You might say that after I finished reading the Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy) my brain got stuck on neutral. I kept reading and searching for the same themes and motifs which I saw there to be carried on consistently. Why would I do that? The “Torah”, the “Law” is just that, it is – with particular emphasis on Deuteronomy – the Covenant Charter of Israel.
God entered a Covenantal relationship with Israel – like a marriage – which outlined the blessings for covenant faithfulness and the curses for infidelity. I should not be looking for more Covenant stipulations or more Covenant making. The Covenant was made at Zion and confirmed before God and his partner Israel entered routine life together – the land.
The rest of the story now explores that life together, and the progression (or I should say, the digression) of that life together. The theme then throughout Samuel and Kings (and presumably Chronicles also) is this: how faithful is Israel being to the Covenant ratified with God in the Torah? What we’ve discovered – and indeed anticipated – is that Israel has consistently prostituted herself to other “gods”.
The latter half of 2 Kings brings us full circle back to the Torah – particularly Deuteronomy 27. At the end of the Torah blessings are promised by God on the condition that Israel will be faithful to the Covenant – the primary blessing being that they will remain in the land which actually means (and take note because this is often overlooked) they will remain in the presence of God. As I said before, the “land” equals “divine presence”. It was not about – indeed never about – the land. I was about being a separate or holy people ruled by God.
This is why when Israel finally filled up the wrath of God by their rebellion, the Scriptures word it this way:
So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. – 2 Kings 17:18 (see also: 23:17, 24:4 and 24:20)
Now, for your study purposes, while we are in 2 Kings 17 you might want to make a note in the margins of your Bible cross-referencing 2 Kings 17:7-23 with Deuteronomy 27:15 ff. There is actually a great irony in Israel’s demise. Assyria made Israel into a subject state so that Israel could have some autonomy but was still a servant state to Assyria. For whatever reason Israel rebelled against Assyria and in order to do this they sent envoys to Osorkon, Egypt’s Pharaoh. Now think about this. Had Egypt successfully intervened and saved Israel from Assyria, all that would have meant was the Israel would then be subject to Egypt instead of Assyria. Do you see the irony? God delivered Israel from Egypt and made a covenant with them. Israel broken the covenant God made with them and were willing to return to Egyptian servitude. Consequentially God erased them from the land. Done.
Meanwhile over in Judah things were beginning to look up. Hezekiah was a repentative king who ruled while Isaiah was Judah’s best known prophet. The king of Assyrian laid siege to Jerusalem (after sending Israel into exile) and taunted Hezekiah by saying things like:
Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand? – 2 Kings 18:35
But the Lord did intervene because of Hezekiah and Isaiah’s intercession, the Assyria never conquored Judah. But then Hezekiah gets real sick and the word of the Lord comes to Hezekiah through Isaiah that Hezekiah is going to die of his sickness. Hezekiah prays and “before Isaiah had left the middle court yard”, God changed his mind and bestowed to Hezekiah another 15 years. This is an unfortunate turn of events. Why? Because when Hezekiah dies his son Manasseh takes the thrown at the young age of only twelve years old. Manasseh, as it turns out, was the worse king in Judah’s history. So much so that no matter of repentance, restoration or covenant renewal was enough for God. The Lord simply refused to forgive Judah because of the sins of Manasseh! Had Hezekiah died when he was sick, Manasseh would never have been born.
After Manasseh came another boy king, Josiah (between them was Amon who reigned for two years). Josiah was only eight years old when he began to reign and in stark contrast to Manasseh, Josiah was the most faithful king to ever sit on the throne of David. Bar none!
Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. – 2 Kings 23:25
Reading Josiah’s reform was emotive enough to spark reform in my own life! It is simply a beautiful reversal of the evils done by Manasseh. This story really needs to be read and felt in contrast. I would suggest that you get together and read 2 Kings 21:1-16 and then 2 Kings 22-23:25.
Sadly Josiah’s reform was not enough to turn the Lord’s wrath way from Judah. Manasseh’s evils were simply too great:
Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn away from the heart of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger. So the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, ‘there shall my name be.'” – 2 Kings 23:26-27
Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood, for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive. – 2 Kings 24:3-4
And thus the people of God fall under the curse of exile (which, remember, means “death” and separation from the presence of God) and out side of the Covenant of God.
What this story shows us is that the very people God called apart to be a new humanity by which and through which all the peoples of the earth would be blessed, these same people proved to be in the same boat as the rest of humanity, and in fact were worse! And here read “Adam” all over again. We have another people exiled from another land (this time Palestine, like Eden) and into another curse (out of the land), and, you’ll recall, this was to signify death (Deuteronomy 30:19). In other words, we have Genesis 3 reenacted all over again.
How was God to remain faithful to his Covenant promise made with Abraham if the people of the Covenant were to be unfaithful? God would need a “true and faithful Israelite” through whom the Covenant promises could be fulfilled. But that is getting ahead of our story. For now we start back were we began: Chronicles 1:1 opens up in the beginning, with this: