2 Chronicles 36 ends this book on a very sad note. We’ve just finished the reign of a pretty good king, at least down to the last days. Josiah is followed by his son “Jehoahaz….reigned three months” before Neco king of Egypt came and “made Eliakim his brother king over Judah and Jerusalem, and changed his name to Jehoiakim”. Bottom line, we go from a king who followed God to a series of kings who do exactly the opposite. “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, comes and takes him captive.
So “Jehoiachin his son reigned in his place….He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”. This is beginning to sound like a broken record. Now the third king since Josiah and all of them are evil. “Zedekiah….did what was evil in the sight of the Lord….He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the Lord. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar”. It just goes from bad to worse as we continue the journey through the kings. But it is spreading quickly to the people too.
“All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations”. This is what bad leadership will do. The people follow and soon lose sight of wrong and right and are way off the tracks. God doesn’t give up on them though. “Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place”. God pursues his people and tries to bring them back. He begins by sending prophets that urge them to repent.
“But they kept mocking the messengers of God….until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy”. God’s love has limits. He will finally decide to take corrective action and clean up sin. So God sends the Chaldeans to do the cleansing and “they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels”. He made it clear that things were going to change, and they were in exile for seventy years before God takes action to bring the people back as he “stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” who was tasked with rebuilding the temple and city as Jeremiah had prophesied.
2 Chronicles 35 has Josiah keeping the Passover. The last time it had been kept was by Hezekiah some generations earlier. Josiah understood that it would take an enormous amount of planning and work to properly conduct this Passover. The priests needed to be ready and encouraged for this. He tells them to “slaughter the Passover lamb, and consecrate yourselves, and prepare for your brothers, to do according to the word of the Lord by Moses”.
One of the main features of the Passover was the sacrifice of a lamb for each household. This meant a substantial amount of work for the priests. Josiah had to organize the priests and the other workers to be ready. “So all the service of the Lord was prepared that day, to keep the Passover and to offer burnt offerings on the altar of the Lord, according to the command of King Josiah”. The phrase ‘the service of the Lord was prepared’ is a rare but significant phrase occurring additionally in the Old Testament only one other time, meaning that everything had been done exactly as God required. Josiah had the details right.
Then scripture says this: “No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet”. This Passover was remarkable for several reasons:
- It was remarkable in its size. ‘All Judah and Israel’ came to participate
- It was remarkable in its strict obedience to the Law of Moses
- It was remarkable in the way it shined amidst the dark years in Judah’s history
Josiah is doing an amazing job of leading his people. But wait for it…..he misses something very important and fails to finish strong.
“Neco king of Egypt went up to fight….and Josiah went out to meet him”. Josiah makes a mistake here. He gets in the middle of a war between Egypt and Assyria. It wasn’t his battle to fight. Neco “sent envoys to him, saying, “What have we to do with each other, king of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war”. King Neco makes it clear this is not a battle with Judah at all. He goes further warning Josiah that “God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you”.
It really can’t get a lot plainer than that. God sent Neco to deal with the Assyrians. Josiah gets in the way. And Neco politely warns him to stay away. Unfortunately though, Josiah doesn’t listen to God’s message. “Josiah did not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God….the archers shot King Josiah”. Josiah is carried back to the city and dies an early death. Why? Because he refuses to listen to God. He dies because of his stubbornness. His reign was remembered with fondness – he was a good king – but failed to finish strong.
2 Chronicles 34 has Josiah taking the throne at 8 years old and he reigned for thirty-one years in Jerusalem. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left”. Here is a young boy that comes to the throne following a king who did the exact opposite. But Josiah doesn’t just begin to return to God, he is somewhat like Hezekiah a few generations earlier with a steady focus of obeying God. “He began to purge Judah and Jerusalem….broke down the altars and beat the Asherim and the images into powder and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel”.
Josiah was not partially in to following God. Scripture tells us he “took away all the abominations from all the territory”. He cleaned things up completely and led the people to walk with God. He put a team in place to restore the House of the Lord, and used skilled workers to repair the damage. He used the money that had been previously gathered and was there to pay people to do the work. “While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given through Moses”. It had been some time since God’s Word had been seen or heard.
But that changed as Josiah is having things repaired and they come across it. “When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his clothes”. Josiah was impacted by God’s Word. That is what happens when we actually dig in – God’s truth always touches us. In Josiah’s case, it caused him to reach out to a prophet and find out God’s heart. The sin of the land was heavy, and God tells him that the nation will be punished. But there is a bright spot as God says “because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words….I also have heard you”.
God is going to bless Josiah for his repentance. But Josiah wants to do more for his people so “he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord”. He takes action. He makes God’s Word central. “The king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book”. Josiah not only makes God central in his life, but for his people too. And unlike so many, he finished strong. “All his days they did not turn away from following the Lord”. Oh that we could all have that written about us!
In 2 Chronicles 33 Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five. “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord….he burned his sons as an offering….used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger”. Remember that his father was a great king who followed God very well. So how does this kind of slip happen in the next generation? Manasseh opposed the reforms of his father Hezekiah and he brought Judah back into terrible idolatry.
“Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel”. Just as his father had restored Judah to obedience in a way that hadn’t been experienced in decades, Manasseh leads the people toward evil. But God brings the Assyrian’s to get his attention and they captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze. He is in a very bad spot, and like so many of us, he finally comes to the end of himself. So what does he do?
“When he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly….he prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom”. Even though Manasseh was a very evil king and had led the people far from God, when he cried out in humility and fell before God, his prayer is heard. God brings him home and “Manasseh knew that the Lord was God”. So he has an experience with the power of God and realizes that God was alive and in control.
He restored the kingdom back to some of the ways that his father Hezekiah had led the kingdom to. But he dies and “Amon his son reigned in his place….he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as Manasseh his father had done”. Unfortunately the impact Manasseh had on his son early led him to do evil, and unfortunately “he did not humble himself before the Lord, as Manasseh his father had….his servants conspired against him and put him to death in his house”. Amon didn’t get 55 years like his father. God removed him in his evil ways. The people killed those who had killed Amon. In some way, it could be said that the people of Judah had these wicked kings for more than 50 years because that is what they wanted. God gave them the leaders they wanted and deserved. Now, as the people of the kingdom turned towards godliness, God will give them a better king.
2 Chronicles 32 has Hezekiah up against a new challenge. “After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah”. Hezekiah has just cleaned up the house of the Lord and reinstated the feasts and now an enemy is coming against him. So he prepares for that battle. He has his men “stop the water of the springs that were outside the city….made weapons and shields….set combat commanders over the people”. Hezekiah takes physical steps to prepare for a long siege and battle.
But he does more. He “spoke encouragingly….there are more with us than with him….with us is the Lord our God”, Hezekiah had done what he could to prepare, but knows that the battle is truly the Lord’s and he lets the people know that while they are ready to fight, it is God that will do battle for them. Of course the enemy is trying to discredit that idea completely. They are speaking lies to the people. “Is not Hezekiah misleading you, that he may give you over to die by famine and by thirst….do not let Hezekiah deceive you or mislead you….do not believe him”.
The enemy surrounded the city and “they shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, in order that they might take the city”. Discouragement is a key way the enemy always comes after us. If we don’t hear the audible words from others around us, certainly the enemy whispers in our ear that we cannot trust God. That He won’t show up and do battle on our behalf. But Hezekiah knows the secret and “prayed because of this and cried to heaven”. God is his secret weapon and prayer activates God’s power.
“The Lord sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria”. They didn’t even have to raise a sword. God took care of the enemy in their very own camp. “The Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem….he provided for them on every side”. He didn’t just win the battle for them. God took care of all the details. “Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud”. Hezekiah gets prideful and believes he was the source of victory. And God rebukes him and Hezekiah humbles himself and leads his people to repent of pride in a victory that was God’s. “Hezekiah prospered in all his works”.
In 2 Chronicles 30, Hezekiah takes the next step and wants to return to the feasts that had been neglected for many years. He determines that the people “should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem to keep the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel”. It’s been a long time since the feasts had been celebrated, but Hezekiah knows it is important to return to obedience. He challenges the people, not only in his own kingdom of Judah, but sends messengers to all of the tribes of Israel calling them to come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.
It wasn’t a soft invite. “Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord and come to his sanctuary”. Pretty in your face invite, but Hezekiah wasn’t about being politically correct but jarring a people that has been ignoring God back to reality. But he has a hook in his invite. “For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him”. That’s a great promise. But the reception his messengers got was not positive – “they laughed them to scorn and mocked them”.
That didn’t stop everyone however. There were some that humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. But it had been decades and people didn’t prepare properly. “There were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves”. Hezekiah sees the issue and immediately intercedes on their behalf. “May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness”. God hears his prayer and forgives the people.
Hezekiah also shows great leadership in encouraging the people. He knows that the priests are working hard to serve. “Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good skill in the service of the Lord”. And the celebration went for another seven days as they celebrate together. The people are rejoicing in their obedience and the city of Jerusalem was filled with joy unlike any “since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem”.