JUDAH’S FALL 2 Kings 21–25
“I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle”(2 Kings 21:12).Manasseh’s 55-year reign dragged Judah into detestable sins. Even a brief revival under Josiah could not reverse the plunge to judgment. The highway of sin leads to one destination only.
Josiah’s vigorous and successful reign took place during a time of Assyrian decline. In the 630sB.C that great empire was weakened by internal strife. In 626 Babylon revolted, and in a stunningly quick rise made its bid to replace Assyria as the dominant world power. Nineveh fell in 612B.C, and the final battle was fought in 605 at Carchemish. Josiah died in battle in 609 attempting to keep an Egyptian army under Pharaoh Neco from joining the Assyrians. Despite the fact that Babylon then was dominant, Egypt consistently encouraged uprisings in the Palestinian states. Judah’s kings were frequently led into rebelling against Babylon. In consequence, Judah suffered a series of Babylonian invasions and deportations. The final invasion came in 587, when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. In 586 the city was destroyed and its people deported to Babylon. The few Jews who remained murdered a Babylonian governor and garrison, and fled to Egypt. The Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel graphically portray spiritual and political conditions during the last decades of the nation, and specify the sins for which Judah was judged.
Manasseh’s 55-year rule set Judah firmly on the course of evil (21:1–25). His grandson, Josiah, led a bright but brief revival (22:1–23:30). Wicked kings then succeeded one another (v. 31–24:20), until Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the people of Judah were carried into Captivity (25:1–30). KING LIST
Understanding the Text
“He has . . . led Judah into sin with his idols” 2 Kings 21:1–18. Manasseh’s brutal, idolatrous reign led God to pronounce irrevocable judgment on Judah (cf. vv. 12–15). What Manasseh’s lengthy rule did was to impress a pattern on Judah’s society. That pattern became so deeply ingrained that all Josiah’s efforts at reform were unable to change it. Habakkuk, who ministered in Josiah’s time, complained to God that Judah’s society was marred with entrenched injustice despite restoration of temple worship (cf. Hab. 1:2–4). A famous study traced the members of two New England families. One produced a long line of ministers, schoolteachers, and college professors. The other produced a series of criminals and murderers. In families, as in Manasseh’s Judah, the lives we live can set the pattern for future generations. “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord” 2 Kings 22:1–20. Josiah’s early religious commitment was shown in his efforts to repair the temple of the Lord. He was unguided, for apparently during the rule of Manasseh most copies of the Old Testament Scriptures were destroyed. Then a copy of the Law, which some take to be the entire five books of Moses, was found. A shaken Josiah realized how disobedient Judah had been. Inquiries addressed to Huldah, a prophetess, brought back word that Judah’s fate was sealed. But because Josiah had been humble and responsive to God, the disaster would come only after his death. God is still looking for people who are shaken by society’s abandonment of biblical principles of holiness and justice. When we are humble and responsive, God will bless us individually whatever may happen to our land. Josiah’s zeal was so great that he set out to rid Judah of all those practices against which God’s Word spoke. The list of his actions suggests the extent of Judah’s apostasy. What we can appreciate about Josiah is his example of total commitment. We can ask nothing more than to be like Josiah, who “turned to the Lord . . . with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength” (23:25). Josiah’s 31-year reign over Judah did not change the direction of his nation. But Josiah’s consistent efforts to serve the Lord won him the divine accolade. God does not require us to be successful. He does, however, call us to be totally committed. “So Judah went into captivity, away from her land” 2 Kings 25:1–26. Against the urging of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who called for submission, Judah’s last kings kept on rebelling against the Babylonians. The third time Babylonian forces appeared before Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar ordered the city and its temple to be razed, and the majority of its people taken into Captivity. The few who remained assassinated the Babylonian governor and his garrison, and fled to Egypt, leaving the land void of Abraham’s descendants. The Babylonian Captivity seems on the surface a great tragedy. Yet it proved to be an unusual blessing. In Babylon the Jews turned to the Scriptures to understand what had happened to them. They decisively rejected idolatry; after the Captivity the nation was never again drawn to the worship of false gods. And in Babylon the synagogue system of study and prayer was instituted; a system which has kept the focus of Israel on Scripture to the present day. Even in the most terrible of judgments God remained true to His commitment to do His people good. Whatever happens to you or me, we can know that God is committed to us. He loves us, and He will do us good.
A Visit to Topheth (2 Kings 22–23)
One of the actions Josiah took in his zeal for the Lord was to desecrate Topheth, where sacrifices were made to “Molech.” The reference to Topheth turns my thoughts to a modern horror which is very like the ancient practice. What was a “topheth”? And what was a sacrifice made to “Molech”? A topheth was a district set aside for a class of sacrifices indicated by the Hebrew letters m-l-k. These were sacrifices in which children up to four years of age were presented as an offering made to a god or goddess from whom the offerer sought some benefit. Perhaps the benefit was a little more money. Perhaps better health. Perhaps a better job. Whatever it was, these parents seemingly thought nothing of bringing living children to the place of sacrifice and, as pounding drums drowned out anguished cries, burning them alive. The modern horror? It’s the practice of some of laying the lives of their unborn children on an abortionist’s altar—with the same motives. A baby will cost too much money. A baby now will spoil the vacation we planned. A baby now will tie me to my house, just when I’m making progress on my job. A baby will be inconvenient—so I’ll exchange the fetus nestled within me for what I hope will be a better quality of life for me. But are the two practices really equivalent? In all honesty, we have to say they are. The infants of the ancients were individuals. Undeveloped, not yet adults, but separate and distinct persons from the parents on whom they had to depend. The fetus of today is also a separate and distinct person, with each cell marked off by a unique pattern of genes and chromosomes that are absolutely different from the pattern found in every cell of the mother’s body. The unborn child is not part of the mother, but an individual in his or her own right. An individual moderns seem all too ready to treat with the same indifference as the ancients treated infants and toddlers. So next time you hear some impassioned argument for the right of women to do what they want with their own bodies, don’t be confused. What the pro- choice position asks is nothing less than the right to rebuild Topheth, where parents can offer up the lives of their children in the hope of a better life for themselves.
Each individual is precious in God’s sight, however young or old he or she may be.