Lesson #13: A Flicker of Hope
THIS WEEK’S STUDY: 2 Kings 23:30-25:30; 2 Chronicles 36:1-23
MEMORY TEXT: “But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:16).
FOR UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN. Humanly speaking, there was no hope. Jerusalem lay in ruins, the people in exile. No king on the throne, no priest in the temple. But God was alive and so was His prophetic word. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6). For an exile in Babylon, that was hard to believe. But God had promised. He would keep the hope alive.
OVERVIEW: A FLICKER OF HOPE
I. UNTIL THE KING DIED: 2 Kings 23:30-25:30
II. UNTIL THE LAND HAD ENJOYED ITS SABBATHS: 2 Chron. 36:1-21
III. THE KING IS COMING
LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO? John 6:66-68 records a private conversation between Jesus and His twelve disciples after many of the other disciples had turned away: “Will you also go away?” asked Jesus. Peter’s response reflects mild uncertainty, but it is overlaid with hope: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
At the destruction of Jerusalem, devout Jews were asking a similar question: “Where do we go from here? To whom shall we turn?” We shall explore that question, too, as we come to the final lesson in a quarter dedicated to the study of the period of the monarchy in Israel.
Shiloh, the Star, the Branch, the Prophet, the Son of David — those are words that quicken the pulse of Abraham’s children. Early in Israel’s history, when the ministry of the prophet/judge Samuel was drawing to a close, the people had asked for a king. The Lord had granted their wish. From modest beginnings under Saul, the kingdom had mushroomed to glorious renown under David and Solomon. But the glory soon wore thin. The kingdom divided under Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Both kingdoms then began the long slide toward the precipice of disaster, the northern kingdom slipping more rapidly, the southern kingdom more slowly, but both in the direction of doom.
What did the historians of Israel have to say as they looked at the end of the monarchy? That is the subject of our lesson this week. But we will not stop with Kings and Chronicles, for Jews and Christians both see a glimmer of hope flickering in the dark night of despair. It finds a faint reflection in Kings and shines a little brighter in Chronicles. But the full blaze of glory would not break through until it shone from an empty tomb in Palestine several hundred years later.
God’s people longed for that day even if they could not see it clearly. And as they waited, they pondered the history of Israel’s kings. Sin had flourished; warnings had gone unheeded. Had God’s people learned their lesson? Would He yet restore the kingdom to His people?
I. UNTIL THE KING DIED: 2 Kings 23:30-25:30
The last four kings of Judah are a confusing lot. Not only are their names similar, but all of them have more than one name recorded in Scripture. To help keep the record straight they are listed here in the order of their reigns. The most common name is listed first:
* Jehoahaz (Shallum) 608 BC (3 months)
* Jehoiakim (Eliakim) 608-598 BC (11 years)
* Jehoiachin (Jeconiah, Coniah) 598-97 BC (3 months)
* Zedekiah (Mattaniah) 597-86 BC (11 years)
- What evidence of international politics is reflected in the fate of Jehoahaz? 2 Kings 23:34.
The tiny kingdom of Judah was caught in a vice between the Ancient Near Eastern superpowers. In Mesopotamia to the east, Assyria had disappeared from the scene; its capital Ninevah had been obliterated in 612 BC. But the vacuum was being filled by the rising Neo-Babylonian power under the leadership of Nabopolassar. Over against the Mesopotamian powers stood the Egyptians under Neco II, the pharaoh who had killed Josiah at the battle of Megiddo in 608 BC (2 Chron. 35:20-24).
Judah was no longer master of its own destiny. It juggled its loyalties and its payment of tribute, following, for the most part, a plan of mere expediency. Neco deposed the people’s choice, a son of Josiah by the name of Jehoahaz, taking him to Egypt where he later died. In Jehoahaz’s place, Neco installed his own candidate, Jehoiakim, another of Josiah’s sons.
- Why did Jehoiakim switch his loyalties to Babylon? 2 Kings 23:24.
- How does the author of Kings describe God’s involvement in the punishment of Judah? 2 Kings 24:2-4.
The author of Kings is not shy about assigning the responsibility for punishment directly to Yahweh, Israel’s God. Judah had rebelled against the Lordship of Yahweh and against the rulership of Nebuchadnezzar. Kings makes it clear that the punishment was deserved and irrevocable.
The weakness of the kingdom is reflected in the fact that the marauding bands which came up against Judah were not the great powers of the day. In addition to the Chaldeans, Judah’s small-time neighbors, the Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites, all joined in to nibble away at the remnants of the David’s kingdom.
- In what sense was Judah paying the price for the sins of a previous generation? 2 Kings 24:3-4.
It is not possible for human minds to resolve fully the tension between individual responsibility and corporate guilt. The most notable example of corporate guilt is the involvement of the human family in Adam’s sin: “Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin” (Rom. 5:12, RSV). And at Mt. Sinai God had declared that he would visit “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Ex. 34:7). That was the perspective shared by the author of Kings. Manasseh had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. The price had to be paid for that crime: “The LORD would not pardon” (2 Kings 24:4).
The author of Kings was able to recognize that the payment of the debt could be postponed, possibly even indefinitely, though he never makes that claim directly. He does record, however, Huldah’s promise that the day of reckoning would not come while Josiah was still alive: “You have rent your clothes and wept before me, I have also heard you, says the Lord” (2 Kings 22:19). But neither the people nor Josiah’s successors had followed his example. The day of judgment was now inevitable.
Over against corporate responsibility stands the case for individual responsibility, made most forcefully in Ezekiel 18: each person is responsible for his own sin. Addressing exiles threatened with discouragement, Ezekiel sensed the danger of fatalism. The exiles had taken corporate guilt too seriously and were repeating a popular proverb: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezek. 18:2).
In that setting, God sent quite a different message to His people: “When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father” (Ezek. 18:19-20).
- How had Babylonian power overwhelmed the Egyptian presence in Palestine? 2 Kings 24:7.
Babylon defeated Egypt at Carchemish on the Euphrates in 606-605 BC, a crucial battle in the struggle for supremacy over Palestine. During that campaign, Nebuchadnezzar apparently made his first raid against Jerusalem, taking treasures from the temple as well as captives, most notably, Daniel and his companions (Dan. 1:1). Since that attack on Jerusalem is not mentioned in Kings and has not been directly confirmed by archeological evidence, some scholarly sources list 597 BC as the first attack against Jerusalem. The 597 BC attack is described in 2 Kings 24:10-16 and has been confirmed in some detail by the discovery of the official Babylonian Chronicle. In the attack of 597 BC, King Jehoaichin, the prophet Ezekiel, and many of the nobility of Judah were taken into exile in Babylon.
The following is a summary of the three major attacks against Jerusalem, the three stages by which the kingdom of Judah slipped into the hands of the Babylonians:
* 606/605 BCE Daniel and his companions taken captive, temple plundered (Dan. 1:1-2)
* 597 BCE Jehoiachin, Ezekiel, and key nobility taken captive, temple plundered (2 Kings 24:10-17; 2 Chron. 36:10)
* 587/86 BCE Jerusalem destroyed (temple and city walls), end of the monarchy (2 Kings 25:1-21; Jer. 39:1-10; 52:4-27)
- What tragic explanation does Kings give for the rebellion of Zedekiah? 2 Kings 24:20.
In the last verse of chapter 24, the author of Kings utters one final painful exclamation over the godforsakenness of his people. Chapter 25 is simply a sober account of the last brutal days of Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom of Judah. God has disappeared from the scene. His people belong to Babylon.
- What faint trace of hope appears in the final verses of the books of Kings? 2 Kings 25:27-30.
For those in Babylon, the release of Jehoiachin must have appeared as a sign of divine favor. But the favor lasted only “as long as he lived,” and he was still in Babylon when he died. “As long as he lived” — did hope die with Jehoiachin?
Ask yourself: How can we know when disaster is a divine response to specific human sin? Do we still suffer the consequences of the sins of our forefathers?
II. UNTIL THE LAND HAD ENJOYED ITS SABBATHS: 2 Chron. 36:1-21
The Chronicler’s version of the end of the Monarchy is briefer, more passionate, more hopeful than the account in Kings. And in Chronicles there is more evidence that God still has a plan for His people.
- In addition to his general evil behavior and his rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar, what specific flaw does the Chronicler identify in Zedekiah? 2 Chron. 36:12.
The book of Jeremiah is an indispensable companion for understanding the history of Judah as the kingdom slips towards exile. Jeremiah pled with king and people to submit to Babylon and learn the lessons God had to teach them. But he was ignored. Jeremiah 37-39 describes the interaction between king and prophet, prophet and people. The Babylonians seized Zedekiah, killed his sons in his presence and then gouged out his eyes. As they carted him off to Babylon in chains, his dark world throbbed with that last visual image, the slaughter of his own sons.
- How does the Chronicler link God’s appeals and compassion with Judah’s acts of rebellion? 2 Chron. 36:13-16.
By rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah broke an oath he had sworn before God. That was a serious sin. The Chronicler continues, noting sins of both priests and people. But in contrast with the author of Kings, he does not link the exile to Manasseh. Rather, the end came because the people flaunted the appeals of His messengers. God longed to show compassion to His people. But they refused. Finally there was no hope. God sent the Chaldeans to jar his people awake (2 Chron. 36:17).
- What providential interpretation does Chronicles give to the exile experience? 2 Chron. 36:20-21.
Chronicles links the 70-year prophecy of Jeremiah (cf. Jer 24:11; 29:10) with the idea of Sabbath rest for the land, as developed in Leviticus 26:34-45. God still has a plan for His people. They will be restored.
The 70 years referred to by the Chronicler has been interpreted in a number of ways. It was 70 years between the first attack on Jerusalem in 606-605 BC (Dan. 1) and the return of the first exiles under Zerubbabel in 536 BC (Ezra 1-2). It was also 70 years between the destruction of the temple in 586 BC and its rededication in 516-515 BC. Another interpretation sees the 70 years as weeks of years and corresponding roughly to the entire period of the monarchy. Such a view would see the continual transgression of the kings as a pollution of the land, a transgression of the sabbatical law. During the exile the land “enjoyed its sabbaths” (2 Chron. 36:21; Lev. 26:34, 43). After the price had been paid, God had new plans for his people.
- Compare the last verses of 2 Chronicles (36:22-23) with the first verses of Ezra (1:1-4), noting the similarities.
Some scholars have suggested that Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah were originally a single work. In that view, when the books were divided, the same verses were kept as the conclusion to Chronicles and the introduction to Ezra. Whether or not that was actually what happened (and the issue is much debated), it is clear that the Chronicler ends his book with a glimmer of hope. God’s people are headed home. Is there a son of David who will serve as king? That must have been the question in the hearts, if not on the lips, of the exiles as they trudged back to their desolate land to start a new life under God.
III. THE KING IS COMING
The monarchy was gone, the temple lay desolate. But there was hope. Could the throne of David live again? The first act of the returned exiles was to focus on the temple.Worship was more important than physical protection. If they worshiped the true God, He offered more protection than city walls.
- What was the reaction of the people when they finally laid the foundation for the new temple? Ezra 3:10-13.
Those who had seen the glories of Solomon’s temple wept as they saw the pitiful contrast. Those who had experienced nothing but the chains of exile and who were seeing a temple to Yahweh for the first time, rejoiced at the symbol of God’s blessing.
Haggai, a prophet of the restoration, spoke words about Zerubbabel which tantalized the people with messianic thoughts (see Haggai 2:20-23). The hope of a deliverer was still very much alive. God’s people waited and watched.
- How would an oppressed but hopeful people respond to Isaiah 9:2-7?
- How does the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1-9 blend elements which Christians now see as belonging to a first and second coming of the Messiah rather than to a single event?
The Old Testament does not distinguish clearly between the first and second advents of Christ. Only in the light of the New Testament and the teaching of Jesus and the apostles do we understand that the full sovereignty of God remains to be established. When He returns, He will establish that kingdom where the wolf and the lamb will dwell together in peace.
- How did the two disciples on the Emmaus road reflect the deep longing for the promised Deliverer? Luke 24:19-24.
- What elements did Jesus draw from the Old Testament as a means of explaining the messianic hope? Luke 24:25-27.
The Messiah was anointed to suffer. That message was not always clear in the Old Testament and it was seldom appreciated. Isaiah 53, the prophecy of the “suffering servant,” was not popularly linked with the promised Messiah of the line of David. But Jesus taught and lived the truth that the Messiah came to serve and to suffer as a means of serving.
- According to Psalm 72, what was the task of a good king? Psalm 72:12-14.
Had the kings of ancient Israel listened carefully to God’s word, they would have discovered the task that Jesus took upon himself, the task of binding the wounds of those in pain. But that may have been too much to ask of an ordinary king. God himself would have to take on flesh to show us the ideal. The failure of the monarchy was a sobering lesson. But it was a necessary prelude to the gift of God in Jesus Christ.
FURTHER STUDY AND MEDITATION. Read Prophets and Kings,. 407-76.
SUMMARY: Kings describes the judgment on Judah with only the slightest glimmer of hope. Chronicles points the way to restoration. But only in Jesus do we find the fulfillment of all the best promises of the monarchy.