THIS WEEK’S STUDY: 2 Kings 21:1-23:30; 2 Chronicles 33:1-35:27
MEMORY TEXT: “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts” Jeremiah 2:19.
TOO LITTLE RIGHTEOUSNESS, TOO LATE. While salvation for individuals is a gift of God’s grace, the earthly success of God’s people is dependent on obedience to divine law. For Judah, long and repeated outbreaks of evil had sown the seed. Now the harvest was near. Even the heroic reforms of a righteous Josiah could win only a brief reprieve.
OVERVIEW: FROM GREATEST APOSTATE TO GREATEST REFORMER
I. WICKED MANASSEH, WICKED AMON: 2 Kings 21:1-26
II. REPENTANT MANASSEH, UNREPENTANT AMON: 2 Chron. 33:1-25
III. JOSIAH THE REFORMER: 2 Kings 22:1-23:30
IV. JOSIAH THE WORSHIPPER: 2 Chron. 34:1-35:26
A GREAT IDOLATER AND A GREAT REFORMER SHAPE JUDAH’S FUTURE. The authors of both Kings and Chronicles were preoccupied with the question of faithfulness to God’s law. Still suffering from the fallout from the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity, they measured each king against the question: Did he help or hinder the cause of God? The record of each ruler stands for posterity to ponder.
This week’s lesson leads us into the final decades before the fall of Jerusalem. With only the brief two-year reign of Amon separating them, Manasseh, Judah’s most infamous idolater-king, and Josiah, her noblest reformer-king held the reins of government. Both Kings and Chronicles offer their judgment on how these kings contributed to the fate of the nation.
In later rabbinic Judaism, the name “Manasseh” became a kind of shorthand symbol for the worst of evil, a quick way to pass moral judgment on apostasy. A good example is found in some Hebrew manuscripts of Judges 17-18, the story of the Danite apostasy. The original text of Judges 18:30 records that a grandson of Moses was priest at the idolatrous shrine. But some devout copyist changed the name “Moses” to “Manasseh,” an alteration possible in Hebrew simply by adding the letter “N” (Hebrew, nun). The scribe’s reverence for the sacred text is revealed, however, by the fact that he inserted the extra “N” a half line higher than the normal script, a position carefully preserved in later manuscripts. That one raised letter served as both a positive and a negative reminder. On the one hand, a reader would note the sanctity of the original text and the greatness of Moses, but on the other, the horror of apostasy, both in the era of the judges and in the reign of Manasseh.
In the aftermath of Manasseh’s apostasy, Josiah developed a reputation as good as Manasseh’s was evil. His reforms were some of the most rigorous in the history of Judah. But judgment was only postponed, not canceled. The reforms proved transitory; Judah’s backslidings brought their own reward.
The Chronicler and the author of Kings maintain their respective emphases in their telling of the story of Manasseh and Josiah. Kings focuses on sin and judgment; Chronicles reveals a silver lining, glimpses of forgiveness and restoration.
I. WICKED MANASSEH, WICKED AMON: 2 Kings 21:1-26
- From 2 Kings 21, list the eleven specific sins that ended up labeling Manasseh as Judah’s most wicked king:
A. (vs. 3) ___________________________________________B. (vs. 3) ___________________________________________
C. (vs. 3) ___________________________________________
D. (vs. 3) ___________________________________________
E. (vs. 4) ___________________________________________
F. (vs. 5) ___________________________________________
G. (vs. 6) ___________________________________________
H. (vs. 6) ___________________________________________
I. (vs. 6) ___________________________________________
J. (vs. 7) ___________________________________________
K. (vs. 16) __________________________________________
The Asherah mentioned in verses 4 and 7 can signify both a Canaanite goddess and a sacred cult object symbolizing the goddess: “When the goddess or her cult image is not meant, the word Asherah refers to a wooden pole or tree trunk which stood in Canaanite sanctuaries (Ex. 34:13), dedicated to the goddess as a symbol of vegetation” (Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, article “Asherah,” 86). The extent of Manasseh’s apostasy is all the more remarkable when contrasted with the faithfulness of his father Hezekiah.
- Who pronounced what judgment against Judah because of the sins of Manasseh? 2 Kings 21:10-15.
Pronounced by: ________________________________________The Judgment: _________________________________________
In the prophetic books in Scripture, the only specific reference linking Manasseh’s sin with judgment on Judah is found in Jeremiah 15:4: “I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem” (RSV).
Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry began in King Josiah’s reign and continued through to the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 15:5-9 is a poignant description of the fate of God’s people. The same chapter reflects Jeremiah’s own grief at the message he bore and the pain he experienced when his messages were rejected.
- How does the author of Kings rate the reign of Amon? 2 Kings 21:19-25.
Ask yourself: What kind of heritage am I leaving to posterity? Will my life be a blessing or a curse to those who come after me?
II. REPENTANT MANASSEH, UNREPENTANT AMON: 2 Chron. 33:1-25
In contrast with the stark description of Manasseh’s reign found in Kings, Chronicles records a piece of good news: Manasseh’s repentance. It did not come easily nor could it counteract all the evil he had instigated, but it does reveal God’s willingness to be gracious, even to the worst of sinners.
- What event brought Manasseh to his spiritual senses? 2 Chron. 33:11-13.
- In addition to Manasseh’s repentance, what other positive items, not mentioned in Kings, does the Chronicler record about Manasseh’s reign? 2 Chron. 33:14-19.
A. (vs. 14) __________________________________________B. (vs. 14) __________________________________________
C. (vs. 15) __________________________________________
D. (vs. 16) __________________________________________
E. (vs. 18) __________________________________________
F. (vs. 19) __________________________________________
In the light of sin, God’s messengers have three choices: 1) a somber emphasis on sin and judgment; 2) an emphasis on sin balanced with a message of love and salvation; 3) an exclusive emphasis on love and salvation without reference to sin.
The author of Kings chose option one for Manasseh, revealing not a trace of good. The Chronicler chose option two, balancing sin and restoration. Option three simply is not biblical.
The Chronicler’s message is more hopeful than that of Kings. Yet a stark presentation of failure (Kings) may be the only way to jar God’s people awake: “That religion which makes of sin a light matter, dwelling upon the love of God to the sinner regardless of his actions, only encourages the sinner to believe that God will receive him while he continues in that which he knows to be sin” (Testimonies 5:540).
- Although later Jewish tradition held Manasseh to be Judah’s most wicked king, in what way does Chronicles see Manasseh’s son Amon as more evil than his father? 2 Chron. 33:21-25.
Ask yourself: If the Lord could forgive Manasseh for all his enormous wickedness, could there ever be a sin or sinner so monstrous that the Lord could not forgive?
III. JOSIAH THE REFORMER: 2 Kings 22:1-23:30
A comparison of Kings and Chronicles suggests that the author of Kings considered Josiah to have been a more effective king than Hezekiah, while the Chronicler saw it the other way around. Such differences in emphasis are natural and appropriate as long as they do not lead to conflict and schism.
The New Testament provides clear illustrations of such differences. Paul recognized that he, Apollos, and Peter each had their following in Corinth. Unfortunately, the differing loyalties had led to contention (1 Cor. 1:10-12). Ideally, the Corinthians should have recognized that Paul had planted, Apollos had watered. Each had his own emphasis; both were directed by the Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 3). Paul was not afraid to confront Peter face-to-face (Gal. 2:11) and Peter wrote that Paul’s writings were hard to understand and could be misleading (2 Peter 3:15-16). But properly understood, such diversity can be a source of strength to the church.
Throughout the quarter, instances have been noted where the Kings and Chronicles give special shape and coloring to their material. That continues to be the case for the story of Josiah.
- What discovery in the temple offers a clue to the status of religious fervor prior to Josiah’s time? 2 Kings 22:8-13.
- What judgment did Huldah pronounce against the kingdom? 2 Kings 22:15-17.
- What effect did Josiah’s piety have on the judgment against the kingdom? 2 Kings 22:18-20.
The judgment against the nation appeared irrevocable. That was the tenor of Jonah’s message against, Ninevah, too. When Ninevah repented, judgment was postponed, not canceled. So it was with Jerusalem in Josiah’s day. Is it possible, however, that righteousness could have extended the postponement indefinitely? God does respond to repentance.
- In addition to destroying the vestiges of pagan worship throughout the land, Josiah also touched the sins of Judah’s former kings. From 2 Kings 23, note the “royal” sins that had lingered through the reigns of good kings and bad:
Kings of Judah (vs. 11) ________________________________Kings of Judah (vs. 12) ________________________________
Manasseh (vs. 12) _____________________________________
Solomon (vs. 13) ______________________________________
The story of the reforms carried out by Josiah confirms the prophetic judgment that the people “have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day” (2 Kings 21:16, RSV).
- According to Kings, how does Josiah’s Passover compare with other great feasts in Israel’s history? 2 Kings 23:22.
- What overall judgment of Josiah and his reign is given by the author of Kings? 2 Kings 23:25.
- How does the author’s view of Josiah compare with his view of Hezekiah? Compare 2 Kings 23:25 with 2 Kings 18:5.
Interestingly enough, both the Josiah-as-best-king statement and the Hezekiah-as-best-king statement come from the same author. But rather than seeing the statements as contradictory, we should simply see them as examples of a superlative style.”The best peaches I have ever eaten” does not necessarily imply careful accounting and scientific experiment; more likely it simply means these peaches are very good indeed. So it is with the “best” king. In comparison with the general run of Judah’s kings, both Hezekiah and Josiah had outstanding records.
IV. JOSIAH THE WORSHIPER: 2 Chron. 34:1-35:26
The Chronicler is more interested in positive acts of worship than he is in the messy business of reform. In comparison with Kings, his comments on specific reforms are significantly fewer.
But when it comes to the Passover itself and the details of worship, the Chronicler takes great care to inform his readers. Even if, as we shall note below, the Chronicler does not view Josiah in quite the same way as does the author of Kings, he still portrays Josiah as one of Judah’s great kings.
- From 2 Chronicles 34, note Josiah’s age at the time of the key events in the development of his religious experience:
Start of reign (vs. 1) ________________________________Began to seek the God of David (vs. 3) _________________
Began to purge Jerusalem (vs. 3) ______________________
Discovery of law (vs. 8) ______________________________
If it took eighteen years before one of Judah’s best kings put the temple in order, what must have been the religious condition of the ordinary person in the street? Realizing how erratic God’s people were can help us visualize a God who is extremely kind and longsuffering, not violent and quick-tempered as one might first suspect with a quick glance at the Old Testament.
- How does the Chronicler’s treatment of Josiah’s Passover differ from that of Kings? Compare 2 Kings 23:21-23 and 2 Chron. 35:1-19.
Both authors see the Passover as a great event. The Chronicler simply provides a more detailed account. The fact that Kings tells us nothing about Hezekiah’s Passover and very little about Josiah’s, while Chronicles goes into great detail on both tells us where their interests lie.
- What explanation does the Chronicler give for Josiah’s tragic death? 2 Chron. 35:20-25.
In the view of the Chronicler, God even speaks through a pagan king. No detailed explanation is given for Josiah’s failure to recognize the voice of God, though the Chronicler’s comment clearly is intended to note a blemish on an otherwise good record. Kings tells of Josiah’s death but mentions no shortfall in the king’s behavior. By contrast, Kings records Hezekiah’s flippant “death-bed” statement (2 Kings 20:19), a piece omitted by Chronicles. For the author of Kings, Josiah was the last and best of Judah’s good rulers. The Chronicler gives the highest marks to Hezekiah.
But regardless of whether one is reading Kings or Chronicles, the thoughtful student of Scripture will ponder the sudden death of the good king and the almost immediate decline of the nation into chaos and captivity. Too little righteousness, too late. Sin destroys. “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God” (Jer. 2:19).
FURTHER STUDY AND MEDITATION. Read Prophets and Kings, 381-406.
* Deuteronomy 27-31 contains curses and blessings in conjunction with divine legislation given by Moses to the people. Most scholars believe that the “book of the law” which led Josiah to rend his clothes (2 Kings 22:11; 2 Chron. 34:19) contained part or all of our book of Deuteronomy. Compare the material in Deuteronomy with the sins of Manasseh and the reforms of Josiah. Then study 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chron. 34 for the reaction of the king and the judgment pronounced by Huldah. Are there parallels that would be helpful in our day?
* The reigns of Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah provide one of the best opportunities to compare the style and emphasis of the Chronicler with that of the author of Kings. Compare the treatment of each king in the parallel passages (2 Kings 18:1-23:30; 2 Chronicles 29:1-35;26), making note of those elements which would enable you to rank the four from best king to worst king, both for the Chronicler and for Kings. That same study will illustrate the general tendencies of Kings (focus on sin and judgment) and Chronicles (focus on restoration, forgiveness, and worship).
SUMMARY: In spite of repentance, reformation, and forgiveness, Manasseh went down in history as Judah’s greatest apostate king. The efforts of Judah’s greatest reformer-king, Josiah, postponed judgment. But apostasy was too deeply rooted and too widespread. Too little righteousness came too late and Judah reaped what she had sown.