Day 137: Ezra 8-10; Sins of the Exiles

Upon arriving back in Jerusalem, Ezra doesn’t find everything perfect among the people.  I imagine him arriving and there being a lot of celebration or that kind of glassy-eyed look that one gets when they start a new job.  We often call it the “honeymoon phase.”  Everything seems ok, nothing really going on to upset anyone.  Everyone is happy that you’re there, no one is looking for problems.  Ignorance is bliss… but not for Ezra.  When he arrives in Jerusalem, he gets right to work.  We read about him being set by Artaxerxes, the king Persia, who allows Ezra to return to his own land with any that want to go, and gives Ezra a blessing for his journey.  Ezra rounds up the people, which are listed in chapter 8 and beings his long journey to Judah.

Esdras-Ezra was a Jewish priestly scribe who l...

Esdras-Ezra was a Jewish priestly scribe who led about 5,000 Israelite exiles living in Babylon to their home city of Jerusalem in 459 BCE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, when he arrives, it would be understandable for him to take a few days break before he gets to work… but not Ezra.  No, he jumps in with both feet.  No sooner has he arrived in Jerusalem than an official approaches him and lets him know what the situation is.  Some of the people of God, the returned exiles have intermarried.  This is a major violation of the Law of Moses.  The people of Israel were God’s people, set apart by God Himself to be a holy nation, a “royal priesthood.”  They were supposed to be the representatives of God to the world; a community blessed to be a blessing.  Part of the Law that they were to follow was that they were not to intermarry with other nations.  It was forbidden because of the nature of the people of God being set apart.  It was also forbidden because God knew that the people would be drawn away from him and to the idols of the spouses of other nations.  Its just asking for trouble really and God wanted to make sure that they weren’t exposing themselves to that kind of temptation.

Ezra Prays for the People Photo Credit: www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

Ezra Prays for the People
Photo Credit: www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

The prayer of Ezra is a beautiful prayer recognizing the sinful state that they are found in and the true fact that they are unable to do anything about it.  He recounts the people’s current predicament and God’s amazing wonders, abundant faithfulness, and unconditional love.  It kind of reminds me of Psalm 130:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Sadly, this particular passage of Scripture has been misquoted many times as a reason to Scripturally oppose inter-racial marriage.  These people take the verses of Ezra completely out of context and think that it is ok to judge people because the person that they love is of a different race or ethnic background.  That is simply not what is being said here.  The Law of Moses was very clear on the reasons for not intermarrying with these certain culture.  It had to do with the sin that they committed before the Lord and the overwhelming temptation that it would have brought on the people of Israel (not that they really needed it).  God had chosen this people and set up the Law that He did so that the people of God would fulfill the purpose that God called them to, being a light and blessing to the nations.  In any case, taking Scripture out of context and using it as proof texting for one’s own personal agenda or to further one’s own beliefs that do not jive with the rest of the Bible is wrong, and it proves nothing except ignorance.  We have to remember that these things are written in a place and context in which we are not familiar.

Besides, today’s reading isn’t about the law that was broken and the sin that was done as much as it is about repentance that takes place and the forgiveness that is given.  The people don’t simply discover the sin and say “oh well” as their fathers would have done before the exile.  Instead, they repent and turn back to God and the Lord honors their repentance.  Sadly though, Ezra ends here on a note of dissonance, pointing out that some of these inter-marriages have produced offspring.  Now these families are broken… and that is where the book ends.  Why do you think this is?  Perhaps pointing out the difficulties in following God?  Perhaps being a cliff hanger for Nehemiah?  Maybe its just something to leave you thinking, and perhaps in some uncomfortable place as we try to figure out how God is at work here to.  What do you think?



Day 136: Ezra 5-7; Rebuilding the Temple

Yesterday we read that there was some trouble in Jerusalem as the process of rebuilding the temple continued.  Some of the people from the land, possibly people from the Northern Kingdom who we would now know as Samaritans, wanted to have a part in building the Temple.  When the people of Judah say no, there is trouble and the building is suspended for a while.  However, when we pick up the story today, it seems that the building has been restarted and is well under way.  The people are diligently at work building the walls of the Temple and all the many things that go into it.

Dedication of the Temple Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

Dedication of the Temple
Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

Remember a while back, we talked about how we should always be looking for God in the narratives and stories that we read in the Bible?  I think that this is a really good place to be doing that.  Not only has God allowed for His people to travel back to Jerusalem, something that didn’t happen in these old empires, He has again provided a way for them to continue working on the Temple.  And whats more, He continually provides a way for all this to happen just as He said he would.  God is continuing to be faithful to His people even after exile just as He said he would in Leveticus 26.  There is a lot about the curses that God would bring upon His people for their disobedience, yet even at the end God says that He will be faithful to them even in their exile and if the people would turn to them, He would hear them and forgive them and continue to be faithful to them.

After a great deal of hard work we read that the Temple is finished and dedicated.  What an awesome sight this must have been.  Though, even as we read yesterday, I’m sure it was a drop in the bucket compared to the 1st Temple, yet even in this we see that the people have been faithful to God and God has intern blessed them with all the resources and funding that they need, as well as the support of the most powerful ruler of the known world at that time.

What we are seeing here, in many ways, is a fundamental re-identification of the people of God.  Like we talked about in books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, what the returned exiles need here is a way of re-identifying themselves with who they are and whose they are.  In many ways they were “dismembered” in the exile, sent back into the wilderness to be stripped of what they had become, and have now returned to the land that was a part of their identity.  Through the book of Chronicles we see that they have looked back into the past to identify themselves with God through the story that is their Story, the ancestors that are their people.  The re-dedication of the Temple followed by the celebration of the Passover is a fundamental part of their “re-identification,” or their being “re-membered” as the people of God.

Celebration of the Passover Photo Credit: www.whataboutisrael.blogspot.com

Celebration of the Passover
Photo Credit: www.whataboutisrael.blogspot.com

This also helps us to draw a parallel, one that is evident in the Bible throughout history, the parallel between water and blood.  We draw this parallel when we celebrate… you guessed it… Baptism!  In all the other wilderness experiences that we have seen Judah go through there was one thing that was in common, the passing through of the waters, which we related to Baptism.  Think of the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea, and the crossing of the Jordan, all of these times were points at which Israel was being re-identified some how.  First from a group of slaves into a people of God.  Then from a group of nomads to a nation of God.  They were re-identified through the waters, and each time they either celebrated or had just celebrated the Passover or the rehashing of the covenant.  When the people returned from exile, a 70 year wilderness experience, they may have had to cross the Jordan… the Bible doesn’t say, but they immediately begin the work of recovering their identity.  They start sacrificing to God again, the rebuild the Temple (their spiritual center in the whole world), and they celebrate the Passover, the one feast that sets them apart.

What of the parallel between blood and water then?  In Baptism, we claim that a person is sealed as a covenant member of the people of God.  In circumcision (which is bloody) this was also true of the people of Israel.  When the people of Israel crossed through the Red Sea or the Jordan they were also making a statement that they were God’s people following His command by His power.  In Baptism, at least in infant baptism, we make vows saying that we will raise our children in the ways of God and we will do it by the power of God.  The Passover then, a holiday of remembrance that celebrates that passing over of a household that has blood on its doorpost, a sign that they are indeed the people of God.  Interesting, this is why John refers to Jesus at “the Lamb of God.”  What reference do you think John is making when he refers to Jesus in this way?



Day 135: Ezra 1-4; The Exiles Return

The book of Ezra is written by Ezra himself.  He also wrote the book of Nehemiah and is considered by many to be the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles.  Ezra was a writer, obviously, and one of the priests that returned to Jerusalem when the exiles returned.  We pick up the story of Ezra and the exiles basically where we left off yesterday.  The end of the book of 2 Chronicles, as you read, spoke of the people of Judah being allowed to return to Jerusalem.  Today we encounter that narrative and many of the names of the people who embarked on this journey.

Exiles Return to Jerusalem Photo Credit: www.missionbibleclass.org

Exiles Return to Jerusalem
Photo Credit: www.missionbibleclass.org

However, before we really get in to the book of Ezra, we need to get some background.  In the first paragraph of the first chapter we see that this is happening so that the Word of the Lord that was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah would be fulfilled.  This right here should clue us in to the fact that we might have missed some of the story in all of this.  Who is Jeremiah?  When did he say this?  Why was this not recorded?  Well… actually it was.  The problem that we run into with the cannon of Scripture is the way that it is divided up.  The Bible is divided up into different sections that are not necessarily in chronological order.  As we saw going into the book of Chronicles, we took a step back in time and rehashed the whole of the story of the kings.  Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are all books that fall into this same category, the category of historical books.  Genesis through Deuteronomy are considered to be the Torah (which means law or teaching in Hebrew).  The books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and the three that we will be engaging over the next week are considered to be history books.  From there we will go on to the wisdom books of Job – Song of Solomon, and then get into the prophets, of which Jeremiah is one.

In any case, the background that we are looking for here comes from Jeremiah 25 and Jeremiah 29 and concerns the length of the exile that will take place and also how the people will return.  Today’s text and all that follow in Ezra and Nehemiah speak to the nature of the return of the exiles of Judah.  So we have passed over 70 years worth of happenings of God’s people in exile.  Much of this will be filled in with people like Jeremiah, Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel and others.

Rebuilding the Temple Photo Credit: www.workersforjesus.com

Rebuilding the Temple
Photo Credit: www.workersforjesus.com

In the mean time, as we look here, the people have returned and start to rebuild the Temple of God.  The first thing they do is set up an alter and begin sacrificing to the Lord.  Interestingly, before they do anything to even protect themselves, the people of God worship Him.  What a testament to their life of faith, something that would have done them well 70 years ago.  From there they go on to start the building process by laying the foundation of the Temple.  This is, no doubt, a momentous undertaking, but one that they do joyfully.  Ezra records the reaction of the people when they finish laying the foundation, a mixed bag to be sure.  Many rejoice, the young people that have known nothing but captivity and had heard only stories of the glory of the Temple of God.  Others weep, the elderly who had seen the glory of the original temple and see the horrid state that it is in now.  These mixed emotions though, are blended together, a community of the people of God lifting up their voices to God.

I wonder if we feel free to lift our voice to God in whatever way we feel led on any given day, much less a Sunday.  Would it be ok in your congregation to cry?  Weep?  Shout for joy?  While I’m not sure that this is the take home message of today’s reading, it does make me think about our worship on Sundays (I am a worship leader after all).  These people were able to react in whatever way seems right to them, whether it be a shout or a cry… no one looked down on them, no one judged them, and ultimately the people, who were being faithful to God, lifted up one voice to God.  I wonder what that looks like in our churches today?



Day 134: 2 Chronicles 35-36; Josiah Through Zedekiah and the Exile

The final chapters of the book of 2 Chronicles ends in much the same way the the book of 2 Kings draws to a close.  Josiah, after celebrating the Passover with the people of Judah and many that come from the decimated Northern Kingdom of Israel, makes a grave error (no pun intended).  All of this happens around 600 BC during rise of the Babylonian Empire.  Pharaoh Neco, also known as Necho II, honoring an alliance that has been formed with Assyria, needs to travel north to aid the Assyrian military in its resistance against Babylon.  To do this, he must travel through the land of Judah, something King Josiah doesn’t allow.  The resulting battle on the plains of Megiddo ends in Josiah’s death and the first “conquering” of Judah by Egypt.  Judah becomes a vassal state of Egypt, paying tribute to Pharaoh, having a king that was installed by Pharaoh Neco on the throne.

The Fall of Jerusalem: The Temple Burned Photo Credit: www.users.vic.chariot.net.au

The Fall of Jerusalem: The Temple Burned
Photo Credit: www.users.vic.chariot.net.au

Oddly enough, even in all of this turmoil, we can see in many ways how God is at work.  Unfortunately the first way is in the words of Neco, which the writer of Chronicles tells us is actually the words of God.  Somehow, in God’s grander plan, Egypt is meant to go up and fight against Babylon.  We could speculate on this for a good long while.  Perhaps Egypt and Assyria were being used to protect the now revived people of God from the increasing threat of the Babylonians?  Perhaps this was a test to see if Josiah was listening for the Word of the Lord?  Who knows… What happens though, is also an amazing act of God.  It is unusual for a leader of a foreign country to install a member of the country’s royal family as the ruler after deposing the current ruler.  Yet God is at work, preserving the line of David just as He promised He would.  Even in all of this chaos, God is still very much in control of things.

The decline of Judah is recorded in rapid succession in chapter 36, although the reality is that it took over 20 years from Josiah’s death for the final collapse of Judah to actually take place.  Josiah died in roughly 609 BC and the fall of Jerusalem takes place in 586 BC.  In that time we read that none of the kings that are in place do anything that remotely resembles anything good in the sight of the Lord.  Even during this time though we see that God tries and tries to get the attention of His people.  We read that God has compassion on them, despite all the evil they are doing.  He sends a number of prophets, many of whom we will read in the coming months to warn the people of the impending doom that is coming, to beseech them to turn back to God, yet all of it seems to be in vain.

Map of the Exile and Resettlement Photo Credit: http://levantnotes.blogspot.com/2007/10/of-israel-myth_20.html

Map of the Exile and Resettlement
Photo Credit: www.levantnotes.blogspot.com

There is a common thread that runs through these last few chapters that I see when I read them.  It has to do with the voice of God.  Throughout the life of Israel, both the united and divided kingdoms, we read a great deal about the voice of God.  It comes from the priests and the prophets, even from the book of the Law.  Sometimes it comes from random places, like the mouth of a Pharaoh.  Yet it is always present.  What is presented to us here is what happens when a ruler and a nation do not listen for, recognize, or pay attention to the voice of God.  Scripture says, “The 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. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.”  The result was the complete destruction of a nation and their exile.  While I hesitate to draw any direct connections to our country from the Bible, I think these words could ring loud and clear for the Church today.  Do we know where God is speaking?  Do we recognize the messengers that He is sending?  Or do we laugh and mock them… until their is no remedy for us either…

All is not lost… exile is not permanent… God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  We read at the end of this book the bridge into next books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which tell the story of those returned, those for which the books of the Chronicles were written.



Day 133: 2 Chronicles 33-34; Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah

Spiritual State and the Kings of Israel Photo Credit: http://www.flester.com/blog/2008/03/14/the-kings-of-israel-and-judah

Spiritual State and the Kings of Israel
Photo Credit: www.flester.com

Back and forth we seem to be going at this point.  Good king… bad king… good king… bad king… good king… and now we’ve come to Manasseh, arguably the worst king of Judah.  According to what we read today, Manasseh did more evil in the sight of God than the combined evil of all the nations that were present in the land of Canaan prior to the conquest of Israel back in Joshua.  This comment is made in a two-fold manner, I think, in that it is meant to communicate two particular things when it comes to the nation of Judah under the reign of Manasseh.  First, it is communicating the sheer quantity and quality of the evil that is being done.  Manasseh too has burned his sons and set up alters and places to worship other gods, even in the courts of the temple.  He also sets up an image of another god in the Temple itself.  All of which are utterly detestable in the sight of God.

Also, the phrase about the amount of evil done by Manasseh and the people of Judah during this time period is meant to draw a parallel between the people of God at this time and the many nations of people that were exterminated by Israel when they conquered the land of Canaan, a judgment that was brought on them because of the evil that they were doing in the sight of the Lord.  Judah, now, as we are told, has done more evil than all of them put together.  What happened to those nations?  Judgment.  The writer of Chronicles is drawing this parallel, showing that even though God is patient, there is a limit to it, and a limit to how long He will tolerate sin.  We see this in in Genesis 15 when God says to Abraham, “…for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”  When it was complete, they were wiped out.

Josiah Finds the Book of the Law: Photo Credit: www.kenrick.edu

Josiah Finds the Book of the Law:
Photo Credit: www.kenrick.edu

Unfortunately, this parallel is drawn and confirmed by Huldah the prophetess to King Josiah many years later after the book of the Law has been found.  God speaks through her to King Josiah saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: “Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book that was read before the king of Judah.  Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands, therefore my wrath will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.

This is bad news for Josiah, due largely to the sins of his grand father.  Yet even today’s reading is not without its message and juxtaposition between good and evil.  Remember, the audience that is bring written to is the returned exiles of Judah.  The writer of the Chronicles is indeed recounting the history of Judah, that they may know who they are AND that they may better know the God that they worship.  Two times in today’s readings we see a profound repentance and the mercy of God.  One is of Josiah, the repentance of whom stays the wrath of God for at least a generation.  The other though, is a bit more profound in that the man classified as doing more evil than that of 10 Canaanite nations, and quite possibly responsible for bringing about the exile of Judah, also repents of his sins while in captivity in Babylon.  Does God leave him to his imprisonment?  NO!  In fact, God restores him to the throne and we read that it is then that Manasseh knows that the Lord is God and he turns from his evil ways.  Is this not true of us as well?  When we turn from our sin, we understand all the more how great and abundant the grace of God is.



Day 132: 2 Chronicles 30-32; Hezekiah's Reign

If we take a look at the chart from yesterday, we see that Hezekiah‘s reign was a complete 180 degree turn from his father Ahaz.  He actually turns out to be one of the best Kings in Israel, second only to Josiah, who we’ll read about in the next two days, because of the amount of reforms that take place in Judah during his reign.  Right from the get-go Hezekiah goes after cleaning up the temple and getting things back in order so that the people that worship the one true God once again.  He tells the priests to consecrate themselves and the Temple as well.  They do so happily and offer so many sacrifices that there isn’t enough priests to do all the sacrificing!

Hezekiah Celebrates the Passover Photo Credit: www.whataboutisrael.blogspot.com

Hezekiah Celebrates the Passover
Photo Credit: www.whataboutisrael.blogspot.com

Second, Hezekiah reinstate the Passover Celebration which, if you remember back in 2 Kings, hadn’t been celebrated since the time of the Judges.  This is an important celebration for the whole of the people of Israel, both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms in that it was commanded by God in Exodus 12 to be kept every year for all generations.  It might have been kind of understandable for the people not to keep this during some of the bad seasons that they endured, like the evil king Ahaz or others like him.  But to find out that they had been completely unfaithful in following the command of God and hadn’t practiced it since the time of the Judges (several hundred years earlier)??? wow… just wow…

I think in many ways this is a confirmation of the Hebrew idea of backing into the future, the notion of the Hebrew concept of time and identity that we talked about that the beginning of 1 Chronicles.  The locus of their identity was found in who they were as a people.  This was especially true of them as a people of faith, chosen by God to be a nation that was to represent God to the rest of the world.  Apart from the narrative of God’s choosing Abraham and calling him out of the land of Ur in Genesis 12, the Exodus was really the defining moment in Hebrew history.  This moment was surrounded by God’s power on both sides, from the killing of the first born to the crossing of the Red Sea.  In reality, if the people of God weren’t remember this, they were likely not remembering the true nature of their identity.  Not knowing who you are makes it a lot easier for the things around you to define you.  This may be one of the reasons that the people of God continually fell into sin.

Sennacherib's Siege on Jerusalem Photo Credit: http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/judah.htm

Sennacherib’s Siege on Jerusalem
Photo Credit: http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/judah.htm

If we follow in this, we see the strength that comes with remembering who you are and living into it.  When Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, invades Judah, the people could have crumbled in fear before him, turned to other gods, or just plain given up.  Yet that doesn’t happen here… not in the slightest.  Hezekiah not only leaps into action making physical preparations for war, he also makes spiritual preparations, reassuring the people of who they are and whose they are.  They are not where they are today because of what they have done, but because of the blessing of the Lord and His continual faithfulness.  Sennacherib may say whatever he wants to say about God, but as Paul so eloquently writes many hundreds of years later in Galatians 6, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  The people of God stand firm in their faith to God and God is faithful, as He always is, to His people as well.

It is interesting that this particular passage would come up on a Sunday, during the Easter season, when we have celebrated one of the 3 high points of the Christian year and are about to celebrate another.  In a time that the Church is struggling to find its identity in a changing culture, we are reminded today of the power and faithfulness of God in times of trouble.  We celebrate our identity in the risen Lord on Easter and yet we struggle day after day, week after week with the many things that would otherwise seek to define us.  While I am not saying that this shouldn’t be a struggle, it absolutely is a struggle… we are about to celebrate another major identifying mark of our faith: PENTECOST.  Next Sunday, a week from today, we will gather to remember that our Risen Lord did not leave us on earth to fend for ourselves, but that the Holy Spirit has been given to us as a seal of Christ in us.  We do not face the hordes of evil in this world alone.  No… we walk every day with the Spirit of God in our hearts and in our minds, that we may stand up to the whatever Sennacheribs we might encounter knowing that God is forever faithful and always with us.



Day 131: 2 Chronicles 26-29; Uzziah through Hezekiah

Again today we encounter a great deal of contrasts in the reading.  We see the greatness of Uzziah and Jotham set next to the horrid abominations of the acts of Ahaz, which are then made right through the work of King Hezekiah in the first year of his reign.  In many ways, the narrative that we read today is much like the narratives that we have been reading through out the history of the Kingdom of Judah.  Some of the kings are good, and some are bad.  When the kings do what is right in the eyes of the Lord there is a great deal of blessing and prosperity that comes about in Judah.  However, when the kings do not do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, calamity ensues  enemies attack, and the king is even forced to take articles from the temple of God and use them to pay tribute to other nations, a fitting image of exactly what is happening spiritually in these times too.  Rather than giving to the Lord in worship, turning their hearts towards God and using that which has been set up for them to worship God in the temple, the evil kings turn their hearts towards other God and use what they have been given to serve them.  It is very fitting then, albeit sad, that the temple itself, which is their center of worship, is stripped, broken apart, and sent off to other lands.

King Uzziah's Pride Photo Credit: www.biblestudyoutlines.org

King Uzziah’s Pride
Photo Credit: www.biblestudyoutlines.org

Today’s reading also includes a warning in the narrative of King Uzziah.  He is a great king and does incredibly awesome things for the Kingdom of Judah.  He follows God and and in return, God makes him strong.  All Judah’s enemies are subdued and the kingdom is blessed with great abundance in every way.  Yet we see in Uzziah’s foolish acts towards the end of his life, that in his strength he forgets the ultimate source of all that he has been given.  One might think that he is trying to offer incense out of the goodness and love of his heart to God who has made him strong, and that may very well be true.  However, in those days the law of the Lord was very clear about who was allowed in the temple, especially inside the temple, and who was allowed to offer sacrifices of that nature.  Even the person with the best intentions in Judah who wasn’t a priest was not allowed to be in there doing that.  This was an act for the priests who served as mediators for God.  The priests were set apart for this service as we read in Exodus and Leviticus.  Under no circumstances was Uzziah allowed to do this and, in reality, he is dishonoring God in this act.

The warning then comes in his punishment.  Rather than being repentant and leaving the Temple of God, Uzziah gets angry.  The Lord’s response is sad, but clear.  Uzziah, not recognizing who it is that has made him strong, and not being repentant in his sinful action, is struck with leprosy and thus cut off from the Lord and from the people that he is ruling.  He is made permanently unclean, an unfortunate punishment for the prideful sin that he commits.  In many ways Uzziah is the poster child for the phrase “pride goeth before the fall”

The Kings of Judah Photo Credit: www.walkwiththeword.org

The Kings of Judah
Photo Credit: www.walkwiththeword.org

The other narratives in today’s reading play out in a variety of different ways in Judah’s history.  Some would say that Ahaz is the worst king of Judah, which is mostly appropriate to date, and we see what that evil and turning away from God gets the people of Judah.  He even goes so far as to burn his son as an offering, an act that is described in the Bible as nothing less than a complete and total abomination in the sight of God.  Unfortunately though, Ahaz does not go down in history as being Judah’s worst king ever.  However, even in this instance we see that God is faithful in bringing His people back, despite the calamity that falls upon them.  This comes in the form of King Hezekiah, whose life we read about starting today and will continue tomorrow…



Day 130: 2 Chronicles 23-25; Joash and Amaziah

Joash the Boy King Photo Credit: www.kids.christiansunite.com

Joash the Boy King
Photo Credit: www.kids.christiansunite.com

Picking up where we left off yesterday, God has faithfully spared Joash (also known as Jehoash), the only living son of Ahaziah.  Despite the best efforts of the evil Queen Athaliah, Joash is hidden in the house of the Lord for what appears to be roughly a year.  I have to say, threat of death aside, that an awesome year that would be!  Anyway, after some time Jehoiada the priest took courage and rallied the people behind Joash.  He put a plan in place and set up Joash as King of Judah and had Athaliah put to death.  The reign that followed was mostly good, at least until after Jehoiada died.  As the narrative goes, Jehoiada was Joash’s counselor and directed him in the ways of the Lord.  During this time, the temple is rebuilt and the people follow after the ways of the Lord once again.  You’d think that this would be something coming out of the heart of the king, the one who has been saved by the faithfulness of God and spent a great deal of time living in God’s house, but it seems that most of this came on the counsel of the faithful priest Jehoiada.

Joash Repairs the Temple Photo Credit: www.somepcguy.com

Joash Repairs the Temple
Photo Credit: www.somepcguy.com

When Jehoiada dies, King Joash appears to turn quite quickly from the ways of God.  We read that he ignores the temple and even the prophets that God sends to him.  Sadly, even the son of Jehoiada, the man that risked his life to install Joash as king, comes to Joash and tries to counsel him into returning to God.  Instead of listening though, Joash forgets his past and has the young priest put to death.  This act winds up getting him assassinated.

Amaziah, son of Joash begins his reign in much the same way the his father did, by following the ways of the Lord.  Looking back, he has a lot to be thankful for too for the Lord was faithful in protecting his father and seeing him brought back to the throne of Judah that is rightfully his.  Amaziah does a great deal of good at the beginning of the his reign, and listens to and follows the way of the Lord.  Yet later on he too falls victim to the allure of other gods.  Even in the face of warnings from the prophets he strays from the Lord, bringing the people down with him.  His sin eventually winds up with his capture and the plundering of the city of Jerusalem by the Northern Kingdom.  In the end, Amaziah dies in shame, overseeing the a major back-slide in Judah.

I think that both of these stories, similar as they are, open our eyes to an apparent problem that is being encountered time and again in Israel.  Every time a king back-slides or does evil in the sight of the Lord it is because they are having a fundamental identity crisis in their lives.  Both Joash and Amaziah have a great deal to be thankful for.  In reality, both of their lives, and the lives of all of their descendants to come after them, have been spared by the faithfulness of God alone.  They are children of the covenant in a very real way, because God has spared Joash’s life in the face of great evil so that the Covenant with David may be fulfilled.  One would think that this would be easy to see, or at least remember, living in the house of God for a time.

To be honest though, I don’t think that this is just a problem with them… I think it is the fundamental problem that plagues all of humanity.  We are made in the image of God, creations of a loving God who seeks to have a relationship with us.  For Christians this takes an even more prominent role as God’s people, His covenant community here on earth.  We are united to Christ because of the grace that is shown us and the salvation that is offered to us.  This fact belies a fundamental identity shift in our lives that changed both who we are and whose we are.  Yet this world has no shortage of things that also would seek to help us define or “re-identify” ourselves.  We see who we truly are and who we are truly meant to be in Christ, and when we sin we see that we are not ourselves… at least not completely… not yet.  The next time that you sin and find yourself dwelling in the shame and guilt that would seek to bog you down, remember, you are who you are truly in Christ, the one who has taken away your sin and shame.  Remember too that day by day the Holy Spirit is working in you to re-identify and re-image you (sanctification) in the image of Christ, through whom we are made new and complete.



Day 129: 2 Chronicles 20-22; Jehoshaphat to Queen Athaliah

The Prayer of Jehoshaphat Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

The Prayer of Jehoshaphat
Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

The prayer of King Jehoshaphat in our reading today, is quite possibly one of the least known, best prayers of the people of God in the Bible.  Jehoshaphat, having no where else to turn, goes to God and basically rehashes the Covenant with God, asking Him to act on their behalf because they have indeed turned their hearts toward Him.  The prayer really gives us a deep insight into the Hebrew Theological thinking as well, relating back in their ancestry, almost rehashing their history as an appeal to God.  We talked about this at the beginning of 1 Chronicles, how the people look to their past as a way of being closer to God.

This prayer, and the narrative of Jehoshaphat is also set in between the narrative of his father, Asa, and the following narrative of his son and grandson.  Remember back two days to the narrative of King Asa, towards the end of his life he is threatened by the Northern Kingdom.  What does he do?  Rather than seeking the face of God, he sends tribute to King Ben-Hadad of Syria for help.  In this act, the Lord calls him out and Asa becomes very angry and bitter at the end of his life.  Later, after the reign of Jehoshaphat, we read the narratives of Jehoram and Ahaziah (also known as Jehoahaz and not to be confused with the wicked Ahaziah that reigned in Israel).  They are simply evil and do not follow the Lord and we see very clearly the results that come of it.

However, Jehoshaphat does not follow in these evil ways, he does not place his trust in others, he is moved to prayer and places his faith in God.  What happens in this?  Not only does God promise that the battle against his enemies will be won, God says that they will not have to life a finger because “the Battle is the Lord’s.”  All they need do is believe and go out to face down their enemy.  No doubt this took some courage, I can’t imagine having to go out and face down an innumerable enemy army.  However, as they stand at the ready, Jehoshaphat rallies them saying, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”  I have visions of Aragorn rallying his troops before the gate of Mordor or the Young King Peter leading the charge against the White Witch.  These analogies disintegrate pretty quickly, but you get the idea.  The people are rallied and God wins the victory… and the spoils of war are almost more than they can handle.

Aragorn at the Black Gate of Mordor Photo Credit: www.pegelowssoapbox.blogspot.com

Aragorn at the Black Gate of Mordor
Photo Credit: www.pegelowssoapbox.blogspot.com

Like I said though, the narrative of Jehoshaphat is Juxtaposed between the pretty good and the really bad, and we continue on today to the really bad.  The reigns Jehoram and Ahaziah (again, also known as Jehoahaz and not to be confused with the wicked Ahaziah that reigned in Israel) are relatively unremarkable.  They are similar in nature, being completely evil in the sight of the Lord.  During their reigns all that was gained during the reigns of Asa and Jehoshapaht were lost; spiritual, geographically, economically, and the like.  There is continual strife within the families, which ultimately led to Queen Athiliah’s wicked reign and the almost extinction of the Dividic line of Kings.  However, as I said a couple days ago, we have to keep in mind the Lord’s covenant with David, something that the writer of 1 & 2 Chronicles wishes to impress on his readers as well.

He writes, in the midst of the narrative of Jehoram, “Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.”  This is a testament to the faithfulness of God in the face of evil and sinful leaders.  I think that the writer is communicating something else here as well to his audience, the notion that God is at work and working in the face of sin and rebellion.  Even when we can’t see God’s actions or the outcomes that He means to bring about, God is still at work in the world, always seeking to bring about His will.  What will?  The same Will that God has been working towards since the beginning.  The same Will that God has been working towards in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel, and now the line of David… and it is the true nature and purpose of the covenant community (the Elect) of Israel… and of the Church today… “I will be your God and you will be My people, and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”



Day 128: 2 Chronicles 17-19; King Jehoshaphat

King Jehoshaphat was arguably the first of the great kings of Judah.  As we have read throughout the books of 1 and 2 Kings, the spiritual state of Israel goes up and down based on the king that is reigning at the time.  We saw how the actions of Rehoboam and Abijah lead that Southern Kingdom wars and even servitude to other nations, and now with Asa and Jehoshaphat we see the flip side of the coin.  When the people follow God, worship Him, and do not go after other gods, the blessings shower down once again.  We see this very clearly with Jehoshaphat and the wealth and fame that is given him and how the “fear of the Lord” descended on the nations around Judah.

Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Joram Photo Credit: www.chinaoilpaintinggallery.com

Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Joram
Photo Credit: www.chinaoilpaintinggallery.com

We read today about the many reforms that took place during the time of Jehoshaphat as well.  Interestingly, he does, in some ways, exactly what our Deuteronomy 17 passage about the Kings of Israel says he should do.  I think that this is the first time I have said this since we started reading about the Kings of Israel.  For us, this has been one of the laws that has guided our vision of what the kings shouldn’t be doing when they are walking in the ways of sin… kind of a “see, I told you so” thing from the Law.  However, there is a section in this chapter that also talks about what the king should do, and this is kind of what Jehoshapaht does, with a little extra on the side!

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.  And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them,  that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

Not only does Jehoshapaht follow the laws of God, he appoints people to take the book of the law with them out to the people of Israel, to teach them the ways of the Lord.  Some of these names might be familiar to you as they were people mentioned in 1 & 2 Kings.  People like Obadiah, Micaiah, and Adonijah were also prophets that were mentioned as folks that talked to the King’s of the Northern Kingdom, particularly Ahab.  While he isn’t named here, this is also the time of Elijah and Elisha, who would be making appearances before Ahab and trying to bring back the ways of the Lord in Israel.

Ahab Killed in Battle Photo Credit: www.jesusfootprints.wordpress.com/

Ahab Killed in Battle
Photo Credit: www.jesusfootprints.wordpress.com

Speaking of Ahab, we encounter once again, the deviousness of the Northern Kingdom under king Ahab.  The narrative of Ahab and Jehoshapaht going up against the army of Ramoth-gilead is ultimately the culmination one of the worst kings in the Northern Kingdom.  Why it is that Jehoshapaht decides to go up with Ahab we will not know.  However, what is primarily pointed out here is how the leader and the people of the Kingdom of Israel have indeed fallen away from the way of the Lord.  Again, this is a narrative of contrasts, seeing Jehoshapaht’s desire to seek the way of the Lord in the face of Ahab’s false prophets.

Ultimately, given the context and the audience that is being spoken to here, the writer is pointing out the dangers of taking counsel with sinners.  There are many echoes in this narrative to Psalm 1.  Jehoshapaht is clearly a king that is living for God, but even so he finds himself in a situation where he must stand for his beliefs in the face of one who certainly doesn’t want to hear it.  Yet the King of Judah stands up for his beliefs and seeks the face of God in spite of Ahab’s displeasure, and it winds up saving his life.

PSALM 1

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.



Day 127: 2 Chronicles 12-16; Rehoboam, Abijah, and Asa

The beginning of the reign of Rehoboam was a fairly good beginning.  God was faithful to His servant David and gave to his decedents the throne in Judah.  In this God was being faithful to the covenant He made with David.  We read yesterday that Rehoboam was also relatively faithful and listened to God and because of this, he was able to build up the kingdom of Judah and make it strong and fortified.  However, as we pick up the story today, we see that once Rehoboam was well established, he abandoned God and sought after other gods.  Sadly, I think this also comes from the warnings of Deuteronomy 17 about not building up military, taking many wives, or having a great deal of wealth.  Why?  Because human tendency is to want to do things for ourselves, to trust our own actions rather than trust completely in God.  It would be nice if we could just naturally give everything over to God and let Him handle everything, yet we all know that we would much rather take things into our own hands.  Why?  Who knows… because we see it clearly here, and it is reflected in our lives as well, when we try to do things on our own without God, we will fail and will often be lulled and/or lured into trusting in other things.  This is the basis for the narratives that we are reading today.  That contrast is set up pretty clearly in these five chapters.

So Rehoboam follows God and the reward is abundant blessings, peace, and well fortified cities.  However, as soon as Rehoboam turns from God all that is ruined by the Egyptians.  Apart from the obvious punishment of God that the prophet tells him about, it is not at all coincidental that it is Egypt that is attacking Judah.  Remember how Israel was enslaved to them for so many years?  Remember how they always seemed to want to go back to that when times got rough?  I wonder if that might be somehow metaphorically true here… If God, and the writer of 2 Chronicles, was using Egypt as a way of reminding the people of where they came from and what it would be like to go back in a sense.  Interesting to think about…  Anyways, Rehoboam repents and turns back to God, for a time, and God relents of His anger and defeats Egypt before the people of Judah.

Abijah is the next king of Judah and while the text doesn’t tell us whether he did good or evil in the eyes of the Lord, we can certainly see that he is a step up from Rehoboam.  However, there is not peace in the land, which is one of the things promised to the people of God if they follow Him, so we have to imagine that perhaps on a scale of 1 to 10, Rehoboam was a 2 or a 3, Abijah is likely a 3 or a 4.  In any case, the Lord gives him victory over Jeroboam and the Northern Kingdom and Abijah prospers as the King of Judah.

 

The Kings of Judah Photo Credit: www.walkwiththeword.org

The Kings of Judah
Photo Credit: www.walkwiththeword.org

Asa is the son of Abijah and does a complete turn around for the people of Israel.  We read that he tears down idols and high places, alters and the priests of false gods.  Asa does what is good in the eyes of the Lord, seeking after God with his whole heart.  He and the people make a covenant to God with wording similar to that of the Shema, “they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul…”  God blesses Asa and the people greatly, giving them victory over their enemies, including a one million strong Ethiopian army in which they were out numbers by at least 3 to 1.  And there is peace during Asa’s reign… until the end…

Unfortunately, towards the end of Asa’s reign, we see him make several mistakes that he gets called out on.  He looks to the king of a foreign land, Ben-Hadad the king of Syria, for military help rather than seeking after the Lord.  He punishes a prophet for telling him the words that the Lord had said and becomes a very angry king.  In this time, Asa begins to decline and eventually succumbs to a disease.  All in all, it seems as though Asa was on the right track.  However, as the writer of the Chronicles is helping the returned exiles to reconnect with their identity as the people of God, I think he is making the point that you cannot become lazy in this following.  Asa kind of lets himself go towards the end of his life and he gets called out for it.  It is, again, the dual view of what it means to follow the Lord, and what happens when they don’t.  One is clearly good… the other is really the reason why the exiles are having to return in the first place.



Day 126: 2 Chronicles 8-11; From Solomon to Rehoboam

Solomon's Splendor Photo Credit: www.oneyearbibleblog.com

Solomon’s Splendor
Photo Credit: www.oneyearbibleblog.com

It is interesting what a different perspective brings on the latter portion of Solomon‘s life and the beginning of Rehoboam’s reign in Judah.  There isn’t a great deal written about how Solomon took so many wives from other nations and eventually was lured into the worship of false gods.  Much of the negative portion of the life of Solomon is omitted from the Chronicles.  However, as the Hebrew people were of an “Oral Culture,” these stories would have been passed down, and certainly not forgotten.  Yet again we encounter the text from a certain perspective with an author that is trying to make a theological point about the nature and identity of the people of God.  As is true and will be true with all of the kings that we will read about in 2 Chronicles, the point here seems to be that when the people and their leaders follow God, the blessings that follow are unfathomable.

One thing I noticed in the story of Solomon that caught my attention very quickly was a certain number that was talked about when we were reading about Solomon’s wealth.  2 Chronicles 9:13-14 reads, “Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, besides that which the explorers and merchants brought.”  It is this number, the number 666 that shows up in Revelation 13:18 as the mark of the beast and has become synonymous with evil and the source of a great deal of debate about its means.  There are some that believe that this number is pure evil and when we see this particular number showing up in relationship to money take it as a point that it was money that ultimately corrupted Solomon.  If you couple this thought with the verse from 1 Timothy 6:10 that says, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” you can create a halfway cogent notion about the nature and relationship between money and evil.  I suppose, in some ways this is a good lesson that we can take out of this passage, however I don’t think that this was the author’s intent.

Numbers were important to the people of Israel and have a considerable amount of meaning infused in them.  For instance, the number 40 shows up many times throughout Scripture, often involving some sort of a wilderness experience.  40 days and nights of rain for Noah.  40 days was Moses on the Mount Sinai.  40 years in the desert for Israel.  40 Days in the desert for Jesus.  The number 3 shows up often as well and is associated with God.  3 visitors to Abraham.  Father, Son, and Spirit are the Trinity (a notion developed but never expressly stated in the Bible). In this same line of thinking, the number 7 appears quite often as well.  7 is associated as the number of completeness, holiness, and perfection.  Putting some of these symbols together, the number 777 would be the number of God as being complete and perfect in every way.  So when we see the number 666 we see that it is not quite 777, but it is imperfect… lacking in every way.  With that in mind the author here, and perhaps also in John’s revelation are making the point that there is nothing that measures up to the perfection and goodness that is in God alone, and therefore there is nothing on this earth, no blessing or amount of wealth that can be placed in front of, above, or even close to alongside of God.  Following after anything other than God is simply a complete lacking of all that we should be doing.  The writer of 2 Chronicles is making the point that even in the midst of these enormous blessings, Solomon still needs to seek after the one who is bringing them on him.

The United Kingdom of Solomon breaks up, with ...

The United Kingdom of Solomon breaks up, with Jeroboam ruling over the Northern Kingdom of Israel (in green on the map). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So as we read on April 10 and April 11, after Solomon dies, Rehoboam takes over as King and flubs it in a major way, so much so that the Kingdom of Israel is divided into the North and the South, with Rehoboam becoming king of the Southern Kingdom, known as Judah.  Remember too the audience to which the books of the Chronicles are written, the returned exiles of Judah.  Therefore as we continue in this narrative in 2 Chronicles, remember that our readings will focus in on the Southern Kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah, for when the Northern Kingdom goes into exile, they will never return.  Today we read an account of King Rehoboam as he secures the throne of Judah. Clearly the wisdom of his father Solomon is not passed down to him, yet for the time being, at least for today’s reading, it seems as though he is doing a fairly decent job at building up Judah and defending it well.  However, as you know, the story doesn’t stay that way for long…

Remember through this journey, the words that are repeated again and again in 2 Kings, “for the sake of the Lord’s servant David” does Judah and the line of kings continue…



Day 125: 2 Chronicles 5-7; Solomon Dedicates the Temple

How fitting for a reading like this to come in the midst of a Sunday for us.  This worship service must have been amazing to be a part of.  The visible glory of the Lord appears in the form of smoke and fire, hundreds of thousands of people worshiping the Lord together and praying together with the magnificence of the Temple of the Lord as their backdrop.  Indeed, what an awesome time of worship this must have been for the people.  Everything is going their way and God has blessed them beyond compare.  In many ways this is the pinnacle of Israel’s Golden Age, the height of all that is accomplished in Jerusalem and the high point of history for God’s chosen people.

English: The Ark of the Covenant Brought into ...

English: The Ark of the Covenant Brought into the Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the midst of this worship service there is an interesting line about the status of the Ark of the Covenant that raises some questions about the writing and about the nature of how the Israelites viewed both the Temple and the presence of God in their midst.  As we read about the Ark of the Covenant and all the articles of the Tabernacle being brought into the Temple, we read that “the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary, but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day.”  They are there to this day?  How is that even possible?  Isn’t this being written in the context of the people returned to a completely demolished Jerusalem?  Yes… and this is why it reveals something deeper about what the people believed about God’s presence and the nature of the Temple of the Lord.

First of all, as we have read about since the Ark of the Covenant was built way back in Exodus 25, it has been the place where God resides.  The Ark was called the “mercy seat,” the place in which God was enthroned here on earth.  This is also the place from which God judged and from which the Word of the Lord went forth.  It was very symbol and place of the presence of God on earth.  The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and in the Temple.  This was the place that Heaven and earth collided, the very center of the universe.  From here the universe was sustained. From here creation continued.  From here God’s decrees went out.  From here God reigned.

The Glory of God fills the Temple Photo Credit: www.jhkelly.wordpress.com/

The Glory of God fills the Temple
Photo Credit: www.jhkelly.wordpress.com

This is all well and good.  We can sign on to this.  There is but one problem… the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and took all that was in it.  Nothing was left when the people of God returned.  how can one say that they are “there to this day“?  I think that this reveals another very important concept of the Israelite Theology, that being their view of time and space.  The placement of God on the throne is not simply something that is temporal or physical in nature.  The Most Holy Place being a place in which our created reality meets the reality of God’s infinitude means that it is not bound by the laws of our universe, our reality.  For the people of Israel, the Temple still exists and God is still on that throne, even if it is not physically present here on earth.  The writer of the Chronicles is making the point that just because the Temple itself has been destroyed doesn’t mean that God is no longer present.  He is also saying that just because the Ark of the Covenant is not sitting in that exact spots doesn’t mean that God isn’t still sitting on the throne and reigning.

Like Israel’s connection to the past, the people are able to look back at this moment and see the true nature of themselves as the people of God gathered around the Temple worshiping and praising.  For them, these sacred times are “infinitely recoverable,” to quote Abraham Joshua Heschel.  And, the fact is that the truth of the nature and existence of God isn’t grounded solely in our physical reality or in what we see, hear, taste, smell, touch, or experience.  The truth of the reality of God is grounded in God alone.  This is something that the people of Israel had to learn as well.  Being removed from their homeland and relocated was likely one of the most traumatic events of the history of ancient Israel.  For them, to be removed from the location of the Temple, from Jerusalem, was to be cut off from God.  Yet God continued to reveal Himself to the prophets in exile, revealing to them that they were indeed still God’s people and that He wouldn’t abandon them.  Neither was He bound by and sort of spacial or geographic boundaries, much less the rule of an ancient power.  Indeed God is present in all of His creation and is able to sustain His people, even in their exile, and even more in their return.

On another note, Solomon’s prayer of Dedication in chapter 6 and the subsequent response of God in the latter part of chapter 7 are worth reading again.  The writer is making a very important point here, one that is not necessarily clearly made in the counterpart we find in 1 Kings.  Again, these writings are part of the bigger narrative of the people of Israel, one that includes highs and lows, with the ultimate low being that of the exile itself.  However, the covenant with God is being renewed here in Solomon’s prayer and God’s response is that He will indeed be listening, always listening to the prayers of His people.  Thinking back to Leviticus 26, especially the latter verses, Solomon is repeating to God what God has already promised to them, which God affirms in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”



Day 124: 2 Chronicles 1-4; Solomon Reigns in Jerusalem

We now enter into the book of 2 Chronicles.  The first book, our readings for the past week or so, brought us from Creation through the reign of King David.  2 Chronicles, our readings for the next week or so, will bring us from Solomon through the Exile.  Today, we begin where we left off yesterday, with the transition of power from David to Solomon.  As Solomon assumes the throne he does exactly what he is charged to do by his father too, he worships God and seeks His face first and foremost.  This happens within the context of a time of worship in front of the tabernacle that is set up in Gibeon.

Solomon prays for Wisdom Photo Credit: www.hisdaughter02.blogspot.com/

Solomon prays for Wisdom
Photo Credit: www.hisdaughter02.blogspot.com

That night, we read, the familiar narrative of God coming to Solomon and offering the new king anything that he wants.  As we read in 1 Kings 3, Solomon asks for wisdom and knowledge to govern the people of God.  This is a request that pleases God and one that He grants to Solomon 100 fold and then some.  Along with wisdom and knowledge, Solomon is blessed with wealth beyond compare and incredible success.  While it doesn’t say it here, remember that in 1 Kings Solomon is granted rest from his enemies and receives a considerable amount of gifts and tribute from the surrounding nations that are under his rule.  We read here too that in the first couple years of his reign, Solomon establishes Israel, and particularly Jerusalem, as the principle power in the region and makes “gold as common as stone.”

English: Solomon and the Plan for the Temple, ...

English: Solomon and the Plan for the Temple, as in 1 Kings 6, illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time, from David through most of Solomon’s reign, is considered to be the “Golden Age” of Israel.  For the first time in their existence, they are (for the most part) following God and living in His ways.  Because of this, God is blessing their socks off, and everything seems to be going their way.  It is in this context that Solomon begins to build the Temple of the Lord, the right granted to him by God.

Yet it is not in this context that these things are written.  Remember that the book of Chronicles is largely considered to have been written upon the return of the exiles from their captivity in Babylon to their desolate homeland in Judah.  They had nothing… less than nothing really.  The great city described in 2 Chronicles 2 lay in ruins.  The only thing that was as common as stone in Jerusalem was probably weeds or ruble.  The Temple of the Lord had been stripped of its former glory and burned to the ground. There was nothing left.  This is such a sharp contrast to what is being described here.  It must have been difficult to hear… much less write.

However, there is a purpose here in writing about the way things used to be, about their former glory as it were.  The writer isn’t rubbing it the face of those the returned exiles, showing them all the stuff they could have had… or didn’t have.  No, the writer is showing the people who they are by showing them who the people of Israel are.  He is showing them that it is very clear what God can bring about when His people follow His Laws and His will for their lives.  He is showing them that all of that can be restored if they follow in the ways of the Lord.  Of course this narrative does not stand in a vacuum, but is juxtaposed against the coming narratives of the disobedience of Israel… the very reason they are in the situation that they were in.  But the point here is that this is who the people of God are… they are a blessed people, chosen by God to be a blessing to the nations around them.  In their return, they can once again live in the City of David, own the inheritance that was given them, and if they will follow in the ways of the Lord, God will be faithful as He always has been, and bless them once again.



Day 123: 1 Chronicles 27-29; David's Final Charge

This last section of 1 Chronicles is a tribute to the final acts of David and all that he had done in his reign.  We’ve read about all the people that he has conquered, all the wealth that he has accumulated, and all the people that he appointed to the different positions as he made preparations for the building of the Temple.  Yet at the end of all of this, we see what I think is the most significant thing about David, about his reign over Israel and his life before God.

David's Charge to Solomon Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

David’s Charge to Solomon
Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

As David is wrapping things up with his life he calls all the people together and gives them a charge, and does the same with his son.  His speech could have been about all the things that he has done and all the preparations that he made so that everything will now go right because he has laid the groundwork for the building of the Temple which he wanted to do but couldn’t because God said no.  However, that is simply not the case with David.  When David speaks to the people and to his son Solomon, he gives all glory, all honor, and all praise to God alone.  David says, “Yet the Lord God of Israel chose me from all my father’s house to be king over Israel forever. For he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father’s house, and among my father’s sons he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel.  And of all my sons (for the Lord has given me many sons) he has chosen Solomon my son to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel.”  David’s emphasis is on the Lord’s work and decisions that made all of this possible, not because of anything that he had done.

The same goes for his charge to Solomon too.  David doesn’t point out his own good works, or even the ability of Solomon to complete this task on his own.  Instead, he implores his son to seek after God in all his works and in doing so Solomon will find success.  David says, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.”  Solomon’s work is done, and only can be done, because it was the Lord who appointed him to do it.  David has done well in making preparations, Solomon will do well in administration… yet it is all because the Lord, the God of Israel ordained it and sustained it.  David recognizes this in his life and encourages his son to continue this.

In many ways, David’s story is Israel’s story… or at least what Israel’s story was supposed to be.  David is clearly blessed by God, and is clearly chosen by God.  One of the scary theological terms that we use for this is “ELECTION.”  It refers to the obvious fact that is pointed out time and again that God has clearly chosen David and has blessed him.  In the same way we see this with the people of Israel, as God has chosen them to be His people not because they were special or extra good in some way, but because God chose them.  Now, generally speaking, when people talk about ELECTION, the conversation disolves into an argument and winds up being about people deciding about who is in and who is out… or about how a loving God could choose some and not others.  While I acknowledge that those arguments are out there, I think what is more appropriate to approach in this discussion is the purpose of the ELECT in God’s plan and working in the world.  You see, ELECTION has never been simply about who is in and who is out.  The purpose of ELECTION is about God’s working through a specific group of people to bring about His will, His reign, and His blessings in the world.  The original ELECTION of Abraham comes with a covenant promise that, as God’s ELECT people, they will be a blessing to the whole world.  It wasn’t about God not choosing the other nations of the world, but about how God is going to communicate His blessings, His grace, and His love to the entire world!  This becomes even more important and prominent in Jesus Christ, but we’re still many hundreds of years away from that yet in the Biblical narrative… so stay tuned!