators and execute them, and put Amon's son Josiah on the throne.  Josiah is a mere eight years old at the time, the second youngest king in Judah's history (Joash was 7).  Josiah is a good king, a very good king.  While some of his servants are sprucing up the temple, they find the book of the Law and bring it to Josiah and read it to him.  When Josiah hears the words - the words of Moses, the first five books of the Bible - he tears his clothes.  He is totally convicted - and this is a good king already, remember.  He wants to know what is going to happen to his country because they have not kept God's laws, so he sends people to ask this prophetess named Huldah, and she tells them that God's wrath is burning against Judah, but because Josiah heard the words of the LORD and paid attention to them, the destruction God has planned for Judah is not going to happen during his lifetime.  So then the king gathers all Judah together and reads the entire Torah to them and makes a covenant with them before God to keep the Law and follow Him with heart and soul.  Then he institutes a bunch of reforms, and chapter 23 lists all the bad stuff that he eradicated from Judah, and it's cool.  Josiah did not do things halfway, I'm thinking.  He gets rid of all the altars everywhere to every god and goddess, he destroys the place where people burned their sons and daughters, he tears down the houses of the male cult prostitutes, he defiles the high places that had been rebuilt by his grandfather, he executes all the priests to false gods, and basically just goes on a rampage throughout his whole country, destroying everything that had been an idol for Judah.  Finally, he goes back to Jerusalem and reinstitutes Passover, which has not been observed since the days of the judges.  That means even David and Solomon did not observe Passover - this book has been lost for a long time.

And just like Hezekiah, the author of this book tells us that "before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to the law of Moses; nor did any arise after him."  Hezekiah, it seems, followed the LORD from the beginning.  It seems almost like Josiah turned to God because of the Torah that was found in the temple.  Maybe if that book hadn't been found, he would have just been okay.  I really believe that the Bible, even though it was written a long time ago and each book was written specifically for a particular group of people in a certain time and place, is relevant to every generation and every culture.  The Torah was already old when Josiah heard it for the first time, and he realized that those words were for him.  I think we should have the same response to God's Word that Josiah did.

Unfortunately, God has already made up his mind about Judah, and he is still going to let them get conquered by Babylon - but not just yet.  Just like he did with Canaan, he is waiting until they are past the point of no return.

Josiah's son Jehoahaz becomes king, and dangit, he's evil.  After having such a great dad, I'm at a loss as to why Jehoahaz turned away from all the good that had been accomplished in the preceding chapter.  It just goes to show you, people are individuals.  I don't know what kind of dad Josiah was, but there comes a point at which you can't guarantee the outcome of your child's life, I guess.  I'm not a parent yet, and that's already a scary thought to me.

Up to this point, it seems like Judah has had a fairly okay relationship with Egypt, but now the pharaoh imprisons Jehoahaz and sets up a different son of Josiah, Eliakim, in his place.  Jehoahaz, unfortunately for him, is held captive in Egypt and dies there.  Eliakim, meanwhile, is renamed Jehoiakim by Pharaoh, and has to pay him tribute.  He is also bad, by the way.  It's starting to look like all the good that Josiah did, was for nothing.  It only lasted one generation!

So now Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, starts encroaching on Judah.  At first Judah becomes kind of a vassal state or something, because it says that Jehoiakim serves him for three years.  But then he rebels, and so marauders from a bunch of different nations - Chaldeans, Aramenas, Moabites, and Ammonites - start attacking Judah, and the author tells us it was at the command of God, to carry out his judgment because of the sins of Manasseh.  Man, how would you like to be held responsible for the downfall of your whole entire country?  It just goes to show you, leaders and authority figures are held to a higher standard of accountability than everybody else, because they are examples, and they can influence people to follow God or not.

Jehoiakim dies and his son Jehoiachin becomes king (you can tell a country is nearing its end when the names become less and less creative).  Egypt has all but fallen to Babylon by now, Jehoiachin is only 18, also does evil in God's sight, and he only lasts three months before Nebuchadnezzar sends his army to Jerusalem.  Jehoiachin surrenders and is taken captive along with his family and a ton of people from Judah - the brave, the strong, the skilled, the talented, the educated.  Nebuchadnezzar sets up I guess Jehoiachin's uncle? Mattaniah as king, renaming him Zedekiah, who is also evil, and he tries rebelling against Nebuchadnezzasr.  So Nebuchadnezzar marches again against Jerusalem and pretty much just demolishes the city.  He kills Zedekiah's sons in front of him, then brings him to Babylon bound, and the whole of Jerusalem is burned.  Some random person named Gedaliah is appointed as governor over what's left of the people of Judah, who advises the people to serve Nebuchadnezzar - because as long as they paid tribute to him, he really was a pretty reasonable guy I think.  But a bunch of people flee to Egypt, although I'm pretty sure it was also under Babylon's control to some extent.

Remember Jehoiachin?  He's still in Babylon in prison, but he gets released and Nebuchadnezzar puts him back on the throne of Israel and treats him nicely, because he knows that Jehoiachin is going to be submissive.  And it works out pretty well for Jehoiachin after that.  He stays under Nebuchadnezzar's thumb, but he gets to keep his life, and his job, and he actually gets paid to be king for the rest of his life.  And that is the end of the story.

So man!  Judah sure went out with a bang.  I have to wonder, all those kings who tried rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar, it doesn't say any of them tried seeking God during that process.  And what I wonder is, if they had turned to God, would things have turned out differently?  God had already made up his mind to destroy Judah because of Manasseh, but because Josiah was repentant, he delayed the destruction.  I really think that if any of the successive kings had been good like Josiah, God would not have brought the destruction so soon.  But I think God knew what was going to happen.  It's sad, because Josiah tried so hard to turn the country around, but in the end it didn't work.  I don't know why.  In the end I guess that the people of Judah had hardened their hearts, and when you get to that point, it's very hard to turn back.

Believe it or not, from here the Tanakh goes to Isaiah.  So when next I write, we will be hearing from the Prophets.

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