Monday, 19 May 2014

(140) May 20: 2 Kings 23-25 & John 7:1-31

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider what lessons can be learnt from Josiah.

To ponder:
Gathering the elders at the temple, Josiah himself read them the book and then renewed the covenant, with the people “pledging” themselves to keep its regulations and decrees. “The pillar” was where kings were anointed, affirming Josiah’s acts were at the heart of his divine commission.
            Josiah then ordered the destruction of all means of idolatry and false worship. The degree to which Judah had sunk is truly shocking (23v7). The “burning” even of metals symbolised God’s burning anger, and the desecration of the places of worship entailed such destruction that they couldn’t be used again. Here, due to the waning power of Assyria who ruled the northern kingdom, Josiah was even able to do these things at Bethel and Samaria. The scattering of the Asherah pole ashes on graves, the covering of places of worship with bones and the burning of bones on the altar at Bethel, was to defile them (23v16), just as contact with dead bodies made Israelites unclean and so unfit for worship. The treatment of the Bethel altar fulfilled God’s word through the unnamed prophet (23v16, 1 Kgs 13v2), whose tomb was respected with that of the prophet who engaged with him. Josiah’s decision to kill the northern priests (23v20) but only “do away with” those in the south (23v5), suggests the former actually taught the worship of other gods (Deut 13v6-11, 18v20).
            Although the Passover had probably been kept each year in many homes, the purging ended with a Passover festival in Jerusalem, the like of which hadn’t been known since the Judges. For all this Josiah is commended as superior to all other kings. 23v25 is simply an expression as Hezekiah was described this way too (18v5).
            Throughout 1 and 2 Kings, idolatry has been the key sin. This section urges the Christian not just to seek its abolishment from the church but from their own life. We should consider if we serve and give the allegiance due God to anyone or anything else.  
            Despite Josiah’s acts, in anger at Mannaseh’s sins, God remained committed to removing from his presence not only Judah, but Jerusalem and the temple of his “name.” As if to confirm this, in fulfilment of God’s word Josiah is saved from witnessing it by being killed in battle (see 22v20).
            The people made his son Jehoahaz king. He did “evil,” was captured by the Pharoah who crowned Eliakim (Jehoiakim) instead. Jehoiakim also did “evil,” and taxed the land to pay Pharoah tribute. It is at this point we meet Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel), king of Babylon. Jehoiakim rebels after being his vassal, and in response Babylonian troops unite with others against Judah – but providentially “sent” by God, according to his word through the prophets (24v2-4). During the reign of Jehoiachin who succeeded his father and also did “evil,” Nebuchadnezzar then besieged Jerusalem itself, taking Jehoiachin prisoner, plundering the temple, and carrying all but the poorest to Babylon in exile (the year is 597BC). Nebuchadnezzar then made Mattaniah (Zedekiah), Jehoiakim’s uncle king in Judah, and he did “evil” too.
We’re reminded all this happened because of God’s “anger.” And he had yet more to do. In response to a rebellion by Zedekiah, Nebechadnezzar besieged Jerusalem again with his “whole” army, bringing starvation and so showing Judah are receiving the same punishment as Israel (ch. 6, see also 23v27). Zedekiah was then blinded and imprisoned, his sons killed, the temple and every important building in Jerusalem burned, its walls demolished, all but the poorest exiled, the temple vandalized and plundered, and key men executed (now 587BC). Judah therefore “went into captivity away from her land,” with someone not from the line of David appointed to govern those remaining. He encouraged submission (rightly, Jer 27v12), but was assassinated with his officials, causing many to flee on fear of reprisals.
All this was truly shocking when one considers God’s covenants with Abraham, Israel and David. But the book ends with a glimmer of hope: Jehoiachin, David’s descendent, is released and favoured above all other kings in Babylon. God never forgets his promises.
Praying it home:
Praise God that despite his people’s sin, he will ensure his purposes are fulfilled. Pray for conviction of the idols in your life and the strength to demolish them.

Thinking further: The exile
The exile is a critical theological idea. It refers to God’s people being excluded from the place of his blessing and handed over to the hostility of the world outside. So, because they broke God’s command, Adam and Eve were excluded from Eden and handed over to a world of toil, pain and death. Likewise, for breaking God’s commands, Israel and then Judah were excluded from Canaan and handed over to Assyria and Babylon respectively. Even after some from Judah returned to the land, there was a sense in which the exile continued, as the people continued to suffer under the subsequent empires. We can therefore understand Jesus’ death on the cross as one in which he bore the punishment of exile at three levels: He experienced the height of toil, pain and death of those exiled from Eden. He was handed over to the Romans, so experiencing the type of exile Israel and Judah had experienced under Assyria and Babylon. And he was also experiencing the ultimate and final exile these events patterned – that of exclusion from God and his kingdom, in being handed over to the terrors of hell. In Jesus, then, all exile is ended for those who believe in him. We will continue to experience something of it because we live outside of Eden and may be oppressed by others, but at the resurrection we will finally be rescued from all it entails as we are brought into our inheritance, the creation to come.

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