Today we finish the book of 2 Chronicles. It includes the reigns of the last seven kings of Judah, before they went into exile, with a little coda at the end talking about the return to Jerusalem seventy years later.
The reading begins with the reign of Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son. And in the same way that Hezekiah was exactly opposite his father Ahaz, Manasseh was exactly opposite Hezekiah. Where Hezekiah did was God wanted, Manasseh “did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, ‘My Name will remain in Jerusalem for ever'” (33:2-4). And that wasn’t everything. Pretty much every “detestable thing” that you can think of, Manasseh did it. In summary: “Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites. The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention” (33:9-10).
So God sends the Assyrians against Manasseh, and they take Manasseh captive and send him to Babylon. This wakes Manasseh up, and “in his distress, he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God” (33:12-13). And after this, Manasseh does some housecleaning in the temple, removing all the idols and such that he had put there.
Manasseh’s repentance isn’t mentioned in Kings, but I think it’s a very powerful moment – even though The Chronicler treats it very briefly. And there is a book that Protestant Churches don’t consider to be part of the Bible but Roman Catholics do called “The Prayer of Manasseh.” It’s a beautiful prayer of repentance and is actually included in part in The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer as a penitential collect in Morning Prayer (Rite II). I encourage you to read it. Here is a link to it. Whether it is actually the work of this particular king is somewhat immaterial. It’s just a lovely prayer of repentance that I use frequently in my daily devotions.
In any case, Manasseh goes the way of all people and his son Amon succeeds him. Amon doesn’t do what is right in God’s sight and doesn’t last long on the throne – only two years. He is assassinated by some of his officials, but the people don’t take too kindly to their king being assassinated, so they kill the assassins and make Amon’s son Josiah king.
Josiah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (34:2). Josiah was responsible for further housecleaning in the Temple after what Manasseh (and probably Amon) had done. “In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David. In his twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles, carved idols and cast images. 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, the idols and the images. These he broke to pieces and scattered over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them” (34:3-4). He even extended his reforms into the Northern Kingdom. He also began the repair of the Temple after years of neglect.
And while they were repairing the Temple, really while they were getting the money for the repairs, Hilkiah (a priest) found the book of the Law and gives it to Shaphan, who takes it to the king. The king has Shaphan read the book aloud (which was common practice then). Once Josiah hears all that is written there, he is very upset and has Shaphan, Hilkiah, Ahikam and Asaiah talk to a prophetess to find out what’s in store for Israel since they have sinned so gravely. The prophetess tells them that they are in for it, for lack of a better term. But, she tells them, “Because your [Josiah’s] heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. Now I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here” (34:27-28).
And in response to this, King Josiah gets everybody together in the temple and he rededicates himself to the keeping of the covenant. This is important, because the king is seen as the religious head of the people – as the king’s faith goes, so goes the faith of the people. We’ve seen this over and over again in both Kings and Chronicles. And then after rededicating himself, King Josiah has the people rededicate themselves to God. “Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he made all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their fathers” (34:33).
And since they’ve now rededicated themselves to keeping the Covenant, they need to celebrate the Passover, which they do, under Josiah’s direction. And it’s a grand celebration. “The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah, with the priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem” (35:18). Quite a party, apparently! But all for the worship and honor and praise of God, as it should be.
There was one slip-up in Josiah’s reign, though. Pharaoh Neco of Egypt goes to fight and Josiah prepares to fight Neco. But Josiah’s not supposed to fight Neco – that’s not what God wants. And Neco tells Josiah as much: “But Neco sent messengers to him [Josiah] saying, ‘What quarrel is there between you and me, O king of Judah? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you'” (35:21). But Josiah won’t stop. He doesn’t believe Neco, so Josiah disguises himself and goes to battle anyway. But Josiah is mortally wounded in the battle and his men take him back to Jerusalem, where he dies. He is buried with honor though.
Then comes a very brief synopsis of the reigns of the last four kings of Judah. Jehoahaz succeeds Josiah, but only for three months, after which Neco dethrones him and makes his brother, Eliakim (Jehoiakim) king. Jehoiakim lasts longer on the throne, but “he did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God” (36:5b). Then Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim’s son, succeeds him. He only lasted three months, too, being deposed by Nebuchadnezzar and replaced by his uncle/brother/relative Zedekiah, under whom “all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nation and defiling the temple of the Lord, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem” (36:14). Not cool.
And then The Chronicler records the fall of Jerusalem, brought on by all the wickedness and idolatry and general turning away from God of the last few centuries. Jerusalem is destroyed and many people killed and those not killed sent to Babylon in exile. But the book ends on a note of hope, because as Jeremiah prophesied, the exile will only last seventy years. The Chronicler records “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: ‘This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of heaven had given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you – may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up'” (26:22-23).