Good morning! With today’s passage (1 Chronicles 34-36) we conclude the pre-exile historical narratives that have stretched from the beginning of Joshua (March 11th) all the way until today. Ezra and Nehemiah (which follow today) offer a brief interpretation of events after exile, but we’re nearly done with all the books in the “historical” section of the Hebrew scriptures. Today we finish Chronicles with a focus on righteous Josiah and the unrighteous kings who follow him, all powerless to stop the convergence of Egyptian and Babylonian powers against Judah.
We’re familiar with Josiah already, but chapter 34 retells the highlights of his reign, beginning when he was an eight-year-old boy. On his way to adulthood, he leads an anti-idolatry campaign around Judah. This is the first sign of his dedication to the Hebrew God rather than any other. Some years later when he has called and provided for the temple’s rebuilding, workers discover the book of the law. Josiah laments upon hearing the law, and fearing divine wrath for the ways that Judah has fallen short. We encounter again the prophet Huldah, who discerns that God will delay punishment for Josiah’s righteousness. Seeing her name again led me to wonder how one becomes a prophet in the first place, one trusted to faithfully report, “thus says the Lord”. Still more, how does a woman in this time come to be consulted by kings, regarded as a mouthpiece of God? Perhaps she is like Joan of Arc—filled with such conviction that other leaders felt compelled and inspired to follow her guidance. Whatever the reason, she proclaims that Josiah’s penitence will save the destruction of Judah from coming on his generation in Judah. Josiah nevertheless commits to follow the covenant wholeheartedly. He also has the covenant read aloud (like the Pledge of Allegiance) so that everyone understands the terms of the covenant, assents to it publicly, and lives by it the rest of his days.
The Passover celebration in 2 Chronicles 35 was supposedly done during Hezekiah’s reign too, but that’s unknown to the writer of this section of Chronicles. Josiah himself gave the Passover lambs for all the people to slaughter in their observances. Does this effectively smother their own participation, suggesting that they go through the motions for a king, with a lamb that is not actually their own sacrifice? In any case, all that sacrificial meat must be eaten, and the chapter describes the careful coordination of this huge group meal. If you’ve ever seen communion celebrated in an amphitheater or convention hall, you’ll have a small sense of what’s envisioned here. Despite the glory of Passover. Josiah’s zealous insistence on fighting Pharaoh Neco leads to his death. Jeremiah is mentioned in vs. 25, lamenting for Josiah. It’ll be interesting to see whether we can find hints of this when we come to the book of Lamentations.
Judah next endures a revolving door of monarchs, a near-frenzied search for leadership after Josiah. Jehoahaz takes over after Josiah, but is captured and carried into Egyptian exile. Jehoiakim, then Jehoiachin, then Zedekiah, ascend to the throne at the will of Babylon, which has by now conquered Judah. Prophets like Jeremiah are mocked and disbelieved—foreshadowing what we will read in the books named after them. Rebellion against Babylon leads to massacre in Jerusalem, full-scale ransacking of the temple, burning of the city, and then the exile in Babylon for seventy years. Note that the time of exile is couched in religious terms as “Sabbath” for the land—as though the land itself finally had permission to express its devotion to God. Finally, after seventy years had passed, the end of the Exile is declared by King Cyrus of Persia, who hears God calling him to (re)build “a house at Jerusalem”. The peoples’ return from exile, with all that entails, will be our subject in the book of Ezra, starting tomorrow. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Ezra 1-2. Thanks for reading!