Lesson 30: Come to the House of the Lord #BCCSundaySchool2018

2 Chronicles 29-30; 32:1-23; 34

 

This week’s lesson is about two righteous kings–Hezekiah and Josiah–who had a positive effect on the people of Judah. In some ways, it is a parallel lesson to Lesson #28, which was about wicked kings. But there is an interesting twist. So far, most of the lessons about Israel’s history have come from the sequence that we call the “Deuteronomic History,” which includes Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. The readings for this lesson, however, are drawn from 2 Chronicles.

Both Hezekiah and Josiah are treated in some detail in 2 Kings, and I am tempted to import those stories into this lesson and mix the stories all together. But I will resist, as the use of Chronicles seems quite intentional, and it gives us an opportunity to spend some time talking about the differences between the two books.

Kings vs Chronicles
In the LDS and other Christian Bibles, Kings and Chronicles appear in sequence as part of the collection of books devoted to Israelite history. These books include Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. It is tempting to try to read Chronicles as part of this sequence, but it really isn’t. The other books all go together. They were written by the same group of people to do the same sort of thing. Chronicles, on the other hand, it its own thing. 

In the Jewish Bible, Kings and Chronicles (each was originally a single book that was divided into two parts later on) are not grouped together or considered part of the same category. Kings is part of the  Nevi’im, or the “Prophets,” while Chronicles is part of the Ketuvim, or “Writings.” Very roughly, this assigns Kings to the status of prophetic history and Chronicles to something more like a historical novel–something that is solidly based on history, and in fact shows the clear influence of both Samuel and Kings, but is not quite history itself because it takes more liberties than one would hope a history would take. Chronicles is also the final book of the Hebrew Bible, giving it the sort of “last word’ status that Malachi enjoys in the KJV.

While there are many similarities between Kings and Chronicles, the fact that both have become part of the canon suggests that we should spend time studying the differences and evaluating what each can contribute to our understanding of the Gospel. The chart below lists some of the most important differences in composition, purpose, audience and style between Kings and Chronicles, and I think it makes a good starting point for our lesson this week.

KINGS

CHRONICLES

Probably written during the Babylonian captivity as part of the Deuteronomic History designed to explain the captivity as the result of idol worship. Written after the Babylonian captivity ended, when the Jews were freed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Designed to give the Jews a positive history as the basis for rebuilding both their temple and their society.
Part of a continuous history of Israel, often called the “Deuteronomic History,” that includes Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings. This history ends with the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. A self-contained narrative that begins with Adam (though only as part of a genealogy)  and ends with Cyrus the Great allowing the Jews to return to Israel after the Babylonian Captivity.
Narrates the history of United Israel and then the histories of both Judah and Israel after the death of Solomon. Narrates the history of United Israel, but, after the death of Solomon, focuses almost entirely on the Kingdom of Judah.
Continues the narrative of 1 and 2 Samuel, which gives a “warts and all” version of Israel’s greatest heroes: David and Solomon, both of whose stories combine greatness, ambition, and grievous transgressions against the Lord. Sanitizes the stories of David and Solomon. No mention of Bathsheba and Uriah. Nothing about Absalom’s rebellion. And not a word about Solomon’s worship of idols.
The major emphasis of Kings is the sin of idol worship, which the Deuteronomists blamed for the Babylonian Captivity. The heroes of the book are the Prophets (Elijah and Elisha) who warn the people of the consequences of idol worship. Good Kings in the Book of Kings are those who got rid of idols and instituted the worship of Yahweh. The major emphasis of Chronicles is on the Temple and the importance of the rites and sacrifices practiced as part of temple worship. The heroes of the book are the Levites who are necessary to perform the temple sacrifices. Good Kings in the Book of Chronicles are those who elevate the Temple.

With these differences in mind, let’s see how they play out in the stories of two of Judah’s most righteous kings.

Hezekiah
Modern archaeologists date the reign of Hezekiah from 715-687 BCE, which is consistent with the events depicted in Chronicles. This would mean that he became King just six years after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel–an event of tremendous significance in the Southern Kingdom as well, as it demonstrate all-too-clearly that a Chosen People could still be destroyed.

Hezekiah was the King of Judah in 701 BCE, when the Assyrians under Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem and came close to destroying it before miraculously ending their siege and leaving the city in peace.

Chronicles wants us to know why this happened. Why did Judah survive an Assyrian assault when Israel didn’t? After all, Israel was the larger, more prosperous, and more powerful of the two Kingdoms. It should have been the one to emerge intact. What they did not have, however, was the temple. And this, the Chronicler believes, was decisive as long as they used it correctly. The first thing we hear about Hezekiah is that, as soon as he became King, he restored the temple as the cornerstone of Jewish worship:

He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them. And he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them together into the east street, And said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place.

For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord our God, and have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their backs. Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel.

Wherefore the wrath of the Lord was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes. For, lo, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.

Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that his fierce wrath may turn away from us. My sons, be not now negligent: for the Lord hath chosen you to stand before him, to serve him, and that ye should minister unto him, and burn incense. (2 Chron 29: 3-11)

In Chapter 30, Hezekiah sends word throughout Israel the the temple is open for business again and invites people to come to Jerusalem and worship. (Israel, of course, has been destroyed, but it is the thought that counts–the Chronicler probably didn’t have access to a good timeline, and the important thing is to establish the importance of temple worship for all of Israel). Some people laughed at the King, but the faithful of both Judah and whatever remained of Israel do not, and we see a sort of pan-Israelite reunification accomplished through access to a restored temple. The text praises Hezekiah in superlative terms:

And the children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the Lord.

And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the Lord: and they did eat throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings, and making confession to the Lord God of their fathers. And the whole assembly took counsel to keep other seven days: and they kept other seven days with gladness.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And all the congregation of Judah, with the priests and the Levites, and all the congregation that came out of Israel, and the strangers that came out of the land of Israel, and that dwelt in Judah, rejoiced. So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem. (2 Chron. 30: 21-26)

It is crucial that we understand that Hezekiah did all of these things BEFORE the siege of Jerusalem, which occurs in Chapter 32. As the narrator portrays it, Judah escaped the fate of Israel because they had already set the House of the Lord in order. They had re-established temple worship, reorganized the Levites, re-committed themselves to Yahweh, and so it was a relatively simple thing for the Lord to send down an angel to destroy Sennacherib’s troops. The King had done his job and prepared the people to receive divine assistance at the crucial hour.

Hezekiah is the great hero of 2 Chronicles, and, according to the author, the greatest king since Solomon. Solomon built the temple, and Hezekiah restored it both physically and as the center of Israelite worship. His example was crucially important to the post-exilic Jews who were headed back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonian invaders. This was the most important task that the people can do, the Chronicler believed–and the story of Hezekiah tells us why.

Josiah
Just as Hezekiah is the great hero of 2 Chronicles, Josiah is the hero of 2 Kings and of the Deuteronomic tradition. As a matter of history, King Josiah instituted a series Yahwist reforms that probably saved the Israelite religion. Had these Josianic reforms not been well underway in 587, it is highly unlikely that the Jews would have had the will or the capacity to preserve their religion and their culture.

According to 2 Chronicles, Josiah became king at the tender age of 8 and, by the time he was 16 he was ordering the destruction of idols and burning the bones of idolatrous priests on their own altars (34:3-5). And by the 18th year of his reign, he follows in the footsteps of his great-grandfather and orders the renovation of the temple (34:8). And when they find a book that nobody has ever seen before, stuff gets real:

And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan.

And Shaphan carried the book to the king, and brought the king word back again, saying, All that was committed to thy servants, they do it. And they have gathered together the money that was found in the house of the Lord, and have delivered it into the hand of the overseers, and to the hand of the workmen.Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes. (2 Chron. 14-19)

This is one of the big “Wow!’ moments in the whole scriptural canon, since it forces us to re-evaluate everything that we have read before. According to the narrative, the Jews did not have access to a record of their covenant with God during much of the time that they were being exhorted by prophets to remember their covenant with God.

In an attempt to figure out what to do next, Josiah sent his ministers to find somebody with the Lord’s authority. He needed a prophet, and he found Huldah–one of the seven women in the Old Testament considered or referred to as “prophetesses.”

Huldah actually tells us rather a lot about how prophets worked in the late first-temple period. Her narrative tells us that prophets were not always sitting in obvious places where they held office hours–even kings had to go to some trouble to seek them out. It also tells us that the prophets themselves did not have positions in the priestly hierarchy, but that their authority to speak in the name of God was well recognized. Most importantly, though, it tells us that the authority to receive revelation, to preface things with “thus saith the Lord,” and to direct both civil and ecclesiastical affairs, could be held by women.

Huldah speaks to Josiah, through his ministers, in the name of God and offers both prophecy and counsel:

Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah: Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and shall not be quenched.

And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard; Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord. (2 Chron. 34: 24-27) 

On Huldah’s prophetic authority, Josiah immediately gathers the people together. He reads the words of the book, re-commits to the Covenant, and begins the reforms that the Jews would carry with them into their Babylonian captivity (2 Chron. 34: 30-31)  . Had Huldah not prophesied, and had Josiah not believed her words, Judaism would never have developed as a religion capable of existing without a homeland, and Christianity would never have had a chance to emerge. The importance of the events in this chapter cannot be overstated.

Most scholars now believe that the book referenced here was some version of the Book of Deuteronomy and that the story of its fortuitous discovery in the temple was a cover story for launching a new book that had been written by the friendly neighborhood Yahwists as part of the Josianic reforms. This is why the Deuteronomic History has the name it does: because the same school of individuals that produced Deuteronomy also produced the entire historical record from Joshua through Kings. This scholarly version of the story is a little bit different from the standard religious narrative, which holds that Deuteronomy was one of five books written by Moses and that it, or perhaps the entire Law of Moses, was unknown until the discovery in the temple during the reign of Josiah.

But both of these narratives get us to the same place eventually, and it is precisely the place that the author of Chronicles wants us to go. Josiah did not start emphasizing temple worship because he found the book. He found the book because he started to emphasize temple worship. The key to both versions of the story is that the temple can be a site of great power and profound revelation when it occupies a central place in the religious and culture life of a people.

Comments

  1. Kristin Brown says:

    Michael Austen, this is one of my favorite posts. After what has recently been written on BCC I find this article to be a refreshing change. It is informative and uplifting. Thank you for your hard work. It motivates and gives reason for me to keep the temple the central place in my life. Fantastic!

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    This was a great overview of the material; thanks.

    Your observation that “In the Jewish Bible, Kings and Chronicles (each was originally a single book that was divided into two parts later on) ….” is an important point in basic biblical literacy. The Protestant OT (as in the KJV we use) has 39 books, but the Hebrew Bible only has 24. But they cover the same material, they’re just organized differently. Greeks preferred to use shorter scrolls (that were easier to work with than the longer scrolls used by the Jews), and so they split Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah from one book each into two, and they split the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets from one book into twelve separate books. If you take 39 and subtract four (for the extra volumes of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah) you get 35, and then collapse 12 into one and so subtract another 11, you end up with 24.

  3. Mike, this is a great post. The clear explanation of the differences between Chronicles and the other OT books with especially valuable.

  4. Thanks for helping with the lesson prep! Great article!

  5. Mike, thank you. The comparison of Kings and Chronicles is interesting and valuable.

  6. This was excellent. Thank you.

  7. I really appreciate the general historical overview and assistance in understanding Josiah and Huldah. I’d read a whole book with your analysis. Thanks.

  8. Bruised, broken, yet at peace says:

    Please keep up the great posts. I’d been wondering just this weekend what the substantive differences were between Kings and Chronicles.

  9. My ward must be behind in the lesson manual, but I used this information when teaching today to explain why Chronicles focuses so much on the temple. Thanks for the useful resource!