2 Chronicles 35: The king…solemnly committed himself to the covenant.
When a campfire is fully ablaze, the individual flames are generally unnoticed. However, as the fire burns down to embers, an individual blade of fire may seem to light up the entire campsite for a moment. That’s the feeling I get as I read the story of the waning days of Judah. Most everything’s bad. Kings rise to power and then fall and almost seem to be in a competition to see who can be the most ungodly. However, along the way we meet some courageous men who, almost single handedly, lift the entire nation to their shoulders and craft, at least temporarily, a return to God. Such a man is Josiah. When the word of the Lord is discovered in the Temple he publicly vows to live according to the ancient covenant. He seeks God’s direction and receives it. Because of his desire for God, an entire generation is stopped from the march to destruction that it has been on. As I look at my own society and see the journey we’re on I nearly surrender to despair. We’re so godless, so lost in the darkness of our own making. Still, I’m reminded that even in a dying campfire just one flame can light the night. I pray that the Lord will give such a leader to my generation.
Take Away: Lord, have mercy on us.
Taking God seriously
2 Chronicles 34: The king stood by his pillar and before God solemnly committed himself to the covenant.
Josiah is just a boy when he’s made king of Judah. He’s a “seasoned” king, 26 years old and with 18 years of leadership under his belt when the Book of God’s Law is brought to him. Instantly, he realizes how much trouble his nation is in. They’ve broken all the laws in the book! The covenant his ancestors made with God had plenty of blessings in it but it had some very serious curses in it as well. Having “broken the law” they’re destined to face the consequences. Josiah, we’re told, takes this message seriously. He immediately prepares to approach God to ask for a stay of execution. His plan is simple: he’ll commit himself to the covenant that was made years earlier and broken repeatedly by the generations that went before him. The Lord’s impressed with Josiah and his people. The curse is put on hold and Josiah rules a total of thirty-one years. I’m taken today with the mercy and patience of the Lord. Think of God being so forgotten that the Temple which is to be the glorious center of worship is, instead, in a near state of ruin. Think of obedience to his laws being so neglected that that the book of the Law is simply “discovered” in those ruins. Then, watch as this young king reads, understands, and pleads with the Lord for mercy. Finally, rejoice as the Lord graciously extends that mercy. No matter how we’ve messed up there’s still hope if we repent and return to this gracious God of Second Chances.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Better late than never
2 Chronicles 33: As he prayed, God was touched.
Manasseh’s father, Hezekiah, made some mistakes, but his leadership of Judah was, by and large, pleasing to God and to his people. Now it’s Manasseh’s turn. He messes up – “royally!” Under his leadership the descendants of Abraham turn back to the idol worship of the past. He even brings disgusting idols right into the Temple his father had so carefully restored. It’s as Manasseh’s doing these stupid things that we find a chilling statement. The Scripture reports: “And God was angry.” Tell you what; if you’re doing your own thing and ignoring God you really don’t want to hear these words! The result is that God allows Assyria to accomplish what they were kept from accomplishing before. Jerusalem falls before this regional power. Manasseh, himself, is led off like a farm animal to distant Babylon, likely destined for execution. To Manasseh it seems that this just might be a good time to pray! Well, to be honest about it, it is way past time for him to pray; but pray he does. He falls on his knees and cries out to God, repenting “totally” of his sins. If one thing you really don’t want to hear about yourself is that “God is angry” the sweetest sound that can fall upon the ear is what we read here: “As he prayed, God was touched.” Manasseh shouldn’t have messed up in the first place. His life would have been vastly better had he been true to the God of his father. However, once he messed up, the next best thing was to pray a prayer of absolute, from-the-heart repentance. Such prayers always touch the heart of God. It’s true for Manasseh. It’s true for you and me.
Take Away: Better to not mess up in the first place, but if you’ve messed up it’s time to pray like you’ve never prayed before.
2 Chronicles 32: King Hezekiah…responded by praying.
Before moving on, let’s take one last look at this King of Judah who’s ranked with Solomon or even King David. Here we see his tiny nation threatened by the mighty Assyrian army. Sennacherib, himself, has come to oversee the defeat of Judah and the capture of Jerusalem. The siege starts with psychological warfare. With the huge Assyrian army camped out nearby messengers come to intimidate Hezekiah and try to divide the loyalty of the people. Of course the threat is real. Assyria has marched across the region defeating one nation after another. When Sennacherib says that Judah is next he’s deadly serious. Hezekiah responds in some practical ways. For one thing he plugs up the springs that the enemy army might use as a water supply. However, we’re told that his primary response is to pray. I love the picture I see here. For Hezekiah prayer isn’t the “last ditch because I’ve tried everything else” approach. This man has learned a valuable lesson: when he prays, God answers. It seems that I have to often return to this basic lesson. Even when I have a wealth of evidence that prayer makes all the difference in the world my first response to many life events is to try to handle things myself. It’s only when that fails that I get serious about praying. Know what? I don’t think the problem is unique to me! “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
Take Away: Prayer is to be our first response.
The very best at doing good
2 Chronicles 31: Everything he took up…he did well in a spirit of prayerful worship.
Hezekiah gets considerable mention in the Chronicles version of the history of God’s people, and with good reason. He’s said to be the “very best” at doing what is “good, right, and true” before God. This isn’t some national leader who does whatever is politically expedient and then tips his hat to the Almighty when it’s convenient. Instead, this is a man who makes every decision based on his desire to please God. That’s exactly how he approaches his religious life. If a decision has to do with worship he makes that decision prayerfully. He also prayerfully builds his life and Kingdom around carrying out God’s Laws and Commandments. Judah is a blessed nation because it has a national leader who turns to God in everything he does. The result is that he’s a “great success” and is commended by God as one who is “good, right, and true.” I pray that the Lord will give my nation and all the nations of the earth such leadership. Also, in my much smaller leadership role, I desire to follow his excellent example.
Take Away: Leading, in itself, can be good or bad; depending on the direction the leader is going. A leader who leads people to righteousness is worth celebrating.
The chief cheerleader
2 Chronicles 30: Hezekiah commended the Levites for the superb way in which they had led the people in the worship of God.
The religious reform under Hezekiah rivals the great events of David and Solomon’s reigns. The newly refurbished Temple and the eager and capable work of those who serve there make for an impressive and satisfying worship experience for all that come. When the big celebration ends, Hezekiah makes it a point to go to the Levites and commend them for their superb work. In this, I see Hezekiah not only leading in vision and agenda but in thanks and appreciation as well. Good leaders do that. I do note that Hezekiah calls their work “superb” because that’s what it is. He isn’t some cheerleader who shouts out “We’re number one” when the team’s behind by 30 points. I’m reminded though that even when the work doesn’t reach the superb level there’s probably something positive that can be said. Once the leader establishes good will the way may be opened for some constructive comments on improving things next time. So, I see in this passage that leaders should lead in words and acts of appreciation for work well done. Also, I remember that while a leader isn’t to give false praise that genuine support can lead the way to opportunities to help others grow in their service of the Lord.
Take Away: Good leaders know how to lead the way in showing appreciation for work well done.
Responding to God
2 Chronicles 29: I have decided to make a covenant with the God of Israel.
Hezekiah announces his intention to make a covenant with God. He sees that the old covenant has been broken and is in need of repair. His “new covenant” is really a reinstatement of the “old covenant.” While the statement suggests that Hezekiah’s taking the initiative here by approaching the Lord with an offer, the fact is that God has patiently waited for a response like this. If Hezekiah sees this whole event as his initiative I guess that’s okay but actually God is, and always is, the “First Mover.” That’s how it is for us too. Like the prodigal, we think to ourselves, “I will arise and go to my Father,” as though it’s all our idea in the first place. And, just like it is in that story we arrive and find that the Father has been patiently waiting for us all along. To “decide to make a covenant” is a good thing, an important decision. However, such a move is only possible by what John Wesley might describe as the “grace that goes before” — God at work making it possible for us to come to that decision in the first place.
Take Away: Do you need to work some things out with God? Guess what? He’s already moving to work things out with you!
Doubling down on a losing hand
2 Chronicles 28: If I worship the gods who helped Damascus, those gods just might help me too.
Good king Jotham is laid to rest and his son Ahaz takes over. His years in power are marked by spiritual and national failure and he leads his people into idol worship and detestable practices. Darkness descends as God withdraws his blessings on Judah. Neighboring Damascus betrays Ahaz and grinds Judah into the ground, humiliating it by taking treasures from the Temple. Ahaz, who’s turned his back on Jehovah God, stupidly concludes that the gods of Damascus are preferable to the idols he’s been worshipping. He copies their idols and brings worship of them to Jerusalem. What’s wrong with this guy? He dumps the Lord God and then wonders why he and his nation are no longer blessed. Then, to add insult to injury, rather than return to the God of his father, he decides to try out the gods of Damascus. This guy is begging for judgment and he gets it. The old wisdom is that the first thing to do when one finds himself in a hole is to stop digging. Ahaz doesn’t get it, so when he finds himself in trouble for rejecting God instead of stopping and reconsidering his course of action he doubles down on it making matters doubly worse. The thing is that this is exactly what I see people do today. They ignore God and go their own direction. Then, when things don’t work out instead of repenting and returning to God, they double down and move even farther away from the Lord than they are already. There are a lot of young adults who were raised in the church and know better who keep adding one bad decision on top of another. Sad to say in them Ahaz has lots of company.
Take Away: Adding one minus to other minuses will never get us a “plus” result.
One chapter lives
2 Chronicles 27: Jotham’s strength was rooted in his steady and determined life of obedience to God.
Jotham comes to power before he ascends to the throne. His father Uzziah’s affliction keeps him from running the government and Jotham rules in his father’s place. After seven years of this arrangement, upon the death of Uzziah, Jotham ascends to the throne. He gets high marks in both the 2nd Kings and 2nd Chronicles accounts of his reign. However, both accounts are rather brief. Jotham does some significant construction and has a couple of major military campaigns. The bottom line of his life is that his “strength was rooted in his steady and determined life of obedience to God.” If a person’s life is to be summed up in one sentence, that’s a pretty good sentence to hear. Words like “strength,” “steady,” determined,” and “obedience of God” leave us wanting to hear more about this good man. One nice thing about the account of Jotham’s life is that there’s no “but…” after the epitaph I’m considering today. I wonder what words will be used to someday describe my life? Unlike Jotham I’ll never be a famous person or a national leader. By the grace of God, though, “steadiness, determination, and obedience of God” is within my grasp. Even people who live “one chapter lives” can make that chapter count for something worthwhile.
Take Away: A life lived for the Lord is a life well lived.
Pride goes before a fall
2 Chronicles 26: Arrogant and proud, he fell.
Uzziah is just a teen when he becomes king of Judah. By and large, he does a good job as king and his long reign is a good one for his nation. From the beginning he seeks God. The Lord is pleased with him and blesses his life with successful building projects and a strong army. Then, when it seems Uzziah will be one of the rare kings who have nothing but positive things on their record something ugly happens. His successes go to Uzziah’s head. We don’t know the full story but Uzziah decides, like Saul did many generations earlier, to take over the worship activities. He takes the one role in the nation that’s denied him – going into the Temple and acting as priest of God. The legitimate priests, descendants of Aaron, try to stop Uzziah, but he ignores them. With the holy censor in hand, he refuses to hear the objections of the priests. Then, God objects, and when he objects, he can’t be ignored. The dreaded disease of leprosy breaks out on Uzziah’s hand as he holds the censor. This is God’s judgment. It’s too bad isn’t it. Uzziah comes so far and does so many things right. His downfall comes, not as a result of some big temptation or some great threat. Instead, it’s brought about by his success. When things are going right and it’s clear that God is blessing us we need to remember Uzziah. Here we see a lesson in how success can lead to failure.
Take Away: The distance from impressive success to dismal failure is shorter than we might think.