2Kings 25: Judah went into exile, orphaned from her land.
Following its defeat by Babylon Zedekiah is made king of the now subjected Judah. However, in spite of all that’s happened, Zedekiah ignores God and then foolishly rebels against Babylon. This is the final step on the road to destruction. King Nebuchadnezzar personally oversees the final defeat of Jerusalem and then orders its total destruction. Anything of value is carried off and the rest is leveled. Even the Temple is destroyed as the city is left desolate, uninhabitable. For this generation it’s all over. Those who survive will live their lives as exiles, with all the wonderful promises of the now-broken Covenant discarded in the pile of rubble that was Jerusalem. History tells us the human reasons for all this: the rise of Babylon, the defeat of Egypt and Assyria, and the physical location of Judah. However, the Bible tells us the spiritual reason: sin. They rejected God and then, after centuries of patience and renewed chances, God rejected them. It isn’t easy, but it is possible to exhaust the patience of a merciful God. This ought to serve as a warning to both individuals and nations.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his mercy and patience…yes, thank him, but take advantage of them too.
Mistaking God’s patience for a lack of seriousness
2Kings 25: This should have been no surprise — God had said it would happen.
Judah finds itself in the middle, right between two warring world powers. On one side is Egypt and on the other is Babylon. Like some small island out in the Pacific during the Second World War, this small nation is thrust onto the world stage, not because of its military might, but simply because of its location. Upon Josiah’s untimely death the nation struggles for its identity. Sadly, it is Josiah’s reforms that lose favor. Soon, the nation is once again on the road to spiritual and national disaster. Raiding bands begin to assault Judah as the two big players on the world scene fight it out. It’s Babylon that wins. Following the “conquer and relocate” policy of Assyria before them the people of Jerusalem are relocated to a distant land with only the poor left to be ruled by a puppet king. The writer of 2nd Kings tells us that no one should have been surprised. For over 300 years they’ve been warned that God isn’t some kind of lucky charm for them. They mistakenly thought that being the “people of God” meant that, ultimately, they would be safe. They thought that because of Josiah’s reforms they were inoculated against failure. Because of the patience and mercy of God over the years, they downplayed the warnings they were given again and again. Finally though, things happened just as God had said they would. I’m reminded today that God isn’t kidding when he says he’ll judge sin. It’s a dangerous thing to mistake the patience of God with his not being serious in what he says.
Take Away: Don’t mistake the patience of the Lord for a lack of seriousness on his part.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire
2Kings 24: The threat from Egypt was now over.
Aside from the remaining wealth amassed by Solomon Judah is a minor player on the world stage. The real action has been between mighty Egypt and mighty Babylonia. Egypt is the old power and Babylonia is the new. The small kingdoms that are unfortunate enough to be between the two are mere pawns in their chess match for domination of the region. Babylon wins. Having driven Egyptian forces out of the region, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon now turns his attention to subduing the small kingdoms of the region. Judah has been defeated once, but as Nebuchadnezzar’s attention has been on other matters, Jehoiakim, king of Judah revolted, leading to a series of attacks by other smaller armies against Jerusalem. Judah has been driven to her knees as Nebuchadnezzar, himself, arrives to direct the assault on the small beleaguered country. Jerusalem surrenders and Babylonian forces plunder the city. There will be a few more stories to tell, but the grave is already dug and the end of Judah is at hand. There have been some less than perfect opportunities for Judah to remain a nation. For instance, Jehoiakim didn’t have to rebel and could have continued to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. Still, as we’re reminded several times here, “God said it would happen.” For them, this is Judgment Day. Anyone who thinks God is “too good” or “too kind” to pronounce condemnation on those who reject him should read the final chapters of 2 Kings.
Take Away: Never doubt that the holiness of the Lord means he will judge sin.
The boy-king gets an A+
2Kings 23: The world would never again see a king like Josiah.
When Josiah becomes boy-king of Judah the Temple is not only a place for sacrifices to Jehovah God, but is used for worship of Baal, Ashtoreth, and other pagan gods as well. The country is filled with shrines and altars, some dating back for centuries. Near Jerusalem stands an iron furnace that is used for child sacrifices. Clearly, the spiritual condition of Judah was pitiful, as the commandments of God have been ignored for generations. Josiah’s discovery of the Law of God shocks him to action. What he does isn’t some cosmetic religious reform. This is all out transformation. Josiah uses the Book as an instruction manual on how to live and worship. He follows it to a letter. For instance, the Book of the Covenant describes observing the Passover, something that hasn’t been done for centuries. Josiah reads the Book and follows the directions, reestablishing this observance. The result is that God is pleased with him, giving him an “A+.” Because of his faithfulness an entire generation is changed. Today, Josiah inspires us to take God seriously and to swim against the tide of popular culture. Josiah’s story gives us hope of transforming our society.
Take Away: When the Lord is given a chance, wonderful, life-changing things happen.
God taking us seriously
2Kings 22: I’m taking you seriously.
The clock is about to run out on Judah as the nation has drifted farther and farther from God. When the boy-king Josiah comes to power things have eroded to the point that even the priests at the Temple don’t know God’s Word to them. As Josiah grows up he wants to do the right thing even though he’s unsure of what the right thing is. Out of respect for God, he decides to renovate the Temple and it’s while that work is being done that Scripture is found. The message is not a pleasant, comforting one. Instead, its words declare the covenant made between God and Josiah’s ancestors. That covenant contains words of blessing but also states, in graphic terms, what will happen if they break that covenant. As Josiah hears these words the seriousness of the situation dawns upon him. He and his people are clearly candidates for the “curse” part of the covenant. He’s heartbroken and he’s frightened. He sends word to a woman of God asking for her intercession. The message she receives from God is both positive and negative. It’s negative in its confirmation that all the curses of the covenant will come true. Simply put, God will keep his word. It’s positive in that God is taking Josiah’s repentance and commitment to the Almighty seriously. Once again the curse is put on hold. As a result, Josiah will rule in peace throughout his life. Even as the Lord takes Josiah seriously he takes me seriously. That doesn’t mean my saying “I’m sorry” will stop events that are already in motion from happening. It does mean that the Lord’s willing to hear and forgive when I call out to him.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
The last ray of light
2Kings 21: And God was angry.
Manasseh wasn’t even born when Hezekiah received the 14-year extension on his life. He assumes the throne at just 12 years of age and rules Judah for 55 years. His record as king is that of total failure. All the reforms of his father are reversed. He’s as committed to sin as his father was to righteousness. Over time he moves heathen idol worship right into the Temple of God. The result, according to the Bible, is that, “God was angry.” Now, decades after the fall of Israel God says he is sending the same, and worse, upon Judah. He’s put up with their evil long enough. Still, in spite of the dire words of doom, the Almighty does not act, at least not yet. Manasseh finishes his life and is buried in peace. His son Amon doesn’t fare as well and is assassinated within two years of assuming the throne. In these accounts I’m overwhelmed by the patience of mercy of God. Even when he’s “fed up” he waits a bit longer. That doesn’t mean that I can assume that God will always give me one more chance but it does mean that God’s patience is beyond my comprehension. In each generation he reaches out with a new and old message of hope. Even as the door of his mercy is closing he extends a final ray of light, one last opportunity to receive that light. This is what sometimes happens on a deathbed where a merciful God gives a person who has rejected him again and again one last opportunity. It works in lives that are, so far as the world is concerned, ruined beyond repair. Even as the darkness descends, there’s one last glimmer of hope for the one who will reach out and grasp it. And it works for people who are reading the Internet desiring some word of hope when they stumble upon a mostly unread blog.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
I have a few questions
2Kings 20: I’ve just added fifteen yours to your life.
This incident gives us a lot to think about. Hezekiah’s sick and Isaiah comes to him with the news that God says he won’t recover. When Hezekiah pleads with the Lord, Isaiah returns with the news that God has heard his prayer and is going to add 15 years to his life. Also, Isaiah orders medicinal help in the form of a fig plaster. Hezekiah (foolishly brave if you ask me) asks for some kind of sign and Isaiah offers him a choice of the shadow on the sundial moving forward or backward. The king says, “Back” and that’s just what happens. As I said, there’s a lot to think about here. For instance, there’s the fig plaster. Did God give Isaiah a remedy for the illness or is Isaiah just having those caring for Hezekiah do something to bring relief until the healing takes place? These days the church often prays that God will “direct the surgeon’s hands” as an operation is performed. Is that similar to Isaiah saying God will heal but then ordering medicine as well? Then there’s the shadow of the sundial. When this happens it’s seen as a miracle, but now, with our knowledge of the nature of the world, it stands as one of the greatest miracles of the Bible. Talking about “moving heaven and earth” to accomplish something takes on a whole new meaning when I read this account! Then there’s the 15 years. Hezekiah, by my math, is probably 39 years young when this happens. The 15 years will take him all the way to the ripe old age of 54. His broken heart at the prospect of dying in the prime of his life is a very human response. The additional 15 years basically gives him a “normal” life span for that day and age. Is it reasonable for a person to plead with God for more time, a longer life? At what point does a person say, “God’s will be done – I’m ready to go if he chooses to take me”? We see in the story that later on, when emissaries from distant Babylon visit that Hezekiah foolishly shows them all the wealth of his kingdom. Isaiah tells him that he’s made a major mistake that will result in his own descendants being carried off as captives. Hezekiah more or less brushes it off. Had he died would this chain of events still happen? Does God answer one prayer that opens the way for disaster later on? Sorry, but I don’t have the answers. However, as you can see, I have plenty of questions!
Take Away: Some issues in the Bible that don’t make or break our faith are fun to think about.
God on the world stage
2Kings 19: Did it never occur to you that I’m behind all this?
If Sennacherib’s threatening letter to Hezekiah is intended to frighten him, it’s a great success. However, in his fear Hezekiah runs, not away, but straight to God. Soon thereafter he receives an answer. As Hezekiah has spoken to God, now God has spoken to his man, Isaiah. Part of the message from God is directed to Hezekiah but part is addressed to Sennacherib, king of Assyria. God isn’t pleased with him and he’s about to take action against him. One of the statements in particular draws our attention today. God tells this powerful heathen king, this enemy of his people, that he’s been using Sennacherib for his own purposes. This must have been seen by him as an unbelievably naïve word out of Judah. Tiny and powerless Judah says that their God has been behind his military successes of this world superpower. It would have been absolutely laughable except for the fact that on that very night a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian soldiers die without Judah lifting a finger against them. Here are some things to consider. First, I see that God used a heathen king for his own purposes. Just because a nation has success in some area it doesn’t mean that God is smiling on them and is pleased with them. Second, God moves quite comfortably in the international arena. As one of his people I need to be careful I don’t play, to use a baseball term, “small ball” all the time. I serve a God who’s interested in, and working through, events that are global in scale. Finally, no nation is bigger than God. Even if the whole world falls under the command of some conqueror, ultimately God remains Sovereign. Leaders of powerful nations had better remember that.
Take Away: Whether we recognize it or not the Lord is Sovereign; not only over our lives, but around the world and throughout the universe.
What to do after God answers
2Kings 19: And Hezekiah prayed — oh, how he prayed!
Through Isaiah Hezekiah receives an encouraging word from the Lord. God is at work even as Sennacherib issues his threat against Judah. Things are going to be okay because God says they’ll be okay. Soon thereafter Sennacherib has to turn his attention to another battle line, but before doing so, he sends Hezekiah another message which is intended to scare him witless. Whether it succeeds in scaring him or not, I do not know, but it certainly gets his attention. Rather than running and hiding, Hezekiah goes to prayer. Taking the letter from the King of Assyria to the Temple he spreads it out before God and begins pouring his heart out to the Lord. The answer comes sooner and not later. A messenger arrives from Isaiah with word that God has heard his plea, and that God has an answer for Sennacherib; an answer that should scare him witless! Well, this all makes for good biblical drama; fine devotional reading from which I can glean lessons to apply to my life. However, today I’m reminded that on this day so long ago this isn’t just a story from out of a Book as far as Hezekiah is concerned. There’s a real and powerful enemy who intends to kill him and massacre his people. When I see him going to pray I see a man desperate beyond words, and when I hear God answer him through Isaiah, I know that the story isn’t all wrapped up with a neat bow at that point. Now that Hezekiah is hearing from God he must do what may be the hardest part of all: he must believe. It’s one thing to read stuff like this in the Old Testament but another to see it really work in our lives. What do I do when a sad doctor is saying that there’s nothing else to be done, yet some uncertain messenger from God is saying otherwise? Even when I want to believe it isn’t all that easy. Hezekiah cries out to God and God answers. The rest of the story is that, when God answers, Hezekiah believes.
Take Away: Believing takes effort and is an act of the will. We choose to believe.
What to do when you face a giant
2Kings 19: Maybe God, your God, won’t let him get by with such talk.
Even though Hezekiah has tried to mend relations with Sennacherib king of Assyria it’s too late. Having whipped into shape several other countries that attempted to break away, Sennacherib returns his attention to Judah. A representative is sent, not to broker a deal, but to call for complete surrender. That representative is named Rabshaketh and, in an attempt to frighten the people of Jerusalem into rebellion against Hezekiah he not only insults Hezekiah and his small army, but he insults the God Hezekiah serves. This situation is filled with military, political, and historical elements but we read the story from a spiritual viewpoint. Earlier Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, yielded to Assyria and even installed a new altar at the Temple modeled on one used for idol worship in Damascus. When Hezekiah comes to power he not only refuses to pay tribute, but he gets rid of that altar and all the shrines and altars to the pagan gods. Even when he agrees to resume paying tribute to Sennacherib, his removal of the pagan altar is seen as a refusal to be the lap dog to Sennacherib. Because of that, the insults by Rabshaketh focus on God Jehovah. Now, Hezekiah faces absolute destruction from the giant Assyrian army. He turns to the man of God, Isaiah, asking for prayer and direction. He thinks that perhaps God will take up his cause, especially in light of the way Rabshaketh has insulted the Almighty. Facing the impossible, he turns to the One who specializes in doing the impossible. And, he isn’t disappointed.
Take Away: We don’t want to make enemies but to, instead, live in peace with all people. However, if we have to make enemies, let’s make them for the right reasons.