Sunday, June 4, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 118, Josiah King Of Judah, Part Five

King Josiah has heard the words of the Book of the Law and his conscience is stricken for the whole nation. He realizes how far away from these laws some of his forefathers and the people's forefathers lived. He knows that, because he did not have this book and because he and the people were not as familiar with it as they should have been (it was hidden at the temple, likely during the reign of one of the idolatrous kings), they have not been adhering to its principles properly. He sent some of his top officials to see a prophetess, named Huldah, to see what the Lord has to say about this and to find out what the Lord wants them to do. 

We begin by studying the message the Lord gives her and, as I said in our last study session, the message contains both bad news and good news. It begins with the bad. "She said to them, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods and aroused My anger by all the idols their hands have made, My anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.'" (2 Kings 22:15-17, 2 Chronicles 34:23-25) The book contains the blessings the people will receive if they remain faithful to the Lord and it contains the curses that will come upon them if they do not remain faithful to the Lord. When He says that He will bring disaster "according to everything written in the book", it is to these curses that He is referring.

When we studied the book of Deuteronomy we found a list of blessings and curses in Chapter 28. The list of curses contained things like crop failure, breakouts of illnesses, raids by enemies, and eventually---if they continued on a downward spiritual spiral---the fall of the nation and being taken captive to foreign lands. This news is the news Josiah was afraid of when he said, in Friday's text, that he feared the Lord's judgment was upon the nation for all the things that had been done there. 

But what about Josiah's heart for the Lord? What about his removal of so many of the idolatrous images and altars throughout the land? What about the spiritual revival that has been taking place during his reign? The remainder of the Lord's message has to do with that and it's the good news portion of the prophecy. The revival won't be permanent, unfortunately, which is why the Lord can confidently assert that the curses of Deuteronomy 28 will eventually come upon the people. In time they will become as idolatrous as the people of the northern kingdom. And we know what happened to the northern kingdom: the Lord allowed it to fall to the Assyrians and the majority of its citizens deported to other lands. The curses of Deuteronomy 28 already fell on the northern kingdom and it's only because it's taking the southern kingdom longer to fall into as much depravity that it still stands in the text we are reading today. It's only because there were several godly kings during that time who tried to turn the hearts of the people back to the Lord. Because Josiah is one of those godly kings, the Lord will continue to preserve the nation of Judah during his lifetime.

The prophetess relays the remainder of the Lord's message to the men Josiah sent to her. "Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people---that they would become a curse and be laid waste---and because you tore your robes and wept in My presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.' So they took her answer back to the king." (2 Kings 22:18-20, 2 Chronicles 34:26-28) 

The Lord spoke a similar message to Josiah's great-grandfather, King Hezekiah, through the prophet Isaiah. Hezekiah attempted to ally himself with Babylon, showing the visitors from Babylon all the riches of his kingdom in order to make himself look like a valuable friend to have in the fight against the Assyrians. But Hezekiah, although he remained faithful to the Lord and did not stray into idolatry, was a prideful man about all of his successes according to what we studied about his reign. In speaking with the Babylonian officials, he apparently did not give the Lord credit for his wealth and power. He also was trusting in heathen idolaters to help him defend Judah instead of trusting in the Lord who had already miraculously spared Jerusalem from siege by the Assyrians. Because Hezekiah had shown the Babylonians the riches of Judah, Isaiah warned him that a day was coming in which the Babylonians would remember these riches and would be powerful enough (having overthrown their Assyrian overlords) to come and conquer the nation of Judah and take all these items home with them, as well as taking large numbers of the people of Judah captive to Babylon. But this would not happen during Hezekiah's lifetime and Hezekiah responded to this news by being pleased that there would be "peace and security in my lifetime". (2 Kings 20:19b) The Lord had miraculously healed Hezekiah from a deadly illness and had promised him fifteen additional years of life, but it does not seem as if he spent those fifteen years helping his subjects or his own family to be spiritually upright. His son Manasseh, who was born during those extra fifteen years, was one of the most wicked and idolatrous kings Judah ever had. Even though Manasseh converted near the end of his life, he had already done a great deal of spiritual damage and his son and successor, Amon, was very wicked too. If Hezekiah had taken the words of the Lord to heart and had done more to set his son and the future generations up for spiritual success, his son and grandson would perhaps not have been so wicked and the people would not have fallen into so much sin during their reigns. 

Josiah is the opposite of Amon and Manasseh. He also responds to the message of the Lord in the opposite way of his great-grandfather Hezekiah. He doesn't hear the message and say, "Oh, well, at least the disaster isn't coming in my lifetime. If there's nothing I can do to avert it, I might as well enjoy the days left to me on earth." Instead, as we will see in our next study session, he takes steps to improve the spiritual condition of his nation right now and to hopefully set succeeding generations up for spiritual success. He doesn't sit back with a fatalistic attitude and do nothing, as Hezekiah did. 

It may be that he thought, as King David did when the prophet Nathan brought him bad news, "Who knows? The Lord may be gracious." (2 Samuel 12:22b) David thought the Lord might relent of the disaster if he repented and humbled himself. Perhaps Josiah thinks that if there is widescale repentance and obedience to the Book of the Law, the Lord will never bring this dire prophecy to pass. There have been occasions where, in the portions of Scripture we've already studied, the Lord pronounced a coming judgment and relented when the people humbled themselves and repented. Many judgments of the Bible, like many promises of the Bible, are conditional. Josiah might be taking the Lord's words as a warning issued in order to get the people to get with the program and stay on it; he does not necessarily know for certain that the Lord is saying the people will not stay with the program. He does what he can to help the people stay with it, in tomorrow's study, and even though his efforts may not be capable of encouraging people on down the line to stay with it, it could be that he thinks at least he can delay the judgment that is coming. He cares about his children's generation and about his children's children's generation and about all the generations after that. Unlike Hezekiah, who in his later years seemed to be mainly concerned about himself, Josiah cares about all the people who are to come. I think it's important to note this about him and to give him credit for having such a loving attitude toward the people of his nation now and toward the people of his nation in the future.

Friday, June 2, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 117, Josiah King Of Judah, Part Four

The Book of the Law has been found in the temple. This book was neglected during the reign of King Amon and King Manasseh and perhaps during the reigns of several other kings who did not reverence it. We discussed yesterday the theory that one or more priests had hidden---for its safety---it at some time when an idolatrous king was on the throne.

But now it has been found and read to King Josiah of Judah. When he heard the words read to him in yesterday's passage, he tore his robes in grief when he realized just how far his predecessors had strayed from the laws of God. After tearing his robes he gives orders to some of his top officials to seek the counsel of the Lord about how to rectify this serious spiritual situation.

"He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king's attendant: 'Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.'" (2 Kings 22:12-13, 2 Chronicles 34:20-21)

When the king asks these men to inquire of the Lord for him, he intends for them to ask counsel from a prophet of the Lord. The Lord will speak to the prophet and the prophet will relay His message to Josiah's men. In this case, the prophet is a female. We find male prophets in the Scriptures far more often than we find female prophets but several female prophets are mentioned in the Bible, including Deborah from the era of the judges and the unnamed wife of Isaiah. The fact that male prophets are mentioned more often in the Bible than female prophets does not necessarily indicate that the Lord called fewer women than men to this honorable office. In the period of history we are studying, it would have been easier and safer for male prophets to travel about the countryside visiting the schools of prophets and speaking words of wisdom to kings and other top officials, but there may have been just as many female prophets. Female prophets, however, may have been obliged to mainly minister only to the citizens of their local communities, and this would have been due to the dangers inherent in women traveling alone from city to city and due to the fact that women in this period of history had little to no access to reliable methods for family planning. Because safe and effective birth control was not available to married couples in those times, a woman could produce a large number of children in her lifetime and she would be compelled by this to remain mostly at home during the years she was raising children. This may explain why Josiah's men visit the home of this female prophet instead of the king summoning her to his palace. 

"Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter." (2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chronicles 34:22) The wording of this is murky in relation to which person is called "keeper of the wardrobe". I personally think this person is Shallum, which appears to be the most commonly accepted translation of this sentence, but some think it might be Harhas since his name is mentioned right before the authors say "keeper of the wardrobe". I have my doubts about that because Harhas is Shallum's grandfather and likely too old to still be overseeing the king's wardrobe. In some cases the royal wardrobe also consisted of clothing for top officials and priests as well, for in 2 Kings 10 we found King Jehu ordering the keeper of the wardrobe (who was a male because the Bible uses the pronoun "he" for the keeper) to bring robes out for the priests of Baal. Whichever person is the "keeper of the wardrobe" during Josiah's reign, I do not believe it is Huldah because in the original Hebrew the word used for this person has a masculine connotation. Although many of us grew up with our mothers being the people who did the sewing in our households, it would not have been proper for a female seamstress to be alone with the king in his private chambers to measure him for clothing or to be present while he was trying clothing on in order to make alterations. 

Josiah's officials go to Huldah's house where they pass the king's request on to her. She will consult the Lord and He will answer her. His message, which we will study in our next session, contains both bad news and good news. Upon hearing the message, Josiah will do everything he can during his reign to ensure the spiritual health of the nation by making sure the people hear the words of the Book of the Law and by asking everyone to rededicate their hearts to the Lord.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 116, Josiah King Of Judah, Part Three

In Wednesday's study we learned that Josiah tore town idolatrous images and altars throughout Jerusalem and Judah and even in the northern kingdom of Israel. The text of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles appears to indicate that he carried out some reforms in his twelfth year as king, when he was twenty years old. But after the Book of the Law is found, which happens in his eighteenth year as king, he carries out further reforms according to the authors of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Before we study those portions of Scripture, we take a look at the finding of the precious book. 

King Josiah is twenty-six years old when we begin today's study. "In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the Lord. He said: 'Go up to Hilkiah the priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord---the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.'" (2 Kings 22:3-7) 

The author of 2 Chronicles says these repairs were necessary because the kings of Judah had allowed buildings to fall into ruin. (2 Chronicles 34:11) King Amon, Josiah's father, was completely sold out to idolatry and it's not surprising that he was unconcerned about any repairs that needed to be made at the temple complex. Amon's father, King Manasseh, was an idolater for most of his fifty-five year reign and likely gave little thought to the condition of the Lord's house, at least until perhaps the final years of his reign. Even then the Bible only tells us that he removed the Asherah pole he had set up in the temple and that he reinstated the use of the Lord's altar, not that he made repairs to the building itself or to other areas of the complex. 

Next we learn that in the process of making the repairs ordered by Josiah the Book of the Law comes to light. Many scholars propose that this was the original copy written down by Moses and that it had been hidden by the priests during the reign of one of the idolatrous kings. The Lord had commanded every king to write down his own copy of the law and to read from it every day of his life (Deuteronomy 17:18-20), but King Amon and King Manasseh certainly would not have obeyed this command. King Josiah and many of the people and priests and prophets would have been familiar with some of the things included in the law, of course, but these next verses indicate that no one has held or read the Book of the Law for some time. It seems evident that Josiah has never laid eyes on it.

"Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, 'I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.' He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: 'Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.' Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, 'Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.' And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes." (2 Kings 22:8-11, 2 Chronicles 34:14-19) 

Why does the king tear his robes? Because, as we will read in tomorrow's passage, he realizes just how far some of the previous kings strayed from the Lord's commandments. He realizes how much the behavior of some of the previous kings influenced the people to sin against the Lord. Josiah loves the Lord and I believe he communes with Him when making decisions, but after hearing the law read he knows that he and every person on earth has fallen short of perfectly keeping the commandments of God. The hearing of the law convicts him of his own failures (many of which were likely made in ignorance of the law, but some of which were made willingly as we all do from time to time) and gives him a clear picture of just how wicked some of his forefathers have been. We will find out tomorrow that the reading of the law causes him a great deal of concern that the Lord's judgment is going to fall upon the nation of Judah because no one has been reading and closely following what the book says. 

As we close today's study it's interesting to point out that the high priest Hilkiah may be the father of the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 1:1 we will find the prophet stating that he is the son of Hilkiah, a priest from Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Jeremiah does not say that he is the son of the high priest but many scholars believe that this is the case. (It's important to note that although Hilkiah was from a city in Benjamin he could not have been a Benjamite since priests had to be of the line of Levi.) If Jeremiah is the son of the Hilkiah from today's text, his father's discovery of the Book of the Law may have been the pivotal event that shaped Jeremiah's life. This may be why Jeremiah said of the word of God: "His word is in my heart like a fire." (Jeremiah 20:9b) Jeremiah loved the Lord and Jeremiah loved the Book of the Law---so much so that he said the word of God set his heart on fire. Perhaps the reason Jeremiah was so on fire for the Lord is because his father is the man who found and greatly reverenced the Book of the Law. 

I am thankful for the people in our lives who reverenced the word of God and who influenced us to plut our faith in Him. My mother was a woman who held the word of God in the highest esteem. Because of this, she was careful to teach me about the Lord. Because she taught me about the Lord, I too reverence the word of God. I like to think that Jeremiah's heart was set on fire by God's word because his father is the person who found the Book of the Law and who taught him from it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 115, Josiah King Of Judah, Part Two

In Tuesday's study we began our study of King Josiah who came to the throne of Judah at the young age of eight when his father, Amon, was assassinated by some of his own officials. The Bible doesn't tell us much about Josiah's first years as king; presumably, he had a co-regent or advisors who guided him until he reached the age of majority. The next thing we are told about him takes place when he is sixteen years old, which is probably the age at which a lot of kingly responsibility was beginning to be given to him. I think he already had a heart for the Lord but that, as more and more of the weight of leadership settled upon his shoulders, he realized he could not wisely govern the nation without the Lord's help.

"In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David." (2 Chronicles 34:3a) I think at first this seeking was done primarily in private---in prayer and meditation. These private prayers and his growing relationship with the Lord naturally led to him noticing things in public that needed to be changed. He becomes more and more aware of the idolatrous images that his father and many of the citizens set up in Jerusalem. He becomes more and more aware of the dangers posed by idolatry. At the age of twenty he takes action to rid the capitol city and the surrounding countryside of these images and these sinful practices. "In his twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles and idols. Under his direction the altars of the Baals were torn down; he cut to pieces the incense altars that were above them, and smashed the Asherah poles and the idols. These he broke to pieces and scattered over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them." (2 Chronicles 34:3b-4)

Momentarily we are going to look back at the words of a prophet who lived almost three hundred years earlier who foretold the birth of Josiah and the reforms he would make---not only in the kingdom of Judah but in the kingdom of Israel as well. Josiah begins by carrying out reforms in his own kingdom but later he will take steps to rid the northern kingdom of idolatrous religious sites, and he can only do this because Assyria has conquered the northern kingdom. The Assyrians have already begun deportations of Israelites to other lands, as well as settling Israel with people from other lands, and the borders must either not be closely monitored or else the Assyrians do not care who enters the land as long as the entrants are not there to make war with them. So many different cultures with different religious practices are present in Israel at this time that the Assyrians must not have concerned themselves with the various people's disagreements over altars and images. 

Before we move forward with our study of Josiah's reforms, we must look back to the book of 1 Kings to study the words of a prophet of Judah who went to the northern kingdom of Israel to speak to King Jeroboam I of Israel as he made an offering at one of the golden calf religious sites he set up in Israel. "By the word of the Lord a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering. By the word of the Lord he cried out against the altar: 'Altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: 'A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.'" (1 Kings 13:1-2) 

The Lord called Josiah by name three centuries before he was born! And the Lord knew us before we were born too! I believe that, before the Lord ever spoke the universe into existence, He knew the name of every person who would ever be born. He had a plan for each of our lives long before we were ever born. He knew every word we would ever say and He knew everything we would ever do and He knew every thought we would ever think. Nobody knows us like the Lord knows us and yet, knowing every sin we would ever commit and every wrong thought we would ever think and every unkind word we would ever speak, He loved us and made a plan of salvation for us. That should comfort us today. The One who knows the very worst about us is the One who loves us more than anyone else ever has or ever will! 

We will conclude today with these verses below that prove that the prophecy about Josiah came true. We will be studying these events in more detail later on as we continue our study of his reign. As we study these verses we must keep in mind that Josiah was following the laws the Lord gave through Moses when Josiah orders the execution of the idolatrous priests. Anyone who cursed the name of the Lord, proclaimed someone or something else as Lord, or who claimed to be a priest or prophet and led others into idolatry was committing a capital offense. "He burned the bones of the priests on their altars, and so he purged Judah and Jerusalem. In the towns of Manasseh, Ephraim and Simeon, as far as Naphtali; and in the ruins around them, he tore down the altars and the Asherah poles and crushed the idols to powder and cut to pieces all the incense altars throughout Israel. Then he went back to Jerusalem." (2 Chronicles 34:5-7) 

These verses make mention of burning the bones of the sinful priests and further on in our study we will find Josiah tearing down the altar at Bethel and burning bones on it, just as the prophet said he would. The Lord hated the golden calf idols at Bethel and at Dan. The Lord hated the sinful altars at those locations. Jeroboam led the people away from the proper worship of the Lord at the place He had designated. Jeroboam's actions began the fall of the people of Israel into idolatry, leading to the eventual downfall of the nation itself. King Josiah makes it clear how he feels about idolatry and how he feels about those who entice others into idolatry. He does not intend to tolerate these things, for the judgment of the Lord has already fallen upon many idolatrous nations and he does not want the same thing happening to Judah.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 114, Josiah King Of Judah, Part One

King Amon of Judah was assassinated in yesterday's study after reigning for only two years. The text didn't provide us with an explanation for why some of his officials conspired against him but the people of Judah avenged his death by executing the conspirators. Then they placed his young son Josiah on the throne.

"Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years." (2 Kings 22:1a, 2 Chronicles 34:1) Despite his young age at his coronation, his will not be the longest reign of all of the kings of Judah (that honor goes to his grandfather, Manasseh, who ruled the land for fifty-five years) but he will be a good king and the nation will be blessed to have him on the throne for over three decades.

"His mother's name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath." (2 Kings 22:1b) This is the only time in the Bible that this woman with a Hebrew name from a small town of Judah is ever mentioned. But I suspect she was a godly woman who had a great deal of good influence on Josiah. Her husband, Amon, was a very wicked man who could not have set anything but a bad example for his son, but somehow Amon ended up married to a good Jewish woman. 

How did it come about that one of the most evil kings married a nice girl? I think Jedidah was likely selected for Amon, either by a family member, a priest, a prophet, or a godly official of the royal court. It was typical for marriages to be arranged in those times and although I doubt that the exceptionally idolatrous Amon was excited about having a woman of God for his queen, it is to the advantage of his successor and to the advantage of the nation that this occurred, for I have a feeling that Jedidah planted seeds of faith in the young King Josiah's mind. Since he was only eight years old when he ascended to the throne, he would have been used to spending most of his time in the company of his mother and his teachers. His father did not expect to be struck down in his prime at only twenty-four and would not have yet put a great deal of effort into training a boy of eight to take the reigns of the nation. 

Due, at least in part, to the hard work of a godly mother, Josiah follows the Lord. "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left." (2 Kings 22:2, 2 Chronicles 34:4) Josiah's biological father was a sinful man with no regard for the Lord. The young king is far more like his forefather David than his own father; therefore, the Scripture writers skip over the generations that came in between these two kings and compare Josiah to David. We are aware that David was not a perfect man (he committed two particularly shocking sins on the pages of the Bible in addition to more common sins) but he never dabbled in idolatry. His heart was faithful to the Lord all his life. He made some mistakes but always repented and got back on track, never once considering forsaking the Lord. He never turned aside to the right or to the left and Josiah has that in common with him.

Many Bible scholars speculate that Jedidah, the Queen Mother, could have co-reigned with her son until he came of age. This happened in other nations of that time and it's not unreasonable to think that she sat at his right hand at court, praying for him and providing godly wisdom and aiding him in his decisions. You may recall that King Solomon, though he was a young adult when he became king, would call for a throne to be placed at his right hand for his mother to sit on when she was in his court. (1 Kings 2:19) In Solomon's case this may have been simply a gesture of honor and respect but, considering that he was only around the age of eighteen or twenty when crowned king, he may have welcomed his mother's comforting presence and support at his side when he heard cases at court. Whether or not Jedidah co-reigned with her son, I think she was a constant presence in his life and a source of godly encouragement. I am sure that the royal officials, the prophets, and the priests were sources of encouragement and advice to the young king as well, but I can't help wanting to give a great deal of credit to a woman who is named only once in the Scriptures. Perhaps that's because I had a godly mother myself who taught me about the Lord at such a young age that I can't recall a time when I didn't know about the Lord. My mother sowed seeds that bore fruit in time, causing me to want to know the Lord she served. I enjoy thinking that Josiah's mother did the same for him.

Monday, May 29, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 113, Amon King Of Judah

Today we will study the short reign of Amon, son of King Manasseh of Judah.

We learned in our last two study sessions that Manasseh repented of his idolatry after the Lord allowed him to be taken prisoner to Babylon by the commanders of the king of Assyria. Manasseh humbled himself greatly and called upon the Lord in his distress. The Lord answered him, returning him to Jerusalem, and thereafter Manasseh began carrying out religious reforms by removing all the idols and pagan altars he had erected throughout the land. But his conversion was too late to help turn the heart of his son, Amon, toward the Lord.

The Bible does not tell us in which reignal year Manasseh repented of his sins but the majority of scholars appear to think this occurred somewhere within his last ten to twelve years as king. This means he was an ungodly influence on Amon for about half of Amon's life, for we find Amon ascending to the throne at the age of twenty-two.

"Amon was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem two years. His mother's name was Meshullemeth daughter of Haruz; she was from Jotbah." (2 Kings 21:19) Although I do believe Manasseh's conversion was genuine, I also don't think his son was impressed by it. I'm reminded of one of my childhood friends and the complicated relationship she had with her father. Her father was an angry alcoholic who controlled everything and everyone in his household until my friend and I were around twelve years old. He suddenly had a religious conversion, stopped drinking, and began studying to be a preacher. My friend was not impressed by or influenced by his newfound love for the Lord. One reason for that is her father was just as controlling as he ever was, only now with a religious fervor instead of with fumes of alcohol pouring off of him. It may be that although Manasseh's repentance was sincere, he was just as stern and controlling. Before his conversion he no doubt commanded everyone's allegiance to his many pagan gods, even going so far as to set up an idolatrous image in the temple, and he likely forced his own family to be the most zealous of all in these worship activities in order to set the example he wanted the citizens to follow. 

And let us not forget, while Manasseh still lived in sin he sacrificed some of his children in the Valley of Bin Hinnom to that detestable false deity Molek. Since Amon was born to Manasseh when his father was about forty-five years old, I doubt Amon was the firstborn son. Middle age was quite old for a man of Manasseh's era to begin fathering children and it is believed that the "son" the author of 2 Kings said he sacrificed was his firstborn. The author of 2 Chronicles stated he sacrificed "children" (plural) and this has led scholars to think he either sacrificed his firstborn son and several other sons or that he sacrificed his firstborn son and several daughters. Either way, Amon must have known about or even have witnessed the sacrificing of his siblings. Imagine being the child of a man who could do such things! Amon probably grew up both fearing him and hating him. He also may not have believed Manasseh's conversion was genuine. Even if he did believe it, he didn't necessarily respect it, and to him one god may have seemed the same as any other. When he saw his father throwing himself zealously into the worship of the God of Israel it may not have appeared to him any different than when his father threw himself zealously into worshiping the all the various gods of Canaan. If, as I suspect, Amon bore a great deal of animosity toward his father, rejecting God may have been an extension of him rejecting his father. As soon as Manasseh was buried, Amon undid all the religious reforms of Manasseh's later years.  

"He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done. He followed completely the ways of his father, worshiping the idols his father had worshiped, and bowing down to them. He forsook the Lord, the God of his ancestors, and did not walk in obedience to them." (2 Kings 21:20-22) Did Amon himself sacrifice any of his own children? The Bible says he worshiped and offered sacrifices to idols but it does not say that he made human sacrifices, so I tend to think he didn't go that far. There are several kings in the Bible who sacrificed their children but the Bible has been very careful to specifically point that abominable sin out to us in those cases. The fact that the authors of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles don't accuse Amon of this specific crime against humanity makes me think he refrained from committing it. Also we will learn in our next chapter that his son and successor, Josiah, is just eight years old when he ascends to the throne, meaning Amon was only sixteen at his birth and likely only fifteen when he fathered Josiah. I think Amon's young age at which he fathered Josiah makes it unlikely that he fathered anyone before Josiah whom he could have offered to Molek. Also Amon's own father, Manasseh, would have still been alive and presumably already converted by the time Amon was old enough to father any children. The converted Manasseh would not have allowed his son Amon to perform human sacrifice. If Amon had been old enough to father any children before Manasseh's conversion, then we don't know what Amon might have done, but because Manasseh repented of his idolatry we find Amon's son Josiah alive and well at the time of his father's death, which is a blessing to everyone because Josiah will be one of the most godly kings of Judah.

Josiah's ascension to the throne comes about due to a conspiracy that formed against his father. "Amon's officials conspired against him and assassinated the king in his palace. Then the people of the land killed all who had plotted against King Amon, and they made Josiah his son king in his place." (2 Kings 21:23-24, 2 Chronicles 33:24-25) We don't know why Amon's officials conspired against him. Some Bible scholars propose that it was due to some of the people of the kingdom wanting to serve Assyria and due to some of the people wanting to ally with Egypt to rebel against Assyria. Amon's officials may have killed him due to political differences. They may have killed him due to religious differences. They may have killed him because they preferred a different candidate for king and were attempting a coup in which they would place a man of their own choosing on the throne. I lean toward that third theory because the citizens of Judah avenged the death of Amon and declared his very young son as king. This makes me think the conspirators had someone else in mind other than a son of the king to take the king's place.

Amon never repented of his sins like his father did. "But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the Lord; Amon increased his guilt." (2 Chronicles 33:23) Amon grew more and more wicked during his two years as king and died violently at the young age of twenty-four. This is a grim reminder to the human race that we are not assured of a long life in which to consider our wicked ways and repent. We cannot expect to be able to "sow our wild oats", as the saying goes, and give no thought to the eternal destiny of our souls until we are past middle age or are in our senior years. We aren't promised tomorrow. The day of salvation is now. "So, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." (Hebrews 3:8a) Amon hardened his heart against the word of the Lord, to his own destruction. I do think his father's wicked ways had a great deal of bad influence on him in his childhood but I also think that since Amon was a grown man when he became king he was responsible for the sins he chose to commit as a grown man. He heard and saw many idolatrous things as a child but he heard and saw many things about the Lord as a teen and as a grown man. He had the opportunity to make the right choice and he did not make it. 

"As for the other events of Amon's reign, and what he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? He was buried in his tomb in the garden of Uzza. And Josiah his son succeeded him as king." (2 Kings 21:25-26) Amon is buried in the palace garden of Uzza just as his father was, but although their earthly remains ended up in the same place, the Scriptures indicate that their souls ended up in different locations. Manasseh lived a wicked life for many years but repented and was saved. There is no evidence in the Bible that Amon repented; it suggests the opposite. 

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 112, Manasseh King Of Judah, Part Four

Today we will be concluding our study of King Manasseh of Judah.

In our last study session we learned that at some point during his reign the king of Assyria had him arrested and taken prisoner to Babylon. The king of Assyria was also the king of Babylon (his forefathers having won a war with Babylon) and he may have been in residence at his headquarters in Babylon at the time. It was common in those times for prisons to be in the basements of the homes of government officials and it may be that Manasseh was held in the dungeon of the king's palace.

Exactly why and how the king captured Manasseh is not told to us in the Bible or in any of the surviving annals of the kings of Assyria. Scholars presume Manasseh rebelled against paying tribute to this enemy nation. Several kings rebelled against Assyria during this era, including King Hoshea of Israel (whose efforts ended in defeat), and Manasseh's father Hezekiah of Judah whose victory was a miracle of the Lord and not due to military strength or political alliances. Manasseh may have hoped to remain independent of Assyria but since he was so abominably unfaithful to the Lord, the Lord was not with him as He was with his father.

But in Friday's study we learned that Manasseh called out to the Lord while he was being held captive. The author of 2 Chronicles informed us that he "humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors". Manasseh's repentance must have been genuine, for we were told that the Lord was "moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea". The Lord must have also moved the heart of the king of Assyria to show Manasseh mercy because the Lord "brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom". I wish the Bible had provided us with a detailed account of how the Lord accomplished this but whatever means He used must have left no doubt in Manasseh's mind that his deliverance was accomplished by the Lord alone because the author of 2 Chronicles wrapped up Friday's text by saying, "Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God."

After being restored to the throne at his palace in Jerusalem, he took steps to make the city more defensible against enemies. It could be that a weakness in the defenses is what led to his capture by the Assyrian army commanders earlier in Chapter 33. "Afterward he rebuilt the outer wall of the City of David, west of the Gihon spring in the valley, as far as the entrance of the Fish Gate and encircling the hill of Ophel; he also made it much higher. He stationed military commanders in all the fortified cities in Judah." (2 Chronicles 33:14) 

I know that the saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," is not in the Bible but there is some merit to this platitude in that we have a duty to take reasonable precautions. The Lord has helped Manasseh and restored him to his throne but Manasseh has a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect himself and the people of Judah. The Lord has provided Manasseh with the materials and the workers and the soldiers with which to fortify the defenses and it would be lazy and irresponsible if Manasseh did not make wise use of all these resources. We might compare this to our modern use of door locks and seatbelts; the Lord has provided us with these things for our protection and we are wise to put them to use. Another example would be to properly take a medication that has been prescribed to us to treat a diagnosed health condition. The Lord has blessed us with technological advances and medical advances that have the capability to improve our quality of life and to lengthen our lives. If we ignore a diagnosed infection and refuse to take our antibiotics then we risk life-threatening consequences. In this same way, if Manasseh ignores the threat of Assyria and refuses to use the resources provided to him to protect himself and the people, he risks having his nation invaded and his army defeated. 

Manasseh is wise to protect his nation and he is wise to transfer his spiritual allegiance from idols to the living God. He displays what John the Baptist would have recognized as "fruits of repentance". In Luke's account of the gospel we find John the Baptist preaching the word of God and urging people to repent. But he didn't want anyone spouting insincere words of repentance and he made it clear that deeds must follow words in order to prove that a person's heart has really changed. So along with their words he expected to see actions and he said, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." (Luke 3:8a) If a person claims to have given their heart to the Lord but nothing about the way they live their life reflects that, then there are very strong reasons for believing that true repentance has not taken place. If Manasseh had prayed to the Lord while in the custody of the Assyrians but did nothing for the Lord after being restored to his kingdom, we would be forced to conclude that he only prayed to the Lord while he was in trouble and that he forsook Him afterwards. But we see below that he began religious reforms after he returned to the palace.

"He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel. The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the Lord their God." (2 Chronicles 33:15-17) It would have behooved him (and the people as well) to have torn down all the altars in the land in order to obey the Lord by bringing all their sacrifices to the altar at the temple. As we've discussed many times before, when people are separated from the main body of believers and when they go about the rituals of religion in their own way, they usually stray from the laws and commandments of the Lord. They usually drift from a close relationship with Him. For the remainder of Manasseh's reign they are only allowed to worship the Lord at these altars but this is a temporary reform. A great deal of spiritual damage has been done during Manasseh's long reign and his son and successor, along with a number of the people of Judah, have been heavily effected by his former idolatry. They may be going through the outward motions of serving the Lord but the hearts of a lot of the people are still loyal to pagan gods.

"The other events of Manasseh's reign, including his prayer to his god and the words the seers spoke to him in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, are written in the annals of the kings of Israel. His prayer and how God was moved by his entreaty, as well as all his sins and unfaithfulness, and the sites where he built high places and set up Asherah poles and idols before he humbled himself---all these are written in the records of the seers. Manasseh rested with his ancestors and was buried in his palace. And Amon his son succeeded him as king." (2 Chronicles 33:18-20) The author of 2 Kings adds that he was buried in the garden on his palace grounds. The author of 2 Kings does not, however, record any information regarding Manasseh's repentance. He seems to focus entirely on the king's sins, so I am thankful that the author of 2 Chronicles included the information that Manasseh turned to the Lord. 

I don't believe we have any reason to doubt that he was genuinely converted near the end of his life. I believe that when Manasseh passed out of this world he went into the presence of the Lord. It would have been far better (for him and for everyone else) if he had served the Lord for his entire life but at least he did not pass out of this world with his soul lost. Unfortunately, the years he lived in sin have had a terrible influence on Amon who will give himself completely to idolatry and who will never, as far as we know, repent and give his heart to the Lord. His father repented of his sins but the damage to his son had already been done; Amon had already made up his mind not to serve the Lord. This illustrates the importance of turning to the Lord as soon as we come to enough understanding of Him to do so.

Join us tomorrow as we move on to study the reign of King Amon.