Sunday, September 29, 2013

CLXXIX - Ezra 7-10

As we saw in chapter 6, Zerubbabel has finished the rebuilding of the Temple and has dedicated it with much celebration.  This brings us to chapter 7 - Ezra is introduced.  {I was a Sunday School teacher for a number of years.  Therefore, Ezra is special to me because I've always considered him to be the first Sunday School teacher.  Ezra was a Levite scribe who dedicated himself to the studying and teaching of the Law to his fellow Israelites.  Evidently he had gained notoriety in Babylon, as he is referred to as a teacher of the Mosaic Law, even by Artexerxes, king of the powerful Persian Empire.}  This passage we will study in this post took place about 460 BC.

The first five verses tells the lineage of Ezra, going all the way back to Aaron, the first High Priest.   In vss 6 and 7 we see that Ezra is an accomplished teacher and that he found much favor in the eyes of the Persian king.  Verse 8 tells us that it took four months to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem.  {Travel back then was
difficult and dangerous.  Those who chose to return had to muster faith and courage to commit their families to such an ordeal.}  Verses 11- 26 is the letter that king Artexerxes wrote to Ezra.  This letter was to be carried with Ezra, as it would serve as proof that the king not only gave him permission, but was in support of his mission in returning to Jerusalem.  The letter indicates how the king provided much silver and gold for Ezra to take with him.  {As stated in earlier posts, there were so many false gods throughout the civilized world at this time.  Many people considered gods to be territorial, being confined to specific locations.  Some regarded certain gods to be attached to tribes of people such as Baal being the god of the Canaanites.  The Persians were no different.  King Artexerxes, like his predecessors, recognized the God of the Israelites Who was back in Judah.  Artexerxes also acknowledged God as probably the most powerful of all the gods, but nonetheless limited to Judah and the Israelites.  These people, including Artexerxes did not realize that there was only one God, and men such as Ezra made little or no effort to promote this understanding among people who were not Israelites.}  As you read this letter from Artexerxes you will realize just how much the king thought of Ezra, as he granted him all authority, even immunity from the territorial governor.  Verse 27 begins what is commonly believed to be a section taken out of Ezra's memoirs, which will stretch through chapter 9.  This is evidenced by Ezra writing in the first person.

Chapter 8 begins by listing the families of those who joined Ezra in returning to Jerusalem from Babylon where they were servants to the citizens of Persia.  {You may find some familiar family names, as some were relatives of those who made that same journey ninety years earlier with Zerubbabel.}  Verse 15--> Ezra gathered all of the people in a location just outside Babylon.  This gathering allowed him to assess the entire group.  But he found that there were no Levites besides the ordained priests.  It was necessary to have Levites in order to handle the items to be taken into the Temple.  Ezra held up the journey in order to recruit enough Levites to accommodate his purposes.  Ezra then proclaimed a fast as a gesture of humility before God.  Verse 22 is interesting.  Ezra knew how dangerous this journey was going to be.  Earlier the king offered to send soldiers with them for protection, but Ezra told him that God was protection enough.  Therefore, even though all the people wanted the soldiers, Ezra could not ask the king for them after he had made such a profession of faith.  But in verse 31 it tells that God did in fact protect them as Ezra had promised.  Upon their arrival in Jerusalem they collectively made sacrifices of thanksgiving for their safe journey and to celebrate being back in the Promised Land and in the presence of the Temple.

Chpater 9  -  Ezra Addresses a Huge Problem:  Intermarriage

Ezra had been "expounding" on the Law.  He was teaching the Law and its many commands.  As he had been going through the various parts of the Law, he knew that situations would be brought to his attention.  The problem of intermarriage was drawn to Ezra’s attention by some of the ‘princes’ of Israel. This suggests that something had made them become concerned about a situation that they were well aware of.  And it must have been Ezra's teachings.  {I believe that this intermarriage had taken place by both groups of Israelites, those who came with Zerubbabel and those who had come with Ezra.}  Their sons and daughters had married Canaanites, which was in direct violation of the very Law that Ezra was teaching.  This must be dealt with immediately.  Verse 3 suggests that Ezra may not have been aware of this practice prior to this.  He tore his garments (sign of grief) and fell to his knees in prayer, confessing to God the sin of His people.  The Scripture records Ezra's entire prayer in verses 6-15.  In it he quotes Deuteronomy 7:3 and Exodus 34:16.  Both forbid marriage with Canaanites and gives the reasons why.  It was not contestable.

Chapter 10

While Ezra was weeping and praying audibly, many of the men and women joined him in confession and repentance of their sin.  Then Shekaniah, a spokesman for the group, acknowledges the need for correcting this situation and challenges Ezra to the task.  He encourages Ezra and tells him to "take courage and do it".  Both Ezra and Shedaniah realized this was going to be difficult and things could get ugly if mis-handled.  This chapter goes on to tell of how Ezra handled the situation.  He brought in all of those suspected of intermarriage, one at a time, to determine guilt or innocence.  (Those who failed to appear before Ezra and his council would be punished by being stripped of all possessions and citizenship.)  In verses 12-15 we see that Ezra gained support for this action and had only four who opposed.  This would be a massive undertaking and would take three long months.  Simply put, all Canaanite wives and husbands, including offspring were to be sent away by the congregation.  The only exceptions were those who were faithful to God and had assimilated to Israelite customs and Laws.  {As it had been for centuries, the Canaanite wives led their Israelite families to pagan idolatry, as predicted back in Joshua.  Evidence of guilt or innocence was easily obtained because of this.}  Verses 18-44 records those found guilty by family.  {This must have been an extremely unpleasant time for Jerusalem, but Ezra and the other leaders realized it must be done.}

This concludes the book of Ezra.  Ezra led the pilgrimage from Babylon to Jerusalem.  He taught the Law to his group plus the group and their descendants from Zerubbabel's pilgrimage ninety years earlier.  And Ezra led the entire nation in ridding itself of the sinful intermarriage practice and its consequences.

Next Post  -  Nehemiah

Monday, September 23, 2013

CLXXVIII - Ezra 3 - 6

We saw in the last post that Cyrus the Great of Persia released the Israelites from bondage in Babylon.  They were free to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  This was the first colony of Judeans to return to Jerusalem.  There were almost 50,000 of them, including men, women, and children.  It does not tell how long their journey back to Jerusalem took, but we can assume it was a long and tiring journey.

This brings us to chapter 3

Upon their arrival to Judah, those Israelites settled in their various towns that were in the vacinity of Jerusalem.  After they had been there seven months it was time to assemble themselves together in Jerusalem to begin the work that was assigned them.  They must first build an altar on which to make sacrifices unto God.  The Scripture makes it clear that Zerubbabel was the leader, not only in their journey, but also in their activities once they arrived in Judah.  As you read verses 1-6, its plain to see that Zerubbabel had been very careful to read and understand the Mosaic Law.  The sacrifices and observance of the "Feasts" were in strict adherence to the Law as found in Deuteronomy.  All of this time Zerubbabel was gathering the necessary materials to rebuild the Temple.  Verse 7 tells us that Zerubbabel made every effort to rebuild the Temple exactly like Solomon did, even using materials from the same locations.  The actual work in laying the foundation for the Temple started fourteen months after their arrival in Jerusalem.  {Bear in mind that, although we cannot tell how many builders there were, we can assume that it did not compare with the thousands that Solomon had at his disposal.}  Verses 10-13 tells us that the completion of the foundation was cause for a great celebration.  

Chapter 4  -  The Oppostion

It is difficult to tell exactly who this "opposition" was.  It says they were enemies of Judah and Benjamin, who were residents of Jerusalem before the Israelites returned from Babylon.  In verse 2 is our best clue as to the identity of these people who would offer so much resistance to Zerubbabel and those who followed him.  It says that Esarhaddon king of Assyria brought them to Jerusalem.  {Esarhaddon was the son of Sennacherib, who was the king of Assyria to whom King Hezekiah of Judah paid to withdraw Assyrian troops from attacking Jerusalem.  This tells me that after the Babylonians carried off all the Israelites from Jerusalem, the Assyrian king wanted to re-populate the city.  I would think that these people who were sent to settle in Jerusalem were not of Israelite descent, although I'm not certain.  But whoever they were, they had probably established themselves and their culture and religion in Jerusalem, and felt that their very existence was being threatened by the activities of these Israelites who migrated back to what they considered their homeland.  Sound familiar?  It should.  We've read about the Palistinians' resistance to the Jews re-settling in the Promised Land since 1948.}  Now we must understand the politics of this period.  These people were sent to Judah by the king of Assyria.  Assyria no longer enjoyed military dominance.  The Persian Empire had conquered Assyria and had absolute authority all over the civilized world, except for Egypt.  And these occupants of Jerusalem realized that King Cyrus of Persia granted these Israelites permission to rebuild the Temple.  Thus these opponents had a problem.  These opponents first offered to help, but Zerubbabel did not accept their help, which is another reason why I don't think these people were of Israelite descent.  God led Zerubbabel in his decision to decline their help (vs 3).  In verse 4 we see that these people tried anything they could think of to disrupt the project of rebuilding the Temple.

Fast-forward to verse 6  -  The opposition had badgered the builders for years.  Cyrus was no longer king of the Persian Empire.  There had been three kings of Persia since Cyrus, and now Xerxes was king and the opposition was still trying to overt the building of the Temple.

Fast-forward to verse 7, and we see that these people must have felt that Xerxes's son Artaxerxes had become king and showed signs of perhaps being sympathetic to the opposition's cause.  So they wrote a
letter to King Artexerxes(vss 12-16).  As you read this letter, you will see that the main theme is that the Israelites have a History of being rebellious and a large nuisance to kings who had authority over them.  This must have struck a nerve.  Artaxerxes researched this and found evidence that what they were saying might be true.  {Kings don't like rebellions.}  Therefore he sent a return letter (vss 17-22) stopping construction of the Temple.

Chapter 5  -  Enter the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah

The project of building the Temple being stopped aroused all Godly people.  The prophets Haggai and Zechariah spoke on this subject and must have encouraged Zerubbabel to continue the work that God had assigned him.  This work drew the attention of the "Trans-Euphrates Governor" Tattenai.  {The Persian Empire was so large that governors were assigned to territories to see to it that everything that was happening was in the best interest of Persia.  Trans-Euphrates would have been all territory west of the Euphrates River to the Mediteranean Sea, which included Israel.}  Those opposing the project probably tattled to Tattenai that Zerubbabel and the Levite builders were breaking the law as handed down by the empire.  When Tattenai approached Zerubbabel, he told the governor that Cyrus the Great had not only granted them permission, but actually made it a mandate to rebuild the Temple.  Being a careful diplomat, Tettanai sent the problem to the empire's king Darius to have the dispute settled.  Darius had the matter researched in the archives of the empire and found the decree of Cyrus to be exactly as Zerubbabel had said.

Chapter 6  -  Darius Honors the Decree of Cyrus

Darius not only allowed Zerubbabel to continue with the building project, but actually mandated that additional materials would be provided at the cost of the empire, in efforts to speed up the project.  He went on to forbid any interference to the project and said that any interference would be considered a crime, punishable by total annihilation of the offenders family and properties.  Vss 13--> The work continued with no further obstructions, and was finished about five years later.  A great celebration took place and a dedication ceremony took place according to the Book of Moses.  Vss 19--> The first Passover after the completion of the Temple was celebrated.  If you're not careful you might miss the very last verse of this chapter which says that the king of Assyria actually helped them finish the project.  {A bit puzzling, but not important enough to research the conflicting timing.}

Next Post  -  Ezra Comes to Jerusalem

Thursday, September 19, 2013

CLXXVII - Ezra - Chapters 1-2

First, just a brief review of the History from the Creation up to the captivity.  Some of the the dates are approximate, but the timeline itself is in proper order.  These next few paragraphs of an Historic overview may seem tedious but nonetheless necessary for a complete understanding of the Old Testament.

>  Approx. 4000 BC - Creation
>  Approx. 2300 BC - The Flood
>  Approx. 2000 BC - Abraham
>  Approx. 1900 BC - Israel settles in Egypt
>  1800 BC - Death of Joseph
>  1780-1380 - Egyptian Bondage/Slavery
>  1380 BC - Moses - The Exodus
>  1380-1340 BC - Wandering in the Wilderness
>  1340-1300 BC - Joshua Enters and Conquers the Promised Land / Twelve tribes allotted land
>  1300-1050 BC - The Judges
>  1050 BC - The Israelites insisted on having a king like other nations, against Samuel's objections
>  1050 BC - Saul is made king of all twelve tribes of Israel
>  1010 BC - David conquers the land for the kingdom
>  970-930 BC - Solomon is the last king of the united Israel
>  930 BC - The nation Israel is divided
>  930 BC - Jeroboam is king of ten tribes (Israel) and Rehoboam is king of two tribes (Judah)
>  722 BC - Israel falls and is taken captive by Assyrians
>  586 BC - Judah falls and is taken captive by Babylonians

This is where we are thus far in our study, as we concluded the two books of Chronicles.  Now before I proceed with the book of Ezra, I must share the following timeline of world powers, which is necessary as we begin Ezra.  Noteworthy is that although Egypt is not listed below, they were always powerful enough militarily that they were never challenged by a foreign nation.  But the rest of the civilized world was vulnerable to be consumed by these sometimes aggressive superpowers.

900 - 607 BC - Assyrian Empire
607 - 539 BC - Babylonian Empire
539 - 330 BC - Persian Empire
330 BC - 363 AD - Roman Empire

As we've studied, Judah had fallen to Nebachudnessar and the Babylonians, and were taken captive.  But as you can see above, the Babylonians were unable to retain their dominance for barely more than a single generation.  Cyrus the Great and the Persians easily defeated the Babylonians in only one battle just east of Babylon, before marching into Babylon without resistance, ending the Babylonian Empire.  Cyrus the Great is famous as a triumphant conqueror, a superb warrior, and the founder of the greatest empire the world has ever seen.  The Persian empire was considered by many as "the greatest" because of the way Cyrus established the treatment of its citizens and the compassion with which he considered his conquered enemies.  He is mentioned twenty-two times in the Bible, and always favorably.  His kindness and generosity to the Israelites was unmatched by any recorded character.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book.  The author is uncertain although traditionally considered to be Nehemiah himself.  The two books cover three events, all of which are groups of Israelites returning to Jerusalem from Babylon where they had been in captivity for more than sixty years.  The first group was led by Zerubbabel, the second was led by Ezra, and the third was led by Nehemiah.  I could continue to add background, but it could be exhaustive.  If you should have any questions or are confused by any part, please share and I will do my best to clarify.

The Book of Ezra, Chapter 1

Verse 1 - This verse says a lot.  Cyrus wasted no time in liberating the Israelites from bondage, having heard the words of the great prophet Jeremiah.  Having observed what was happening in Babylon under the cruel leadership of Nebachudnessar, Cyrus must have made it a high priority to "right some wrongs".  Also it tells us that Cyrus had a willing heart to receive the moving of the Spirit of God, thus making him a willing vessel.  {Have you had people in your life that God used as a vessel through which He blessed you?  Those people are not always believers, but have open hearts.  God can work through anybody He chooses.}  Cyrus then puts his wishes in writing (vss 2-4) in the form of a proclamation.  This was necessary, as the people who had the Israelites as their servants in Babylon would have needed more than "word of mouth" to give up these servants they grew up with.  Note in his proclamation that he acknowledges the Lord as God.  He goes on in his proclamation to give any and all Israelites the permission to leave Babylon and return to their home land in Judah.  He also expresses the mandate by God to have the Temple rebuilt and encourages all people (both Israelites and Babylonian citizens) to contribute gold, silver, and livestock to help those who were leaving to accomplish their goal.  Verse 5 states that the family heads of Judah and Benjamin plus the Levites and "everyone whose heart God had moved", prepared for the long journey back to the Promised Land.  This group of people were showered with provender and gifts for their journey.  In verse 7, Cyrus collected all of the articles from the Temple that Nebachudessar had stolen and gave them to the priests so
they could be put back in their proper place in the rebuilt Temple.  In verse 9 an inventory was taken of all the Temple's items, totaling 5400 articles.

Chapter 2 provides names of those people who had decided to go back to Jerusalem.  Recording names and keeping accurate records was important to these people.  As stated in verse 62, some family records were lost, but it was denoted as such.  Verse 64 says that there was a total of 49,897 people plus 8136 head of livestock.  {Imagine if you can, the size of this group.  Zerubbabel must have been a good organizer.}

Next post  -  Rebuilding the Altar and the Temple

Sunday, September 15, 2013

CLXXVI - II Chronicles 33-36

This post concludes our study of Chronicles.  I meant for this blog to be much shorter than it is but it is so difficult to condense one's thoughts on the Scripture.

In the last post we covered four chapters of II Chronicles, all of which told about one king, Hezekiah.  In this post we will also cover four chapters, but these chapters will tell of seven different kings of Judah.  As you read these final four chapters of Chronicles, you will notice that two kings get most of the coverage:  Manasseh, who was quite evil;  and Josiah, who was quite a good king, much like his great-grandfather Hezekiah.  We have studied these men in the books of Kings, but Chronicles gives a bit more detail about Manasseh and Josiah.

Chapter 33  -  Manasseh

Manasseh was Hezekiah's son.  He was only twelve years old when he became king of Judah.  He reigned for fifty-five years in Jerusalem, which was longer than any other king of Judah or Israel.  Early in his reign Manasseh managed to undo everything good that his father Hezekiah had done.  Everything Hezekiah built, Manasseh demolished.  Hezekiah removed all pagan idols from the Temple and Manasseh moved them back in.  Hezekiah destroyed the high places and pagan worship centers and Manasseh rebuilt them.  Hezekiah his father despised Baal and Ashteroth and everything they stood for.  Manasseh not only gave the Baal priests free reign, but joined in the worship of these idols.  Manasseh seemed like he was bound and determined to exceed Ahab in ungodly practices.  Verse 6-->  He participated in child sacrifices, killing some of his own children.  He practiced divination and witchcraft.  There was nothing evil that Manasseh did not practice beyond the levels of any of his predecessors.

     But then in verse 10, God spoke to Manasseh.  This was very merciful of God.  But Manasseh and the people of Judah didn't listen to Him.  So God moved the Assyrians to attack Judah and Manasseh.  They defeated Manasseh and put a hook in his nose and led him back to Babylon in shackles.  Finally, Manasseh humbled himself before the Lord.  As is His custom,  God felt compassion for Manasseh (Manasseh's repentance must have been sincere) and God restored him to Jerusalem as king.  Having been truly repentant, Manasseh made a sincere effort to do that which was right in the sight of God.  As stated in verses 15-17, Manasseh and the people of Judah saw the error of their ways and tried to make atonement.  {As
mentioned earlier, Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king and reigned fifty-five years.  I'm not certain what age he was when he repented and began seeking God and His righteousness.}

Verse 20 tells of Manasseh's death and that his son Amon became king at the age of twenty-two.  Amon reigned two years in Jerusalem.  Amon was as evil in those two years as his father was in the beginning of his reign.  In those two years he managed to send Judah back into the arms of Baal.  But Amon never humbled himself before God or anybody else.  The very people whom he appointed as palace officials conspired against Amon and killed him.  The people of Judah were displeased with those officials taking matters like that into their own hands.  So all of the people of the land killed all of those who betrayed and assassinated Amon.  They then made Amon's son Josiah king of Judah.

Chapter 34  -  Josiah and the Book of the Law

Josiah was eight years old when he became king of Judah and reigned thirty-one years.  Josiah was everything good and pure in a king.  It says he "did not turn aside to the right or to the left".  The Scripture uses this phrase sparingly and only pertaining to the Godliest of people.  When Josiah was sixteen years old he, like Hezekiah, proceeded to destroy all pagan idols and worship centers.  When he was twenty-six years old he ordered the Temple to be restored to its previous glory.  He had to make certain that the right people were assigned the various duties in the restoration project.  He even organized the collection of funds by which the laborers would be paid, much like David did before the Temple was even constructed.

Verses 14-33  -  The Book of the Law

During the process of restoring the Temple, Hilkiah the priest found a book which contained the Law as written by Moses.  {We can't be sure which book this was. It seems that it was probably the book of Deuteronomy, but it may have included parts of Exodus and/or Leviticus.  This book should have been with God’s ark in the most holy place (Deuteronomy 31:26).  At this time, the ark had not been in its proper place (as evidenced in 35:3). So, the book was not where it should have been.  But given the collective activities of Manasseh and Amon, it was no wonder the Temple would have been in total disarray.}  As you read these twenty verses you can see what a sobering effect its reading made on everyone who was exposed to it.  {The Scripture is still that powerful.}  Josiah was Godly enough and wise enough to understand how Judah had ended up in such a mess, having ignored the commands of God for so many generations.  Josiah then increased his efforts in cleansing the nation of all idolatrous materials and artifacts, knowing that God required absolute purity.  Note the last verse in this chapter saying that,  "As long as he (Josiah) lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors."

Chapter 35  -  Josiah Celebrates the Passover

All this time since the they found that book of the Law, Josiah was busying himself studying the Law and following every detail in it.  There was plenty to do to restore this great nation to its former glory when Solomon was king.  And now the season of Passover was upon them.  Josiah felt that the Temple and the worship procedures followed by the Levites were as close as he could get them.  He also knew by the reading of the book of the Law that the Passover was the most important celebration that could be observed by the Israelites.  {My guess is that Passover has not been observed for quite some time.}  As you read these verses 1-19, you can see how elaborate this celebration was.  It says in verse 18 that Passover had not been celebrated that elaborately since the days of the prophet Samuel.  That was 400 years ago.

Verses 20-27  -  The death of Josiah

At this time, there were three powerful nations, Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt.  Judah could stay neutral and be a free nation as long as these nations were about equal in power.  But Assyria was becoming the weakest of the three nations. Babylon was becoming the most powerful and they fought with Assyria.  Pharaoh Neco of Egypt decided to try to help Assyria against Babylon.  In 609 BC he went to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates River.  To do this, Neco and his army had to pass through the territory of Israel.  Josiah decided not to allow the soldiers from Egypt to pass through any of Judah's territory.  He took his army to fight against Neco’s army.  Pharaoh Neco did not want to fight against Josiah.  He tried to talk Josiah out of fighting.  He just wanted to pass through the territory.  But Josiah was determined to defend his territory, considering the crossing was actually an invasion by the Egyptians.  They entered into battle and Josiah himself was mortally wounded.  They had taken Josiah back to Jerusalem where he died.  I consider Josiah to have been among the best kings of Judah.  Verse 25 states that the great prophet Jeremiah lamented for king Josiah.  The people of Jerusalem made Josiah's son Jehoahaz the new king of Judah.

Chapter 36

Pharaoh Neco had served Judah with a bitter defeat in battle.  As was custom of the day, Judah came under the rule of Egypt, in the name of "the spoils of war".  Even though Jehoahaz was king, Egypt controlled Judah and levied an annual tax on all of Judah's citizens.  Pharaoh even took Jehoahaz off the throne and made his brother Eliakim the official king of Judah.  To further humiliate Judah, Pharaoh forced Eliakim to change his name to Jehoiakim.  They took the real king Jehoahaz off in shackles to Egypt to live in exile.  Egypt then left Jerusalem with Jehoiakem as king, who did evil in the eyes of God.  Nebuchadnessar king of Babylon invaded Jerusalem and took Jehoiakem back to Babylon in shackles, plus he plundered the Temple for anything of value that was left.  With Jehoiakem gone, his son Jehoiachin was made king.  Only three months
after that, Nebuchadnessar came to Jerusalem and took Jehoiachin back to Babylon in chains also.   Nebuchadnessar then named Jehoiachin's uncle Zedekiah as king of Judah.  Zedekiah was king for eleven years and was evil in the eyes of God.  Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnessar, which was a large mistake.  The Babylonians marched their army against Jerusalem and ravaged it because of Zedekiah's rebellion.  Verses 15-20 gives a vivid picture of what the Babylonians did to the nation of Judah.  Verses 22-->, tell of Persia overpowering the Babylonians.

We will see in the next post how different Cyrus king of Persia was from Nebuchadnessar king of Babylon, as we begin our study of the wonderful book of Ezra.

Friday, September 13, 2013

CLXXV - II Chronicles 29-32 - Hezekiah

Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz, whom we studied in the last post.  But one would never guess Hezekiah to be the son of one of the most wicked kings of Judah.  Hezekiah was indeed a Godly king.

Chapter 29  -  Hezekiah's Priorities Were Right

Hezekiah was a young man of twenty-five years when he assumed the throne of Judah.  Note in verse 3 that in the very first month as king he addressed the awful condition of the Temple of the Lord, and immediately took steps to correct it.  He did it in proper order, using the Levites to do mostly everything.  He had the doors repaired, then he ordered the Levites to consecrate themselves, then consecrate (purify and make holy) all parts of the Temple.  This involved removing all of the pagan worship items in the Temple, which evidently were many.  Hezekiah was quick to place the blame on his forefathers, especially his own father Ahaz.  But he was correct in placing the blame on his predecessors rather than on the Levites.  Although the Levites were not without guilt, they were under the authority of the king, who also had authority over the military.  Note in verse 17 that it took the Levites eight days to get to the portico of the Temple.  The entire Temple was filled with pagan worship idols and other paraphernalia that defiled God's Temple.  After the Levites had consecrated themselves and the Temple, Hezekiah did exactly as David and Solomon had done.  They celebrated the cleansing of the Temple with a great worship service, sacrificing so many animals that the Levite priests had to call on additional Levite members to assist them.  Hezekiah was off to a good start.

Chapter 30  -  The Passover

The season of Passover was upon them shortly after the consecration of the Temple.  So excited was Hezekiah about the Temple that he sent out a proclamation to all of Judah and Israel, including Ephraim and Manasseh which were east of the Jordan.  Take a moment to read the proclamation in verses 6-9.  Hezekiah did not mince his words.  He placed blame where it belonged, which would of course offend many citizens.  Those who were offended scorned the king's messengers who distributed the letters of proclamation.  But he was still successful, as people came to Jerusalem from all parts of Judah, Benjamin, Asher, Zebulun, Ephraim, and Issachar.  {This was a golden opportunity for Israel and Judah to reunite.  I'm sure this had crossed Hezekiah's mind, but he was pragmatic enough to know that this was a long shot.}  In verse 22 it says that "Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites".  This speaks favorably of Hezekiah as a leader.  So jubilant was this Passover celebration that it was extended an additional seven days before all of the people returned to their homes.  The Scripture tells us in this chapter that there had not been a celebration of this magnitude since David and Solomon.

Chapter 31  -  Tithes and Offerings

Hezekiah's actions and leadership was successful, evidenced by the fact that the people began cleansing their own cities of the pagan idols and worship locations.  But Hezekiah went even further in his attempts to bring Judah back to the nation God had intended it to be.  The nation of Judah had abandoned all of God's commands, including tithing.  This was noticed by Hezekiah because the Levites were unable to fulfill their sacred obligations because they were tied up working to provide for their families.  Hezekiah told the people in Jerusalem to give what was due to the priests and to the Levites. So then the priests and the Levites could spend all their time in their work.  Hezekiah set the example by giving of his personal possessions.  All of the people responded generously.  So generously that storehouses needed to be built to accommodate the influx.  Now Hezekiah realized there was a need to organize the Levites.  It was established by David that the Levites and their families would be provided for by all of the other tribes through the Temple.  This was not limited to the Levites in Jerusalem.  It was to include the Levites in all of their assigned locations outside of Jerusalem.  This amounted to a lot of people, but if the food and provender was distributed properly, there would be plenty.  Verses 20-21 sums up Hezekiah thoroughly.  He was a good king, focused on what he perceived as the Lord's will.  And the last four words of this chapter:  "And so he prospered."

Chapter 32 - Assyria Invades Judah

In verses 1-23 we see that Sennacherib, king of Assyria, decides to invade Judah.  One reason for this was that Hezekiah would not continue to pay tribute to Assyria as Ahaz had started.  {This tribute was a tax for existing.  The Assyrians offered nothing in return.  Much like the Romans taxed the citizens of their colonies in the time of Jesus.}  Sennacherib had a powerful army and was conquering one territory after another without any serious resistance.  He had become drunk with power due to his military successes, and considered himself and his army to be indestructible.  But he had his sights on Jerusalem.  He knew of their growing wealth.  At the time of this passage, Sennacherib had already gained control over most of Israel and Judah.  Hezekiah was aware of Sennacherib's intentions and took steps to prepare for the invasion.  He cut off the water supply to Jerusalem and rebuilt broken sections of the wall which surrounded Jerusalem.  But Hezekiah realized how strong Sennechrib's military was.  While Hezekiah was making all of these preparations to defend the city, Sennecherib was gathering his forces to surround and invade Jerusalem.  But Sennecherib made a major mistake.  Check out the letter he sent to Hezekiah and all of the citizens of Jerusalem in verses 10-16.  You'll notice that Sennecherib belittled God and Hezekiah's dependence on God.  He cites his conquests over all of the gods of other territories.  {I guess Sennacherib wanted to take Jerusalem without any bloodshed.  His plea was for surrender.}  Now in verse 20 we see a familiar name: The great prophet Isaiah.  He and king Hezekiah prayed together, asking God for deliverance.  That night the Lord sent an angel {one angel} to annihilate the entire Assyrian army that was camped near Jerusalem.  {Research tells me there were about 180,000 Assyrian soldiers that were killed that night by only one angel.  I told you earlier about these angels.  We will be seeing more on these magnificent creatures as we continue our study.  Your view of angels will change somewhat, but it will become more realistic.  It took only one to kill 180,000 soldiers in just a few hours, and do we realize how many angels there are?}  So Sennecherib wasn't so tough after all.  He returned to Damascus in disgrace.  So disgraced was he that his own sons killed him inside one of their pagan temples.  In verses 22-23 we find that after the defeat of Sennacherib, other nations feared the God of Judah.  Not only did other nations dare not invade Judah, they actually sent
gifts to Hezekiah, hoping to find favor with him.

Verses 24-33

Hezekiah became sick and he almost died. But he prayed and the Lord sent Isaiah to him. Isaiah told him that the Lord also give to him another 15 years. Hezekiah asked for a sign to prove God would do it. This is when God made the shadows to go back 10 steps (2 Kings 20:1-10).  In verse 25 we see that Hezekiah became proud and his attitude toward God had shown signs of disrespect.  God showed His wrath on Hezekiah and all of Judah.  Hezekiah then came to his senses and repented, reentering the grace of God.

Verses 27-29  -  After the defeat of Sennacherib, Hezekiah became famous among the nations. Also, he became wealthy.  He again became proud for many reasons, none of which were his own doing.  God's hand was in all of it.  But as we studied in II Kings, Hezekiah got too proud.  When Babylon sent ambassadors to Jerusalem, Hezekieah showed them all of his wealth, including the riches inside the Temple.  {This would come back to haunt Judah later.  It would be these same Babylonians that will come and not only take the riches he showed them, but will also take the entire nation captive.}  But God kept His promise to Hezekiah.  He gave him the fifteen years, and protected Judah from its enemies as long as Hezekiah was alive.  We will learn even more about Hezekiah when we study the book of Isaiah.  All in all, Hezekiah was a good king.  He was God-fearing and made tremendous strides in bringing his nation to the Lord.  He died in 687 BC.  His son Manasseh would take the throne of Judah.

Next Post  -  Finishing Chronicles

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

CLXXIV - II Chronicles 25-28

Chapter 25  -  Amaziah

Amaziah, son of Joash, started his reign in a Godly manner, but that turned out to be temporary.  His first order of business

was to avenge his father's death.  He had all of the conspiritors put to death.  However he spared thier families, as is the Law, according to Deuteronomy 24:16.  We've seen in our study that the territory of Ephraim seemed to change hands many times.  The Edomites currently inhabited the cities in Ephraim.  Amaziah gathered his army to go take Ephraim back as a part of Judah.  Amaziah hired soldiers from Israel to help him march against the Edomites, but a man of God came to the king and told him he was not to use the Israelite soldiers.  So they were all sent away, angry at Judah for dismissing them.  Amaziah marched against Edom with only his relatively small army of 300,000 soldiers.  Amaziah was victorious.  But then Amaziah made a terrible mistake:  He brought back the idols of the Edomites and bowed down to them.  Amaziah should have given thanks to the Lord.  Instead, he set up the gods of Edom and he worshiped them.  He gave sacrifices by fire to them. This made God very angry with Amaziah.  In the mean time, those Israelite soldiers that Amaziah sent home had begun to attack cities in Judah.  After Amaziah's decisive victory in Ephraim, he felt confident about his military might and decided to attack Israel in retaliation.  God sent a prophet to Amaziah and told him not to attack Israel, which made Amaziah even more determined.  He had more confidence in his army than he had in God.  We studied this back in Kings.  He sent a  message to the Jehoash king of Israel challenging him to war.  Jehoash returned the massage and told him to "stay home.  You are just swollen up with pride because of your victory against the Edomites.  You cannot defeat Israel's army."  That message insulted Amaziah and made him even more determined to attack, which he did.  The army of Israel defeated the army of Judah.  All the men from Judah went to their homes. Then Jehoash captured Amaziah and took him back to Jerusalem to further humiliate him.  Jehoash plundered Jerusalem.  Amaziah continued to reign as king, but by proxy, as he lived in exile from Jerusalem until the time of his death.

Chapter 26 - Uzziah

Uzziah was a God fearing king and did many great things.  He was only sixteen years old when he took the throne, and served as king for fifty-two years.  This chapter paints a generous picture of Uzziah.  He defeated the Philistines in battle and actually took some land from them.  His economy and military were both powerful.  It says in verse that he had many people working in the fields and vineyards for "he loved the soil".  But after quite a few successful years, Uzziah's pride got the best of him.  He took it upon himself to enter the Temple and burn his own sacrifices.  This duty and privilege was to be that of the Levite priests.  The Levites approached Uzziah in the Temple and begged him not to perform the priestly duties, but Uzziah was too proud to be corrected.  He proceeded until God stopped him by afflicting him advanced leprosy as he was in the Temple, among the Levite priests.  Uzziah spent his remaining years in a quarantine due to his leprosy, not even being allowed in his palace due to the Law of Moses.  He reigned through his son Jotham until he died.

Chapter 27 - Jotham

Jotham became king when he was twenty-five years old, but with plenty of experience due to Uzziah leading though Jotham.  He reigned sixteen years and was considered a successful king.  He attacked and defeated the Ammonites and placed them under his reign.  Verse 6 tells us "Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God".  Jotham lived forty-one years.  The Scripture does not say how he died.

Chapter 28 - Ahaz

All that Amaziah, Uzziah, and Jotham did to build up Judah, Ahaz somehow managed to destroy in his sixteen short years as king of Judah.destroy.  He was openly defiant of God and His Law.  Ahaz was one of the weakest and the most wicked of all the 20 rulers of Judah.  He openly served and worshiped Baal, the pagan god.  He even worshiped Molech, the god of the Ammonites, which demanded child sacrifices.  {Although the Scripture does not specifically state this, it is general knowledge that Ahaz burned some of his own children as sacrifices to Molech.  But for certain he did not burn all of them, as his son Hezekiah would succeed him as king.}  His reign was a mess, and it was all Ahaz's fault as he progressively got further from the Lord and closer to the pagan gods.  In verses 5-8, Rezin king of Aram attacked Judah and defeated Ahaz.  Also, Pekah, the king of Israel came against Judah. He killed many people and soldiers in Judah.  The Lord allowed Judah to be overwhelmingly defeated, but did not allow any of the royal lineage to be killed or captured as slaves.  {I've often wondered why Judah and Israel were not allies, being of the same family.}  This passage indicated that Pekah and his army of Israelites not only helped in defeating Ahaz, but plundered Jerusalem and were particulary cruel in killing women and children.  This was totaly unacceptable to God and He sent the prophet Oded to the officers of the Israelite army and instructed them to release the
people from Samaria so they could return to their homes, which they did.  As you read this chapter you can see that this was a very dark period for Judah, as Ahaz's hunger for worshiping pagan gods kept trouble coming from all sides.  He even went to Damascus and worshiped those gods.  When Ahaz died, Hezekiah became king of Judah. They buried Ahaz in Jerusalem but not in the graves of the kings.

Next post - Hezekiah

Sunday, September 8, 2013

CLXXIII - II Chronicles 21-24

As I've stated in earlier posts, most of Chronicles is parallel to II Samuel and Kings.  It is important that you read all of these chapters, but I will provide a synopsis of each, along with some {commentary}.

As we saw in the last post, Jehoshaphat was a good king, much like his father Asa.  He reigned in Jerusalem for thirty-five years and died at age seventy in 849 BC.

Chapter 21  -  King Jehoram

Jehoshaphat  had seven sons.  He gave each of them cities to govern and gave them many other gifts, but he kept his oldest son Jehoram in Jerusalem to assist him in ruling the nation because Jehoshaphat would have Jehoram inherit the throne.  Jehoram was evil.  He learned nothing from his father or his grandfather.  As soon as he had control, Jehoram had all of his brothers killed.  He also killed many of Judah's leaders.  He married Athaliah who was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel.  {Evidently Jehoshaphat was involved in this arranged marriage.  As we saw in the last post, Jehoshaphat "bent over backwards" for Ahab.  This arranged marriage must have been one of the worst things that Jehoshaphat could have done for posterity.}  Jehoram was a terrible king.  His wife and her parents must have had a tremendous influence on Jehoram.  Because of his evil and ungodly ways, he failed at everything he did.  He lost the territory of Edom, which had served Judah since the reign of David.  He was a failed military commander who's selection of officers was poor, as they were probably all based on politics, rather than ability.  His diplomatic skills were destructive, as the Philistines reappear as an enemy.  The Philistines attacked Jerusalem and took all things valuable from the city and Temple.  As hard as Asa and Jehoshaphat worked to build up the nation of Judah, Jehoram worked equally as hard to destroy it.  It took Asa and Jehoshaphat seventy-six long years to rebuild Judah into a strong and Godly nation.  It took Jehoram only eight years to accomplish all that destruction.  In verses 12-15 the great prophet Elijah wrote Jehoram a letter, warning him that his disrespect to God was not going unnoticed.  Elijah goes on to prophecy tragedy for Jehoram.  Then, just as Elijah had prophesied, Jehoram was afflicted with a disease in his "inner parts".  The Scripture says that he lived two years in terrible pain, and died at the age of forty.  When he died, nobody was sad. The people did not give any honor to him.  And they did not bury him in the graves of the kings.

Chapter 22  -  King Azariah

When the Philistines invaded Jerusalem, they not only plummaged the city and the Temple, but they also killed all of Jehorams sons except Ahaziah.  {Had they killed all of his sons, the Davidic covenant could not have continued on.}  This chapter opens with the people of Judah crowning Ahaziah king immediately following the death of Jehoram.  Ahaziah was no better than his father.  {The evil legacy of Ahab and Jezebel continue.  Remember, their daughter was king Ahaziah's mother and she and her evil influence was still around.  She and Jehoram raised Ahaziah.}  This chapter has in it the interesting story of how the royal lineage got out from under the evil influence of Ahab and Jezebel.  Ahaziah somehow got to be allied with Joram, the evil king of Israel.  This was another bad decision made by a bad king.  Coincidentally, both
joram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah died at the same time.  Both of them went to fight against Hazael, king of the Arameans.  In verses 7-9 Jehu comes on the scene.  He is part of Israel whose father was Nimshi.  He came to kill Joram which was of the prophecy that all of Ahab's house would be destroyed, thus cutting off the lineage.  Jehu was to be the one to fulfill this prophecy.  Azariah and the leaders of Judah were there when Jehu came to Jezreel where the battle was taking place.  Ahaziah went out with Joram to meet Jehu.  When Joram and Azariah realized that Jehu was there to kill them they tried to run away.  Jehu killed Joram but Ahaziah escaped and hid in Samaria.  Jehu’s men eventually found him and mortally wounded him.

Verses 10-12  -  {Remember, God promised a descendant of David will always occupy the throne in Jerusalem.}  When Ahaziah's evil mother Athalia (daughter of Ahab and Jezebel) heard that her son the king was dead, she proceeded to have all of the royal family killed.  This would make her queen and give her absolute rule, which she actually had for six years.  However, while Athalia was having all of the king's sons killed, one of the king's daughters, Jehoshabeth, took one of the princes (Joash) and hid him in the Temple for six years while Athalia served as queen.  Joash was the only living male descendant of king David.  He was only a baby when Jehoshabeth took him.  At that time Jehoiada was the High Priest in the Temple, keeping Joash's existance as secret for six years.  Although Athaliah served as queen of Judah, her position was not official, as she was not crowned nor ordained as queen.

Chapter 23  -  Joash Crowned King of Judah

When Joash was seven years old, Jehoiada the High Priest decided Joash was old enough to be made king.  It had been six long years of Athalia ruling Judah.  {I'm not so certain Joash was old enough, so much as Jehoiada and Judah could not take any more of Athalia.}  This chapter tells how careful Jehoiada was as he crowned and ordained Joash the king of Judah.  (vs 12) Athalia heard the noise of the celebration and went to the Temple to see what was going on.  She tore her clothes and hollered "Treason", hoping to have her military stop the proceedings, but she held loyalty from nobody.  Jehoiada made a point that no human blood would be shed inside the Temple and had the Levite guards take her outside to kill her.  Joash was officially the new king of Judah at the tender age of seven.  Jehoiada and the Levites immediately began tearing down the Baal worship centers in an attempt to purify Judah.  Notice in the final verses of this chapter that the entire nation rejoiced over the death of Athalia.

Chapter 24  -  Be Careful Who You Listen To

This chapter is a classic example of what happens when a leader is influenced by the wrong people.  {More to the point I would have to cite Rehoboam, but this is more toward the opposite with Jehoiada being a positive influence on Joash.}

Joash was only seven years old when he became king.  During the time he was hidden in the Temple, Jehoiada the High Priest was the main influence in his life.  Joash continued to turn to Jehoiada after he was crowned king.  The influence of the High Priest was evidence by the young king's priorities, which were to rid the nation of the pagan practices and articles of worship that pertained to Baal and other false gods promoted by Athalia.  Additionally, Joash ordered the Temple to be repaired to its previous glory.  Joash became personally involved with this when he noticed that the work had not been going as fast as it should.  In verses 15-16 it speaks of Jehoiada's death.  Jehoiada lived for a long time. He died at the age of 130 years. This was older than Moses (120).  Jehoiada probably became chief priest when the chief priest  Amariah died (19:11).  Jehoiada had done many good things and the people respected him.  He had been loyal to the God and to the royal family all his life.  He was an important helper to the king because Joash was not a strong king.  While Jehoiada lived, he kept Joash loyal to the Lord.  As a special honor, they buried Jehoiada with the kings in the city of David.

2 Chronicles 24:17-27  Joash Turns to the Wrong People to Replace Jehoiada as Chief Council

After Jehoiada died, several officials came to Joash.  Not much is given about these men, but evidently they wanted things to go back to the way they were when the heathen Athalia was ruling the nation.  Joash was immediately drawn in by these people.  {He must have been very weak in character.}  Jehoiada's son Zechariah had become High Priest and he was much like his father, recognizing the evil that was taking place.  Zechariah spoke truth in his objections to the reintroducing of Baal worship into the minds and hearts of the nation Judah.  Needless to say, Zechariah made many enemies.  They raised up against him and his message of righteousness,  King Joash gave the order to have him stoned to death.  The last word of Zechariah (vs 22) was that God would hold Joash accountable for his evil acts.  In less than a year after Zechariah died, the army of King Hazael of Aram attacked Judah.  They marched on Judah's cities, then Jerusalem itself.  They killed many of the leaders of Judah, most of which were responsible for turning the people away from God and His commandments.  Then, in an attemmpt to buy peace from the Arameans, Joash took what few valuables were left in the Temple and gave them to King Hazael, who took them back to Damascus.  Verse 24 tells me that Hazeal's army was much smaller than that of Judah's, but defeated them anyway.  Letting go of God and His protective hands is a dangerous decision.  During the invasion of the Arameans, Joash was injured.  While he was lying in bed recovering from his injuries, some officials came in and killed him.  Joash had ended up being such a bad king, they didn't even bury him in the traditional cemetery of kings, but rather in an ordinary gravesite in Jerusalem.  Joash reigned forty years and died at the age of forty-seven.  His son Amaziah succeeded him on the throne of Judah.

Next Post  -  Continueing Our Study of the Kings of Judah

Thursday, September 5, 2013

CLXXII - II Chronicles 17-20 - Jehoshaphat

In the last chapter of I Kings, we looked at Jehoshaphat in a little more detail, especially in his dealings with Ahab, who was the king of Israel during Jehoshaphat's reign in Judah.

Chapter 17 opens with Jehoshaphat succeeding his father Asa to the throne of Judah in Jerusalem.  Early in his reign he strengthened Judah's military, including placing garrisons in the cities in Ephraim that Asa had captured from Israel.  It also indicates that Jehoshaphat was equally aggressive against pagan worship practices in Judah, as he further eliminated the high places and pagan worship centers.  The Scripture also makes it clear that God blessed Jehoshaphat with both wealth and honor.  And Jehoshaphat deserved it, as he was uncompromising in his loyalty to God.  Then in verses 7-9, he did something very interesting.  Evidently the citizens of Judah had become weak in their knowledge of the Mosaic Law.  Jehoshaphat did a wise and bold thing by sending "teachers" throughout all of Judah to teach the people the Law.  {This is one of the brightest moves we will see by a king.  The concept is simple.  Make the people knowledgeable and everything becomes not only easier, but ensures God's continued blessing on the king and the kingdom.  Notice, he did not bring leaders and representatives from all cities into Jerusalem.  Instead he sent the teachers out to the cities.  I'm certain these teachers made certain that all people were exposed to the individual teachers to make sure everyone received the knowledge first hand.}  Then notice in verses 10-11 how God blessed Judah by making sure there were no attacks from foreign countries.  God did this by striking fear into the hearts of potential enemies.  So fearful were the Philistines that they brought gifts to Jehoshaphat to ensure peaceful relations.  Our previous studies have taught us the level of animosity the Philistines held for Israel and Judah.  During this time of peace, Jehoshaphat built a large and powerful army.  He also had individual groups of soldiers stationed at all of the fortified cities throughout Judah and Benjamin.

Chapter 18  -  Jehoshaphat, Ahab, and Micaiah

You might recall this story from when we covered it in I Kings.  Just for some background, Ahab was the king Israel, which included ten of the original tribes.  Ahab married the daughter of the king of Sidon.  Her name was Jezebel.  Jezebel, being born and raised in the heathen territory of Sidon, was of course a worshiper of Baal.  She poisoned Ahab's mind against the Mosaic Law early in their marriage.  Together, Ahab and Jezebel did more to turn the whole nation away from God than any before or after them.  Early in this chapter we see that Jehoshaphat had made an ally of Ahab and Israel.  Prior to this, Judah and Israel were enemies when they should have been protectors of each other.  To strengthen their alliance Jehoshaphat visited Ahab in Israel's capitol city of Samaria.  It was during this visit that Ahab requested Jehoshaphat to go to war with him against the Arameans in Ramoth Gilead.  {Ramoth Gilead was a city east of the Jordan River.  It was in the territory of Gad (Joshua 20:8). It was one of the refuge cities of escape for those who had killed someone. The judge had to say whether they were guilty or innocent. They could stay there until then (Joshua 21:38).  Also, Ramoth Gilead was on an important trade route, which was the reason the Arameans took it away from Israel to begin with.}  Ahab had already sought and gained the approval of the pagan priests to proceed with the attack against Ramoth Gilead.   {The pagan priests of Baal told Ahab and Jezebel anything they wanted to hear.}  But Jehoshaphat insisted on consulting with the Lord before he committed to sending Judah's soldiers into war.  He asked if there were any of the Lord's prophets available.  Ahab admitted there was one named Micaiah, but Ahab didn't like him because he never told Ahab anything he wanted to hear.  But Jehoshaphat insisted, so they sent for Micaiah.  {Micaiah is not to be confused with the prophet Micah.  Micah lived and prophesied over a hundred years later.}  So fearful of the ungodly king Ahab that the messenger instructed Micaiah to tell the kings the same thing the pagan priests told them.  But after a bout of sarcasm (vss 14-15), Micaiah prophesied against attacking Ramoth Gilead and went on to prophesy Ahab's death if they went to war.  Of course Ahab cast Micaiah in prison for telling him something he didn't want to hear.  {I didn't understand this when we were in I Kings, and it is not explained here in Chronicles either.  Jehoshaphat insisted on consulting with one of God's prophets before he would agree to go to war with Ahab against the Arameans in Ramoth Gilead.  So they brought forth Micaiah and he told them not to attack Ramoth Gilead.  But Jehoshaphat goes anyway.  The Scripture does not say why.}  I always pictured Jehoshaphat as a mild-mannered individual, wise and careful in his decisions.  But as he and Ahab prepare to go into battle, Ahab talks him into wearing clothing that will make the Arameans think he was Ahab.  As they went into battle, God protected Jehoshaphat from harm and Ahab was mortally wounded anyway, just as Micaiah had prophesied.

Chapter 19 is dedicated to paying tribute to the great king Jehoshaphat, telling of his turning the nation back to God, organizing the judicial system to a fair and equitable society, involving the Levite priests in all judicial matters.

Chapter 20  -  War

Jehoshaphat had enjoyed many peaceful years.  That was about to come to an end.  The Moabites, Ammonites, and the Meunites (Edomites) joined forces and marched against Judah.  This entire army came from the territory known as Edom, which was a territory to the east and south of the Dead Sea.  (The Edomites were descendents of Esau.  Remember him?)  It was reported to Jehoshaphat and the news of this large army made Jehoshaphat afraid. But he trusted God rather than his own army. He called on all the people in Judah to ask the Lord for help. He told the people not to eat any food but to pray to the Lord. The people came together from all the towns of Judah to pray.  In verses 5-9 the people came to the Temple in Jerusalem. Then Jehoshaphat stood up in front of them and led the people in a prayer to the Lord.  {One should try to envision this whole passage.  The king gathered the entire nation for prayer, which he led.  Jehoshaphat had a tremendously large army and could probably have defended his country, but instead he publicly turned to God.  Amazing.}  As a result, God Himself caused the defeat of this massive united army of Canaanites.  Interesting reading verses 22-28.  In verses 29-30 the news about the defeat of the men from Moab, Ammon and the people called Meunites went to all the countries around Judah. They knew that God had done this. So, they were too afraid of him to make war with Judah. So, there was again a time of peace for Judah and Jehoshaphat.  The remaining verses in this chapter 20 tell of the great job Jehoshaphat did as king of Judah, from military to economics.

Next post  -  Kings of Judah

Sunday, September 1, 2013

CLXXI - II Chronicles 13-16 - Asa

As we saw in the last post, the nation Israel is now divided.  The tribes of Judah and Benjamin make up the nation of Judah.  Solomon's son Rehoboam is their king.  The remaining ten tribes have separated themselves from Jerusalem and have made Jeroboam their king.  They are now called the nation of Israel, but do not have the royal lineage of David, nor the Levites.  Shechem is their capitol city.  As mentioned earlier, the writer of Chronicles seldom even mentions Israel's kings.

Chapter 13  -  Abijah

Eighteen years after the nations divided Rehoboam died and his son Abijah became king.  Abijah's notoriety is that he was the king of Judah when the first war against their cousins Israel took place.  Jeroboam's army was twice as large as Abijah's.  Israel knew their army was superior and they were proud of it.  However (remember, the new nations of Judah and Israel are only eighteen years old), and already they have begun to worship other gods, mostly the gods of the Canaanites.  This quick turning to pagan gods in Israel is in large part Jeroboam's fault.  The books of King and Chronicles both reference bad kings as "following after the ways of Jeoboam".  In eighteen short years he managed to forsake the Levite priesthood, minimilize the Mosaic Law, and make idol worship not only acceptable, but encouraged.  He even made golden calves, just like his ancestors did at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  As we read this opening passage in this chapter (vss 1-12) we see that Abijah realized his army was no match for Jeroboam's, so he tried to persuade Israel's soldiers by speaking with them.  He told them that there was not supposed to be two Israels.  All of Israel was to follow the lineage of David.  He proceeded to blame Jeroboam for the kingdoms being divided.  {This would have been an exercise in futility.  Israel was already loyal to Jeroboam, and besides Abijah was new in his position of king.  Also, all of the tribal leaders knew that Jeroboam had been recruited as king, rather than having stolen the throne.  But God wanted Judah to be victorious in this battle, and made it happen.  So decisive was the battle that Jeroboam lost his following, never to have regained it.  Abijah ruled for only three years, but was a strong king.  The Scripture abruptly ends It's comments on Abijah in the last few verses of chapter 13 by telling of his death, and states that Asa his son succeeded him on the throne in Jerusalem.

Chapter 14  -  Asa

You probably remember our study of Asa in Kings.  As it says in the opening verse of this chapter, Asa was "good and right in the eyes of the Lord".  Asa reigned in Jerusalem forty one years and seemingly stayed busy the whole time.  He removed the altars that were built for worshiping foreign gods.  He cut down the poles erected for the goddess Ashteroth, wife of the chief pagan god Baal.  But Asa also concentrated on other things such as his military.  He followed God's direction and set up the defense and administration of Judah's government.  So much had deteriorated under the reign of Rehoboam.  This chapter 14 goes on to describe the military successes of Asa, as he was very strategic in building cities, much like his great great grandfather David.  It says that Judah enjoyed peace, as God gave them protection from their enemies for the first ten years of Asa's reign.  Verses 8-15 tell us how God helped Asa secure his borders.

Chapter 15  -  Asa's Reforms; the Prophet Azariah

In the first 7 verses of this chapter 15 is the only reference there is to a prophet named Azariah, therefore our knowledge of him is limited.  After Asa had defeated the Cushites, he was returning to Jerusalem when Azariah met him with a message from God.  His message for Asa and Judah was simple:  Those who look for God will find Him.  But whoever forsakes God, God will forsake him.  Israel (the northern kingdom) was cited as an example of what NOT to do.  {Asa was a Godly man and a Godly king.  I believe God wanted to encourage Asa to continue to be strong in his walk with the Lord, as God had seen so much heathenism among His people in the few short years since David was king.  In verse 8 Asa obeyed the message that Azariah had given to him. He had already done a lot to remove the images of the gods from Judah (14:3-4). Now he was eager to continue "cleaning up".  He started with Judah and Benjamin, then went on to removed idol images from the towns he had captured in Ephraim.

Verses 16-18 mentions Asa’s grandmother who was Rehoboam’s second wife Maacah.  As the queen mother, she had a lot of authority and influence in the whole nation.  But Asa was loyal to the Lord and he was strong in character.  He realized that Maacah was a resisting influence to his reforms.  Therefore he knew he must removed her from her position of authority.  She had made an image of Ashterah, which she worshiped. That was the "last straw for Asa.  Asa was loyal to God for his entire reign.  However he was not able to persuade all the people to follow him in this. There were still some of Judah's citizens who continued to worship false gods.

Chapter 16  -  Asa's Final Years

Remember Baasha, king of Israel?  He was a bad guy.  He attacked Judah during the reign of Asa.  {This story shows Asa as weak and foolish.}  Asa did not think that he could defeat Baasha, and he was probably right.  So, he asked Ben-Hadad, king of Aram for help.  But Ben-Hadad already had an agreement with Baasha.  So Asa decided it would be a good idea to offer Ben-Hadad more money than Baasha was paying him.  Of course Ben-Hadad took the more generous offer because he was of low character.  But in order to pay him enough money, Asa had to take the treasure out of the Temple.  These treasures did not belong to Asa.  They belonged to God.  {I always have to ask myself a few questions when things like this happen:  Why didn't Asa call on God for help against Baasha in the first place?  Why did he go to a pagan king for help?  For decades Asa had proven himself to be smarter than that.  How many times has God defeated superior armies with just a few faithful men?  Baasha and Ben-Hadad together could not have withstood God's hand against them as they marched on Jerusalem.}

Verses 7-->  But God continues to be merciful with Asa.  He sent His prophet Hanani to Asa to tell him of the foolish error he had made, but Asa did not recieve the criticism well.  Asa was too proud {Oh, the sin of pride}.  Asa should have repented his disregarding of God, but instead he got angry with Hanani (the old "kill the messenger" syndrome).  He conducted himself in quite an ungodly manner, not only toward Hanani, but others around him as well.  Two years before his death, Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. He went to doctors with his problem but he did not pray to God.  He should have asked God to make him well.  {It is not wrong to go to doctors. The Lord does use the medical profession to make people well all the time.}  This chapter closes with Asa's death.  In summation about Asa, there were times when he did not trust the Lord as he should have, but he had been a good king having inherited a difficult situation.  Although scarcely mentioned, there was that infamous block of bad kings of Israel during Asa's reign in Jerusalem:  Baasha, Elah, Zimri, and Omri.  That would have been enough to worry any king of Judah to death.

Next Post  -  Jehoshaphat