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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-58--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons) DD
The Reign Of Manasseh (33.1-20).
Prior to the reign of the good king Hezekiah, his father Ahaz had led Judah deeply astray into idolatry. Now on the death of Hezekiah his son Manasseh did the same, although in the case of Manasseh the position is somewhat ameliorated by Manasseh’s later repentance and turning to YHWH. This last is, however, only referred to in 2 Chronicles. Thus whilst 2 Kings rightly portrays him as a king who led his people deep into idolatry without any amelioration, the Chronicler finds some relief from the situation in his repentance and subsequent reformation. It may well be that the writer of 2 Kings had no access to the Book of Hozai, an prophet otherwise unknown to us mentioned by the Chronicler as his source.
The first ten verses of this chapter to a large extent parallel the account of Manasseh’s reign in 2 Kings 21.1-9, and portray his deep descent into idolatry. The Chronicler then ignores the remaining verses concerning Manasseh in 2 Kings where YHWH’s judgment is declared on Judah for the sins of Israel from the time of the Exodus, brought to a head by Manasseh’s sins. Instead the remaining ten verses reflect new material, either unknown to, or ignored by, the writer of 2 Kings, possibly as found in the writings of the prophet Hozai (verse 19). These refer to Manasseh’s deportation to Babylon by the Assyrians, his subsequent repentance, and his return to Jerusalem to re-establish the worship of YHWH.
It will be noted that this is the only reference to the Assyrians during the reign of Manasseh in either 2 Kings 21 or 2 Chronicles 33. Thus the fact that early in Manasseh’s reign (or late in Hezekiah’s reign) the Assyrians once again laid claim to Judah and required tribute is ignored. For the writers were not so much interested in secular history as in the faithfulness to the covenant of YHWH of the king and the people. On the other hand, we learn from Assyrian annals that Manasseh was a faithful tributary to Assyria during the reign of Esarhaddon and was required to provide materials for the construction of Nineveh along with many other tributaries, whilst during the reign of Asshur-bani-pal he assisted them in a campaign against Egypt. Thus he appears to have been on the whole a loyal vassal.
This then raises the question as to why he should have been taken in chains by the Assyrians to Babylon? The answer possibly lies in his being seen as having taken sides with Shamash-shum-ukin, the brother of Asshur-bani-pal, who ruled over Babylon and rose up against Asshur-bani-pal. His father’s previous links with Babylon may well have persuaded Asshur-bani-pal that Manasseh was likely to side with Shamash-shum-ukin with the hope of obtaining independence for Judah, or at least more favourable treatment. (Philistia and Troy were certainly involved with Babylon in this insurrection as the Assyrian annals make clear). This would explain his being taken captive to Babylon rather than Nineveh, to give account of his activities, once Asshur-bani-pal was again safely established in Babylon having defeated his brother. It may indeed be that humanly speaking his return to rule over Judah resulted from his being able to convince Asshur-bani-pal that he had not really been involved in any serious way. The Chronicler, however, sees only the effect that the incident had on Manasseh and views it all from YHWH’s viewpoint.
Manasseh’s Rebellion Against YHWH (33.1-10).
What follows in this section is parallel to 2 Kings 21.1-9 with comparatively minor changes. In it Manasseh’s rebellion against YHWH is revealed in terms of his following and encouraging idolatry of all kinds, with it being made clear that thereby he and earlier indiscretions had cancelled out the fulfilment of YHWH’s promises concerning His Name being in Jerusalem and concerning the presence of His people remaining in the land being guaranteed. Note the thread of EVIL that runs through the passage (verses 2, 6, 9). Analysis.
Note that in A Manasseh reigned in Jerusalem, and in the parallel YHWH spoke to Manasseh and the people and they took no notice. In B he did what was EVIL in the eyes of YHWH and led his people astray after idols, and in the parallel he seduced Judah and Jerusalem to do EVIL. In C he built (idolatrous) altars in the HOUSE of YHWH concerning which YHWH had promised to ESTABLISH HIS NAME for ever, and in the parallel he set a grave image in the HOUSE of God concerning which YHWH had promised to ESTABLISH HIS NAME there. In D he built idolatrous altars in the courts of the house of YHWH, and in the parallel he wrought evil in the sight of YHWH. Centrally in E he made his children pass through the fire, and in the parallel he practised all manner of corrupt religious practises.
2.33.1 ‘Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty five years in Jerusalem.’
Like most kings of Judah Manasseh probably ruled for a time as co-regent with his father Hezekiah, gaining experience and ensuring an untroubled succession. This would appear to have been for around ten years, so that his sole reign was for forty five years from around 686 BC. He thus began his co-regency after the deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians. He was the longest reigning of all the kings of Judah. Like all kings of Judah he ‘reigned in Jerusalem’.
It is noteworthy that from this point onwards the Chronicler omits mention of the name of the queen mother (although it is contained in 2 Kings 21.1), which previously has always been given. We can only conjecture as to why this might be. It may be intended as an indication that from this time onwards the house of David was doomed (32.25-26). Its details therefore no longer mattered. Or it may be because his mother was the cause of him sinking into idolatry. 2 Kings 21 tells us that her name was Hephzibah, which means ‘my delight is in her’. Its omission may indicate the lack of YHWH’s delight in Judah (see Isaiah 62.5).
2.33.2 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, after the abominations of the nations whom YHWH cast out before the children of Israel.’
Manasseh is the first king of Judah of whom it was said that, ‘he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH’. This is taken from 2 Kings 21.2 (unless both were taken from the same source) and in 2 Kings had been a regular refrain concerning the kings of Israel. It had, however, been said of Ahaz that ‘he did not do what was right in the eyes of YHWH like David his father’ (28.1), a statement then followed by the fact that ‘he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel’, so that in that regard there was little to choose between them. The phrase will then be used of all the kings of Judah apart from Josiah, who reigned for more than three months up to the Exile, (33.22; 36.5, 9, 11).
It is clear that the reign of Ahaz had left a stamp on Judah that neither Hezekiah nor Josiah could remove. It is true, of course, that the people of Judah had become infected with idolatry from the time of Solomon (and even before that) so that they were at no stage an innocent people ruled by bad kings, but from the time of Ahaz their idolatry had begun to run even deeper, something from which they never fully recovered despite the efforts of Hezekiah and Josiah. It was only because the people were ripe for idolatry that Manasseh was able to do what he did.
But why should the son of a righteous father take so easily the downward path? It may well partly have been due to the influence of his mother, aided possibly by the disillusionment which came when the Assyrians again arrived and all he could do was submit. Possibly he thought that the YHWH Who had so wonderfully delivered his father, had totally failed him. The Chronicler had, of course, given an explanation for this failure in 32.25-26 (once again it was not immediate retribution, but a retribution that was delayed as in the case of Jehoshaphat).
‘After the abominations of the nations whom YHWH cast out before the children of Israel.’ The religion that Manasseh indulged in and pressed on the people was the home grown religion of the Canaanites, a debased and sexually perverted religion (which was probably why it was so popular). The word ‘abominations’ invariably carries with it the implication of idolatry. The details are given in the following verses.
2.33.3 ‘For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for the Baalim, and made Asheroth, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them.’
That the high places which he rebuilt were not only in and near Jerusalem is suggested by the parallel verse in the chiasmus, verse 9, where all Judah as well as Jerusalem were seduced. Given the king’s go-ahead many would be eager to re-establish their high places in the mountains as well as in the cities. And the multiplicity of high places is confirmed by the Chronicler’s alteration of Baal to Baalim (plural) and Asherah to Asheroth (plural). Multiple altars were erected to Baal, and multiple Asherah images were set up. The worship of the host of Heaven has also been confirmed as native to Canaan. The Assyrians did not, in fact, seek to establish their own religions in conquered territories unless and until they became provinces of Assyria after their third rebellion, and even then we know that Assyria were happy to re-establish what they thought of as the native religion of Israel when called on to do so by the new inhabitants whom they had settled in the land (2 Kings 17.24-41). It is clear then that Judah went full tilt after idolatry of their own accord.
2.33.4 ‘And he built altars in the house of YHWH, of which YHWH said, “In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever.”
But even worse sacrilege was found in that he polluted the Temple:
Yahwism was being thrust out, and that from the very House of YHWH concerning which YHWH had said to Solomon, ‘In Jerusalem shall be My Name for ever’ (compare 6.6; 7.16).
That these altars were actually built within the Sanctuary is suggested by the fact that when the siting of the altars to the Host of Heaven is mentioned that was specifically described as being in both the courts of the House of YHWH. They may well have been incenses altars, although it is possible that they were for sacrifices. Thus multiple offerings were being offered to false gods at the same time, both in the Sanctuary itself and in the courts (where the Host of Heaven could be seen by looking upwards).
2.33.5 ‘And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of YHWH.’
The worship of the stars was common in the Ancient Near East, and whereas once it was thought to have been specific to Assyria, it is now recognised that it was engaged in by the Canaanites as well. The altars were presumably built in the open courts so that the heavens were visible as the sacrifices were offered.
2.33.6 ‘He also made his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom; and he practised augury, and used enchantments, and practised sorcery, and dealt with those who had familiar spirits, and with wizards. He wrought much evil in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger.’
What is described here was strictly contrary to Deuteronomy 18.9-14, which covers similar ground. The ‘passing of children through the fire’, which refers to some form of child sacrifice, was associated with the worship of Melech (Molech), the Ammonite god (Leviticus 18.21; 20.2-5; 1 Kings 11.7; 2 Kings 23.10; Jeremiah 32.35), but Jeremiah also connects it with the worship of Baal (Jeremiah 19.5), probably as a result of syncretism. Its setting here may suggest that it was a method of divination as well as an attempt to get Molech on his side. The translation here is an attempt to translate unfamiliar Hebrew words whose exact meaning is unclear. But contexts in which they are fund demonstrate that they had to do with divination and the occult. They were attempts to call on evil spirits for evil purposes.
The thought of evil continues. Manasseh wrought much evil in the sight of YHWH, provoking Him to anger (His response resulting from His antipathy to sin). Some of this evil is described elsewhere. ‘He shed very much innocent blood, until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to the other’ (2 Kings 21.16). No doubt many of YHWH’s true worshippers were martyred. And this was on top of his evils connected with idolatry.
2.33.7-8 ‘And he set the graven image of the idol, which he had made, in the house of God, of which God said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever. Nor will I any more remove the foot of Israel from off the land which I have appointed for your fathers, if only they will observe to do all that I have commanded them, even all the law and the statutes and the ordinances given by Moses.”
He set the graven image of the idol that he had made in the very House of God which contained His Name. The sacrilege is being underlined and emphasised. 2 Kings tells us that it was an image of Asherah. And the writer also emphasises how it was a direct violation of the covenant with YHWH in which YHWH had promised that His Name would be in the Sanctuary for ever (literally ‘into the hidden future’). It was also a breach of the conditional covenant by which YHWH had guaranteed to Israel their inheritance of the land. Having broken it Israel/Judah no longer had any right to remain in the land.
2.33.9 ‘And Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that they did evil more than did the nations whom YHWH destroyed before the children of Israel.’
Lest all the blame fell on Manasseh we learn that Manasseh ‘seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem’ who eagerly followed him in his pursuits. The consequence was that they did more evil than the nations whom YHWH had destroyed before them had done. Whether this is simply hyperbole, or whether it meant that they sank to even greater depths of depravity we cannot know. But it was a reminder of why they would at some stage lose the land that they saw as theirs.
2.33.10 ‘And YHWH spoke to Manasseh, and to his people; but they took no notice.’
God did not just let it go. He gave them every chance to return. He spoke to Manasseh and the people, presumably through prophets. But they took no notice. They had become hardened and refused to listen to Him or to His servants.
God Brings Judgment On Manasseh Who Repents And Is Restored (33.11-18).
We know from the Assyrian annals that during the reign of Manasseh Judah had regularly paid tribute to the Assyrians, had contributed materials towards the building of Nineveh, and had fought with them against Egypt. Thus what follows was not a new invasion, but the action of a suzerain against a rebellious tributary. Manasseh was taken in chains, and, the Assyrian annals tell us, with a hook through his nose, to Babylon. This kind of treatment for captives is found depicted on Assyrian iconography (compare also 2 Kings 19.28; Ezekiel 19.4).
The reason for this probably lay in the fact that he was seen as having taken sides with Shamash-shum-ukin, the brother of Asshur-bani-pal, who ruled over Babylon and had risen up against Asshur-bani-pal. His father’s previous links with Babylon may well have persuaded Asshur-bani-pal that Manasseh was likely to side with Shamash-shum-ukin with the hope of obtaining independence for Judah, or at least more favourable treatment. (Philistia and Troy were certainly involved with Babylon in this insurrection as the Assyrian annals make clear). This would explain his being taken captive to Babylon rather than Nineveh, to give account of his activities, once Asshur-bani-pal was again safely established in Babylon having crushed his brother’s rebellion. It may indeed be that humanly speaking his return to rule over Judah resulted from his being able to convince Asshur-bani-pal that he had not really been involved in any serious way.
There is a parallel with his being taken ignominiously to Babylon and then later released to take up his throne in the similar treatment meted out to Pharaoh Necho I of Egypt, so it is not unlikely.
Whilst captive in Babylon Manasseh had time to think over his past. His gods had not done him much good (they had no doubt through prophets encouraged any venture he engaged in) and his thoughts turned back to YHWH Who had delivered his father from the Assyrians. Consequently in his distress he humbled himself before YHWH and called on him for deliverance. And the consequence was that he was restored to Jerusalem and to his kingship. Humanly speaking this may have been because he was found not to have been closely involved in the rebellion. His name is not mentioned by the Assyrians in connection with it. Or it may simply be that he persuaded Asshur-bani-pal of his genuine regret and determination to be loyal in future. That Asshur-bani-pal accepted his loyalty is suggested by the fact that he was allowed to refortify Jerusalem.
The final consequence of his repentance was that he removed the offending idols and altars from Jerusalem and re-established the worship of YHWH in the Temple. But the high places were allowed to remain, although only for the worship of YHWH. The superficiality of his reforms comes out in that his son Amon was able in his short reign to restore the idol worship so that by the time of Josiah all this had to be done again.
It is possible that the Chronicler saw Manasseh as a mirror image of Judah. He sinned, he was carried off captive, he repented and was restored, he restored the worship of YHWH, he died in his own house. It may have been intended as an encouragement to the returned exiles.
Note that in A Manasseh was carried off to Babylon, and in the parallel he died. In B he humbled himself before YHWH and God was entreated of him, and in the parallel his humbling of himself and God being entreated of him is recorded in the history of Hozai. In C he knew that YHWH was God, and in the parallel he prayed to his God and the seers spoke to him in the Name of YHWH, God of Israel. In D he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and in the parallel he built up the altar of YHWH. In E he took away the foreign gods and idols out of the House of YHWH, and in the parallel he remove the altars that he had built there.
2.33.11 ‘For which reason YHWH brought on them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh in chains, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.’
The Chronicler makes clear that what happened to Manasseh was to be seen as due to his rebellion against YHWH. In his eyes the Assyrians were simply carrying out YHWH’s bidding. He omits mention of the humiliating hook through his nose (as they treated him like a wild animal that had to be tamed) but stresses the chains and fetters with which he was bound. For a man used to ruling and being feted and pampered this must have been an excessively disagreeable experience, a complete and utter fall. His being taken in this way to Babylon partly fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy to Hezekiah which resulted from Hezekiah’s welcome shown to the ambassadors from Babylon (32.31; Isaiah 39).
2.33.12 ‘And when he was in distress, he besought YHWH his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.’
We know nothing of the conditions in which Manasseh was kept in Babylon, but they would certainly not have been what he was used to, and while under suspicion his treatment was not likely to have been generous. It was seemingly enough to make him reconsider his ways. He came to recognise that his new gods had failed him, and his thoughts turned back to the God of his fathers Who had done such great things for Israel. And ‘he besought YHWH his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers’, no doubt with strong crying and tears. We can compare 7.14 where the promise was that such behaviour would be duly rewarded. The impact that his repentance had on Israel can be seen from the apocryphal ‘Prayer of Manasses’ which was later put on his lips (found in the Apocrypha).
2.33.13 ‘And he prayed to him, and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that YHWH he was God.’
So Manasseh prayed to YHWH. And YHWH ‘was entreated of him’. In other words He was willing to respond to his plea. So He ‘heard his supplication’ and brought him back again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Note how all this is put down to the action of YHWH. The Assyrians were simply tools in His hands. And as a consequence of all this Manasseh knew that YHWH was the one and only God, and recognised what a fool he had been.
2.33.14 ‘Now after this he built an outer wall to the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entrance at the fish gate, and he surrounded Ophel about with it, and raised it up to a very great height, and he put valiant captains in all the fortified cities of Judah.’
That he was now trusted by the Assyrians comes out in that he was allowed to restore the fortifications of Jerusalem. This would render him a powerful ally against a resurgence by Egypt. To the Chronicler, however, this building project was a sign of God’s approval. He rebuilt the outer wall of Jerusalem to the west of Gihon in the valley as far as the Fish Gate, and encircled Ophel with it, building it to a great height.
Gihon was the natural spring which provided water for Jerusalem through Hezekiah’s tunnel and was situated in the Kidron valley on the East side of Ophel, outside the wall and due South of the temple area. Ophel was a fortified site in the old City of David.
Having refortified Jerusalem Manasseh then put brave and experienced commanders in all the fortified cities of Judah. Judah was strong again, but not independent.
2.33.15 ‘And he took away the foreign gods, and the idol out of the house of YHWH, and all the altars which he had built in the mount of the house of YHWH, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city.’
Having built up the city Manasseh now tore down the altars that he had built throughout Jerusalem, and removed the foreign gods, and especially the image of Asherah which he had erected in the very House of YHWH. He cast them all out of the city. Jerusalem was dedicated to YHWH once more.
2.33.16 ‘And he built up the altar of YHWH, and offered on it sacrifices of peace-offerings and of thanksgiving, and commanded Judah to serve YHWH, the God of Israel.’
All Manasseh’s post-captivity activity was leading up to this, that he built up the altar of YHWH. Then what follows assumes a popular feast of YHWH, for sacrifices of peace-offerings and thanksgiving could be partaken of by the people. Thus it appears that Manasseh called the people to a feast, and it was there that he commanded them to serve YHWH, the God of Israel, once again.
2.33.17 ‘Nevertheless the people sacrificed still in the high places, but only to YHWH their God.’
It appears, however, that Manasseh did not seek to remove the high places like Asa, Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah had done. But what he did do was require of the people that at the high places they only offered sacrifices to YHWH. It is clear from this that sacrifices were being offered by non-Aaronides, thus being contrary to the Torah. Perhaps it was due to his ignorance of YHWH’s requirements, or it may simply indicate that he did not want to push his reforms too far. Indeed, it may be that the people themselves were resistant to any further reform. But whichever way it was it was disobedience to YHWH and could only confirm judgment on Judah.
2.33.18 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of YHWH, the God of Israel, behold, they are written among the acts of the kings of Israel.’
Manasseh is the only king for whom there are two separate statements, both referring to sources for his reign. But as they fit in the chiasmus they must both have been included originally. This first one refers to his acts, his prayer to God, and the words which seers spoke to him in the Name of YHWH, the God of Israel. All were recorded among the Acts of the Kings of Israel (compare the Book of the Acts of Solomon in 1 Kings 11.41). This may have been another name for the court records, or it may have been a book not referred to elsewhere, probably the former.
2.33.19 ‘His prayer also, and how God was entreated of him, and all his sin and his trespass, and the places in which he built high places, and set up the Asherim and the graven images, before he humbled himself, behold, they are written in the history of Hozai.’
But a special record of his reign had also been kept by the otherwise unknown prophet Hozai. Hozai had recorded his prayer of repentance and how God was entreated of him and responded to his prayer, along with details of his sin and his trespass, and the places in which he set up high places, and details concerning the Asherim and graven images which he had set up before he humbled himself before God and repented. This would appear to have been written from a prophet’s viewpoint dealing with his religious failings and his final repentance. The full details of what he had done was not to go unnoticed. It may be that this was the source of the extra material concerning Manasseh that was found in Chronicles.
2.33.20 ‘So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own house, and Amon his son reigned instead of him.’
On his death it was made clear that he was disapproved of. He was buried in his own house (which would include the gardens) and not in the sepulchres of the kings in the city of David. And no special celebrations are spoken of on his death. 2 Kings refers to him being buried in the garden of Uzzah. Nothing further is known of this garden except that his son was also buried there. Thus he died unheralded. He had pleased nobody.
The Reign Of Amon (33.21-25).
The reign of Amon lasted less than two years and yet in that time he dragged Judah back into idolatry, becoming worse and worse in his behaviour with not a sign of repentance, and indeed, was such a bad king that his ‘servants’ assassinated him. Nothing good is said about his reign, and no mention is made of ‘his acts’. Furthermore, whilst his father was buried ‘in his own house’, Amon was ‘put to death’ in his own house.
His assassination may have been due to his restoration of idolatry which angered people at court, or it may have been due to his unwillingness to involve himself in a rebellion against Assyria fostered by Egypt. In the chiasmus it is linked to his evil ways.
The account, such as it is, is mainly based on 2 Kings 21.19-26 slightly abbreviated with additional material in verse 23 and omission of the mention of further acts of Amon and their source.
Note that in A he commenced his reign and in the parallel his reign ceased. In B he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and in the parallel as a consequence he met an untimely death. Centrally in C he did not humble himself before YHWH, and in the parallel he sinned more and more.
2.33.21 ‘Amon was twenty two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem.’
Amon was twenty two years old when he began to reign. As his father died at 67 that demonstrates that he was 45 when Amon was born. If Amon was his eldest son it would mean that he had been barren for thirty years, or that any male progeny had died young, possibly to be seen as a sign of God’s anger against him. Amon seemingly bore Josiah when he was around sixteen. Reigning ‘two years’ indicated between one and two years, with part of a year counting as a year. It was a very brief reign.
Note that the Chronicler omits details of the queen mother whose name was Meshullameth, daughter of Haruz of Jotbah in Transjordan (2 Kings 21.19. The Chronicler omits the mention of any queen mother after Hezekiah. This may signify that the queen mother had ceased to have the same status, but the fact that their names are given in 2 Kings belies this. More probably therefore it was intended to be seen by the Chronicler as an indication that YHWH had lost interest in the house of David, having determined that Judah would go into exile (32.25, 31; Isaiah 39.6; 2 Kings 20.37; 21.12-15).
2.33.22 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, as did Manasseh his father, and Amon sacrificed to all the graven images which Manasseh his father had made, and served them.’
Yet even in that short time Amon was able to do a great deal of damage. From the commencement of his reign he ‘did evil in the sight of YHWH’, which always indicated following after idols. It is stressed that he followed in the footsteps of his father. Sin may be forgiven, as it had been for Manasseh, but the consequences of sin go on. Thus he sacrificed to all the graven images that his father had made, and served them. ‘All’ presumably indicates all that remained. But this in itself indicates that Manasseh had not done a thorough job of ridding Judah of idols. His ‘cleansing’ of Judah had been somewhat perfunctory. The graven images would include Asherim, images to the host of Heaven, and possibly images of Baal, and even Molech.
It is a reminder to us that when we rid ourselves of sin within we must ensure that we do a thorough job and leave nothing remaining. Otherwise our sins too will catch us out in the future.
2.33.23 ‘And he did not humble himself before YHWH, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself; but this same Amon trespassed more and more.’
The Chronicler omits the words, ‘he forsook YHWH the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of YHWH (2 Kings 21.22) and replaced them with these words which contrast Amon with his father.
He points out that unlike in the case of his father Manasseh, Amon found no place of repentance. At no stage did he humble himself before YHWH as Manasseh his father had humbled himself. Indeed he plunged deeper and deeper into evil, and trespassed more and more.
We may feel that Manasseh had had fifty years in which to repent, whilst Amon only had two at the most. But it is a reminder that we must not presume on God. God took Amon while he was still young, and He may do the same with us. It is important to repent while there is yet time. No future is guaranteed.
2.33.24 ‘And his servants conspired against him, and put him to death in his own house.’
‘His servants’ may indicate his close advisers, or his ministers, or it may point to those who were his personal servants. The fact that it was ‘the people of the land’ who dealt with these servants in verse 25 (which see) may suggest that the assassins were connected with influential figures in authority in Jerusalem. If so they broke into his house and put him to death there. They did not want to involve the people. It may have been for political reasons because he refused to enter into an alliance with Egypt against Assyria (which was comparatively weak at the time), or it may have been for religious reasons because they did not like the way in which Amon was taking the kingdom. But either way God seemingly frowned on what they had done. Assassination is never the answer.
2.33.25 ‘But the people of the land slew all those who had conspired against king Amon, and the people of the land made Josiah his son king instead of him.’
Amon’s murderers paid the penalty with their lives. ‘The people of the land’ rose up against those who had conspired against King Amon and slew them. ‘The people of the land’ appears to mean the important men outside Jerusalem. It has been suggested that:
They certainly appear to have been very influential when they did decide to act at crucial times whilst not being connected with the court. It suggests that the assassination was due to court intrigue which the local aristocracies were not prepared to put up with. They wanted a representative of the house of David on the throne, and made sure they got him. As a consequence of their actions they set Amon’s son Josiah on the throne in his place.
The Reign Of Josiah (34.1-35.27).
As with the accession of Hezekiah following Ahaz, so now with the accession of Josiah following Manasseh and Amon, there was a huge policy change. Reigns which had majored on idolatry were followed by reigns which brought Judah/Israel nominally back to YHWH. But whilst in the case of Hezekiah there had still been hope for the long distant future, until he made a fool of himself with the Babylonian ambassadors, in the case of Josiah there was no such hope for the future. It is made clear that the coming judgment of exile could only be delayed, not prevented (verse 28). And humanly speaking it was due to Josiah that it was even delayed. But like Hezekiah he also failed in the end. Both the Messianic hopefuls turned out to have feet of clay.
The underlying reason for YHWH being unwilling to do more than delay judgment is made apparent over time. It was because the people over whom they ruled, whilst they outwardly responded willingly to the reforms of both Hezekiah and Josiah, were still idolatrous deep at heart. On the whole they were fickle. There was little real protest among the people when these two kings were followed by idolatrous kings who blatantly propagated idolatry, with the consequence that Jeremiah at length found himself standing alone in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 5.1-5).
The reign of Josiah in Chronicles parallels to quite some extent the reign of Hezekiah. It commences with the restoration of the Temple, followed by the organisation of the Temple ministry, and it comes to its climax in the observance of the Passover. Both reigns then falter when the kings become involved in external affairs.
Josiah Turns The Nation Back To God And Destroys All Traces Of Idolatry (34.1-7).
Josiah came to the throne in 640 BC a date determined by archaeology on the basis of his death opposing Pharaoh Necho in 609 BC. Asshur-bani-pal died in around 627 BC which would help to explain Josiah’s ability at that time to carry his reforms into Northern Israel.
Coming to the throne at eight years old Josiah would have been under the tutelage of regents who would act in his name. They would almost certainly have had to pay tribute to Assyria and acknowledge their overlordship. The fact that he did not seek after the God of his father David until he was sixteen simply indicates that he did not until then publicly make his position known. It did not mean that he did not already quietly worship YHWH, possibly under the influence of his mother whose name is given in 2 Kings 22.1 as Jedidah (beloved), the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath, which was a town in the Shephelah of Judah named between Lachish and Eglon in Joshua 15.39.
The regents who guided him were probably appointed by the people of the land who made him king. It is significant that they did not turn the nation back to YHWH. It suggests that idolatry still prevailed in the land. The assassins of Amon may well therefore have been Yahwists whose hopes of reform were stamped on by the people of the land.
It was no doubt from this point that he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, walking in the ways of his father David, although not as yet being able to interfere in Temple affairs. He was the only king of whom it was said that he did not turn aside to the right hand or the left. He was seen as a true scion of the house of David. But once he was twenty he took the reins of kingship in his own hands and began his reforms. 2 Kings has this happening in his 26th year, but the writer there was focusing on the discovery of the Law book, and that would certainly not have occurred unless repairs to the Temple had already begun. Thus we can take this picture as accurate. The approaching death of Ashur-bani-pal explains why Assyria were too busy to interfere with what Josiah was doing.
Note that in A Josiah began to reign in JERUSALEM and did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, and in the parallel he demonstrated that by breaking down idolatrous altars, hewing down sun-images, and powderising Asherim and graven images and then returned to JERUSALEM. In B he PURGED JUDAH AND JERUSALEM of high places and images, and in the parallel he PURGED JUDAH AND JERUSALEM of idolatrous priests. Centrally in C he broke and hewed down the altars and sun-images, and in the parallel he broke in pieces and made dust the Asherim, graven images and molten images.
2.34.1 ‘Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty one years in Jerusalem.’
As mentioned above Josiah came to the throne in 640 BC, but at eight years old he would have been under the control of regents. He reigned until 609 BC. He seemingly began to exercise sole power in around 628 BC, for that was when he began the reforms which would result in the curbing of idolatry. The commencing of the reforms probably occurred around the same time as Judah stopped paying tribute to Assyria due to the death of Asshur-bani-pal and the resulting occupation of Assyria with its own affairs.
2.34.2 ‘And he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, and walked in the ways of David his father, and did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.’
Once he was in a position to influence affairs Josiah ‘did what was right in the eyes of YHWH’. Used regularly in Kings and Chronicles (along with its opposite ‘did evil in the eyes of YHWH’) this phrase indicated that he wholly followed YHWH and destroyed all connections with idolatry. Like Hezekiah he walked in the ways of his father David. He was wholly loyal to YHWH. And uniquely it is said of him that he did not veer off to the right hand or to the left. His way was straight, and without deviation. And yet such had been the sin of Judah that even he was unable to do more than delay God’s judgment for a time. Judah had sinned too deeply.
2.34.3 ‘For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father. And in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the Asherim, and the graven images, and the molten images.’
In his eighth year, that is when he was sixteen, he ‘began to seek after the God of David his father’. He had at last come to an age when he could make his own stand. He eschewed the idols which gripped the hearts of the people of Judah, and even of his own regents, and in his own worship demonstrated loyalty to YHWH. He was not yet in a position to exert his authority on the whole people.
But as soon as he was twenty, and therefore fully matured (and of fighting age) he began his sole rule, and immediately began the process of removing idolatry from the land. He began to purge both Judah and Jerusalem of the high places at which the people sacrificed to Baal and Asherah, destroyed the images of Asherah found in the high places, and removed the graven (wooden) images and molten (metal) images of Baal, Molech and the hosts of heaven. It was a process which would take some time. There were a multiplicity of high places throughout the mountains of Israel, as well as artificial high places in the cities, each hosting its own Baal and Asherah and having its own altars. But Josiah, full of worship for YHWH, was determined to get rid of them all.
2.34.4 ‘And they broke down the altars of the Baalim in his presence, and the sun-images which were on high above them he hewed down, and the Asherim, and the graven images, and the molten images, he broke in pieces, and made dust of them, and strewed it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them.’
He did not just leave it to others. He made sure that he was present when they broke down the altars of the Baals, and hewed down the sun-images which towered above them, probably on the roofs of buildings. He also broke in pieces the Asherah images, and the graven and molten images of Baal, Molech and others, making dust of them and strewing them on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. The aim was to defile the graves of prominent idol worshippers of the past. Josiah wanted the people to be aware of the horrors of idolatry, and to let them see how powerless their gods were to help themselves..
2.34.5 ‘And he burnt the bones of the priests on their altars, and purged Judah and Jerusalem.’
The bones of the priests who had served the idols were disinterred and burned on the idolatrous altars (2 Kings 23.16) thus rendering them unclean and defiled. This was preparatory to breaking down these very altars. This was Josiah’s method of ensuring that they would not be used again.
This even raises the question as to whether living priests were executed and dealt with in the same way, and in view of 15.33; 23 17 and 2 Kings 10.18 ff. it may well have been so. However, 2 Kings 23.5 merely says he ‘deposed them’.
2.34.6 ‘And he did the same in the cities of Manasseh and Ephraim and Simeon, even to Naphtali, in their shrines round about.’ ..
And he did the same throughout the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim and Simeon, even as far as Naphtali, to the altars that were in their shrines. This serves to demonstrate that these areas were no longer under Assyria’s tight control. Assyria was reaching the end of its predominance.
2.34.7 ‘And he broke down the altars, and beat the Asherim and the graven images into powder, and hewed down all the sun-images throughout all the land of Israel, and returned to Jerusalem.’
What he had done in Judah and Jerusalem he did throughout all the land of Israel. He broke down the altars, beat the Asherah images and the graven images into powder, and hewed down the sun-images so that none were left. And then he returned to Jerusalem. The process may well have taken a number of years. But at last the land was clean.
It is a reminder to us that we too should be assiduous in seeking out the idols that control our lives, and similarly disposing of them.
Josiah Begins To Repair The Temple Of YHWH Ably Assisted By The Levites (34.8-13).
Having sought to rid the land of idolatry Josiah now turned his attention to the Temple which was in a state of sad neglect. It was a very old building and had previously been restored by Joash and Hezekiah. But since then it had had fifty years of neglect. So calling together his chief minister he sent them to the Temple to supervise its restoration. The Levites had meanwhile arranged for the gathering of money for the purpose from every part of Josiah’s kingdom and even from Israelites beyond its boundaries. This was delivered into the hands of the Levite builders who diligently set about the task of restoration.
Note that in A the command was given to repair the house of YHWH, and in the parallel we are given information about that work. In B the money collected was delivered into the house of God and in the parallel it was delivered into the hands of the workmen in the house of YHWH.
2.34.8 ‘Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of YHWH his God.
Having purged the land and the house of God of all idolatrous associations, Josiah now turned his attention to the Temple which was clearly in a sad state of disrepair. He called to him three important ministers, Shaphan the Scribe (chief Secretary of State), Maaseiah the governor of Jerusalem and Joab the Recorder (finance minister). He saw it as no light matter. These were given the oversight of the repairing of the Temple and he despatched them to arrange with the Temple authorities for the completion of the work.
This took place in the eighteenth year of his reign when he was twenty six years old. Reading 2 Kings we might get the impression that this was the beginning of his reforms (nothing earlier is mentioned in 2 Kings). But the writer there was concentrating on the discovery of the Law Book which altered Josiah’s whole outlook. It is clear, however, that for that Law Book to have been discovered there had to be reforms already in progress, and the Chronicler’s emphasis on the need to clear the land of idolatry prior to the repairing of the Temple makes good sense. It was this after all that mainly affected the people in their daily lives.
It was a process which according to the Chronicler had seemingly taken a good number of years, going on since the twelfth year of Josiah’s reign, and this is quite probable for the grip of idolatry had been powerful, and the sites which had to be dealt with were numerous. It was a task which both Asa and Jehoshaphat had attempted, but with limited success. Every mountain top and hill top had its own idolatrous shrine. And meanwhile the kingdom had to be ruled.
‘Shaphan the son of Azaliah.’ His name means rockbadger. He was one of Josiah’s staunchest supporters in the work of reform and was described as ‘the Scribe’ (verse 15), an important governmental position, possibly equivalent to Secretary of State. It was he who, on discovery of the Law Book, took it to Josiah and read it to him. He produced a noble family. His son Ahikam would later befriend and seek to protect Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26.24), whilst another son, Elasah was one of the two men entrusted with a letter to the captives in Babylon by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29.3). It was in a room in the Temple courts belonging to a third son, Gemariah, that Baruch read out the scroll of Jeremiah, and Gemariah later with others sought to prevent King Jehoiakim from burning it (Jeremiah 36.10, 25), and was almost certainly one of the princes who urged Baruch and Jeremiah to hide from the king’s anger. Gedaliah, the later governor of Judah, who was assassinated by discontents, was his grandson (Jeremiah 39.14).
2.34.9 ‘And they came to Hilkiah the high priest, and delivered the money which was brought into the house of God, which the Levites, the keepers of the threshold, had gathered of the hand of Manasseh and Ephraim, and of all the remnant of Israel, and of all Judah and Benjamin, and of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.’
These three came to Hilkiah, the High Priest, who as High Priest, would be called on to ensure that the work was carried out properly (it was on holy ground), and brought with them the ‘silver’ (tokens of wealth) which the Levites had gathered throughout the land and beyond, from Manasseh, Ephraim, the remnant of Israel, Judah, Benjamin and Jerusalem. Manasseh and Ephraim had, of course, been part of Northern Israel, but had come under the authority of the kings of Judah, whilst the remnant of Israel either means those Israelites who had emigrated to Judah in the past, or possibly present Israelites who were scattered but still had an interest in the Temple. Once again we have evidence of the declining power of Assyria. Josiah was allowed as much sway as he wanted and could achieve.
The silver that was gathered had possibly been stored in the king’s treasury as it had seemingly not been put under the control of the Levites. This would be quite normal in terms of the age when kings and religious authorities both had their function within the cult. The silver collected for the purpose of restoring the Temple would have to be kept separate from silver to which the Levites were due. It would of course have been carried to the Temple by bearers, who may be the ‘they’ referred to in verse 10. It was presumably a large amount of ‘silver’ (wealth).
2.34.10-11 ‘And they delivered it into the hand of the workmen who had the oversight of the house of YHWH, and the workmen who wrought in the house of YHWH gave it to mend and repair the house, even to the carpenters and to the builders they gave it, to buy hewn stone, and timber for couplings, and to make beams for the houses which the kings of Judah had destroyed.’
This silver was then handed over to the ‘workmen who had oversight over the House of YHWH’. These would be comprised of both Levites and priests. The work had to be done on holy ground, and they would have to arrange for the work within the Sanctuary to be carried out by qualified Levites. We do not know whether such work would be limited to priests, who alone normally had access to the Holy Place.
These ‘overseers’ then passed the money on to the carpenters and builders who would also be Levites and who would have responsibility for the actual work. They in turn used it to obtain the necessary materials. They bought hewn stone and timber. The timber would be used, among other things, for couplings, and for beams and floor timbers.
2.34.12 ‘And the men did the work faithfully, and the overseers of them were Jahath and Obadiah, the Levites, of the sons of Merari; and Zechariah and Meshullam, of the sons of the Kohathites, to set it forward, and others of the Levites, all who were skilful with instruments of music.’
All who were involved were Levites who did their work faithfully in order that the work might proceed at speed (‘to set if forward’), and we are informed of the names of their overseers who were Merarites and Kohathites, being descended from Levi. The names were regular Hebrew names. Also involved were the musicians, indicating that playing music was not their only occupation (unless they played and worshipped whilst the repair work continued, enthusing the builders to work as to God). This detail of names confirms that the Chronicler obtained his information from contemporary sources. The names of the chief overseers were not supplied in 2 Kings.
2.34.13 ‘Also they were over the bearers of burdens, and set forward all who did the work in every manner of service, and of the Levites there were scribes, and officers, and gatekeepers.’
The Levite overseers were also over the bearers of burdens, who would be non-Levites employed for the purpose of bringing the materials to the Temple site. The bearers of burdens probably included the nethinim and ‘the sons of Solomon’s servants’ (Ezra 2.43, 55), foreigners who had been introduced into the Temple to do the menial work and had had allocated to them special, no doubt sparse, quarters in Jerusalem near the Temple. And the chief overseers with all efficiency ensured that the work went forward smoothly, keeping all involved busy at their work. There were also other Levite overseers in the form of scribes (secretaries), officers and gatekeepers. So the work was well planned, well supervised, and proceeded apace.
Shaphan Reports On The Satisfactory Continuation Of The Work And Takes With Him A Copy Of The Book Of The Law Of YHWH Which Has Been Found In The Temple (34.14-18).
It was a sign of how bad things had got spiritually that the Book Of The Law Of YHWH was lying undiscovered and forgotten in one of the Temple chambers, only seemingly to be discovered when the silver was stored in the Temple and an old unused room was opened up for that purpose. There had presumably once been other copies in the Temple, but they may well have been destroyed by fervent idolaters. Indeed it may well be that these had been hidden in this little used room by someone eager to hide them from those who would destroy them. They would not, of course, have been required for general worship. Temple procedures were well known to those who had remained faithful to YHWH, along with the traditions built on them, and the general requirements of the covenant were familiar to most from childhood, and no doubt in many families were still taught to their children. But the Book of the Law itself had seemingly been neglected for some years. There would have been no requirement to read it out to the people in the years preceding Josiah, and copies had clearly had not been used for some time. Either no one knew where copies of it were kept, or they had forgotten where they were.
But once copies of it had been discovered a copy of it was carried to the king as a discovery of immense importance. The room may in the past have been used as a Scriptorium for the copying of the Scriptures, and simply neglected through the times when idolatry was rampant, or it may have been a hiding place from those who sought to destroy them.
Note that in A the MONEY is brought out from the HOUSE OF YHWH, and in the parallel the MONEY which was found in the HOUSE OF YHWH was emptied out and delivered into the hand of the overseers. In B Hilkiah told Shaphan that he had found the book of the Law, and in the parallel he delivered that book to Shaphan, who brought it to the king.
2.34.14 ‘And when they brought out the money which was brought into the house of YHWH, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of YHWH given by Moses.’
The discovery was seemingly made when ‘the money was brought out’ to be handed over to the workmen. This suggests that those who had stored the silver had not taken any notice of the old jars or chests containing the scrolls but had simply piled the silver around them. They had seemingly not been interested in the contents of the chests. It was Hilkiah, who, while the room was being emptied, looked into the old jars or chests, presumably in order to ensure that they contained no silver. Instead he found what was worth its weight in gold. For he discovered that they contained copies of the Book of the Law of YHWH as given by Moses. There is no reason to doubt that it contained the whole five books of the Law, even though possibly only a portion were carried to the king.
2.34.15 ‘And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the Scribe, “I have found the book of the law in the house of YHWH.” And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan.’
Excited over his discovery Hilkiah went quickly to Shaphan the Scribe, who was the king’s representative, and told him what he had found. ‘I have found the Book of the Law (of YHWH) in the House of YHWH’. It is quite possible that previous attempts to find them had failed. Hilkiah then handed over responsibility for the scrolls to Shaphan.
Note On The Book Of The Law Of YHWH Given By Moses.
There has been much dispute over the question of what this ‘Book’ which was discovered consisted of. It need not necessarily have been only one scroll. There may have been a number of scrolls, and a number of copies of each scroll. But the whole would have been seen as ‘the Book of Moses’. As to the contents of the scrolls, these can only be guessed at. For the truth is that any surmises as to the full contents of the scrolls can only be just that. Many argue that the portion carried to the king was a portion of the Book of Deuteronomy in view of Josiah’s emphasis on the curses that it contained, and that may well be true, but that is not to limit the discovery only to that book. The later details concerning the Passover may indeed be seen as indicating the inclusion of the Book of Leviticus. Thus there is no reason for doubting that the whole five books of Moses were involved. It seems very probable that these scrolls were carefully stored there for copying purposes, to be called on when needed, or hidden there in order to keep them safe, only for their whereabouts to be forgotten during the bad times.
End of note.
2.34.16 ‘And Shaphan carried the book to the king, and moreover brought back word to the king, saying, “All which was committed to your servants, they are doing.”
Whether Shaphan arranged for the whole contents of the room to be carried to the palace, or whether he simply selected one scroll as an example to show the king, leaving the others to be dealt with later, we can only surmise. But he ‘carried the book to the king’ in order to show him what had been discovered, and did it in the course of his regular reports. For at the same time he informed the king that his requirements were being fulfilled, and that his servants were urgently carrying out the tasks which he had committed to them. It may well be that he was not sure whether the king would be interested in the Book.
2.34.17 ‘And they have emptied out the money which was found in the house of YHWH, and have delivered it into the hand of the overseers, and into the hand of the workmen.’
For he also reported to the king that the silver which had been stored in the Temple for the purposes of the restoration had all been passed on to those responsible for the work, who had supplied it to the operatives. The work was going on apace.
Hearing The Words of The Law With Its Accompanying Curses Josiah Is Smitten With Fear At The Disaster He Sees As Coming On Judah And Consults The Prophetess Huldah Who Assures Him That Because Of His Piety It Will Not Come In His Day (34.18-28).
Shaphan brought the Book of the Law, or at least a part of it, to the king explaining that it had been brought to him by Hilkiah, and he would almost certainly have explained the details concerning the discovery of the Book. The king then asked him to read to him from it. Learning from it of the curses that lay over Judah and Jerusalem because of their past disobedience to YHWH he was deeply convicted, and tore his clothes in anguish, fearing the wrath of YHWH. This was clearly the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Then he sent to Huldah the prophetess so that she could prophesy concerning the Book and its contents.
Huldah’s reply was that God’s wrath was indeed levelled at Judah and Jerusalem because of what their past behaviour had been, but that because of Josiah’s piety and repentance it would not occur whilst Josiah reigned.
Note that in A Shaphan brought the book to the king, and in the parallel they brought back word to the king concerning it. In B Josiah heard the words of the Law and tore his clothes, and in the parallel he is commended for having done so. In C Josiah sent to enquire of YHWH and in the parallel he is commended for it. In D He bemoaned the wrath of God which was to be poured out according to what was written in the Book, and in the parallel he learned that all the curses in the Book would cause His wrath to be poured out. Centrally in E they sought out Huldah the prophetess, and in the parallel she commenced to give YHWH’s prophetic word.
2.34.18 ‘And Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has delivered me a book.” And Shaphan read from it before the king.’
Shaphan undoubtedly came to the king with the full story about the discovery of the Book of the Law of YHWH, and explained that it had been brought to him by no less a person than Hilkiah the High Priest. Josiah was clearly impressed and asked Shaphan to read to him from the Book. It seems probable that the part that he chose to read came from the Book of Deuteronomy. It would seem a wise choice in that Deuteronomy was written in speech form, and was therefore easily digestible. Furthermore he may well have seen it as a good summary of the whole Law. But the choice was clearly also under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for the words which Josiah heard, as he learned about the curses of YHWH that would rest on His people if they went after idolatry (verse 24; Deuteronomy 11.28; 28.14 ff), had a huge effect on the king.
It is an open question as to how much of the Book of the Law was read before the king. To us listening to a book read hour after hour might appear trying. But the same might not have been true of Josiah, caught up in the wonder of what had been discovered and clearly deeply moved. He may well have been willing to listen throughout the day.
2.34.19 ‘And it came about, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he tore his clothes.’
On hearing the words of the Law Josiah was deeply convicted and tore his clothes in anguish. YHWH had caused his heart to be deeply moved. He recognised the awful consequences which were due to Judah and Jerusalem because of their blatant idolatry. And his heart also was torn.
The fact that Josiah reacted so violently to what was read tells us a good deal about him. It suggests not only that his heart was fully given to YHWH, but that he was also deeply grieved at the idolatry that he had by now almost eradicated and recognised its heinous nature. The reading of the Book of the Law confirmed his view. It brought home to him its fully deserved consequences. He was overcome at the awfulness of what his people had been doing, and the grief that it had caused to YHWH..
2.34.20 ‘And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying,’
Then Josiah called five of his chief ministers and commanded them to go and enquire of YHWH through the medium of a prophetess. Hilkiah we know already as High Priest. Shaphan the Scribe is also known to us. Also included were Shaphan’s son, Ahikam, who would later befriend and seek to protect Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26.24), Abdon the son of Micah (or Micaiah, not the prophet), who is called Achbor in 2 Kings 22.12, and Asaiah, a chief minister of the king (the king’s servant). All are well known Hebrew names.
2.34.21 “Go you, enquire of YHWH for me, and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book which is found, for great is the wrath of YHWH which is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of YHWH, to do according to all that is written in this book.’
Josiah had taken to heart what he had read. And he called on the five to ‘enquire of YHWH’ through the prophetess Huldah about what the future of Judah and the remnants of Israel might now be. For he had come to recognise that they had incurred the wrath of YHWH because of their continual idolatrous behaviour and refusal to obey God’s word. And something told him that that wrath was hanging over them now, ready to be outpoured. It had been a moment of illumination by the Spirit.
2.34.22 ‘So Hilkiah, and those whom the king had commanded, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe. (Now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the second quarter). And they spoke to her to that effect.’
So the five did as the king commanded and went as a deputation of leading statesmen to Huldah the prophetess. She was clearly a prominent figure in Jerusalem and the wife of an important man, Shallum, who was the ‘keeper of the wardrobe’. This may signify that he had responsibility for the preservation and maintenance of the priestly and Levitical garments, or that he had responsibility for the king’s wardrobe. This close connection either with the Temple or with the palace might explain why she was consulted instead of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1.2). But she would not have been unless she had a reputation for successful prophecy.
It is significant for our understanding of the place of women during the monarchy (we have already noted the prominence given to the queen mother) that a woman should not only be a prophetess (like Deborah previously - Judges 4.4), but one prominent enough to be consulted by the king. And furthermore one whose prophecies could be trusted, suggesting a successful past history of fulfilled prophecy.
It is mentioned that she dwelt in ‘the second quarter’ (mishneh), presumably because this added to her consequence. Unfortunately we know nothing about ‘the second quarter’. It may have been where the aristocrats tended to live, and have been the portion of Jerusalem brought within the walls when Hezekiah extended them, enclosing a portion of the hill west of the Tyrolean Valley or it may have been the northern reaches of the city (compare Zephaniah 1.10).
‘And they spoke to her to that effect.’ They informed her about the discovery of the Book of the Law, and the effect that it had had on the king, and consulted her about what the future of Judah and Jerusalem might be. Was he right to be so concerned?
2.34.23 ‘And she said to them, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel. Tell you the man who sent you to me,”
Her reply was in good prophetic mode, ‘thus says YHWH, the God of Israel’ (not of Judah only). And she told them to tell Josiah what now follows. They were a word to him from YHWH.
2.34.24-25 “Thus says YHWH, Behold, I will bring evil on this place, and on its inhabitants, even all the curses which are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah, because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore is my wrath poured out on this place, and it will not be quenched.”
Her message was basically that Josiah was right to be concerned, and that God had now finally determined to bring Judah/Israel to account. He was going to bring evil on Jerusalem of a kind unknown before. And nothing could prevent it.
The message comes as something of a shock in the light of Josiah’s religious zeal. We might have expected YHWH to express His pleasure at what Josiah had done and assure him that because of his zeal for YHWH and his concern for YHWH’s honour, all would be well. But He did not. His message was stark and unyielding, and brought out that Judah’s disastrous end was now fixed and determine. It made clear that YHWH’s wrath hung like a dark cloud over Judah because they had turned away from Him in spite of all that He had done for them, and that nothing could now avert it, not even the actions of Josiah. Time and again Judah had forsaken Him. They had burned incense to other gods, and had thus provoked Him to anger, and this was in the face of the fact that He had warned them what would happen if they did so.
Indeed, His warnings had been accompanied by curses, curses which were written in the Book that Josiah had read and were soon to be fulfilled (Deuteronomy 11.28; 28.14 ff.). But they had not listened in spite of the many opportunities of repentance that He had given them again and again. Rather after each period of repentance they had plunged even more deeply into idolatry. But now the offer of mercy and compassion was coming to an end. He would soon be bringing evil on them, because they had been sinful for so long and so deeply that nothing could quench His wrath. Their doom was determined, and nothing could prevent it. It is a reminder that in spite of His goodness God’s mercy is not limitless.
These words make clear that it had been God’s determined purpose that Josiah should read this Book and discover what was coming on Judah. This was why the Book had been discovered at this juncture. It was because He had wanted Josiah and Judah to know that His patience of long centuries had come to an end, so that even the repentance and revival of Josiah’s day could no longer avert it. It might delay it for a time but the end was inevitable because of Judah’s continual sins, sins which He knew would continue whatever Josiah did. It was a message that was designed to shock, and even bring some to repentance and salvation. But it was also YHWH’s last warning to His people of the hopeless situation that they were in, a warning echoed in the prophecy of Jeremiah. Whatever they did now their doom was certain.
2.34.26 “But to the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of YHWH, thus shall you say to him, Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel: As touching the words which you have heard,”
There was, however, one glimmer of light in a dark horizon, and that was that Josiah’s love and zeal for YHWH had brought some respite. YHWH thus had a message for the king of Judah whose heart had been so moved that he had sent to ‘enquire of Him’. Again it was guaranteed by the words, ‘thus says YHWH the God of Israel’ (note again the all-inclusive term Israel). And it was as follows.
2.34.27 “Because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God, when you heard his words against this place, and against its inhabitants, and have humbled yourself before me, and have torn your clothes, and wept before me, I also have heard you, says YHWH.”
Because Josiah’s heart had been responsive towards Him, so that he had humbled himself before God when he had learned of the fate that awaited Judah and its inhabitants, and had demonstrated his anguish by tearing his clothes and weeping before Him, YHWH had also heard him. For his sake YHWH’s wrath would be delayed until after his death.
2.34.28a “Behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, neither will your eyes see all the evil which I will bring on this place, and on its inhabitants.”
For Josiah could be assured of this, that he himself would be gathered to his fathers ‘in peace’ so that his eyes would not see the evil which YHWH would bring on Jerusalem and Judah, and on its inhabitants. It should be noted that the words ‘in peace’ referred to the evil that was coming on Judah and Jerusalem, the direct invasion of Judah, the taking of Jerusalem and the exile of its people. That would not be visited until after his death. (It would in fact be his own choice that he sought to war with Egypt and thus met a violent death. God was not to blame for that).
2.34.28b ‘And they brought back word to the king.’
The five man deputation then returned to Josiah and informed him of what they had been told.
The Book Of The Covenant of YHWH Is Read Out To The People And Josiah And The People Make A Covenant Confirming That they Will Observe The Covenant Of YHWH (34.29-33).
As a consequence of the discovery of the Book of the Covenant of YHWH the king summoned together the whole of Judah and Benjamin, along with all their elders, the priests and the Levites. This may have been with the celebrating of the Passover in mind (35.1-19), or it may have been for another feast, but his aim was in order for them to hear the Book of the Covenant read out. According to the Law of Moses this should have been done every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31.10-13), so that this was a kind of catch up operation.
The king then took his stand in his allotted place in the Temple courtyard and made a covenant with YHWH that he would fully observe all God’s requirements as stated in the Law with all his heart and with all his soul. He then called on all the people to do the same, which, speaking ideally, they did from this time on. And he then further extended the outreach by removing all traces of idolatry from the parts of Northern Israel over whom he now held sway, and calling on their people to do the same. As a consequence they all followed YHWH until the day Josiah died. We do not now for sure how far his influence reached, or whether it amounted to full rule, but it was certainly made possible by the fact that the Assyrians were now fighting on all sides to try and preserve their empire.
Note that in A Josiah called together all the people in a great assembly so that they could hear for themselves ‘the words of the Book of the Covenant which was found in the house of YHWH’, and in the parallel he is depicted as fulfilling the original Covenant requirements (removing idolatry from the land) and calling on all the people to serve and follow YHWH in accordance with that Covenant. In B he confirms the Covenant by binding himself with a covenant to serve God wholly, and in the parallel he calls on all the people to also be bound by his covenant.
2.34.29 ‘Then the king sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem.’
Initially the king gathered together ‘all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem’. It would be they who passed on to their sub-tribes and clans the instructions of the king. In view of verse 32 we can also probably add ‘the elders of Benjamin’. These ‘elders’ were the leaders of the people and may well have made up a large part of ‘the people of the land’ who had put Josiah on his throne..
2.34.30 ‘And the king went up to the house of YHWH, and all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the priests, and the Levites, and all the people, both great and small, and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHWH.’
Then having instructed the elders the king went up to the house of YHWH, where he was joined by ‘all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem’. We note how often the two are distinguished. Jerusalem saw itself as belonging directly to the king, and therefore not as a part of Judah or of Benjamin, although ruling both. Along with them were the priests and Levites, ‘and all the people both great and small’, the latter being a ‘catch all’ phrase. 2 Kings refers to ‘the priests and the prophets’, but it is very probable that the Levites had prophetic functions. The Chronicler certainly sees them as ‘prophetic’ men (1 Chronicles 25.1-3; 2 Chronicles 20.14; 29.25, 30; 35.15). The singing of Psalms, which were seen as inspired, was in itself apparently seen as prophesying.
Then the king read to them all the words of the Book of the Covenant of YHWH which had been found in the house of YHWH. Whether in his enthusiasm he did all the reading himself, or whether he entrusted some or all of the reading to others we are not told. It would certainly have been an exhausting task. Whichever way it was the king would be very attentive to the words. To him it was a supreme moment. It was vital to him that all the people respond.
2.34.31 ‘And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before YHWH, to walk after YHWH, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which were written in this book.’
The words having been read out in full, the kings stood at ‘the king’s station’ (23.13) and solemnly before them all made a covenant ‘before (in the presence of) YHWH’, that he would keep ‘His commandments and his testimonies and his statutes’ (Deuteronomy 6.17) with all his heart and with all his soul, performing all the words of the covenant which was written in the Book.
2.34.32 ‘And he caused all who were found in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.’
Then he caused all who were ‘found in Jerusalem and Benjamin’ to stand as an acknowledgement of their submission to the covenant. .And from then on the inhabitants of Jerusalem walked in accordance with the covenant of the God of their fathers, at least officially. We do not know how far the hearts of all were genuinely moved, but none would dare to say ‘no’ to the king. It would have been seen as treason. Human nature being what it is, however, we can be sure that not all were full of enthusiasm for this new venture.
The phrase ‘in Jerusalem and Benjamin’ is an interesting one. It is the first time that Benjamin has been mentioned since 34.9. It may be that the writer suddenly realised that he had failed to mention Benjamin and so included them here. It is difficult to believe that Benjamin had not gathered with the remainder, or had stood apart from them (other than as one group among many).
2.34.33 ‘And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries which pertained to the children of Israel, and made all who were found in Israel to serve, even to serve YHWH their God. All his days they departed not from following YHWH, the God of their fathers.’
This may be simply a brief summary of all that Josiah had done in purging idolatry from the land, and in bringing ‘all Israel’ to serve YHWH. Or it may have in mind additional activity whereby he incorporated all Israelites in the territory of the former Northern kingdom into his reforms. He purged their idols from among them, and caused them to serve YHWH their God (the God of Israel) with heart and soul. And for all his days the whole of Israel, as well as Judah and Benjamin, ‘did not depart from following YHWH, the God of their fathers’ (knowing humankind we would add, ‘with reservations’). Secret idolatry would almost certainly have been carried on in secret sanctuaries in the mountains. But outwardly at least, no one knew of it. The king’s word was seen as law. But it becomes clear later that in the main their heart was not in it.
The Observance Of The Passover Under Josiah (35.1-19).
Verses 1 and 19 form an inclusio for this passage with verse 1 giving the day and the month on which the Passover was celebrated, and verse 19 the year. At this time Josiah called on the priests and Levites to prepare to carry out their duties with regard to it in accordance with the guidance given by David and Solomon, whilst he and his princes provided large numbers of animals for the sacrifices. The Passover was accordingly killed and roasted, and all partook and also celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Nothing like it had been seen in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet.
Note that in A Josiah observed a Passover to YHWH in Jerusalem, and in the parallel no other king had observed the Passover like Josiah observed it. In B Josiah encouraged the priests to ‘the service of the House of YHWH’, and in the parallel ‘the service of YHWH’ was prepared. In C the Ark would no longer be a burden on the shoulders of the Levites, and in the parallel the Levite singers were relieved of their burden of preparing the sacrifices by their fellow Levites. In D they acted in accordance with the writing of David, and in the parallel the singers were in their places in accordance with the commandment of David. In E the Levites assisted the people with the Passover sacrifices, and in the parallel the Levites assisted the priests. In F the priests and Levites were commanded to kill the Passover, and in the parallel they were to roast the Passover in fire. In G the donors of the different Passover and freewill sacrifices were listed with information about their gifts, and in the parallel a description is given of the removal of the parts of the sacrifices which were to be burnt on the altar (note the reference to OXEN in both). Centrally in H the service was prepared and the priests and Levites stood in their places ready to deal with the sacrifices, and in the parallel the sacrifices are dealt with.
2.35.1 ‘And Josiah kept a passover to YHWH in Jerusalem: and they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.’
We now learn that Josiah observed a Passover to YHWH in Jerusalem. It was one of the three main feasts of the Israelite year. This Passover was observed in the eighteenth year of his reign (verse 19), which was the year in which the Law Book was discovered. Assuming that the discovery of the Law Book precipitated this observance of the Passover this would mean that the years of reign were dated from the date of accession part way through the year and not from the first month of the year. The fourteenth day of the first month (Nisan/Abib) was, of course, the correct date for killing the Passover as shown in Exodus 12. 1, 6. As we saw previously Hezekiah observed it in the second month due to force of circumstances.
Preparations For The Passover.
2.35.2 ‘And he set the priests in their offices, and encouraged them to the service of the house of YHWH.’
This ‘setting the priests in their offices’ might be seen as suggesting that no previous Passover had been attempted during Josiah’s reign, possibly because up to this point the Temple had not been seen as purified. Now, however, the priests were ‘set in their offices’ (appointed to their duties) so that the regular priestly service of the House of YHWH could once more go ahead without hindrance. And Josiah sought to encourage them in their ministries.
2.35.3 ‘And he said to the Levites who taught all Israel, who were holy to YHWH, “Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel built. There shall no more be a burden on your shoulders. Now serve YHWH your God, and his people Israel.”
To the Levites he pointed out that they no longer had the ‘burden’ of carrying the Ark from one place to the other, as it was now safely installed in the Holiest Place in the Temple which Solomon built. (The bearing of the Ark had been a Levitical responsibility - 1 Chronicles 14.2). Thus he now called on them to use their time and effort to serve YHWH and His people, both by teaching them the Law (‘who taught all Israel’ - 17.7-8) and by ministering in the precincts of the Temple (‘serve YHWH and His people’), especially now as regards this Passover.
The mention of the fact that they were ‘holy to YHWH’, stressing their suitability for serving YHWH in holy things, together with the words ‘put the HOLY Ark in the House’, may indicate that the Ark had been removed during the reigns of Manasseh and Amon, and needed to be restored to the Temple. Or that it had been moved whilst the Holiest Place was being renovated. Or it may suggest a movement of the Ark in a rededication service for the Temple, as it was carried out, and then brought in again in solemn procession. In that case the Levites would only be able to bear it up to the porch of the Temple, after which it would have to be borne by priestly Levites, for only they could enter the Holy Place. But from now on it would not have to be moved again.
However, the word translated ‘put’ (nathan - to give) has wide uses and it has been suggested that here it signifies ‘leave’, thus ‘leave the holy Ark in the House’. On the other hand the particular stress on the holiness of the Levites may well be seen as intended to indicate that the HOLY Ark was about to be moved, and that they, and they alone, were seen as fitted to actually move the HOLY Ark. For the movement of the Ark compare Numbers 10.15; 1 Chronicles 14.2 ff; and possibly Psalm 24.7-10.
2.35.4 “And prepare yourselves after your fathers’ houses by your courses, according to the writing of David king of Israel, and according to the writing of Solomon his son.”
But as with the priests in verse 2 the special emphasis is on their being ready to fulfil their duties at the Passover. So he now tells them to prepare themselves, dividing up according to their fathers’ houses (Kohathites, Merarites, Gershomites, etc) by their courses (the different groups into which they were then split up) in accordance with what king David and his son Solomon had written (1 Chronicles 23-26). This dividing into groups was so that they might take their correct positions in the holy place (the inner court of the Temple) in order to kill the Passover. All was to be highly organised as it had to be with the multiplicity of sacrifices to be offered.
2.35.5 “And stand in the holy place according to the divisions of the fathers’ houses of your brothers the children of the people, and let there be for each a portion of a fathers’ house of the Levites.”
For the purpose of organising the offering of the Passover sacrifices the people were divided up into ‘fathers’ houses’ (sub-clans) and each of these sub-clans was then allocated a portion of a Levite sub-clan who would act on their behalf. Each Levite would ‘stand in the holy place’ (the inner court) in the place allotted to him, so that the family heads allotted to him could find him there. It seems that at this stage the Levites acted on behalf of each family to prepare their lamb for sacrifice and to slaughter it, before bringing the blood to the priests to present at the altar. Initially the family head had slaughtered the animal (Deuteronomy 16.5-6; Exodus 12.3-6, 21). This change may have been in order to speed up a process which had become very cumbersome with the large numbers of animals to be offered, or it may have been because the offerings themselves had not been supplied by the families (see following). In Hezekiah’s time it had been because many of the offerers were not ritually clean, and the practise may simply have continued.
2.35.6 “And kill the passover, and sanctify yourselves, and prepare for your brothers, to do according to the word of YHWH by Moses.”
Then when the time came the Levites were to slaughter the Passover lambs on behalf of the people, and then wash themselves clean of the blood (sanctify themselves) prior to offering the blood in a basin to the priests. The Passover lamb would meanwhile have been flayed and skinned by the Levites, and its fat and entrails removed before being handed back to the family head to take away for the Passover feast (prepare for your brothers). At some stage the family representative would take the fat and entrails to the priests to be burned on the altar as a kind of ‘burnt offering’. It will be apparent that the planning and organisation of all this for such a large number of people was a huge task.
Provision Of Animals For The Passover.
Animals for the Passover were donated by Josiah, his ‘princes’, the rulers of the house of God (the chief priests) and the chiefs of the Levites. These would not only be for the Passover, but also for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They would be extra to any animals brought by the people themselves, and would ensure that no one was without. The emphasis is on the abounding generosity of the leaders of the people as an indication of wholehearted support for the new covenant.
2.35.7 ‘And Josiah gave to the children of the people, of the flock, lambs and kids, all of them for the passover-offerings, to all who were present, to the number of thirty thousand, and three thousand bullocks. These were of the king’s substance.’
Josiah, from his own royal farms, provided thirty thousand lambs and kids for Passover sacrifices, together with three thousand bullocks for consumption during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Working on the basis of family groups of ten (a conservative figure) this would provide Passover offerings for 300,000 plus people. We must remember, however, that many families may also have brought their own passover lambs.
The 30,000 and 3,000 may alternatively be round numbers indicating considerable numbers, with the three signifying completeness.
2.35.8a ‘And his princes gave for a freewill-offering to the people, to the priests, and to the Levites.’
No details of what the princes gave is provided, although in Hezekiah’s day they gave more than the king (30.24). But theirs were seemingly not Passover offerings. Freewill offerings would be for eating, once the fat, entrails and blood had been dealt with. These were for people, priests and Levites. Some, however, would translate as ‘gave freely’ resulting in even more Passover offerings. The whole tenor of the passage is of abounding generosity.
2.35.8b ‘Hilkiah and Zechariah and Jehiel, the rulers of the house of God, gave to the priests for the passover-offerings two thousand, six hundred small cattle, and three hundred oxen.’
Provision of Passover offerings for the priests was made by the ‘rulers of the house of God’, the chief priests. They supplied 2,600 lambs and kids, and 300 oxen. At an estimated two to three eligible priests to a family unit this would indicate about 6,000 plus eligible priests. The continual provision of names suggests that the Chronicler had a reliable contemporary source.
2.35.9 ‘Conaniah also, and Shemaiah and Nethanel, his brethren, and Hashabiah and Jeiel and Jozabad, the chiefs of the Levites, gave to the Levites for the passover-offerings five thousand small cattle, and five hundred oxen.’
Provision of Passover offerings for the Levites was made by the chief Levites, whose names are given. In Hezekiah’s day the chief Levite was also called Conaniah with Shimei as his brother (31.12). This is evidence of the fact that grandfathers and grandsons were regularly given the same or similar names. This is also evidenced in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The chief Levites provided 5,000 lambs and kids for Passover offerings for the Levites. There were seemingly roughly twice as many in Levitical families as in Priestly families. They also provided 500 oxen for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Again the numbers are probably round numbers.
The Completion Of The Passover.
2.35.10 ‘So the service was prepared, and the priests stood in their place, and the Levites by their courses, according to the king’s commandment.’
So all was made ready for ministering the Passover. The priests took up their places near the altar, and the Levites stationed themselves to be ready to deal with the Passover offerings and to make contact with the heads of the families for whom they had been given responsibility.
2.35.11 ‘And they killed the passover, and the priests sprinkled the blood which they received from their hand, and the Levites flayed them.’
Then the Levites killed and flayed the offerings, and took their blood in basins to the priests, who sprinkled the blood on the altar.
2.35.12 ‘And they removed the burnt-offerings, that they might give them according to the divisions of the fathers’ houses of the children of the people, to offer to YHWH, as it is written in the book of Moses. And so did they with the oxen.’
At the same time the Levites removed the fat and entrails from the offerings, and gave them to the family representatives, who in turn gave them to the priests so that they could burn them on the altar as a gift to YHWH. All was done ‘as it is written in the Book of Moses’ where fat and entrails must always be offered to YHWH.
2.35.13 ‘And they roasted the passover with fire according to the ordinance, and the holy offerings they boiled in pots, and in cauldrons, and in pans, and carried them quickly to all the children of the people.’
Having been killed, and their blood sprinkled on the altar, the Passover lambs and kids were roasted with fire in accordance with the Mosaic ordinance (Exodus 12.8-9; Deuteronomy 16.7, which should be translated ‘roast’. bashal can mean either roast or boil). Even though all had been made ready, and large numbers of priests and Levites would be involved, this would take some considerable time, and the roasting and distribution to 30.000 people had to be done ready for that night. The killing of the Passover lambs and the sprinkling of their blood on the altar would, of course, take precedence to other offerings, and the whole process had to run smoothly as priest after priest came to sprinkle blood on the altar.
The holy offerings were presumably the bullocks and oxen which would be offered as thanksgiving offerings once the Passover offerings were complete. The Passover lambs had to be eaten that night, the remainder of the offerings would not be required until the following day on the first day of Unleavened Bread and subsequently. Thus the second part of the verse referred to the week that followed Passover during which bullocks and oxen were offered, boiled in pots cauldrons and pans. On Passover night, and through the week, all carcasses were borne quickly to the multitude of people as soon as they were ready. Delay might result in the meat going off. The emphasis on ‘quickly’ probably has in mind the ‘haste’ of the first Passover night (Exodus 12.11).
2.35.14 ‘And afterward they prepared for themselves, and for the priests, because the priests the sons of Aaron were busied in offering the burnt-offerings and the fat until nightfall, therefore the Levites prepared for themselves, and for the priests the sons of Aaron.’
Once the Levites had delivered the Passover lambs to all the people they then prepared for themselves and for the priests, for having completed the sprinkling of the blood the priests had next to burn the fat and entrails on the altar, something which took them until nightfall. Thus they had no time for anything else. The Levites therefore saw both to their own needs and the needs of the priests.
2.35.15 ‘And the singers the sons of Asaph were in their place, according to the commandment of David, and Asaph, and Heman, and Jeduthun the king’s seer; and the gatekeepers were at every gate. They did not need to depart from their service, for their brothers the Levites prepared for them.’
Meanwhile during this whole process the musicians (singers) of the sons of Asaph had been singing praises to God and playing on their instruments, as had previously been commanded in David’s day by David and the three leaders of the courses of singers, Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun The gatekeepers also had maintained their posts at every gate of the Temple in order to ensure that only those eligible could enter. So the Levites also prepared the Passover for these.
2.35.16 ‘So all the service of YHWH was prepared the same day, to keep the passover, and to offer burnt-offerings on the altar of YHWH, according to the commandment of king Josiah.’
This verse now summarises what had happened on Passover day. Everything necessary was ‘prepared’ on the same day (indeed on the same afternoon), the observance of the Passover by the slaying of the lambs, their flaying and skinning, and the offering of their blood, and the offering on the altar of the fat and entrails as a burnt offering to YHWH. And all in accordance with the commandment of King Josiah. It all followed from his reading of the Law Book.
2.35.17 ‘And the children of Israel who were present observed the passover at that time, and the feast of unleavened bread seven days.’
So the children of Israel (note the ancient description, for these were their continuation) who were present in Jerusalem at that time observed the Passover and the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread as their forefathers had in the past. The good days, the days of obedience, were back.
2.35.18 ‘And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet, nor did any of the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.’
The account ends with the claim that no Passover like the one here kept in ‘Israel’ had been observed since the days of Samuel (2 Kings says since the days of the judges’). No ‘king of Israel’ (that is either of Israel or of Judah) had kept such a Passover as Josiah had kept, along with the priests, the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who were present, together with the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The restriction to ‘from the days of Samuel’ suggests that the emphasis was on its ‘primitive’ nature. That is it was a Passover that strictly followed the Law, in other words before kings got involved and started ‘improving’ it. (Hezekiah’s had been outstanding (30.26) but it had not strictly followed the Law).
Note the Chronicler’s emphasis on ‘Israel’ and ‘the kings of Israel’. He wants it to be recognised that ‘all Israel’ was involved (as we have often noted previously) just as in his own day ‘all Israel’ was made up of the returned exiles and those who had joined with them.
2.35.19 ‘In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah this passover was kept.’
The passage ends with the closing part of the inclusio (compare verse 1). This Passover was observed in the eighteenth year of the reign of King Josiah, a year which had commenced on the anniversary of his accession. In our terms it was around 622 BC.
Seventeen Years Later Josiah Gets Involved In External Politics And Meets His Death At The Hands Of The Egyptian Pharaoh Neco (35.20-27).
In the period between 622 BC when the great Passover was held, and 609 BC when Josiah died, huge changes had been taking place in the world around which had left Judah/Israel unmolested. Assyria was on its last legs before the onslaught of Babylon, Media and their allies. Nineveh had been destroyed by the Medes in 612 BC and, driven by the Babylonians, the Assyrians had retreated southwards to Carchemish, having been thrust out of Haran, to make a last desperate stand. Their only hope was for assistance from that other great power Egypt which had earlier liberated itself from Assyrian domination and had become a power under Pharaoh Neco II.
Hearing of their plight Pharah Neco set off to aid the Assyrians, not for their sake but because he recognised that they could act as a buffer against a rampant Babylon, and that meanwhile land was there for the taking. But when news of this reached Josiah he gathered his army and opposed Neco’s advance northwards at Megiddo. We are not told his exact reasons for doing so. It may have been:
With regard to 1) he may well have seen a successful alliance between Egypt and Assyria as a real threat to Judah in the future, a greater threat even than Babylon, and as something therefore that had to be prevented at all costs. With regard to 2) the weakness of the argument is that if he recognised that Babylon were likely to defeat Assyria, he must have known how weak Assyria was, and how strong Babylon, thus being a greater threat. 3), however, seems the most likely. Given the fact that Judah had seemingly dallied with Babylon under both Hezekiah and Manasseh, it may well have been that he was approached by Babylon to prevent 1) occurring, with promises of an alliance in the future. It would certainly explain his precipitate action. Further than that we cannot go, except to say this, that if he had been trusting God to keep Judah secure he would have left an Egypt that was not invading Judah to its own devices. So by marching against the Egyptian army, which was not invading Judah, he was demonstrating his lack of faith in God to preserve Judah. It may also be, if 3) is correct, that he had sinned by entering into a foreign alliance. Both of these were things for which he would have been condemned by the prophets.
2.35.20 ‘After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish by the Euphrates, and Josiah went out against him.’
All that happened now was initially connected by the Chronicler with his restoration of the Temple seventeen years before. The connection is a loose one. The point may well be that his action in going out against Neco contradicted his action in restoring the Temple. The one asserted his trust in God. The other demonstrated lack of trust and political expediency.
We know from the Babylonian Chronicles that Neco’s purpose in moving north was in order to bolster up the Assyrians in Carchemish, although no doubt he also had ideas of empire building. And we also know that he arrived too late, possibly thanks to Josiah’s intervention. So in terms of world affairs Josiah’s intervention may have been a crucial one. But in terms of trusting God it was a fatal error.
2.35.21 ‘But he sent ambassadors to him, saying, “What have I to do with you, you king of Judah? I am not come against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war, and God has commanded me to hurry. Forbear yourself from meddling with God, who is with me, that he do not destroy you.”
When Pharaoh, hurrying to the aid of Assyria, saw the large Judean army in front of him in the plain of Megiddo prepared for battle, he was annoyed. He recognised that it was causing a delay that he could not afford. So he sent ambassadors to seek to wheedle Josiah out of his ‘madness’, pointing out that he had no hostile intentions against Judah. Rather he was at war with Babylon. And God had commanded him to make haste. Thus, he suggested, Josiah should beware of meddling in affairs which were none of his, but were the direct concern of God, lest God destroy him.
It was not uncommon in those days for an enemy to suggest that the opposition’s God was on his side. It was a regular feature of Assyrian strategy (e.g. 2 Kings 18.25). Thus his vague ‘God’ was intended to give that impression to Josiah. But the Chronicler clearly saw it as a warning which should have been heeded. He also was upset at Josiah’s behaviour, probably because he saw it as betraying lack of trust in God.
So, like all the good kings before him, Josiah failed in the end. He also had proved not to be the Coming King Who would rule righteously. That king was yet to come.
2.35.22 ‘Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him, and did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo.’
The Chronicler describes Pharaoh Neco’s words as ‘from the mouth of God’, and he meant the God of Israel. Not that he saw the Pharaoh as a godly man. But he recognised that God can sometimes use a godless man to get over His message (compare John 11.51-52). His view was that if Josiah’s heart had been open to God he would have heeded the warning as from God. But Josiah was dead set on his course, and his mind was closed. Nevertheless, presumably because he thought that Pharaoh would tell his men to make a target of him, Josiah disguised himself before going into battle. To the Chronicler this was further evidence of his lack of faith, and he saw it as putting him on a par with the godless Ahab who had behaved similarly, and came to the same end (18.29). Like Ahab he thought that he could avoid God’s judgment coming on him, and like Ahab he would discover that he was wrong. It was a sad end to a godly reign.
2.35.23 ‘And the archers shot at king Josiah; and the king said to his servants, “Carry me away, for I am sorely wounded.”
In the same way as Ahab Josiah found himself the victim of the archers, but here ‘the archers shot at King Josiah’, whereas in the account concerning Ahab ‘a certain man drew his bow at a venture’ (18.33). The stories are sufficiently dissimilar for them not simply to be duplicates. Here the Chronicler stresses the direct intent of God (the archers did not realise that they were aiming at King Josiah). Josiah’s death was not an accident but the consequence of his refusal to listen to God.
The king then called on his servants to carry him away from the battle because he was sorely wounded. Unlike King Ahab he did not seek to convince his troops that he was still in control of the battle (19.34). It was another failure on his part. Once a man begins the downward slide the slide continues.
2.35.24a ‘So his servants took him out of the chariot, and put him in the second chariot which he had, and brought him to Jerusalem.’
The transfer to ‘the second chariot’ was probably because the first was a war chariot and therefore more restricted. The second was more for transport and had more room in it. Their hope was that they could make him more comfortable. But according to 2 Kings 23.30 he died almost immediately, and they brought his dead body to Jerusalem, which was where he should have stayed in the first place. Had he done so he would still have been alive and well.
2.35.24b ‘And he died, and was buried in the sepulchres of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.’
‘And he died’ is a general statement. It is not specific as to when he died. The whole sentence was probably copied from his source verbatim except that ‘Josiah’ was changed to ‘he’ to maintain continuity (compare 21.1; 32.33; 33.20). Note the contrast with ‘he slept with his fathers’ when speaking of kings who did not die through violence.. Unusually for the Chronicler this death note comes before the notice concerning further sources for his reign (verses 26-27). But that was probably because the Chronicler did not want the story interrupted, because he wanted to bring home Josiah’s failure and its consequences. An interruption to state his sources would have interfered with the poignancy of the description. Instead he brought out vividly that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23).
But with his death came reinstatement in the Chronicler’s eyes. ‘He was buried in the sepulchres of his fathers’ like all good kings were. He was honoured in his death. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him. They had cause to mourn. His death would soon be followed by Jerusalem’s loss of independence. The good days were over, just as God had warned.
Note On The Death Of Josiah.
2 Kings 23.30 tells us that ‘Pharaoh Neco slew him at Megiddo when he saw him, and his servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo, and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb.’ Thus it is clear that he died on or immediately after leaving the battlefield, possibly after he had been placed in the second chariot. Verse 24b is thus to be seen as an added note, probably taken verbatim from his source and not as indicating when he died.
End of note.
2.35.25 ‘And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah. And all the singing men and singing women spoke of Josiah in their laments to this day, and they made them an ordinance in Israel, and, behold, they are written in the laments.’
The mourning over his death was widespread and long. Jeremiah the prophet lamented his death. The singing men and women also lamented his death, and composed laments in his memory which were sung ‘to this day’. (As it is unlikely that they were sung by the singing men and women after the exile this indicates that the Chronicler was calling on source material written before the exile). And those laments were made ‘an ordinance in Israel’, and at the time of the Chronicler’s source they were ‘written in the laments’. Sadly they appear to have been lost during the exile. This emphasis on the great laments which followed Josiah’s death stress how much he was loved and how much he would be missed. But most probably did not appreciate that from this time on things would only get worse and worse.
2.35.26-27 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and his good deeds, according to what is written in the law of YHWH, and his acts, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah.’
Special mention is made, in speaking of ‘his acts’ of the good deeds he had performed with regard to what was written in the Law of YHWH. It was he who had reintroduced the things written in that Law to the nation. And this, together with others of his acts, were written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah, which was probably the official court history.
The unusual positioning of this statement about ‘the rest of the acts’ and their sources (which up to now has always been prior to the death notice) is best explained by the way in which the Chronicler wanted to link the death of Josiah with what had gone before (see above).
The Last Days Of Judah (36.1-21).
The Chronicler sees the last days of Judah almost as a postscript to the reign of Josiah. The reigns of the four kings from the death of Josiah to the exile are given in abbreviated form, revealing how they took Judah back to the days of rampant idolatry, and ignored the words of various prophets. They have the common themes of the despoliation of Judah and/or of the Temple, and that each reign ends in exile for the king. The wrath of God lies heavily on Judah. Jehoahaz ends up in Egypt. Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah end up in Babylon. It is a portent of what is to follow, the exile of many leading citizens of Judah into exile.
It is perhaps to be seen as significant that not one of the kings is described as ‘dying’. Not one of them reigns to the end. Each has his reign brought to an abrupt end while he is still alive. We know that Jehoahaz did die in Egypt (2 Kings 23.32). Jehoiakim certainly died around the time that Jehoiachin became king. But the Chronicler does not mention it, but depicts him as ‘on the way to Babylon’. He wants us to recognise that not one of these kings was substantial. Indeed, the Chronicler’s aim is to get the reigns of these kings out of the way as quickly as possible, in order to lead up to Cyrus’ edict giving the opportunity for the people to return to the land. Thus the book ends with a few years of disastrous kingship followed by the dawning of a new hope, the return to the land of God’s people.
The Short Reign Of Jehoahaz (36.1-4).
After the death of Josiah ‘the people of the land’ made his son Jehoahaz king in Jerusalem in the place of his father, but his reign was only to be a short one. Egypt had arrived too late to help Assyria, but itself took possession of the coastal plain, Syria and the area around Carchemish, much of the land south of the Euphrates.. The Babylonians, having driven of the Egyptian-Assyrian coalition from Haran, were busy in the Armenian mountains consolidating their position. In Syria and Palestine Egypt were predominant. Judah had no option but to submit. Jehoahaz was deposed and carried off to Riblah where he was put in bonds and from where he was sent as a prisoner and hostage into Egypt (2 Kings 23.33). The Pharaoh Neco then exacted a heavy fine from Judah, and set Jehoahaz’ brother Eliakim (renamed Jehoiakim) on the throne in his place. It was his revenge for Josiah’s attempt to hinder his movements, and ensured that the one who now ruled Judah was his appointee.
Note that in A the people of the land TOOK Jehoahaz and made him king, and in the parallel Neco TOOK him and carried him to Egypt. In B Jehoahaz was made king, and in the parallel Eliakim (Jehoiakim) was made king. Centrally in C we learn of the king of Egypt’s actions against Judah.
2.36.1 ‘Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and made him king instead of his father in Jerusalem.’
The death of Josiah meant that another king had to be chosen and the people of the land again stepped in and made Jehoahaz, Josiah’s third son, king in his place. This was probably because they saw him as the most suitable of Josiah’s sons to be king in the face of the anticipated threat from Egypt, or possibly simply as anti-Egypt. They did not want to become subject to Egypt. The fact that they stepped in suggests that the Jerusalem hierarchy may have been in disagreement with them, possibly preferring Eliakim, Josiah’s second son, who was more malleable, and possibly favoured Egypt. But all this is surmise based on what followed
His task was no enviable one. Even whilst he sought to establish his position Egypt had continued its march towards Carchemish where it established itself, but was unsuccessful in aiding the defeated Assyrians to take back Haran. It nevertheless gained control of Syrian and Palestine. Thus it would be Jehoahaz’ responsibility to deal with him.
2.36.2 ‘Joahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem.’
Joahaz is a shortened form of Jehoahaz, which was a throne name. His personal name was Shallum (1 Chronicles 3.15). He was twenty three years old when he began to reign, but his reign was only to last for three months, long enough for Egypt to establish its position at Carchemish and Riblah. Yet 2 Kings tells us that even in that short time he introduced idolatry back into Judah.
2.36.3 ‘And the king of Egypt deposed him at Jerusalem, and fined the land a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold.’
The king of Egypt then deposed him at Jerusalem and carried him off to Riblah, where he put him in bonds before sending him as a hostage to Egypt. At the same time he exacted from Judah a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. This money was exacted from the people of the land. Their appointee had failed. The fine was not a large one compared with that exacted by the Assyrians on Hezekiah (2 Kings 18.14) and thus at this stage the Temple treasures did not have to be called on. That would come later.
2.36.4 ‘And the king of Egypt made Eliakim his brother king over Judah and Jerusalem, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. And Neco took Joahaz his brother, and carried him to Egypt.’
There is a deliberate contrast between the fact that the people of the land made Jehoahaz king, whilst it was the Pharaoh who made Eliakim king, changing his name to Jehoiakim, thus emphasising that Jehoiakim was the Pharaoh’s man. This put Jehoiakim under personal responsibility to Pharaoh. Meanwhile he had taken Jehoahaz to Egypt, no doubt as a hostage.
The Reign Of Jehoiakim (36.5-8).
Jehoiakim’s eleven year reign is dealt with summarily. All that the Chronicler was interested in was the fact that he did evil in the sight of YHWH. In other words he reintroduced rampant idolatry into Judah. We have here a reminder of how superficial Josiah’s reforms had been in Judah. Apart from Jeremiah and his associates there appears to have been no opposition to the change, apart from attempts by certain courtiers to protect Jeremiah. Judah gladly went back to idolatry.
Meanwhile things had been moving rapidly. Within a few short years in 605 BC the Egyptians were driven out of Carchemish by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, retreating on Hamath where they were again pulverised. But then Nebuchadnezzar had to return to Babylon on the death if his father. It was not for long. In around 604 BC he returned, subdued Ashkelon who had refused to submit, and fought his way down to the borders of Egypt, bringing about Jehoiakim’s submission on the way, and taking important hostages (including Daniel) to Babylon.
But an indecisive battle on the borders of Egypt in 601 BC (which both probably claimed as a victory) meant that Nebuchadnezzar had to withdraw and lick his wounds. Jehoiakim took the opportunity of rebelling against Babylon, no doubt expecting support from Egypt. But it was a huge mistake. Probably as a consequence of Nebuchadnezzar’s influence Judah was invaded from all sides (2 Kings 24.2), and in 598 BC Nebuchadnezzar himself appeared, picking off the towns of Judah one by one. It is possible that Jehoiakim went to meet him, to parley with him, but was immediately put in chains ready to be carried off to Babylon. It seems, however, that before this could happen he died under unusual circumstances, for according to Josephus his body was flung outside the city wall as prophesied by Jeremiah 22.18 (‘with the burial of an ass he will be buried, dragged and cast forth before the gates of Jerusalem’).
Others see his binding as having taken place in an initial captivity in 605 BC at the time of the deportation of Daniel and other notables, at which point vessels from the Temple were also carried off. Having assured Nebuchadnezzar of his loyalty he was then allowed to continue his kingship. But there is no independent evidence for such a suggestion.
Note that in A he began to reign and did evil in the sight of YHWH, and in the parallel his acts and abominations are mentioned. In B he was chained in order to be carried off to Babylon, and in the parallel Temple vessels were carried off to Babylon.
2.36.5 ‘Jehoiakim was twenty five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem, and he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH his God.’
Jehoiakim was Jehoahaz’ elder brother (1 Chronicles 3.15-16: Johanan probably died young). He was twenty five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for eleven years from 609 BC to 598/7 BC. Initially he was Egypt’s vassal, but transferred his allegiance to Babylon on their successful invasion of Palestine. He followed his brother in encouraging idolatry.
‘He did what was evil in the eyes of YHWH his God.’ The addition of ‘his God’ to this stereotyped sentence is rare. It is not found of Jehoiakim in 2 Kings. ‘In the eyes of YHWH his God’ is also used in 2 Chronicles (but not in 2 Kings) of Asa (14.2) and Zedekiah (36.12). But compare of Ahaz in 2 Kings 16.2 (but not in Chronicles). This should warn us against being too specific about the Chronicler copying 2 Kings too closely. Here it is as though the Chronicler is saying ‘YHWH is his God whether he likes it or not, because he is a son of David’.
2.36.6 ‘Against him came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and bound him in fetters, to carry him to Babylon.’
When he rebelled, possibly at the instigation of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar descended on Judah and ‘bound him in fetters to carry him to Babylon.’ The strange way in which this was worded suggests that he was in fact never taken there, and this would tie in with the fact that Jeremiah 22.18 suggests that his body was humiliated (‘with the burial of an ass he will be buried, dragged and cast forth before the gates of Jerusalem’). He may have gone to meet Nebuchadnezzar, and been put in chains, before dying in some way before he could be taken to Babylon. He may have committed suicide in order to escape disgrace, or he may have been assassinated. But it appears that his body was then dragged up to the walls of Jerusalem, and left to putrefy there as a warning to Jehoiachin (Jeremiah 22.18). The Chronicler may have worded it in this way in order to fit in with his theme of exile for the last four kings of Judah.
Alternately this may be referring to something that happened to him in 605 BC when Nebuchadnezzar did carry off to Babylon a number of notable aristocrats including Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar may have intended to take him to Babylon only to change his mind and allow him to continue as king. But there is no independent evidence for such an idea. Nor is there evidence that Nebuchadnezzar came up against Jerusalem at this time.
2.36.7 ‘Nebuchadnezzar also carried (some) of the vessels of the house of YHWH to Babylon, and put them in his temple at Babylon.’
These may have been vessels which Jehoiakim had taken out with him in order to parley for Jerusalem’s safety, or may simply be referring to the vessels mentioned in verse 10. They may be mentioned here in order to underline the ‘carrying off to Babylon’ which had been destined to be Jehoiakim’s fate. Or the reference may be to Temple vessels taken to Babylon in 605 BC. There is an indication in this that the holy things of YHWH were slowly being taken to Babylon, where the people themselves were destined to go as YHWH had informed both Hezekiah (Isaiah 39.5) and Josiah (34.24, 28).
2.36.8 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, and his abominations which he did, and what was found in him, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah, and Jehoiachin his son reigned instead of him.’
The brief description of his life closes with the usual reference to ‘other acts’ and sources. Especially underlined are his ‘abominations’ (his idolatrous activities) and ‘what was found in him’, including his self-gratifying building projects utilising forced labour at a time when Judah was in poverty (Jeremiah 22.13-17) and his shedding of innocent blood (2 Kings 24.4). His activities had not escaped the eye of YHWH.
The Short Reign Of Jehoiachin (36.9-10).
The death of his father, possibly with the siege of Jerusalem just commencing, put Jehoiachin in an impossible position. And yet even this did not turn his thoughts towards YHWH. Instead he continued in the idolatrous ways of his father. But Jerusalem was in no position to resist with Jehoiakim dead, and in the end all that Jehoiachin could do was surrender, having negotiated for three months and ten days.
2.36.9 ‘Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three moon periods and ten days in Jerusalem, and he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH.’
2 Kings 24.8 says that Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king. Thus the eight years here may indicate that at the age of eight Jehoiachin was made co-regent by his father Jehoiakim in order to ensure that he succeeded to the throne if anything happened to Jehoiakim. The alternative is to see a copying error, but the main versions also have eight years old.
The ‘three moon periods and ten days’ suggests that he was using another source than 2 Kings, but ‘ten’ is often used to mean ‘a number of’. Thus it may signify ‘a little over a three moon period’. There is, however, no reason why the Chronicler should invent such a number. The shortness of his reign suggests that he was negotiating surrender with Nebuchadnezzar, something made possible by the death of his father.
But even this short period gave him time to reveal his true colours. He continued in his father’s idolatry, rather than turning to YHWH.
2.36.10 ‘And at the return of the year king Nebuchadnezzar sent, and brought him to Babylon, with the goodly vessels of the house of YHWH, and made Zedekiah his uncle king over Judah and Jerusalem.’
For ‘the return of the year’ compare 2 Samuel 11.1. It was after the rainy season in the spring, and was ‘the time when kings go forth to battle’. There is no suggestion here that Jerusalem was under siege but that is stated in 2 Kings 24.10. It appears there that the siege had begun but that Jehoiachin waited for the arrival of Nebuchadnezzar himself before surrendering.
Jehoiachin was then taken off to Babylon along with considerable spoils from the Temple. Although the Chronicler does not say so he was accompanied by many captives, including the queen mother. We have external evidence of the rations that his household received there from the Babylonians, and later he would be restored to an honourable position in Babylon. He was still seen as ‘King of Judah’. Nebuchadnezzar replaced him on the throne by his uncle Zedekiah (Mattaniah).
The Babylonian Chronicle records this as follows; ‘in the seventh year, the moon period Kislev, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, and encamped against the city of Judah, and on the second day of the moon period of Adar (16th March 597 BC) he seized the city and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own choice, received its heavy tribute, and sent them to Babylon.’
The Reign Of Zedekiah (36.11-21).
Zedekiah’s real name was Mattaniah. Zedekiah was the throne name give to him by Nebuchadnezzar who made him swear by God to be loyal. He was a son of Josiah, and uncle to Jechoniah. If he was the Zedekiah mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3.15 the names there were not from eldest to youngest, for he was younger than Jehoahaz (Shallum) by 9 years. The task committed to him would have defeated far cleverer men than he. Jerusalem had been stripped of almost all its experienced leaders, who were now in Babylon, and most of those who remained were strongly pro-Egyptian and anti-Babylonian. They were men of small minds. His only hope would have been to throw in his lot with Jeremiah and commit himself to YHWH. But he vacillated with Jeremiah, and threw in his lot with idolatry. There could be only one consequence. The destruction of Jerusalem and exile, having first been blinded by Nebuchadnezzar.
Note that in A Zedekiah reigned in Jerusalem, and in the parallel what was left of the royal court were servants to Nebuchadnezzar and his sons. In B Zedekiah did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and in the parallel Jerusalem experienced the wrath of YHWH. In C Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon, and in the parallel the king of the Chaldeans (Babylon) put down the rebellion. Centrally in D the whole nation followed after idolatry and polluted the House of YHWH, and in the parallel they mocked those sent to warn them and in the end came under the wrath of YHWH.
2.36.11 ‘Zedekiah was twenty one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem.’
Zedekiah was twenty one years old when he began to reign. If Zedekiah (Mattaniah) was the son of Josiah, as is stated by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1.3; 37.1), he must have been the youngest, for Shallum (Jehoahaz) had been twenty three when he began to reign eleven years previously. If he was the Zedekiah mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3.15 he could not thus strictly be the third son. He may, however, have been a younger son not mentioned in the genealogy, who took the name of a deceased elder brother on ascending the throne. Zedekiah appears to have been a family name, for Jehoiachin gave it to his son who could only have been a young child at the time of Zedekiah’s succession. His reign lasted for eleven tumultuous years.
2.36.12 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH his God. He did not humble before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of YHWH.’
Like Jehoiakim he did what was evil ‘in the eyes of YHWH his God’. Ruling as a son of David he should have acknowledged YHWH as his God, but he did not. Instead he followed after idols. And it was not in his case that he was not given a choice. The mouth of YHWH had spoken to him through Jeremiah, but he had refused to humble himself and repent. God’s offer had fallen on deaf ears. There is a reminder in this that if he had repented and sought YHWH the tragedy that befell him would not have occurred.
2.36.13 ‘And he also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. But he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart against turning to YHWH, the God of Israel.’
As a consequence of his rebelling against YHWH he also rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar in direct disobedience to Jeremiah’s (and YHWH’s) words. And this was made worse by the fact that he had sworn allegiance to him in God’s Name. (It was Nebuchadnezzar’s custom to make kings swear fealty in the names of their gods). But all this occurred because he ‘stiffened his neck’ and ‘hardened his heart’ which prevented him from turning to the God of Israel. The stiff neck of unyieldedness, and the hard heart of obstinacy are regularly the factors that stop men from obeying God. God seeks those who are of a humble and contrite heart, and of a contrite spirit.
2.36.14 ‘Moreover all the chiefs of the priests, and the people, trespassed very greatly after all the abominations of the nations; and they polluted the house of YHWH which he had hallowed in Jerusalem.’
He was not alone in his obstinacy and unyieldedness. All the chief priests and the vast majority of the people followed in his footsteps and trespassed grievously against God y following the many gods of the nations, and even introduced them into the House of YHWH which He had hallowed in Jerusalem, polluting it again.
God had, of course hallowed it a number of times, under Solomon, under Ahaz, under Jehoiada, under Hezekiah, under Josiah, but the people had again and again pollute it. But this time it was for the last time. God was calling time. The House would be emptied of all its treasures, and they would all go to Babylon. The people had wanted to give what was in it to idols, so to idols it would go. There is nothing more devastating than when God calls time on those who have refused to listen to Him.
2.36.15 ‘And YHWH, the God of their fathers, sent to them by his messengers, rising up early and sending, because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place,’
It was not that God had not tried. YHWH the God of their fathers had sent messengers to them regularly. He had ‘risen up early and sent messengers to them’ an indication of His urgency, and none had been more urgent than Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and Uriah the son of Shemaiah whom Jehoiakim had martyred (Jeremiah 26.20-23). And He had done it because He had had compassion on His people and on His dwellingplace. God did not desire that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But His love would not prevent His judgment coming on them.
2.36.16 ‘But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets, until the wrath of YHWH arose against his people, till there was no remedy.’
Their response had been to mock the messengers of God and despise God’s word through them, and to scoff at the prophets, and in the end it had caused His wrath to arise against His people to such an extent that there was no quenching it. God is very patient but there is an end even to His patience.
2.36.17 ‘Therefore he brought on them the king of the Chaldeans, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or hoary-headed. He gave them all into his hand.’
And this was why Nebuchadnezzar came on them. He had been brought by God. And Nebuchadnezzar had slain the young men with the sword in the very Temple in which they had trusted, and had had no compassion on young men and virgins, on old men or the hoary headed. He had treated young and old alike, And it was YHWH Who had given them all into his hand.
2.36.18 ‘And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of YHWH, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon.’
And all the things which they had loved and treasured in the House of God, which they had been convinced God would protect and never allow to be seized, all, both great and small, had been taken to Babylon. And along with them the treasures of the kings and the princes, all had been taken to Babylon. All that they had lived for was in Babylon.
2.36.19 ‘And they burnt the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its goodly vessels.’
And not only that, they had burnt down the House of God, and they had broken down the walls of the Holy City which they had thought inviolate. And they had burnt all the palaces in Jerusalem with fire, and had destroyed all their contents. They had lost everything.,
2.36.20 ‘And those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, and they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia.’
And those, however aristocratic, who had managed to survive the slaughter and the destruction had also been carried off to Babylon, and had become servants to him and his sons (Jeremiah 27.7). They had been humiliated and had become virtual slaves.
But even here there was mercy. All this had happened to them, but there was a time limit. It had been ‘until the reign of the Kingdom of Persia’, the reign that would bring them hope once again.
2.36.21 ‘To fulfil the word of YHWH by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. For as long as it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.’
For God had not forgotten His people. All this had happened in order to fulfil the word of YHWH by the mouth of Jeremiah, which had indicated that they would go into exile and that that exile would last seventy years (25.11-12; 29.10). During that time the land would enjoy the Sabbaths that it should have had if the people had been obedient. This referred to the fact that every seventh year should have been a Sabbath for the land during which it would not be ploughed, or sown or reaped (Leviticus 25.2-8), and Leviticus 26.34-35, 43 had made clear that if that did not happen God would require it of them by exiling them whilst the land did enjoy its Sabbaths.
These enigmatic words raise a number of questions:
What Period Is Covered By The Seventy Years?
The Chronicler seemingly saw them as ending when the reign of the King of Persia over Babylon began, thus in 539 BC, or possibly when the decree mentioned below was made, in 538 BC. Or even possibly when the first returnees from exile finally reached the land. This could take us back to 609 BC or thereabouts. 609 BC was when Jehohaz was exiled, and may help to explain the Chronicler’s emphasis on exile for all the final kings. Thus seventy years of exile beginning in 609 BC. In other words he may have seen the death of Josiah as the commencement of the seventy years. The only problem with this is that the land did not commence enjoying its Sabbaths until after 587 BC when Jerusalem was destroyed, or indeed some time after that because a considerable number of the poor, those who had been left in the land by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25.12, 22) still continued to till the land. And the same applies if we see him as commencing the period from 605 BC, when Daniel and many others were exiled. The land did not enjoy Sabbaths from that date. We could, of course, argue that the seventy years was not intended to be taken literally but meant a divinely perfect period of time of approximately that time, thus 587 BC to 538 BC. Alternately we could say that the enjoyment of Sabbaths was not meant literally, but rather referred to the land not being ruled by Judah/Israel and extensively cultivated. But even that would not remove the problem.
Others see it as running from 586 BC to 516 BC when the Temple was rebuilt. This would find support from Zechariah 1.12-17. But again we have the problem that for twenty years of that period (i.e. after the exiles had returned) the land did not enjoy its Sabbaths. It was not desolate for seventy years. We should bear in mind that Daniel was seeking to solve the problem when God turned his mind to the seventy sevens. He apparently saw the seventy years as possibly ending when the Sanctuary was rebuilt (Daniel 9.17). It was then that he was told not to look backwards but to look forward.
What Period Of 490 Years (7 x 70 Sabbaths) Is In Mind Looking Backwards?
490 years backwards from 538 BC is 1008 BC, roughly the period of the monarchy, the period which the Chronicler has dealt with in detail (thus roughly from 1008 BC to 538 BC). We are not, however, in a position to give exact dates for the commencement of the monarchy. Certainly the time when YHWH ceased directly to rule Israel would provide a good starting point (1 Samuel 8.7), or the commencement of David’s reign when ‘the Davidic monarchy’ began. But why should either of those dates be seen as the date when the land ceased to enjoy its Sabbaths? The truth is that we simply do not have enough accurate information on which to base a judgment.
The Decree Of Cyrus (36.22-23).
It would appear from this that the Chronicler saw this as the end of the seventy years, as the time when the land would begin to be cultivated again. Throughout 1 & 2 Chronicles he has depicted the life-span of the Davidic house, that house which was eventually to produce the Coming King whose kingdom would last for ever (1 Chronicles 17.14). During that period there had been ‘Messianic hopes’ such as especially Hezekiah, but none had come to fruition. Thus his eyes were still on the future. But it would all depend on Israel being firmly back in the land and fully established. Only then could the Temple be rebuilt and the Messianic king arise. Thus his first concern was that Israel would return to the land from all parts to which they had been dispersed. That is why when he records Cyrus’ decree he stops it where he does (contrast Ezra 1). He finishes with the call, “Whoever there is among you of all his people, YHWH his God be with him, and let him go up.” It was an appeal to all Israel to return. This was the next stage in the divine plan.
2.36.22 ‘Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order that the word of YHWH by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, YHWH stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,’
The Chronicler seemingly saw the decree of Cyrus as bringing to a close the seventy years. The decree was made ‘in order that the word of YHWH by the mouth of Jeremiah (mentioned above) might be accomplished.’ And just as he had stirred up Nebuchadnezzar to bring about the destruction of Jerusalem, so now he was stirring up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to do His bidding. As a consequence Cyrus made a proclamation throughout his empire, and put it in writing, to say that Israel could return to their land.
The first year of Cyrus king of Persia undoubtedly refers to his first year as ruler of Babylon. Form then on Cyrus saw himself as King of Babylon. It was the conquest of Babylon that established his empire. With that conquest all ‘local’ opposition had ceased.
2.36.23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth has YHWH, the God of heaven, given me; and he has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, YHWH his God be with him, and let him go up.”
The words of the decree were almost certainly put together by a Jewish adviser. What Cyrus said about YHWH here he would say about many gods of many nations, for he was a great believer in allowing nations to serve their own gods, as long as they prayed and offered sacrifices for him and his sons, and he contributed to the restoration of many Temples. Thus we would be unwise to see this as a genuine declaration of faith in YHWH. He was YHWH’s anointed only in the fact that he was God’s chosen instrument for the restoration of His people and the building of His Temple (Isaiah 44.18-45.1).
Thus he now declared his purpose to re-establish the Temple in Jerusalem and would make provision for the purpose. But in order for it to be accomplished it was necessary for YHWH’s people to return to the land. Thus he calls on them to go up to their land in the strength of YHWH in order to rebuild the Temple. A fuller version of the decree is found in Ezra 1.1-4.
But the Chronicler deliberately cuts the decree short in order to make it a call to the people of Israel wherever they may be to GO UP. The Temple had been rebuilt but now he wants Israelites everywhere to return to their land. This may be seen as one of the main reasons why he has written his book. It was in order that it might be circulated among Israelite communities as a call to return to the land. ‘Whoever there is among you of all his people, YHWH his God be with him, and let him GO UP.’ And there is no reason to doubt that many did, joining the returnees from Babylon.
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