Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2 Kings 22-23:30 – Josiah – Is There Still Hope?

22:1 – Josiah – son of Amon. He reigned for 31 years (640-609BC) over Judah doing what was right in the sight of the LORD as David had done – he was the ideal king (Deut.17:20) and fulfilled the prophecy given by the unnamed prophet of Judah (1 Ki.13:2). He became king while only 8 years old. The Babylonians with the Medes found freedom from Assyria at the death of Ashurbanipal in 626BC. They conquered the Assyrian capital of Ninevah in 612 and finally destroyed the Assyrians in 609. When Josiah turned 16 (in 632BC) he began to make certain religious reforms in Judah (2 Chron.34:3). In his 12th year as king (at age 20 – or 628BC), he began removing idolatry from Judah (2 Chron.34:3). His 18th year as king of Judah (age 26 and year 622) led to the repairs and restoration of the Temple of the LORD (2 Ki.22:3; 2 Chron.34:8). Hilkiah the High Priest oversaw the repairs of the Temple and “found” the “Book of the Law” (2 Ki.22:8; apparently it had been removed from beside the Ark of the Covenant – Deut.31:26) which after being read was then read in the presence of King Josiah (2 Ki.22:10). When Josiah heard the “Book of the Law” he tore his robes in repentance and sent his administration to Huldah the prophetess to inquire of the LORD concerning the Law. In response to the message of impending judgment given by Huldah, Josiah initiated full-fledged reform in Judah and even Israel. He called all the people, the priests, and the prophets (this last one is not found in 2 Chron.34:30) together to hear the reading of the Book of the Covenant (and thereby renew the Covenant – Deut.31:9-13), and to cleanse the land and the Temple, and to celebrate the Passover in an unprecedented scale (2 Ki.23:21). In his reforms, he had the aid of the writing prophets: Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. In 609BC, Pharaoh Neco of Egypt on his way to the Euphrates to engage the Babylonians (as ally or enemy?), Josiah challenged him to fight at Megiddo. Neco declared that God had sent him and that Josiah should not fight, but Josiah attempted to disguise himself and was shot with an arrow. He was returned to Jerusalem where he died and was buried.

22:8 – What “Book of the Law (22:8) / Covenant (23:2)” was “found”? Many believe it was at least a portion of Deuteronomy if not the whole book or even possibly the whole Torah. How is it possible that it should be “found”?

22:14 – Huldah the Prophetess? She appears to have been a relative (his aunt?) of Jeremiah (Jer.32:7). Huldah was not the only prophetess known to Israel/Judah – see Miriam in Exodus 15:20; and Deborah in Judges 4:4). The prophet Joel (2:23) would later declare by the word of the LORD that the Spirit would be poured out on all persons irregardless of gender, age, or status; and Peter on the Day of Pentecost would declare that the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled in the Baptism in the Spirit (Acts 2:14-21). What do we make of the contents of Huldah’s prophecy (see Deut.28:15-68).

22:20 – How could he be “buried in peace” in light of his violent end in 1 Ki.23:29?

23:3 – The pledge of the covenant is comprehensive. It involves heart and soul to all of the commandments, regulations and decrees and involves everyone (much as the renewal in Josh.24:1-27).

23:4-25 – Josiah’s Reforms: removed and destroyed all the utensils in the Temple of the LORD used to worship other gods; removed the pagan priests from the Temple; burned the Asherah pole Manasseh had put in the Temple; destroyed the quarters used by the male shrine prostitutes and the women who made clothes for Ashtoreth; desecrated all the high places in all of Judah; broke down the shrines at the gates of Jerusalem; desecrated Topheth where children had been offered to Molech; removed the horses dedicated to the sun and destroyed the accompanying chariots; removed the altars for astral deities installed by Manasseh and Ahaz; destroyed and desecrated the high places Solomon had built for his many foreign wives (see 1 Ki.11:7); destroyed and desecrated the high places and altars in Israel set up by Jeroboam in Bethel (see 1 Ki.12:25-13:5); removed the spiritists and mediums in Judah (see Lev.19:31; 20:27; Deut.18:11); removed the idols and tools for divination; and slaughtered the priests in Israel (see Ex.22:20; Deut.13:6-11; 18:20). He also commanded Judah (and Israel) to “celebrate the Passover” (see Ex.12:1-11; Deut.16:1-8).

23:13 – The “mount of corruption” (har hammashith;) is a Hebrew play on words with the name of the “mount of anointing (‘olives’)” (har hammisha) – (Konkel NIVAC 637).

23:22 – What made this Passover celebration so utterly unique? What would be the difference between the Passover celebrated by Hezekiah (2 Chron.30:1-27) and this one (2 Chron.35:18)? According to 1 Esdras (1:1-20) and Josephus (Ant.10.70-72) it was the sheer volume of sacrifices and the scope of uniting Israel and Judah in this celebration.

23:25 – What does it mean for Josiah to turn to the LORD with his whole “heart”, “soul”, and “strength”? (see Deut.6:4-5) Why should this be followed by a “nevertheless” concerning the judgment of the LORD (2 Ki.23:26)? Also, why would the LORD reject the place he has chosen and what is the significance of removing His Name from there (23:27)?

23:29-30 – Why did Josiah go to fight Neco of Egypt given the message to do otherwise by God (compare 2 Chron.35:20-25)? Also, why did he wear a disguise (compare Ahab in 1 Ki.22:30)? This was considered such a national tragedy that Jeremiah is reputed to have penned a lasting lament to be sung annually in memoriam (2 Chron.35:25). According to 1 Esdras 1:28, Jeremiah had warned Josiah not to fight against Neco, and according to Josephus (Ant.10.76) “fate” drove him that Judah might be judged by the LORD.

Friday, December 18, 2009

S*E*X and the Image of God

I just recently finished a wonderful book I received for review (it was outside of my normal reading which doesn't tend to be nearly so 'practical' :-).  Gerald Hiestand, Adult Ministries pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, IL, has written Raising Purity: Helping Parents Understand the Bible's Perspective on Sex, Dating, and Relationships.  This little volume has completely changed the way I think about relationships outside of marriage (okay, not completely...I was mostly with him before I read the book, but it was still a challenging and encouraging read).  His proposal is nothing short of revolutionary in its scope, however modestly it was written.  His basic premise is that our sexuality is connected to the image of God and therefore to be guarded against profaning.  This is paradigm shifting in our sexually laissez faire culture.  "Scripture expressly states that God created sex to serve as a living witness of the life-changing union that believers have with God through Christ" (16).  This relationship (more than others) images the gospel most clearly.  If his proposal is accurate (which I believe it is) then we who have confessed Christ as Lord must live lives of the utmost purity as witnesses to the good news of union with Christ alone as his pure and spotless bride.

He proposes (in accordance with Scripture - 1 Cor.7:9; 1 Tim.5:2) that anyone who is not a spouse should be treated as a 'neighbor' as far as intimacy is concerned.  We think that we have created something of substance and security by using the term 'dating' (as a title instead of just a verb), but Hiestand justifiably exposed the illusion of security.  He points out that we have simply replaced the commitment of marriage for a facade of commitment called 'dating'.  However, 'dating' by its nature means that there is no real commitment, otherwise persons would marry (granted marriage in our culture has less and less abiding substance, but this is exactly his point).  He saliently calls for a return to the emphasis upon marriage as the only binding relationship and therefore the only relationship where sexuality may properly be expressed at any level.

While this book has been primarily written for parents, it would be helpful for anyone.  It is not written at a technical level, but is very accessible.  He has lots of illustrations and also questions at the conclusion of each chapter that engage the reader with the concepts of the text.  The issues involved in 'Raising Purity' are the issues of humanity.  The Church must discuss sexuality from a Biblical perspective.  We cannot simply skirt the issue, nor tell ourselves that we must deny our innate desires.  We were created for sexual expression and enjoyment, and must find this only in the freedom of marriage which is blessed of God and truly images the relationship of God with His people.

In the coming weeks I hope to make some further comments about some of the specifics of the book.  Needless to say, I was very impressed...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2 Kings 20-21 - Hezekiah and Manasseh: Room for Repentance and Restoration?

20:1 – The LORD says Hezekiah will certainly die…but then Hezekiah prays and the LORD sends Isaiah back to Hezekiah to tell him that the LORD will actually heal him and he will live another 15 years (20:6; Isa.38:10-20). Has the LORD changed His mind?

20:8 – What is the significance of Hezekiah asking for a sign? (contrast with Ahaz in Isa.7:12)

20:12 – Why was Merodach-Baladan of Babylon visiting Hezekiah? (Isa.39:1)

20:13-15 – Why did Hezekiah show the Babylonians everything? According to 2 Chronicles 32:31 this moment was a test of the LORD. Did Hezekiah pass the test?

20:19 – How should we understand Hezekiah’s response to the LORD’s promise of plundering and exile by Babylon (20:17-18)? Does Hezekiah not care as long as it does not happen while he is king? Does Hezekiah simply acknowledge what will be no matter what and is thankful that the LORD has granted that it not occur sooner? (see the context for understanding this response as given in Isa.40ff)

20:20 – What is the significance of mentioning “the tunnel” that Hezekiah had dug? This tunnel is nearly 1600 feet long and allowed for water access in case of a siege.

21:1 – Manasseh – son of Hezekiah. He reigned for 55 years (697-642BC) over Judah (10 years the throne was shared with his father Hezekiah) doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD. According to Assyrian records, he supported Assyria as a vassal state with only one brief rebellion (2 Chron.33:10-13). He led Judah into idolatry that was worse than the nations driven out by Israel (21:3-5). He rebuilt the “high places” (like Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12:31; which his father Hezekiah had removed in 2 Kings 18:4), erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah (like Ahab in 1 Kings 16:31; see Deut.16:21) which he even placed in the temple of the LORD, built altars to the starry hosts (like Ahaz in 2 Kings 16:10-16; see Deut.4:19; Jer.7:18), he also practiced child sacrifice (like Ahaz 2 Kings 16:3), practiced sorcery, divination, consulted mediums and spiritists (see Lev.18:21; Deut.18:9-13). He violated the Davidic covenant (2 Sam.7:7-17), the Temple of the LORD (Deut.12:1-32; 1 Kings 9:1-9), and the Mosaic Law (Deut.28:49-63). He rejected the word of the LORD through the prophets (2 Kings 21:10-15) and reputed to have killed Isaiah (see 21:16 below). According to 2 Chronicles 33:10-17 during his brief rebellion against Assyria he was taken as an exile (by himself?) in chains with a ring through his nose to Babylon (?) until he repented to the LORD (see the apocryphal Prayer of Manasseh) and the LORD restored him to his throne in Jerusalem. He even removed many of the idols and shrines he had built, but this appears to not have lasted long and the writer of Kings never mentions this positive note about Manasseh.

21:10 – What do the “prophets” signify? They signify that the LORD has not utterly abandoned His people. They are grace and mercy, righteousness and justice calling to His people to repent. They are representative of the faithful who hear the word of the LORD and obey. They are the testimony to the covenant and to the responsibility inherent in the covenant in order to experience the blessings of the covenant.

21:12 – “the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle”? (see Jer.15:1-4) The judgment of a plumb-line like the one used against Samaria will be used against Jerusalem (Amos 7:7-9) as well as like the washing of a dish that is turned over, but what does all of this mean? It means that the judgment which is coming will be beyond repair and will be utterly devastating even to the nations who are witness to this judgment.

21:16 – What does it mean that Manasseh “filled Jerusalem from one end to the other” by shedding so much innocent blood? Tradition says that Manasseh had Isaiah sawn in two (this account is given in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 5.1; several Targumim and many Early Church Fathers like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen; see also Heb.11:37). Josephus wrote that Manasseh had prophets killed daily in Jerusalem as well as slaughtering any righteous persons he found (Ant.10.37-38).

21:18, 26 – What is the reference to Manasseh and Amon being “buried in the garden of Uzza”? Konkel suggests that the “garden of Uzza” may be referring to “an enclosed space constructed in honor of a Canaanite astral deity” named Attar-melek, which was the star Venus, in Arabic named “Uzza” (NIVAC 623).

21:19 – Amon – son of Manasseh. He reigned for 2 years (642-640BC) over Judah doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD just like his father Manasseh. He was assassinated (by whom?) and the assassins were put to death by those loyal to the family of David.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Praying like Manasseh

I must admit that I do enjoy reading the apocryphal books (those included in the canon of the Catholic and Orthodox churches and even those excluded), but one of my personal favorites is the "Prayer of Manasseh" (another is the "Song of the Three Children" which offers a wonderful take on what happened to the three Hebrews thrown into the fiery furnace).  I was reading it as part of my preparation for Bible study tomorrow night and was once again moved by the depths of the prayer (No, we aren't studying the Apocrypha, but I thought I'd include the prayer because we are covering the life of Manasseh).  While I have never had an issue with believing books such as this one belong to the canon (they certainly don't), I still enjoy reading them for a rather moving account of someone's perspective on 'the rest of the story' (to steal a phrase from Paul Harvey).  I'm actually appreciative of whoever it was who composed this prayer to fill in 2 Chronicles 33:12-13.
O Lord Almighty,God of our ancestors, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of their righteous offspring; you who made heaven and earth with all their order; who shackled the sea by your word of command, who confined the deep and sealed it with your terrible and glorious name; at whom all things shudder, and tremble before your power, for your glorious splendour cannot be borne, and the wrath of your threat to sinners is unendurable; yet immeasurable and unsearchable is your promised mercy, for you are the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long-suffering, and very merciful, and you relent at human suffering. O Lord, according to your great goodness you have promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against you, and in the multitude of your mercies you have appointed repentance for sinners, so that they may be saved. Therefore you, O Lord, God of the righteous, have not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against you, but you have appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner.

For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea; my transgressions are multiplied, O Lord, they are multiplied! I am not worthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities. I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief; for I have provoked your wrath and have done what is evil in your sight, setting up abominations and multiplying offences.

And now I bend the knee of my heart, imploring you for your kindness. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge my transgressions. I earnestly implore you forgive me, O Lord, forgive me! Do not destroy me with my transgressions! Do not be angry with me for ever or store up evil for me; do not condemn me to the depths of the earth. For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent, and in me you will manifest your goodness; for, unworthy as I am, you will save me according to your great mercy, and I will praise you continually all the days of my life. For all the host of heaven sings your praise, and yours is the glory for ever. Amen.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"On the Uses of Adversity"

I have been reading certain books (Calvin, Barth, and Bonhoeffer) as an aid to my devotional life and recently began reading Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ.  It is a marvelous little book that has been daily driving me to tears in confession of sins like pride, gossip and worldliness, and to call out to the Lord in prayer for help.  How weak I truly am.  Lord I need you!

I came across this reading a few days ago and thought to share it (as it particularly pricked my heart in the midst of four months now of ongoing physical pain and the often mental and spiritual trials which have daily accompanied it):
It is good for us to encounter troubles and adversities from time to time, for trouble often compels a man to search his own heart.  It reminds him that he is an exile here, and that he can put his trust in nothing in this world.  It is good, too, that we sometimes suffer opposition, and that men think ill of us and misjudge us, even when we do and mean well.  Such things are an aid to humility, and preserve us from pride and vainglory.  For we more readily turn to God as our inward witness, when men despise us and think no good of us.

A man should therefore place such complete trust in God, that he has no need of comfort from men.  When a good man is troubled, tempted, or vexed by evil thoughts, he comes more clearly than ever to realize his need of God, without whom he can do nothing good.  Then, as he grieves and laments his lot, he turns to prayer amid his misfortunes.  He is weary of life, and longs for death to release him, that he may be dissolved, and be with Christ.  It is then that he knows with certainty that there can be no complete security nor perfect peace in his life.
I pray the Lord keep and preserve me by His power.  I know that in this world there is trouble and in every way and at every hour I need Him.  Lord be merciful to me a sinner...