Spiritual life in Israel 922 to 587 BC
or: Can the Leopard Change its Spots?
Next I want to examine the sweep of history from the period of the “judges” ( c. 1200 to 1020 BC) which we have just finished to the final deportation of the Jews from their land to Babylon in 582 BC. Actually I will pass over the reigns of Saul and David and start with Solomon. 2 Chronicles spans this period of history from the perspective of the influence of the kings on the religious life of the nation.
Unsurprisingly the boom and bust spiritual cycle continues. The kingdom splits in two after Solomon's death. Chronicles concentrates on the Southern kingdom of Judah which continues with kings who are descendants of David and here the king of the day plays a pivotal role in the state of national religion however there are mentions of the Northern kingdom of Israel and here the officially sanctioned religious institution is generally an arm of the king's rule. But that is a story for later!
For now I want to tabulate the kings and make brief notes about the state of religion and their part in it. To complicate matters some “bad” kings were converted and became “good” and (more often) initially good kings went bad at the end of their reign.
922 BC Rehaboam : Managed to set the Northern peoples in rebellion by handling them in-diplomatically. Then abandoned God. Egyptians attack. A prophet tells him; “You abandoned God therefore God has abandoned you”. The leaders then humble themselves before God and so they are rescued to the extent that Egyptians only carry off plunder and make them a vassal state.
915 BC Abijah: Maintained the Temple services and trusted God when attacked by a large force from the North and he was victorious over them.
913 BC Asa: (2 Chron.14, 2ff) “Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Ashera poles. He commanded Judah to seek the Lord the God of their fathers and to obey his laws and commands.” When attacked by a huge Cushite army, Asa cried out to God for help and they were routed before him. Encouraged by a prophecy he went on to remove idols from the whole land and captured territory and repaired the Lord's altar in Jerusalem. He even deposed his grandmother for worshipping Ashera. He enjoyed peace until the 36th year of his reign.
873 BC Jehoshaphat: in his early years “he walked in the ways his ancestor David had followed. He did not consult the Baals but sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel” … “he removed the high places and Ashera poles from Judah.” “the fear of the Lord fell on all the lands surrounding Judah, so they did not make war with Jehoshaphat.” In a most spectacular display, God causes the annihilation of a huge army from three nations coming to attack Jerusalem (see2 Chron. 20) . However there is a comment at the end that for all Jehoshapht's piety (and God's deliverance of the nation from enemies!) “the people still had not set their hearts on the God of their fathers.”
849 BC Jehoram : “when Jehoram had established himself firmly over his father's kingdom he put all his brothers to the sword along with some of the princes of Israel … He did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Subject nations successfully rebelled. A prophet warned him: “You have not walked in the ways of your father … You have led the Judah and the people of Jerusalem to prostitute themselves … You have also murdered your own brothers therefore the Lord is about to strike ...” The nation was attacked and invaded and plundered and Asa was struck down with a painful fatal disease. “(Jehoram) passed away to no one's regret ...”
842 BC Ahaziah: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord” Killed whilst visiting the king of Israel, then his mother took power
842 BC Athaliah : A nasty woman! On her son's death she exterminated the royal family and ruled. One baby prince, Joash was rescued and brought up by the high priest in the temple of God in Jerusalem. When he was aged seven with the help of the priests and army a coup was staged and Athaliah was executed.
837 BC Joash. “Joash did right in the eyes of the Lord all the years of Jehoida the priest” (who raised him). He repaired the temple. “After the death of Jehoida, the officials of Judah came and paid homage to the king and he listened to them. They abandoned the temple of the Lord the God of their fathers and worshipped Ashera poles and idols” God sent prophets to warn them but the people did not listen. Then Zechariah, Jehoida's son prophesied: “This is what God says: 'Why do you disobey the Lord's commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord he has forsaken you.” Joash the king had him murdered. “at the turn of the year the army of Aram marched against Joash; it invaded Judah and Jerusalem and killed all the leaders of the people.”
800 BC Amaziah: “ He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly” He later conquered a neighbouring country – but brought back their idols and started to worship them. He refused to hear a prophet sent to warn him. He challenged Israel, but was defeated, captured and lost all the valuables from his palace and the temple. He was eventually assassinated by conspirators.
783 BC Uzziah: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord … he sought God all the days of Zechariah who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success” Later he became proud and tried to usurp the priestly role: he was struck down instantly with leprosy.
742 BC Jotham: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord … The people however continued their corrupt practices.” he was successful in battle. “Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God”
735 BC Ahaz: “He made cast idols for worshipping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations that the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places on the hilltops and under every spreading tree. Therefore the Lord his God handed him over to the king of Aram ...” Other surrounding nations pressed attacks. “the Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz … because he had promoted wickedness in Judah and been most unfaithful to the Lord.” He also closed the temple and built pagan altars throughout Jerusalem.
715 BC Hezekiah: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” He opened the temple. He ordered the priests and Levites to clean out and consecrate the temple. Re-instituted Passover and sent couriers round the country with the message: “People of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob that he may return to you ...” There was a great assembly in Jerusalem for the feast of unleavened bread and “When all this had ended the Israelites who were there went out to the towns of Judah and smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Ashera poles ...” When the Assyrian King Sennacherib invaded, God miraculously rescued Judah. Sennacherib withdrew to his own country and was assassinated.
687 BC Manasseh: “he did evil in the eyes of the Lord … he rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished, he also erected altars to the Baals and built Ashera poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts. He built altars (to the starry hosts) in the temple of the Lord … He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practised sorcery, divination and witchcraft and consulted mediums and spiritists.” …
“the Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention so the Lord sent the army commanders of the king of Assyria who captured Manasseh … then Manasseh humbled himself greatly before the Lord … who brought him back to Jerusalem … Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God … he got rid of the foreign gods … the people however continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.”
642 BC Amon: “he did evil in the sight of God” his officials conspired and assassinated him.
640 BC Josiah: “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” He was 8 when he became king. At age 16 he “began to seek the God of his ancestor David” At 18 “he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Ashera poles and carved idols and cast images.” At 26 he ordered the repair of the temple, during these the “Book of the Law” was found. He called all the people together, read out the book of the Covenant, and renewed the covenant – to follow the Lord and keep his commands. He made all in the country serve the Lord. “As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord the God of their fathers.”
609 BC Jehoahaz: only reigned 3 months before he was removed by the king of Egypt
609 BC Jehoiakim: Installed as a vassal to Egypt. “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar invaded and took him captive to Babylon.
598 BC Jehoiachin: Installed as vassal to Nebuchadnezzar, “he did evil in the eyes of the Lord”. He was summoned to Babylon and replaced by his uncle Zedekiah
597 Zedekiah: made king as vassal to Nebuchadnezzar, taking an oath of allegiance in the Lord's name. “he did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not humble himself before the prophet Jeremiah who spoke the word of the Lord.” He also broke his oath and rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonians besieged Jerusalem. Zedekiah rejected God's promise of safety if he surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar. Jerusalem fell in 587. Zedekiah's sons were executed in front of him, he was then blinded and taken in chains to Babylon along with most of the survivors. The city was looted and the temple destroyed.
Those are the main facts. Next post I shall attempt to draw some conclusions from them.