A Nation Divided
In this section you will read about a long series of kings in both Israel and Judah. You will also read the words of the prophets who interacted with those kings, as well as prophets who wrote at a later date. Here is a chart listing kings and prophets so you can keep them straight.
Week 49 - Read 1 Kings 5-9; 2 Chronicles 2-8
Key Concepts: the two main concepts in these passages are that Solomon is the Temple builder, but that the Temple will not save God’s people unless they continue to align themselves with God and God’s Law.
Stories: The story of Solomon continues in both of these sets of readings. In 1 Kings we read about the preparations for building the Temple, the actual building of the Temple (including descriptions of all of its elaborate components), the dedication of the Temple and a vision given to Solomon afterwards. In 2 Chronicles we follow the same pattern; Solomon deciding to build the Temple, the many details of the building itself, the bringing of the Ark into the Temple, the dedication of the Temple (including Solomon’s address to the people and his prayer), the consecration of the Temple, and then a listing of the other building projects which occurred under Solomon.
Brief Summary: The story of God’s people moves forward with the building of the Temple. As a recap we remember that in the wilderness Moses was given instructions as to the building of the Tent of Meeting. This was to be the place where God’s people encountered God and offered the appropriate sacrifices. Once the people settled in the land it seemed appropriate to move from a portable shrine to a permanent one. Though David appears to have expressed a desire to build it, he is denied the opportunity which is given to his son Solomon.
One of the points we should not miss in this discussion of the Temple is its importance in consolidating the power of the king. Prior to this time there were other sacrificial sites scattered throughout the land. These sites were associated with everyone from Abraham to Jacob. Bethel was one of the primary locations. As long as these locations existed then the people of God could operate in a somewhat religiously independent manner. This would undermine the power of the king. So by consolidating both political and religious operations in Jerusalem (the city of the King), Solomon could then finally exert control over all of the tribes.
A second point we ought not to miss concerns the conflicting claims surrounding who was “recruited” or enslaved to build not only the Temple but also all of Solomon’s other building projects. On the one hand there are several places in which it is claimed that only non-Israelites are conscripted (2 Chronicles 2:17, 8:7; 1 Kings 9:20-21). This would be appropriate according to earlier statements concerning the final disposition of these non-Israelite peoples. On the other hand there are indications that Solomon included Israelites in the conscription as well (1 Kings 5:13 ff). This view will be confirmed in chapter 12 when the men of Israel (the northern tribes) complain to Solomon’s son that he needs to back off of the cruel treatment that the people suffered under his father. In a sense, by conscripting Israelites for this service, Solomon is sowing the seeds of national destruction.
A third point we ought to be aware of is the powerful reminder from Solomon’s prayer that the fate of the people is not totally bound up in the Temple. It is bound up in their faithfulness. Just as faithfulness in the wilderness mattered it will continue to matter even with the Temple and all of its sacrifices being present. Included in this prayer is foreshadowing that the people will indeed turn away from God and be carried into captivity. Thus the Temple is to never be seen as a talisman that can be used to prevent disaster.
1. What stands out for you in the description of the Temple and its components?
2. At this point in the story what is your take on Solomon?
3. How do you relate the construction of the Temple to the construction of your church?
Week 50 – Read Psalms 134, 136, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150
Key Concepts: The key concepts here are that the Psalms are a complex mix of genres which were composed over an extended period of time.
Psalm Themes: As we reach the end of the fifth book of Psalms we find ourselves, appropriately enough, in a section of Psalms of praise. This allows the reader to end on a high note with the word Hallelujah being front and center in Psalm 150.
Psalm 134 – this is a very short Psalm which is a call to the priests to come and bless God in the Temple, followed by a blessing of the congregation.
Psalm 136 – What we find in this Psalm is an ode of praise to God for God’s liberating work in the wilderness. The recurring phrase is “his steadfast love endures forever.” The Psalm begins with a retelling of the creation story (showing God’s love), followed by God’s leading the people out of Egypt (showing God’s love), defeating powerful kings (showing God’s love) and then remembering Israel when times are tough (showing God’s love).
Psalm 146 – this Psalm is another Psalm of praise to God. It praises God for caring for the least in society; the poor, the widow, the hungry, the oppressed, the blind and the orphan. At the same time God drives the wicked away.
Psalm 147 – this is a Psalm of praise to God for God’s care over Jerusalem. This Psalm is evidently composed at a time of great peace and prosperity. God provides everything that the nation needs from peace, to wheat, to wool and water. It also includes praise for God’s providential care of creation as well.
Psalm 148 – this is a Psalm calling on all of creation to praise God. From mountains, to hills, to beasts and cattle, to all nations and people; everyone and everything is to praise the Lord. This Psalm is a powerful reminder that the earth is not seen as an inanimate object but it is God’s good creation.
And as God’s good creation it has an obligation to praise its creator and sustainer. In addition the people are to praise God because God has given them power (as represented by the term, horn).
Psalm 149 – we again find ourselves with a Psalm of praise to God and to God’s king. The people are to use everything at their disposal to praise God. They are to use timbrel and lyre. They are to dance and sing for joy. Although, one of the things for which they are to giving praise is that God has given the king the ability to “wreak vengeance on the nations and chastisement on the peoples; to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron.” We can sense that this Psalm is written in a time of the ascendency of the nation.
Psalm 150 – This is the last Psalm in the book of Psalms (though there are still a few we will examine in later articles). It is appropriately enough a Psalm of praise. It closely resembles Psalm 148 in that it is a call to praise God 1) for all of God’s mighty deeds, 2) to praise God with trumpet, lute, harp, strings, pipe and with loud clashing cymbas 3) to encourage everything that breaths (humans and animals) to praise God. In other words, we are to use instrumental as well as vocal music to praise God because God is worthy of our adoration. As noted above the word for praise here is hallelujah.
1. Why do you think it is appropriate to end the Psalms with a word of praise?
2. How do these Psalms fit the moment in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles in which we find ourselves?
3. What gifts from God would you list as those for which you would give thanks?
Week 51 – Read 1 Kings 10-14; 2 Chronicles 9-12
Key Concepts: the focus of these chapters is on the negative consequences of unfaithfulness to God caused by the forgetfulness of the leaders.
Stories: in 1 Kings we begin with the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon (and an exchange of gifts), an accounting of Solomon’s wealth, Solomon’s wives leading him astray to worship other gods, God’s condemnation of Solomon, God raising up adversaries against Solomon, the rise of Jeroboam, Solomon’s death and the beginning of the reign of his son Rehoboam, Rehoboam’s poor choices, the division of the kingdom, Jeroboam’s political decision which cost him the favor of God, a strange story about two prophets, the death of one of Jeroboam’s sons, Jeroboam’s death and the coming to the throne of his son Nadab, Judah’s evil, the conquest of Judah by Egypt and the civil war between Israel and Judah. 2 Chronicles follows the same basic path but does not mention Solomon’s apostasy and tries to spin the stories so Judah comes off in a better light than that shown in Kings.
Brief Summary: The stories in this section of the scriptures show one of the great turning points in the history of God’s people. The kingdom had been united for about seventy years. Evidently this was not enough time for the various tribal groups to see themselves as one people. The initial melding of the tribes occurred around the charismatic figure of David. It was held together by the power exerted by Solomon. Unfortunately Solomon also sowed the seeds of destruction by conscripting Israelites to work on his various projects. This was deeply resented. However, it could have been overcome had Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, listened to the older men and granted a bit more freedom to the northern tribes. Instead he listened to his young friends who had grown up with power and privilege. By insisting on becoming more oppressive than his father, he drove the northern tribes into the hands of Jeroboam.
Jeroboam was, as the story tells us, a very competent and charismatic leader. Having been told by a prophet that God had selected him to lead this new northern nation, he moved to immediately secure his position…which he would retain for twenty-two years. His boldest, and most politically astute move, was to use two ancient worship sites, Bethel and Dan, as the religious centers for northern worship. Each of these sites had a long history of use by the Israelite people. Jeroboam knew that without local worship sites, and priests to serve them, the people would slowly but surely gravitate back to Jerusalem and fall under the authority of Judah and its king. The mistake he made, according to the scriptures, was that rather than worshipping YHWH at those sites, he created two golden calves (becoming twice as bad as the people in the wilderness) and declared that those were the gods of the north. This action would become the ultimate reason for the elimination of Jeroboam’s family line.
Religious syncretism also overtakes Judah. Solomon’s worship of other gods opens the doors for the Israelites to worship other deities at multiple “high places.” This worship included male cult prostitution. The punishment for these crimes is defeat at the hands of the Egyptians. This defeat allowed the Egyptians to strip the Temple and Palace of its gold. It is a clear message that the glory and wisdom once given to Solomon were lost. Judah and Israel had become warring siblings who cannot remember all that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had done for them.
One final observation; note how Chronicles does not mention Solomon’s worshipping other gods. This is consistent with Chronicles attempt to paint the Davidic line in as good a light as possible/
1. Where do you see power abused today as it was abused by Solomon and Rehoboam?
2. Why do you think that God was not happy with a multi-religious society in Israel and Judah?
3. What are some of the “high places” at which we worship today?
Week 52 – Read 1 Kings 15-22; 2 Chronicles 13-23
Key Concepts: the three main concepts here are that there are no perfect leaders, that God sends prophets to show the people the way and that there are consequences, both positive and negative for faithfulness or a lack thereof.
Stories: in 1 Kings we meet good Kings (Asa and Jehoshaphat) and bad kings (almost all of the others), witness war between Judah and Israel, alliances between the two, the rise of other powers such as Syria, the rise and fall of a series of kings in Israel (often brought about by assassination), the apostasy of all kings (some worse than others), the rise of Elijah the prophet, his struggles with King Ahab and the prophets of Baal, the influence of Queen Jezebel, and finally the death of Ahab. In 2 Chronicles we encounter more details about the supremacy of Judah (the faithful nation) over against Israel (the unfaithful nations), the reigns of Asa and Jehoshaphat (good in Judah) followed by Jehoram, who killed all of his siblings, the short reign of Ahaziah (evil) and then the reign of his mother Athaliah (who was a daughter of Ahab) who is ultimately overthrown by followers of the child-king Joash.
Brief Summary: what we encounter in this section is the continuing roller coaster of faithful/not so faithful leadership by the kings of both Israel and Judah. While the writer of Chronicles attempts to draw clear distinctions between the leaders of the two kingdoms (Israel – bad, Judah – good), the historical record makes this a difficult task.
We will begin by looking at the two good kings of Judah. Asa and Jehoshaphat are counted among the good kings of Judah. They are considered good because they eliminated male-cult prostitution, removed Baal worship from its place as a central religion of the empire and attuned their “hearts” to God.
These are the marks of a good king as exemplified by David (who in a nice aside is spoken of as a great king except for the incident with Uriah). In fact under Jehoshaphat there was supposedly a time when “the book of the law” was taught across the kingdom (2 Chronicles 17:9). Unfortunately though, even good kings fall. Both Asa and Jehoshaphat sin at the end of their reigns and pay a price for it.
The most evil off the Israelite kings in this section is Ahab, along with his wife Jezebel. Jezebel was a non-Israelite who worshiped Baal and its associate deities. She took great offense at the prophets of YHWY who condemned her for this worship. She spent much of her time as queen trying to exterminate all of the prophets of YHWY. Ahab’s sin was that he was complicit in these actions; worship of Baal and the extermination of the prophets. In addition he was willing to allow his wife to murder their neighbor Naboth, so that Ahab could gain Naboth’s vineyard (remember all land was tribally controlled and no one was allowed to take it).
One of the most important parts of this section is that we encounter the prophet Elijah. While other prophets will come and go playing bit parts in the story, Elijah is front and center with his own significant role to play. Elijah confronts the king and queen, destroys the prophets of Baal, heals, brings the dead back to life, is fed by angels, feeds and cares for a widow, hear God’s still small voice and is reminded by God that he is not the only faithful Israelite left alive. The significance of Elijah is that in his work we are reminded that God had not given up on Israel. They were still God’s people and God wanted them to return to right worship and right living.
1. How would you relate the humanness of the kings with the humanness of politicians today?
2. What attributes do you believe make for a “good’ leader in church or society?
3. Have you ever heard the still, small voice of God? If so, how did that encounter impact you?
Week 53 – Read 2 Kings 1-15; 2 Chronicles 24-26
Key Concepts: The key concepts are that even with good leaders Judah did not abandon all of its evil practices, while even with its evil leaders Israel was not yet completely abandoned by God.
Stories: In 2 Kings we begin with Elijah returning to the stage, the passing of the mantle to Elisha, a war with Moab, a series of Elisha miracles, God’s miraculous protection of Samaria (Israel), Elisha fomenting rebellion against several kings which leads to the rise of Jehu, the massacre of the princes of Judah, Israel and the worshippers of Baal, the rise of Athalia in Judah, her subsequent death and the coronation of the real King (Joash), attempts to repair the temple, the assassination of Joash, the death of Elisha, the rise and fall of kings good and evil and the first deportations from Israel by the Assyrians. In 2 Chronicles we watch the rise of some good kings who in the end all turn bad.
Brief Summary: we begin with the transfer of prophetic power from Elijah to Elisha. This power then is transferred to Elisha because of Elisha’s faithfulness in never leaving Elijah’s side. Elijah’s exit, being taken up in a whirlwind in a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses, makes Elijah one of only a couple of Old Testament characters who do not die but who are taken directly to heaven. This is one reason that in the time of Jesus, people wonder if John the Baptist is Elijah come back to earth. As an additional note, it is from this story that we get the term “passing the mantel” which is often used to refer to a change of leadership.
The writer of Kings then offers us a series of stories which demonstrate Elisha’s God given powers. We hear of a miraculous jar of oil, the resurrection of a child, the de-poisoning of a stew, a multiplication of loaves, the healing of the leper Naaman, making an iron axe head float in water, the misdirection of an entire army, the ability to see the future and the assisting of the woman whose son he had saved.
As we read these stories we might want to reflect on how many of them appear in a list of miracles performed by Jesus. There is little wonder that people understood Jesus to be a prophet considering how closely his actions mirrored those of Elijah and Elisha.
We then proceed to read about how, on God’s orders, Elisha interferes in politics and foments rebellion. He assists in the turnover of leadership in Syria and in Israel. The most dramatic impact he has is in directing Jehu to leadership. Jehu wipes out not only the leadership of Israel, along with those who worship Baal including Jezebel, but the leadership of Judah as well. While this purge led to a restoration of Godly worship in Israel, this faithfulness was only short-lived.
In this section we also encounter the only “queen” who led Judah, Athalia. When her son Ahaziah the king of Judah, was killed by Jehu, she seized power and slaughtered all claimants to the throne and installed Baal worship in Judah. Fortunately one of Ahaziah’s sons was hidden. When the son, Jehoash, was old enough, the religious and political leaders of Judah rallied around him and executed Athalia along with the priests of Baal. This led to a limited restoration of true worship under Jehoash, who would ultimately be assassinated for political reasons. Thus the cycle of good/bad kings and their faithfulness/unfaithfulness continues.
We conclude this section with a hint of the destruction that is about to come upon Israel at the hands of the Assyrians.
1. What do you take away from the fact that no kings ever live up to David’s reputation?
2. What lessons might we draw from Elisha’s participation in the politics of his day?
3. Does it surprise you that God continues to pursue Israel, even though they have ceased loving God?
Week 54 – Read Amos; Micah
Key Concepts: The key concepts in these two books are that God demands faithfulness from God’s people in terms of ethical treatment of others and abhors pride and empty rituals.
Stories: Amos (who is prophesying against Israel) is divided into three main sections: prophecies against Israel’s neighbors (1-2); indictments against Israel for their mistreatment of the poor (3-6); prophecies of Israel’s coming doom, even in the face of current peace and prosperity (7-9). Micah (who is prophesying against Judah) contains an indictment of both Israel and Judah for errant worship (1-3); a restoration of Judah following its punishment (4-5); a condemnation of the ruling classes of both kingdoms for the injustices they have brought upon those who are powerless (6-7).
Brief Summary: We are now listening in on the prophetic pronouncements which were made during the times about which we have been reading. Amos, who was a shepherd called by God, prophesied during a time of great peace and prosperity in Israel under Jeroboam II. The people assumed that this moment was a reward for their faithfulness. Amos reminds them that it is not and that unless they change, God will destroy them. Micah was a prophet in the Southern kingdom of Judah. He was not well connected, but still felt called by God to remind the people just how far astray they had wandered in terms of their worship and ethical treatment of others.
Amos begins by speaking words of condemnation against Israel’s neighbors. Even though God had given the Law only to Israel, the nations around her were going to be judged by the same criterion with which Israel would be judged. They are primarily condemned because they attacked God’s people and committed atrocities against them. Judah will be condemned because it ignored God’s Law and followed in the wicked ways of their fathers. Israel itself will be condemned because they “sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes; they trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted.” The punishment for these actions will be destruction.
The people are therefore called to “Seek God and live; but do not seek me at Bethel.” What this means is that they are to seek God in how they live out God’s commands and not in and through the rites and rituals performed at the sanctuary sites. They are to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” If the people do this God will have mercy on them and ultimately restore them and they will re-inhabit their ruined cities.
Micah, though writing a bit later than Amos, picks up on the same basic themes. He castigates the political and religious leaders of the nation for willingness to sell-out the poor in order to gain power and influence. “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil upon their beds! When the morning dawns they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand.” Micah also charges them with improper worship. “All her images shall be beaten to pieces, all her fires will be burned with fire, and her idols I will lay waste.”
Micah, like Amos, does believe that ultimately God’s faithfulness will not allow the nations to disappear. The prophet tells the people that one day the people will “beat their swords into plowshares an their spears into pruning hooks” and that from Bethlehem will come forth “one who is to be a ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old…and he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord.” In other words both nations will be restored.
1. What parallels can you draw between the times of Amos and Micah and ours today?
2. How do you help justice roll down like waters”?
3. What idols do you see in our society? How might we avoid “worshipping” them?
Week 55 – Read Hosea; Psalm 48
Key Concepts: The key concepts in Hosea are that Israel has acted as a harlot/prostitute in seeking after other gods and will thus be abandoned and punished by YHWH.
Stories: Hosea begins with an explanation of the identity of the prophet, then continues with God’s command for Hosea to marry a prostitute (Gomer) and have children, an aside that God will not abandon Israel completely, the promise that Israel will suffer privation and humiliation like a harlot, the claim that God will seek Israel and woo her back, Hosea’s bringing Gomer back after her unfaithfulness, more judgment upon Israel because they have forgotten God, the fact that Israel will lose everything, including their king, their high places and their nation because of unfaithfulness, a reminder of Israel’s rebellion as well as God’s plan to restore them, and concludes with a command to be wise and understand the word of Hosea.
Brief Summary: Hosea, while being the first of the Minor Prophets in our current Bible (meaning all of the prophetic books that follow the big three of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) was actually written after Amos and before the big three. Hosea is writing in a time of great upheaval in the land of Israel. The nation is suffering from the onslaught of the Assyrian Empire, continuing assassinations of her kings, international intrigue and economic upheaval. For those of us reading from the hindsight of history we can see how some of Hosea’s prophecies were both fulfilled and unfulfilled.
The prophecies that were fulfilled all dealt with the destruction of Israel by Assyria. No fewer than four times does Hosea proclaim that Israel will be carried away into captivity in Assyria. The descriptions of the destruction Assyria will cause are frightening. All of Israel’s fortified cities will be destroyed. Mothers and children shall be dashed to pieces. The line of Israelite kings will be completely cut off. Each of these events took place in often brutal ways.
The prophecies which were not fulfilled were those dealing with God’s restoration of the nation. While it is easy to read this book and only see doom and gloom, the prophet was commanded to speak of God’s love for this errant people. We are told that God will woo Israel back; that God cannot give up on these people whom God loves; that God will return the people to their homes (meaning bringing them home from exile in Assyria); and that God will once again love them freely. Though we cannot speak to God’s love, history reminds us that once Israel was destroyed and its peoples scattered that they never returned home. They became the “lost tribes of Israel.”
These prophecies of punishment and return form the heart of the book. Hosea was to not only make those pronouncements but was to act them out. He was to do so by marrying a prostitute (Gomer). His children were to be named Jezreel (meaning God sows…destruction) and Not Pitied (because God will not take pity on Israel). These actions were a reminder of how Israel had acted as a prostitute, selling herself to the highest bidder (both gods and nations), as well running after other “lovers” (again gods and nations) whom Israel believes can help her more than the YHWH. At the same time, just as Hosea went after Gomer when she ran away, so too Hosea declares, that God will go after Israel, ransom her back and make her God’s own once again.
Finally there are mentions of the same sort of ethical issues (murder, theft and mistreatment of the poor) as we saw in Amos and Micah.
1. What do you think of God’s command for a prophet to marry a prostitute?
2. How would you explain the lack of redemption for Israel?
3. How do you see God’s love for you calling you back to faithfulness?
Week 56 – Read 2 Kings 16-18; 2 Chronicles 27-28
Key Concepts: The key concepts are that God will allow God’s people to suffer the consequences of their faithlessness.
Stories: 2 Kings begins with the reign of Ahaz, his apostasy including sacrificing his own children, his struggles with Syria, his purchasing protection from the Assyrians, his erecting altars to foreign gods in the Temple, his destruction of much of the Temple furnishings, the rise of Hoshea as king in Israel, the destruction of Israel by Assyria, a theological rationale for the destruction, the creation of the Samaritan people where Israel used to exist and the reasons that they are evil. In 2 Chronicles we have a clear delineation between Jotham (very good) and Ahaz (very bad), the trials of Ahaz and Judah’s enemies, a theological rationale for his troubles, and how Ahaz’s bribing the Assyrians backfires.
Brief Summary: We have finally arrived at the end of the Northern Kingdom, Israel. The situation was that one of the great middle-eastern empires, Assyria, was once again on the ascension. Assyria had been a nation/people beginning prior to 2000 BCE. Under Tiglath-Pileser III (reigned 745-727 BCE) the kingdom covered the territory from the “Caucasus mountains to Arabia and from the Caspian Sea to Cyprus” (Wikipedia). He forced both Judah and Israel to pay tribute. His successor Shalmaneser V (reigned 726-723) besieged Israel’s capitol which was finally taken and destroyed by his successor, Sargon II, in 721 BCE. Assyria then deported almost 30,000 Israelites. This event is the foundation for the concept of the “lost tribes of Israel.” Assyria then imported people from around their Empire to fill the land. These people would become known as the Samaritans.
The Assyrians would continue to expand their empire, which would eventually include parts of modern day Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Jordon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Palestine, Cyprus, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sudan, Libya, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan (Wikipedia) until around 605 BCE when it would fall to the Medes and Persians.
The fall of Israel, would appear to be a blow to the concept that God would never abandon God’s people. The writers of Kings and Chronicles both make sure that their readers understand that the fall of this portion of God’s people was due to the unfaithfulness of the people and their leaders. The people worshipped other gods, sacrificed children, refused to obey God’s law and sought help from other nations rather than trusting in God to deliver them. We have seen these accusations in the words of the prophets Amos and Hosea. The political/historical reality though was that the leaders of Israel were foolish enough to believe that they could withhold tribute from and rebel against an Empire that would dominate the world for another one-hundred years.
In the meantime Judah, under Ahaz, bought protection from the Assyrians by stripping the Temple of its wealth and offering it in payment. At the same time Ahaz became enamored of the altars and worship of the Syrians. He had replicas of their altars placed in the Temple and initiated similar worship. This worship included the sacrifice of some of his own children. An interesting issue with Ahaz was the site of his burial. In 2 Kings he is buried with all of the other kings. In 2 Chronicles he is not. Once again this shows a way in which the writer of Chronicles attempts to clean up the story of Judah for future generations.
1. How do you balance both the theological and historical reasons for Israel’s demise?
2. What do you think Ahaz ought to have done in the face of Syrian aggression?
3. What do you make of the Chronicler’s not mentioning the fall of Israel?
Week 57 – Read Isaiah 1-12
Key Concepts: The key concepts in these opening chapters of Isaiah are that Judah will be punished for the injustice that is running rampant in the nation and that God will send a messiah who will restore the nation.
Stories: This portion of Isaiah contains a series of declarations against Judah, interspersed with hopeful signs, promises of anarchy in Jerusalem, the humiliation of the women of Judah, the restoration of Judah, the song concerning the vineyard (Judah as the vineyard), a series of six woes, the horrific consequences of those woes, Isaiah’s call to ministry, an historical interlude about Syro-Ephramite war, the sign of Immanuel, signs of Judah’s demise given through the names of Isaiah’s children, a reference to a messianic king, the ultimate doom of Assyria, comments on a remnant, the arrival of the Assyrians, a second reference to a messianic king, a description of the messianic age, and two short songs.
Brief Summary: these opening chapters of Isaiah contain condemnations of Judah, references to historical events and promises of a restoration of God’s people. We will look at each of these.
The majority of the opening section of this book (Isaiah is divided into six major sections of which chapters 1-12 is the first) is focused on God’s accusations against and condemnation of Judah. The nation is compared to children who rebel against their parents, to bodies that have become diseased and a woman who has become a prostitute. They have become murderers, idolaters, those who grind the poor into the earth, those who call good, evil and evil, good as well as those whose pride has blinded them to the truth. The nation’s punishment will be chaos (children ruling parents, etc.), the plunder of their treasures, and the utter destruction of Judah’s national identity.
The historical event concerns the war between Judah (with Ahaz as King) and Syria and Israel. Syria and Israel attacked Judah but could not take Jerusalem. Isaiah promises Ahaz that God will deliver Judah (this is the meaning of the sign of Immanuel, which will be the offspring of the virgin). Ahaz however does not believe Isaiah and instead strips the Temple bare in order to bribe the Assyrians to attack both Syria and Israel.
The promises of restoration are some of the most famous in the Old Testament because they have been tied into the life and work of Jesus Christ. These include chapter 9, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light….” and chapter 11, “There shall come forth from the shoot of Jesse (King David’s father)…” Both of these texts are used during Advent because they are seen as pointing to the birth of Jesus. Even with the rise of the Davidic heir (who is the son of Jesse) not all of the people of Judah will be saved. Only a remnant will remain. This idea of the remnant becomes an important theme in this portion of the Old Testament.
In addition to these concepts (which we will see repeated elsewhere in the prophets) there are two other noteworthy items. The first is the call of Isaiah, which is one of the most famous in scripture. Isaiah recalls, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon and throne, high and lifted up…and I heard the Lord say, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here I am. Send me.” The second item is God’s statement, “Come, let us reason together…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow…”
1. How do you reconcile God’s decision to allow Judah to fall and yet still maintain a remnant?
2. Do the actual historical circumstances of the “Advent” texts help you to see them differently?
3. How has God called you?
Week 58 - Read 2 Chronicles 29-31
Key Concepts: These chapters contain a single theme, and that is that God’s people are indeed capable of being obedient to God, given the appropriate leadership.
Stories: We begin with the reign of Hezekiah, then move on to the call to the Levites to sanctify the Temple, the rededication of the Temple, the great Passover feast and then the reestablishment of the Priests and Levites.
Brief Summary: We now encounter one of the good kings of Judah, Hezekiah. He reigned from 715 to 686 BCE. This meant, as 2 Kings 18 reminds us, he reigned during the period in which the Northern kingdom of Israel was utterly destroyed by the Assyrians.
Hezekiah is considered one of the good kings. In fact as the Chronicler puts it, “He did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the Law and commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart and prospered” (31:20-21). It was also said, “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done.” (29:2) Hezekiah receives these accolades for several actions that he took.
First he ordered that the Temple be rededicated. During the rule of his father Ahaz the temple had either been completely closed (2 Chronicles 28:24) or partially closed and used for worship of other gods (2 Kings 16:10-16). Regardless, this meant that it had been desecrated and would need to be cleansed and dedicated before it could be used for appropriate worship. The reason Hezekiah gives for waning to use the Temple again is that all of the ills that had befallen Judah occurred because the people had not faithfully worshiped.
Hezekiah ordered both the Levites and the Priests to begin the required house cleaning. Once cleansed of the “filthy things” the Levites and Priests were commanded to make the appropriate re-dedicatory sacrifices for the Temple and for themselves In addition to the sacrifices, the Levites played music, the people sang and the entire community worshipped. The songs consisted of Psalms from David Asaph. Following this worship the people brought their sacrifices and free will offerings.
The second action Hezekiah took was to keep the Passover. The writer implies that the people had not kept Passover for an extended period of time. Hezekiah sends an invitation throughout not only Judah but Israel as well. Even though most of the people of Israel has been deported by the Assyrians he and the assembly invite all Israel to be unified once again. The Passover is to be kept in Jerusalem, which may be the reason that so few people from the North respond. In addition to the Passover celebration the people destroyed all of the idols in and around Jerusalem that Ahaz had created.
Finally Hezekiah, acting in the role of prophet, assigned the Priests and Levites to their duties.
Hezekiah became for the Chronicler the perfect king. He cleansed the land of idols. He rededicates the Temple. He holds celebration of the Passover. And he attempts to reunify the Kingdom. For those returning from exile in Babylon, many years later, the example of Hezekiah could, and was, lifted up as an example for the people to follow as they rebuilt the Temple and reinstated its practices. All they had to do was follow Hezekiah’s example.
1. What interests you the most about the rededication, and why?
2. Having read many of the Psalms, which would you chose to use at this service?
3. Why would the Passover be of great importance to the people returning from Babylon.
Week 59 - Read Isaiah 13-27
Key Concepts: These chapters are focused on God as the God of all the nations and not simply of Judah/Israel.
Stories: This section contains an oracle against Babylon, a promise of return from exile, oracles against Assyria, Moab, an alliance between Damascus and Israel, idolatry, Egypt, Babylon, Edom, Arabia, then an interlude about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, more oracles against Shebna and Sidon, and finally the Isaiah “Apocalypse”.
Brief Summary: As we will witness with the other two great prophets (Jeremiah and Ezekiel) it is often difficult to discern the historical settings of many prophecies. This is partially so because each of these prophets was active over long periods of time. It is also difficult because many of their prophecies appear to be prophecies in retrospect. In other words, as we will discover with Daniel, the words recorded in their books may be prophecies written at later dates (looking back at past events) and then inserted alongside the original writings.
The majority of this section deals with “the nations” and is seen as a literary unit. One of the great issues with which the monotheistic people of Judah/Israel dealt was the nature of the one God that they were supposed to serve. Was this God the only God? Was this God one among many? Was this God greater than all the other gods if there were other gods? Isaiah answers many of these questions and does so in a way that implies that there is only one God and that that God is the God of Israel. Because of this then, the God of Israel is the God who controls the fate not only of Judah/Israel but the fate of all other nations. It is God who causes nations to rise and fall…according to God’s plans for Judah/Israel.
We can see this played out in the oracles against the great empires of Isaiah’s day. Isaiah proclaims the destruction of Assyria, Babylon and Egypt along with smaller nations such as Moab. These oracles are remarkable in that they offer us a larger view of history; one that has at its center not merely military and political forces but the will of a God who has a plan for one small nation which is part of the plan for God’s entire creation.
The benefit of this type of a view is that it 1) gives Judah/Israel hope in the face of overwhelming odds 2) allows Judah/Israel to glimpse the larger picture of God’s activities and 3) reminds the people that their current situation is not the end of Judah/Israel.
A second major focus of this section is on God’s final consummation of history, or the Isaiah Apocalypse. Apocalypse means “revealing.” What Isaiah is doing in chapters 24-27 is revealing a future in which God will not only judge the nations, meaning a universal judgment, bring Judah/Israel home from exile, overcome chaos (represented by the sea dragon Leviathan) but then will also establish God’s people while destroying their enemies.
This portion of Isaiah also contains some important phrases and ideas. These include “For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who can annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (14:27), “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” (22:13) and “He (God) will swallow up death forever and…will wipe away tears from their faces…” (25:8).
Finally there are some political/theological warnings given about relying on other nations for protection rather than on God. This is an issue because when Judah/Israel relies on other nations she is also relying on their gods, thus demonstrating a lack of trust in YHWH.
1. What do you think of the concept of retrospective prophecy? Why?
2. Where do you see God’s hand working in the interactions of the “nations” in our era?
3. Where do you see God’s plan being revealed in our time?
Week 60 - Read 2 Kings 18-19; Isaiah 28-39; Psalms 46, 76, 80, 135
Key Concepts: The key concept in these readings is that Judah (unlike Israel) will survive the arrival of the Assyrians and Isaiah will play a key role in bolstering their morale.
Stories: 2 Kings begins with the rise of good King Hezekiah, then continues with his religious reforms including the removal of the bronze serpent which Moses had created, the approach of the Assyrians (following Hezekiah’s refusal to pay tribute), Hezekiah paying tribute, then Assyria returning to take Jerusalem (this is because Hezekiah once again joined a revolt), Isaiah promising that Judah would survive, and the mysterious flight of the Assyrians. Isaiah making a series of proclamations about Judah’s spiritual issues, warnings against being in league with Egypt (first rebellion against Assyria), images of future hope, the destruction of God’s enemies, the restoration of Zion, and a retelling of the same history found in the 2 Kings passage. The Psalms are about God’s protection of Judah and ultimate victory over God’s enemies.
Brief Summary: We enter into one of the most tumultuous times in the history of Judah. On the one hand we witness the rise of one of the best kings Judah ever had, Hezekiah. He initiated religious reforms including the destruction of various shrines established by his father Ahaz (which included removing the Assyrian gods…an act of rebellion) and the removal of cult objects such as the bronze serpent. He also attempted to draw together what was left of the northern kingdom into a single unified nation.
Hezekiah was also a nationalist who was continually looking for ways to become independent of Assyria. Early in his reign he does not move toward independence because Assyria was simply too powerful. But with the death of Sargon (king of Assyria 722-705 BCE) Judah and other nations moved to rebel. This action was opposed by Isaiah as foolishness. As the Assyrians regained their power Hezekiah offered tribute, which meant stripping the Temple of all of its gold and silver.
Later around 701, Hezekiah joined another rebellion which was crushed with great ferocity. The only city which survived was Jerusalem, even though many of its soldiers had deserted. While Isaiah was no fan of rebellion he affirmed that on this occasion Assyria would not take the city.
When we read Isaiah what we need to remember is that he is prophesying during this period of great political and religious upheaval. During the reign of Ahaz (as noted in an earlier lesson) Isaiah preached against the religious apostasy of the king and of the nation. During the time of Hezekiah, Isaiah preaches (Isaiah 30:1-17 and 31:1-3) against the nation’s tendency to trust in other nations for their salvation. He warns the king and the people that it is foolishness to depend on the Egyptians for assistance (which proved to be true), though the Egyptians did help weaken Assyria for a short time. At the same time Isaiah is offering both criticism of the civil and religious leaders, words of destruction for God’s enemies, including Assyria, and words of hope for the nation itself. Isaiah’s position of importance is shown in that Hezekiah regularly consulted him on religious/political matters.
The Psalms in this section, though we are not able to accurately date them, offer the same sense of hope that is offered by Isaiah. They speak of God’s eternal protection of Judah/Israel (Psalm 46), God as a warrior who defeated Judah/Israel’s enemies (Psalm 76), a prayer for deliverance from national enemies (Psalm 80) and praise for God’s mighty deeds in protecting God’s people (Psalm 135).
1. What would religious reform look like today?
2. How do would you balance religious and political obligations?
3. What prophetic word would you bring to our nation?
Week 61 - Read 2 Kings 20-23; 2 Chronicles 32-35
Key Concepts: The key concept in these readings is that Judah’s leadership can be as bad as Israel’s and that evil leadership will ultimately doom Judah to defeat at the hands of the Babylonians.
Stories: 2 Chronicles begins a bit earlier than the 2 Kings passage with the defeat of the Assyrians at the hands of an angel of God, then the two books basically follow the same pattern: Hezekiah completes his reign by showing the Babylonians the riches and defenses of Jerusalem, the rise of Manasseh and his evil ways (with Chronicles telling a story of Manasseh being taken to Assyria), the rise of Amon, son of Manasseh, Amon’s assassination and the execution of his killers, Amon’s son Josiah becoming a good king, the repair of the Temple, the discovery of a copy of the Law, the restoration of appropriate worship, the keeping of the Passover and Josiah’s death at Megiddo.
Brief Summary: With these stories we are bringing to a close the life and times of the nation of Judah. In these stories we cover a period of almost 90 years.
2 Chronicles begins with the destruction of the Assyrian army at the hands of an angel of the Lord. In actuality we are not sure why Assyria withdraws. History records two possibilities. First, a plague of mice infects the camp and perhaps even destroys the bow-strings of the Assyrian archers. Second, there was a rebellion at home, which ultimately led to the Assyrian king’s assassination.
As mentioned above we then turn to the final days of Hezekiah during which he seeks and receives God’s help with an illness but also shows the wealth and power of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (who at that moment were enemies of Assyria). While Chronicles barely mentions this event, 2 Kings makes clear, through the words of Isaiah that this action would lead to the downfall of Judah.
Following Hezekiah’s death we meet his son Manasseh. Manasseh is described as the worst king to rule over Judah. His list of unfaithful deeds runs the gamut from setting up altars to foreign gods, to sacrificing his own sons, reestablishing the high places, worshipping the hosts of heaven, practicing soothsaying, sorcery and consorting with wizards. In other words, virtually every evil against which the people of God had been warned, Manasseh did. Here, however is where a bit of history helps us to understand these events in a slightly different light. Even though Assyria had withdrawn from Jerusalem they had not lost their place as a vicious world power. Chances are good that the only reason that Manasseh was able to maintain his grip on power was that he not only paid tribute to Assyria but worshipped their gods as well. We know that Manasseh was a vassal of Assyria from Assyrian records. In 2 Chronicles there is an interesting account of Manasseh being taken in chains to Assyria (probable) and then repenting to God for his evil deeds (not so probable).
Finally we have the rise of Josiah. Josiah is the last of the good kings. He comes to the throne at the age of twelve upon the assassination of his father Amoz (son of Manasseh). He is considered good because he repaired the Temple, destroyed all aspects of Assyrian worship, read and proclaimed the Law and held the Passover for the first time since Hezekiah. Many people believe that it was at this moment that the Book of Deuteronomy…or what would later become the basis for Deuteronomy…surfaced. He is able to carry out these reforms because Assyria was being destroyed by Babylon. Josiah dies trying to prevent the Egyptians from assisting in Assyrian survival.
1. Does knowing some of the history change your view of the kings? If so why, or why not?
2. Why do you think that Chronicles tries to make Manasseh out to be not quite as bad as he is portrayed in Kings?
3. How has our ability to worship freely been affected by our history?
Week 62 - Read Zephaniah and Nahum
Key Concepts: The key concept in these readings is that Judah will suffer for its arrogance and worship of other gods while Assyria will suffer an even greater punishment for its arrogance and abuse of other nations.
Stories: Zephaniah is divided into three sections, each corresponding to the present three chapters. The first chapter is focused on the coming Day of the Lord during which Judah and Jerusalem will be punished for their apostasy and their unwillingness to be faithful to God. Chapter two looks at punishment for all of the nations who oppressed Judah. Chapter three offers the possibility of a remnant remaining after the destruction. Nahum is focused on the destruction of Assyria.
Brief Summary: Both of these prophets were at work during the reign of Josiah, a time when the power of Assyria was fading, yet when there were still remnants of the worship of other gods. Though Josiah would eventually make great strides in returning the nation to worshipping YHWH, when Zephaniah preached those efforts had not yet begun. It might even be that his words had some impact on the young Josiah. Nahum’s message appears to come a bit later when the power of Assyria was about spent and the prophet predicts its doom.
We begin with Zephaniah. The structure of Zephaniah is similar to that of other prophetic writings. It begins with a condemnation of the nation of Judah. Recall at this point that Judah had essentially thrown out any meaningful worship of YHWH. It had been replaced by the worship of a variety of gods and the practices, such as child sacrifice, associated with those gods. The prophet declares that God will utterly sweep away the nation and its people. This is the only appropriate punishment for those who had worshipped Baal, worn foreign attire and filled the city with violence and fraud. The destruction will spare no one including the king and his sons and all of those who had become wealthy off of the oppression of the people.
The second chapter extends this punishment to the nations who had devastated God’s people. These nations include some of Judah’s ancient enemies, such as the Philistines, Moab, Ammon and Assyria. Each will be dealt with by God because the word of the Lord is against them. By the very fact that Assyria is mentioned helps us to date the book as coming from the beginning of Josiah’s reign.
The third chapter begins once again with Jerusalem’s destruction, but then moves to the possibility that God will save some of God’s people as a remnant. When God saves them they will speak one language (looking toward Pentecost), will call on the name of the Lord and serve the Lord with one accord. The nation will become an almost perfect people. So even in the midst of destruction there is hope.
Nahum on the other hand offered no hope at all to Assyria. In fact Nahum was almost gleeful in the utter destruction which God would bring upon that nation. God is “a jealous God and avenging, the Lord is avenging and wrathful…” Nahum’s message is that what goes around comes around. The desolation which Assyria brought on so many nations would be brought upon her. Nahum made it clear as well that this bad news for Assyria was good news for Judah. God’s people could return to true worship. “Keep your feasts, O Judah, fulfill your vows, for never shall the wicked come against you, he is utterly cut off.”
1. What are your thoughts on God’s eventual restoration of the world?
2. What word of hope would you give to the world today?
3. How do you deal with Nahum’s statements about God as a wrathful God?
Week 63 - Read Jeremiah 1-23
Key Concepts: The key concept in the opening portion of Jeremiah is that even when God is preparing to punish Judah there is still a glimmer of hope that God will save some of God’s people.
Stories: We begin with a short introduction, then we move to Jeremiah’s call, declarations of Judah’s evil ways, a call to repentance, a warning about a foe from the north, a reminder of why God will punish the nation, a warning not to trust in the Temple as a sign of God’s protection, an extended series of oracles, a call to live by the Covenant, Jeremiah’s first personal lament, God’s lament, allegories concerning Judah, the shame to come upon Jerusalem, a series of laments including the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah’s second personal lament, Jeremiah’s personal life as part of the story, a few images of hope, Jeremiah’s third personal lament, accusations about Judah and the Sabbath, Jeremiah’s fourth personal lament, the persecution of Jeremiah, Jeremiah’s fifth and sixth personal laments, and finally another series of oracles.
Brief Summary: Jeremiah was a prophet who lived and worked at the very end of the life of the nation of Judah. He witnessed the nation’s decline and fall. Thus his ministry is very much tied up in real life historical events, about which he preached. The issue with Jeremiah however, much as with Isaiah, is that his pronouncements are neither sequential in terms of his ministry nor are they grouped by theme. What this means is that we sort of jump from one idea or concern to another without any real connection in-between. This can be seen in the list of stories above. That being the case we will look at some of the themes that arise in this section.
The first theme is Judah’s apostasy. Much as with Israel before them, Judah had forgotten all that God had done for them. God planted them as “a choice vine, wholly pure seed” yet they had become “degenerate and a wild vine.” They declared that they would not serve God while at the same time worshipping at the feet of all the other gods. What is interesting is that even though the people worshipped other gods, when times were tough it was to YHWH that they turned.
The second theme is punishment. God made it clear through the prophet that there would come a time or reckoning and that time had arrived. Jeremiah speaks of the foe from the north (meaning Babylon) whom God is sending to destroy the nation. The destruction of Judah would bring great shame upon the people and the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
The third theme has to do with the people’s belief that because they had the Temple and the ritual sacrifices that they would be safe. Jeremiah declared that they could take no comfort in the Temple because the people had made it a den of robbers (meaning they violated God’s laws and then believed that they would be secure in the Temple because of the rituals performed there).
The fourth theme deals with Jeremiah’s laments. No other prophet allows us to witness their interior struggles as does Jeremiah. We listen to Jeremiah struggle with the abuse and anger that is heaped upon him. Even though he only pronounces what the Lord tells him to speak, he suffers at the hands of the people and despairs of life itself.
The fifth theme has to do with God’s desire to restore the people. Though there are only brief glimpses of this restoration, they are not absent. God will not completely abandon God’s people.
1. How are Jeremiah’s prophecies similar to those of other prophets whom you have studied?
2. Why do you suppose God is going to punish Judah as severely as is proclaimed?
3. How might we place our hope in the church as these people in the Temple?
Week 64 - Read Jeremiah 24-40
Key Concepts: The key concept in this middle section of Jeremiah is that even when God follows through on God’s promise of punishment, God still promises to restore God’s people.
Stories: This middle portion of Jeremiah begins with a vision of a basket of figs, a prediction of wrath via Babylon, some miscellaneous prophecies, Jeremiah’s sermon in the Temple, Babylon’s dominance of Judah, Zedekiah’s good choice to refuse to rebel, Jeremiah’s letters to the exiles in Babylon, the Book of Consolation, Jeremiah buys some real estate, a warning to Zedekiah about rebellion, the freeing and then re-enslaving of the slaves, the Rechabites, Jeremiah begins to suffer, the siege of Jerusalem, and finally the fall of Jerusalem.
Brief Summary: To understand the events contained within these chapters we need a bit of history. Judah’s King Josiah was killed in battle against the Egyptians (609 BCE). He was succeeded by his son Jehoahaz who was carried into exile by the Egyptians who ruled over Judah (609-605 BCE) with Jehoiakim (another of Josiah’s sons) set up as a puppet ruler. In 605 the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians. The Babylonians then began a slow but steady conquest of all of Canaan. Jehoiakim, realizing his vulnerability, became a vassal of Babylon. Following a temporary Babylonian setback, Judah rebelled. When the Babylonians and their allies returned, Jehoiakim died (probably assassinated) and was replaced by his son Jeconiah, who promptly surrendered Jerusalem and was carried into exile in Babylon, along with the leading citizens of Judah.
This is where we pick up with Jeremiah’s vision of the baskets of figs. God tells Jeremiah that the exiles (represented by a basket of good figs) would be returned from exile and become a great nation. God will work on their hearts and restore them. Those who remain (represented by a basket of bad figs) will be utterly destroyed. The instrument of this destruction will be Babylon, which is carrying out God’s will and bringing God’s wrath.
Next we find Jeremiah preaching in the Temple to the leadership and people of Judah. He once again explains that unless they repent and return to right worship and living, God will destroy Judah and the Temple. He is arrested and tried. The King releases him because of a precedent set under King Hezekiah who did not have the prophet Micah killed. However another prophet, with the same message is assassinated by the king. What this tells us is that Jeremiah is well connected and well respected.
Jeremiah then writes letters to the exiles in Babylon, telling them to settle down, build houses, make families and bless their captors. This is considered to be treason and leads to a debate between Jeremiah and the prophets who proclaim that Jerusalem will never fall. At about the same time Jeremiah receives a prophecy which describes all of the good that God has planned for the people following their return from exile. It is a word of hope and consolation.
This prophecy is followed by Jeremiah purchasing land from a relative; land that is in Babylonian hands. This is a concrete example of Jeremiah’s faith , and God’s promise that the exiles will return and inhabit the land. This action will ultimately end up costing Jeremiah his freedom and putting his life at risk.
As we close this section Jerusalem has fallen to the Babylonians, Jeremiah is free but the future still looks uncertain.
1. How did Judah’s nationalism conflict with Jeremiah’s message of repentance?
2. What do you think of Jeremiah’s purchasing of the land?
3. Where do you see God at work in all of these events of history?
Week 65 - Read Jeremiah 41-52
Key Concepts: The key concept in this final section of Jeremiah is that even as God judges Judah, God will also judge those nations who helped to destroy her.
Stories: This section opens with a long narrative of the political machinations following the Babylonian conquest including the assassination of Gedaliah and many of his supporters by Ishmael, Ishmael’s flight with captives, the freeing of the captives by Johanan, Ishmael’s flight to Ammon, Jeremiah’s plea for the people to remain in Judah their flight to Egypt with Jeremiah unwillingly in tow, a prophecy against Egypt, a series of oracles against the fall of Judah’s enemies including Babylon and finally an historical appendix about the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the death and exile of Judah’s leadership.
Brief Summary: Our story picks up following the destruction of Jerusalem and the other major cities of Judah by the Babylonians. While much of the land was decimated in the war, there were pockets of territory, such as the land of Benjamin, that were mostly untouched. It was in this area, in the city of Mizpah, that the Babylonians established a regional government run by Gedaliah, a local noble. Gedaliah was warned that Ishmael, a member of the royal family, was out to get him but he refused to believe it. Unfortunately the claims were true and Ishmael assassinated Gedaliah along with his supports and the Babylonian garrison at Mizpah. He then slaughtered another group of Jews who arrived for a festival. Ishmael then fled with all of the people in Mizpah, but was tracked down by Johanan and his troops. Even though the captives are rescued, Ishmael escapes. His escape places all of those left behind, including Johanan and Jeremiah in jeopardy. They are in jeopardy because they could not prove that they were not the assassins.
Johanan then asks Jeremiah for his advice. Jeremiah replies with a prophecy which says that the people are to remain in the land and trust in the protection of God. The people have none of it however. Having seen the death and destruction caused by the Babylonians, they flee to Egypt, with Jeremiah unwillingly in tow. Once in Egypt Jeremiah receives another word from God to the effect that Egypt would not be a safe haven because the Babylonians would conquer much of it as well; which they do. In addition, the exiles return to the worship of other gods once they reach Egypt. This is where we leave Jeremiah; in exile still trying to bring about the faithfulness of God’s people.
The following section of oracles is similar to such oracles in both Isaiah and Ezekiel. Jeremiah’s however are probably linked to specific historical instances in which the Babylonians rained destruction on Judah’s enemies, including Philistia, Moab, Amon, Edom and Elam along with cities such as Damascus, Kedar and Hazor. Jeremiah saw their conquest and/or destruction as God’s judgment upon them for their mistreatment of God’s people. Jeremiah concludes with a prophecy that Babylon will suffer the same fate, which it did in 539 BCE.
The concluding historical section is largely a retelling to 2 Kings 24-25 which we will look at in the next lesson.
1. Why do you suppose that Ishmael assassinates Gedaliah?
2. What do you think of the choice Johanan and the people made?
3. What are some reasons Jeremiah’s words were preserved across the centuries?
Week 66 - Read 2 Kings 24-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Lamentations
Key Concepts: The key concepts in this section are that God fulfills God’s promises of judgment and that the people deeply mourn the destruction of their nation.
Stories: In 2 Kings we open with King Jehoiakim becoming a vassal of the Babylonians, then rebelling, then dying, the reign of his son Jehoiachin who surrenders to the Babylonians, the first deportation to Babylon including the stripping of the wealth of the palace and Temple, the new king, Zedekiah, his rebellion against Babylon, the fall of Jerusalem, the execution of the King’s sons and his own blinding, the second deportation to Babylon, the utter destruction of Jerusalem, the appointment of Gedaliah as governor, his assassination, the flight of the people to Egypt and finally the release from prison of Jehoiachin by a new Babylonian king. Chronicles tells the same basic story but with more theological explanations for the disaster. Lamentations is a series of laments over the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the people. They are carefully crafted as alphabetic acrostics.
Brief Summary: We have come to the end of an independent homeland for God’s people. Except for a very brief time (166 BCE-63 BCE) there was no true homeland for the Jews until the establishment of Israel in 1948. The fall of Judah centers on the inability of the leadership to understand three things. The first is Babylon was not capable of being defeated or resisted by either Egypt or the city states and nations which surrounded Judah. The second is that Egypt could not be trusted as a defender of Judah. What this meant was that when push came to shove, Egypt would not come to the rescue of Judah.
The third is that the Temple and its rituals would not save Judah. This had been the message of countless prophets, yet the people and the leaders would not listen.
The kings who reigned during this period, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah, were placed in a difficult situation. Babylon was powerful, yet at times had to withdraw from the region because of rebellions at home or in other parts of their kingdom. Those momentary withdrawals coupled with the fervor of nationalism, a desire for independence and the prospect of Egyptian assistance virtually forced them to rebel. Had the kings not rebelled they probably would have been assassinated by their own people. Yet the outcome of their rebellions was the brutal and ruthless destruction of their nation, its capitol and its religious shrine. The effects of this destruction can be seen and felt in the words of the writers of Lamentations.
The Book of Lamentations is believed to be the product of a variety of writers whose work was melded by a single author. The content of the book begins with the reflections of Jerusalem, the widow. It is presented in both first person (Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow) and in third person (she has seen the nations invade her sanctuary). Chapter two is the wailing cries of the people over the devastation that has befallen them because of God’s judgment. Chapter three has three Psalms of personal lament and hope in God. Chapter four retells of the horror of the siege in which parents became so desperate that they cooked and ate their children. Chapter five is a Psalm of petition to God for deliverance. As you read these verses take note of the pain, the pleading, the theological justification and yet the hope that God might still save God’s people.
1. How do you respond to the view that God brought this defeat upon Judah?
2. Have you ever been in a place in your life where a lament would have been an appropriate response to your situation?
3. What stands out for you from the readings from this section, A Nation Divided?