From Boy to Man to Messiah

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:39-52 ESV

Once Mary and Joseph had fulfilled all the requirements prescribed for them in the Mosaic Law, they were able to return home to Nazareth in Galilee. But for some unexplained reason, Luke chose to leave out the family’s flight to Egypt. Not only that, he also fails to mention the visit of the wise men who traveled all the way to Bethlehem to see the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2 ESV). When these foreign visitors had arrived in Jerusalem seeking the newly born king, they sought aid from Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea. But Herod was surprised by their news and made plans to eliminate this new competitor to his throne.

After the wise men had paid their respects to Jesus in Bethlehem, Joseph had a dream in which an angel of the Lord warned him about Herod’s plan to kill Jesus.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

The angel’s warning proved true, as Herod “sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16 ESV). Joseph would keep his family in Egypt until he received another dream alerting him to the news that Herod had died, and it was safe to return home. But Joseph’s initial plan had been to return to Bethlehem.

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee. He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there. Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.– Matthew 2:21-23 ESV

Bethlehem was located in Judea, the province over which Herod had been given jurisdiction by the Romans. Since Herod’s son, Archelaus had taken his place as king of Judea, Joseph was directed by God to take his family back to Nazareth.

So, there was a lot that had happened in the young life of Jesus before we reach the events recorded in today’s passage. Luke simply picks up the story after their return, stating, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40 ESV). Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus had failed. The infant soon became a healthy young boy, growing up in the small town of Nazareth. Luke seems to want his readers to understand that Jesus had a childhood. The Messiah of Israel had been born and raised just like any other Jewish boy of His day. He had been taught by His parents and provided with instructions in the Mosaic Law and introduced to the sacrificial system of Israel.

Luke reports that, for 12 years, Jesus and His family made the annual trip to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. This was one of three festivals that required all Jewish males to travel to the capital city where the temple of Yahweh was located. Many would bring their families with them so that they might experience the sights and sounds of this important national commemoration of Israel’s deliverance by God from their captivity in Egypt.

But on this particular occasion, Luke reports that something significant happened. When the feast had ended, the family joined the thousands of other pilgrims who filled the streets leaving Jerusalem. It was likely that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were traveling with friends and other extended family members. And it was common practice for the men and women to travel in separate groups. This may help explain how neither Mary or Joseph seemed to notice that Jesus had stayed behind and was not part of the caravan that made its way back to Nazareth. Each of them just assumed that the child was traveling with the other parent. It was not until that evening that they discovered Jesus was missing. In a panic, they made the long trek back to Jerusalem.

But all the while, Jesus had been “in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46 ESV). This young boy of 12 had been quizzing the religious leaders, most likely peppering them with questions about the law and other matters of faith and religion. And this seemingly precocious pre-teen from the backwater town of Nazareth left an impression on His elders.

…all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. – Luke 2:47 ESV

But while Jesus had been busy in the temple, His poor parents had been in a panic, searching for their “lost” child all throughout the city of Jerusalem. When they finally discovered Jesus in the temple, Mary and Joseph were dumbfounded. Luke uses the Greek word, ekplēssō, which can be translated “to strike with panic, shock, or astonishment.”

You can sense Mary’s concern and consternation in her response to Jesus: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (Luke 2:48 ESV). Like any concerned mother, she is relieved and, at the same time, a bit put out with her son. For three days she has had to suffer all the anxieties and fears that accompany the realization that your child is missing. And Mary had the added pressure of knowing that her son was to be the long-awaited Savior of Israel, and now she had somehow managed to misplace the Messiah.

But when Mary confronted Jesus about His behavior, the young boy answered confidently,  “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV). There was no disrespect or dishonor in Jesus’ words. He simply stated what appeared to HIm to be obvious.

What Jesus actually said was something along the lines of “Did you not know that I must be about the things of my Father’s?” The Greek word that ends the sentence is patēr, which is translated as “father.” With this statement, Jesus is revealing that He understands the identity of His true Father. He knows that He is the Son of God, and He is asking His mother why she seems so surprised to have found Him in His Father’s house. Where else would He be? Where else would He go?

But Luke reveals that Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus meant. It was all too much for them to take comprehend. So, with great relief, they took their Son and started the long journey back to Nazareth. And Luke notes that Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51 NLT). This statement seems to indicate that, at this point, Jesus fully understood who He was and what God had planned for Him to do. But He realized that His time had not yet come to begin His earthly ministry. So, He willingly submitted Himself to His parent’s care, waiting patiently for the preordained time His Messianic ministry would begin.

And for the next two decades, Jesus would remain in Nazareth, growing from a young boy into full adulthood. Luke makes note that, during those years, Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52 ESV). There was a natural progression to Jesus’ physical, mental, and spiritual maturity. He grew up just like any young man would do. He learned and experienced life. And it would seem that His awareness of His true identity and future mission became increasingly more clear over time. God was preparing His Son for His eventual mission.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salvation, Revelation, and Redemption

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:22-38 ESV

Once again, Luke presents us with a detailed timeline of events. Eight days after His birth, Jesus was taken by Mary and Joseph to be circumcised, in accordance with the Mosaic Law.

“‘When a woman produces offspring and bears a male child, she will be unclean seven days, as she is unclean during the days of her menstruation. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin must be circumcised. Then she will remain thirty-three days in blood purity.’” – Leviticus 12:2-4 NLT

According to the law, the mother was considered to be unclean because of her contact with blood during the birth process. At the end of the prescribed period of purification (40 days), Mary was required to go to the temple in Jerusalem in order to present an offering before the Lord so that she might be declared clean.

“‘When the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she must bring a one-year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering to the entrance of the Meeting Tent, to the priest. The priest is to present it before the Lord and make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean from her flow of blood.’” – Leviticus 12:6-7 NLT

But strangely, Luke reports that “when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22 ESV). Notice that Luke uses the plural pronoun, “their,” while the Leviticus passage used the singular pronoun, “her.” It could be that Joseph also required purification because he had been required to assist Mary in giving birth. But it could be that Luke is hinting that this human couple required atonement (cleansing from sin) before they could begin the process of raising the Son of God. They were both being purified for the daunting task of parenting the Messiah.

As part of their trip to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph also consecrated their newborn son to the Lord. The Mosaic law required that all firstborn sons be set apart or consecrated to God.

“Set apart to me every firstborn male—the first offspring of every womb among the Israelites, whether human or animal; it is mine.” – Exodus 13:2 NLT

“…then you must give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. Every firstling of a beast that you have—the males will be the Lord’s. – Exodus 13:12 NLT

The reason behind this ritual was tied to the final plague that had eventually secured the release of the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. God sent an angel throughout the land of Egypt with orders to strike dead the firstborn males of both man and beast (Exodus 12:12). But God also ordered every Israelite household to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their house. When the angel saw the blood, he passed over that home, sparing all the firstborn males of that family. This became known as the Passover Celebration. And God told the Israelites how to explain this annual celebration to each succeeding generation.

“When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to release us, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of people to the firstborn of animals. That is why I am sacrificingto the Lord the first male offspring of every womb, but all my firstborn sons I redeem.” – Exodus 13:15 NLT

So, Mary and Joseph obediently consecrated their new son to the Lord. But Luke informs his readers that there was something special that took place that day. God had arranged for a specific priest to be on duty that day. His name was Simeon and Luke describes him as “righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25 ESV). This man had lived his entire life longing to see “the consolation of Israel.” The word “consolation” is paraklēsis in Greek and it means “to comfort or refresh” Simeon believed that God was going to send the Messiah to redeem and restore the spiritual fortunes of Israel. And, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Simeon believed this long-anticipated event would take place in his lifetime.

God ordained that Simeon would be the priest on duty that day. Led by the Spirit of God, Simeon made his way to the temple and was there when Mary and Joseph showed up to consecrate Jesus. With the Spirit’s help, Simeon immediately recognized that Jesus was the one for whom the nation of Israel had been looking and hoping. While just over a month old at the time, Jesus was the Savior and Redeemer of Israel. And in a state of ecstatic joy and gratitude, Simeon took the infant in his arms and offered up a heartfelt blessing to God.

“Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permityour servant to depart in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:29-32 NLT

Simeon’s greatest desire had been fulfilled. He had lived to see the coming of the anointed one of God, the Messiah of Israel. And under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he describes Jesus as the salvation of God and then adds that He will be a light of revelation to the Gentiles. This statement was a direct reference to the words of God recorded by the prophet Isaiah.

“You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

This Messianic passage speaks of the commissioning of the Servant of God who would redeem and restore the rebellious nation of Israel but who would also bring the salvation of God to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he was holding this Savior and Redeemer in his hands. Jesus was the very same Servant whose words Isaiah had recorded centuries earlier.

“The LORD called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.” – Isaiah 49:1 NLT

And this Servant would have a two-fold mission to accomplish.

“…the one who formed me from birth to be his servant—
he did this to restore Jacob to himself,
so that Israel might be gathered to him;
and I will be honored in the Lord’s sight,
for my God is my source of strength—
he says, “Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant,
to reestablish the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the remnant of Israel?
I will make you a light to the nations,
so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:5-6 NLT

Yes, Jesus would be the Messiah of Israel, restoring them to a right relationship with God. But He would also be a light to the nations, shining the glory of God’s goodness and grace to all the nations of the world. But Simeon, as a faithful Jewish priest, understood the words recorded by Isaiah to be primarily a promise of God’s future restoration of the nation of Israel. They were experiencing difficult days. They had no king. The Romans ruled them with a heavy hand and burdened them with oppressive taxes. He, like all the other faithful of Israel, longed for the day when the Messiah would appear on the scene to set things right. And he must have had the words of Psalm 98 in mind when he composed his own song of thanksgiving to God.

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he performs amazing deeds.
His right hand and his mighty arm
accomplish deliverance.
The Lord demonstrates his power to deliver;
in the sight of the nations he reveals his justice.
He remains loyal and faithful to the family of Israel.
All the ends of the earth see our God deliver us. – Psalm 98:1-3 NLT

For Simeon, God’s faithful restoration of Israel would be the light that would illumine the minds of the sin-darkened nations of the earth. But little did he know that God had something different in mind. The future restoration of Israel will take place, but it was not going to take place at the first coming of Jesus. Simeon had no way of knowing that his people would end up rejecting Jesus as their Messiah. The young baby Simeon held in his hands would end up crucified and rejected by those He came to save.

And Simeon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, pronounces a blessing on Mary and Joseph the meaning of which he probably did not fully comprehend.

“Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!” – Luke 2:34-35 NLT

He prophetically announces that Jesus will have a decisive, yet divisive influence. There will be those who fall by rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, and others who will rise by recognizing Him as the anointed one of God. Jesus will divide the nation by exposing the hearts of the people. And Simeon prophetically predicts that Mary will have her own heart pierced by the events she will be forced to witness. Her son, the Savior and Redeemer of Israel will be rejected and destroyed by His own people.

But this somewhat depressing statement of blessing by Simeon was followed up by a declaration of joy and thanksgiving by an elderly Hebrew prophetess named Anna. Luke indicates the timeliness of her appearance by stating that she showed up “at that very hour.” This was all part of God’s sovereign plan. And Luke adds that “she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38 NLT).

Their legal requirements fulfilled, Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem and returned to Nazareth, with the words of Simeon and Anna still ringing in their ears. And for the next 12 years, they would raise their son in relative obscurity and silence, not knowing exactly how His future would unfold.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just As the Lord Had Promised

1 And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem and laid siege to it. And they built siegeworks all around it. So the city was besieged till the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, and the Chaldeans were around the city. And they went in the direction of the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho, and all his army was scattered from him. Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains and took him to Babylon.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. 10 And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. 11 And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. 12 But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen.

13 And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the Lord, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces and carried the bronze to Babylon. 14 And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service, 15 the fire pans also and the bowls. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. 16 As for the two pillars, the one sea, and the stands that Solomon had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weight. 17 The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and on it was a capital of bronze. The height of the capital was three cubits. A latticework and pomegranates, all of bronze, were all around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with the latticework.

18 And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest and Zephaniah the second priest and the three keepers of the threshold; 19 and from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the men of war, and five men of the king’s council who were found in the city; and the secretary of the commander of the army, who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land, who were found in the city. 20 And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. 21 And the king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was taken into exile out of its land. – 2 Kings 25:1-21 ESV

Zedekiah, formerly known as Mattaniah, received his new name and his right to rule over Judah from King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He replaced his nephew, Jehoiachin, who had surrendered to the Babylonians in order to end the siege of Jerusalem. And rather than allowing Jehoiachin’s son, Coniah, to become king, Nebuchadnezzar chose Mattaniah, who became a vassal of the Babylonian state. But Mattaniah’s new role and newly acquired Babylonian name did not make him amenable to Nebuchadnezzar’s plans for Judah. So, he decided to rebel against the Babylonians. But in doing so, Zedekiah was actually rebelling against the will of God. The prophet Jeremiah had warned Zedekiah to submit to the Babylonians as divinely ordained agents of judgment.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: With my great strength and powerful arm I made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose. Now I will give your countries to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is my servant. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson until his time is up. Then many nations and great kings will conquer and rule over Babylon. So you must submit to Babylon’s king and serve him; put your neck under Babylon’s yoke! I will punish any nation that refuses to be his slave, says the Lord. I will send war, famine, and disease upon that nation until Babylon has conquered it.” – Jeremiah 27:4-8 NLT

But King Zedekiah was getting bad advice from false prophets who were telling him, “The king of Babylon will not conquer you” ( Jeremiah 27:14 NLT). Yet Jeremiah warned the king not to listen to these men.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘I have not sent these prophets! They are telling you lies in my name, so I will drive you from this land. You will all die—you and all these prophets, too.’” – Jeremiah 27:15 NLT

These charlatans had even prophesied that all the golden articles plundered from the temple would soon be returned. They assured the king that everything was going to be okay. But Jeremiah had let Zedekiah know the painful truth. It was actually going to get much worse.

“For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has spoken about the pillars in front of the Temple, the great bronze basin called the Sea, the water carts, and all the other ceremonial articles. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon left them here when he exiled Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, to Babylon, along with all the other nobles of Judah and Jerusalem. Yes, this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says about the precious things still in the Temple, in the palace of Judah’s king, and in Jerusalem: ‘They will all be carried away to Babylon and will stay there until I send for them,’ says the Lord. ‘Then I will bring them back to Jerusalem again.’” – Jeremiah 27:19-22 NLT

But all these warnings fell on deaf ears.

“…neither King Zedekiah nor his attendants nor the people who were left in the land listened to what the Lord said through Jeremiah.” – Jeremiah 37:2 NLT

Yet, Zedekiah would have the audacity to ask Jeremiah to pray that God would reverse His plans to destroy the city. He had become encouraged and emboldened by the sudden arrival of the Egyptian army. It seems that their unexpected appearance had caused the Babylonians to call off their siege of Jerusalem. Zedekiah must have seen this as a good sign and proof that the false prophets had been right all along. So, he asked Jeremiah to seek confirmation from Yahweh that the city of Jerusalem had been spared. But Jeremiah would not tell Zedekiah what he was hoping to hear.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not fool yourselves into thinking that the Babylonians are gone for good. They aren’t! Even if you were to destroy the entire Babylonian army, leaving only a handful of wounded survivors, they would still stagger from their tents and burn this city to the ground!” – Jeremiah 37:9-10 NLT

Infuriated by the prophet’s message, Zedekiah would eventually have the prophet flogged and imprisoned, falsely accusing him of treason. But undeterred by this treatment, Jeremiah would later give the king another ultimatum.

“This is what the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down. But if you refuse to surrender, you will not escape! This city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it to the ground.’” – Jeremiah 37:17-18 NLT

In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, his worst fears were realized. The Babylonians returned. And for two long years, they laid siege to the capital. In time, conditions inside the walls of Jerusalem would become so bad that the people began to starve to death. When the Babylonians eventually breached the walls of the city, King Zedekiah and some of his troops attempted a nighttime escape. But as soon as they got outside the walls of Jerusalem, Zedekiah’s men abandoned him, leaving him completely defenseless and an easy target for the Babylonians.

They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:6 NLT

Zedekiah suffered a fate worse than death. He was forced to watch the execution of his own sons, then was blinded and led away in captivity, never to see the city of Jerusalem again. But had he been able to look upon the devastating scene taking place on Mount Zion, he would have been appalled. The great city of David was aflame and in every quarter of the capital, the Babylonians were enacting a reign of terror. Those who were not killed were taken captive, soon to be transported as slaves to Babylon. And King Nebuchadnezzar ordered the systematic destruction of all the city’s infrastructure. The walls were torn down. The royal palace and all the administrative buildings were destroyed. There wasn’t a single house left standing, including the house of God. The Babylonians plundered every last item of value from the temple, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said they would.

The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars in front of the Lord’s Temple, the bronze water carts, and the great bronze basin called the Sea, and they carried all the bronze away to Babylon. They also took all the ash buckets, shovels, lamp snuffers, ladles, and all the other bronze articles used for making sacrifices at the Temple. The captain of the guard also took the incense burners and basins, and all the other articles made of pure gold or silver. – 2 Kings 25:13-15 NLT

Then they burned the temple to the ground. For the Jews, this scene would have been incomprehensible. For them, the temple was the symbol of God’s power and presence. To watch it being plundered and then go up in flames would have been inconceivable. But Jeremiah had warned them that this would happen.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 7:9-11 NLT

They had placed their hope in a building rather than in the one for whom it was built. And God had warned them that He would destroy the temple because they had turned it into an idol – a replacement for Him.

“I will now destroy this Temple that bears my name, this Temple that you trust in for help, this place that I gave to you and your ancestors. – Jeremiah 7:14 NLT

And not only did God commission Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the temple, but He also ordained the execution of those men who had been responsible for its care and for the spiritual well-being of the people. And with the smoke of the city rising up behind them, the disheveled and demoralized citizens of Judah began their long march to Babylon and back into captivity.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Original Reformation

Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.

And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron and beat it to dust and cast the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah. And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the gate of the city. However, the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. 10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech. 11 And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts. And he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 And the altars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars that Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, he pulled down and broke in pieces and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. 13 And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 14 And he broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with the bones of men.

15 Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah. 16 And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. 17 Then he said, “What is that monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel.” 18 And he said, “Let him be; let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came out of Samaria. 19 And Josiah removed all the shrines also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which kings of Israel had made, provoking the Lord to anger. He did to them according to all that he had done at Bethel. 20 And he sacrificed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned human bones on them. Then he returned to Jerusalem. – 2 Kings 23:1-20 ESV

When it came to reforming and healing the deadly spiritual malaise in Judah, Josiah had his work cut out for him. And when reading the list of his reforms, it’s easy to focus on all the positive steps he took to course-correct Judah’s spiritual trajectory. But why was all of this necessary? How had things gotten so bad in Judah that the king was forced to commit all his time and resources to this spiritual reclamation project? The reader should be shocked and appalled by the abysmal condition of the nation’s faith community. The moral state of the people of Judah had reached an all-time low. And Josiah revealed the extent of their moral decline by reading to them portions of the rediscovered Book of the Covenant – the Pentateuch. And it seems likely that his reading included this foundational and oft-repeated admonition from the original Ten Commandments.

“Do not make idols or set up carved images, or sacred pillars, or sculptured stones in your land so you may worship them. I am the Lord your God. You must keep my Sabbath days of rest and show reverence for my sanctuary. I am the Lord. – Leviticus 26:1-2 NLT

Josiah had already begun an aggressive temple renovation project designed to repair the long-neglected house of God. But these restoration efforts were more than cosmetic in nature. Josiah was having to purge and purify the sanctuary of God from the desecrating presence of altars to a litany of idols. His predecessors had repeatedly displayed their disregard for God by defiling the temple that bore His name. They had turned God’s house into a veritable showroom for displaying all their false gods, and the sheer volume of these abominations is staggering.

Then the king instructed Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second rank and the Temple gatekeepers to remove from the Lord’s Temple all the articles that were used to worship Baal, Asherah, and all the powers of the heavens. – 2 Kings 23:4 NLT

The king removed the Asherah pole from the Lord’s Temple… – 2 Kings 23:6 NLT

He also tore down the living quarters of the male and female shrine prostitutes that were inside the Temple of the Lord – 2 Kings 23:7 NLT

He removed from the entrance of the Lord’s Temple the horse statues that the former kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun – 2 Kings 23:11 NLT

The king destroyed the altars that Manasseh had built in the two courtyards of the Lord’s Temple. – 2 Kings 23:12 NLT

Josiah was a busy man, and his reforms didn’t stop at the temple. He was determined to do whatever it took to remove every last vestige of idolatry from the land of Judah. He ordered the destruction of every last shrine or altar dedicated to a false god, and there were a lot of them. Pagan shrines and high places could be found through Judah, from the capital city of Jerusalem to Geba in the north and Beersheba in the south. Their ubiquitous presence required Josiah to launch an extensive seek-and-destroy mission that began in the temple, extended to the valleys just out Jerusalem, and then reached all the way to the northern territory of Israel.

While the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians and the people had been taken captive, the shrines and altars to their false gods remained. So, Josiah sent special demolition teams as far as Bethel to destroy the altar that Jeroboam had erected years earlier.

The king also tore down the altar at Bethel—the pagan shrine that Jeroboam son of Nebat had made when he caused Israel to sin. He burned down the shrine and ground it to dust, and he burned the Asherah pole. – 2 Kings 23:15 NLT

This was in direct fulfillment of a centuries-old prophecy declared by God against the rebellious Jeroboam. After God had split the kingdom of Solomon in half, He had awarded the kingship of the ten northern tribes oto Jeroboam. But Jeroboam had displayed his loyalty and gratitude by erecting a golden calf in the city of Bethel. This newly appointed king of Israel repaid God by abandoning Him. So, God sent a young, unnamed prophet with a message.

“O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.” – 1 Kings 13:2 NLT

Now, hundreds of years later, the prophecy of God became a reality. Josiah tore down the altar dedicated to the golden calf and then had the ground desecrated by burning human bones on it.

Then Josiah turned around and noticed several tombs in the side of the hill. He ordered that the bones be brought out, and he burned them on the altar at Bethel to desecrate it. (This happened just as the Lord had promised through the man of God when Jeroboam stood beside the altar at the festival.) – 2 Kings 23:16 NLT

The scope of Josiah’s reformation initiative is truly staggering, and it reveals just how bad things had gotten in Judah. The sheer volume of false gods being worshiped by the people of God should leave us dumbfounded. There were shrines to Baal, Topheth, Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Molech – just to name a few. But there also altars dedicated “to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and to all the powers of the heavens” (2 Kings 23:5 NLT), as well as horse and chariot statues dedicated to the sun (2 Kings 23:11).

Josiah was faced with a truly formidable task but he took it on with dedicated determination. He tore down, burned down, cut down, smashed, and desecrated the thousands of altars to the myriad of false gods that permeated the landscape and the hearts of the people of Judah. Josiah took his role seriously because he feared God greatly. His reading of the Book the Covenant had reminded him of the dire consequences facing the people of God if they failed to remain faithful to their covenant commitment. He was well aware of what had happened to the northern kingdom, and he knew that Judah was just as deserving of God’s judgment. They had been equally unfaithful and the evidence was everywhere. So, Josiah took it upon himself to cleanse the land of its idolatrous stain. But the greatest challenge he faced was turning the hearts of the people back to Yahweh. He could remove the idols from the land, but could he remove the spirit of idolatry from their hearts? Time would tell.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Reversal of Fortunes

1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever. And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.” But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.

10 And the Lord said by his servants the prophets, 11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, 12 therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15 because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.” 2 Kings 21:1-15 ESV

When reading the opening lines of 2 Kings 21, an old proverb comes to mind that states: “All good things must come to an end.” With the end of Hezekiah’s life, the fortunes of Israel took a decidedly dark turn for the worse. While Hezekiah was far from a perfect king, he had proved to be faithful to Yahweh, doing “what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 18:3 ESV). As a result, “the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered” (2 Kings 18:7 ESV). Hezekiah had been an ambitious reformer, who had attempted to restore and reinvigorate the worship of Yahweh in Judah. But the last 15 years of his reign, which were marked by peace and great prosperity, became fertile ground for Hezekiah’s pride to take root and grow. In time, he developed an unhealthy preoccupation with his own success and self-importance. 

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

And it must be recalled that those 15 years had been a gracious gift from God, in answer to Hezekiah’s humble prayer as he lay near death. God heard and restored his health, then granted him another 15 years of life. During the last 11 years, up until the day of his death in 686 BC, Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh had served as his co-regent. But upon Hezekiah’s death, Manasseh assumed the burden and responsibilities of leadership as the king of Judah – at the age of 23.

Manasseh had begun his co-regency at the young age of 12. So, for 11 years this young man had been able to serve alongside his father, learning valuable life lessons on everything from leadership and diplomacy to fiduciary responsibility and spiritual fidelity. But unfortunately, Manasseh was exposed to some of Hezekiah’s less flattering years in office. He served alongside his father at a time when Judah was prospering and Hezekiah was more interested in building his kingdom and reputation than in promoting the worship of Yahweh.

And it becomes quite obvious that Manasseh’s 11-year apprenticeship under his father’s tutelage had failed to prepare him to be a godly king. His ascension to the throne ushered in one of the darkest periods in Judah’s long and tumultuous history. And his reign would reverse most, if not all, of the religious reforms his father had implemented. Virtually overnight, he would radically transform the kingdom of Judah into a spiritual wasteland by systematically rescinding all of his father’s earlier reforms.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the detestable practices of the pagan nations that the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had destroyed. He constructed altars for Baal and set up an Asherah pole, just as King Ahab of Israel had done. He also bowed before all the powers of the heavens and worshiped them. – 2 Kings 21:2-3 NLT

This ambitious young man seemed determined to eradicate all vestiges of Yahweh from the hearts and minds of the people. He erected altars to false gods inside the temple, rendering it unholy and unfit for Yahweh’s presence. He encouraged the practice of sorcery and divination. He even promoted the use of human sacrifices as an acceptable form of worship by offering up his own sons.

Everything he did was in direct violation of God’s commands and seemed to be a well-calculated plan to disrupt all that his father had accomplished. He was purposefully dismantling the spiritual legacy his father had left. We are not given any indication as to what prompted Manasseh’s actions. His mother is mentioned but we know nothing about her or what role she may have played in his spiritual formation. But it is painfully clear that while Manasseh inherited his father’s throne, he did not inherit his father’s love for Yahweh. In fact, he led the nation of Judah to “do even more evil than the pagan nations that the Lord had destroyed when the people of Israel entered the land” (2 King 21:9 NLT). All that his father had spent years building, Manasseh painstakingly and systematically destroyed.

But while Manasseh was busy dismantling the spiritual legacy his father had bequeathed to him, God was far from silent. The author of 2 Chronicles states that “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they ignored all his warnings” (2 Chronicles 33:10 NLT). God didn’t sit idly by, watching in silence as the young king led an insurrection against His sovereign will and authority. He sent His prophets to warn the king and his compliant subjects that they insubordination would have dire consequences. Jeremiah would deliver a particularly stinging indictment against the people of Judah for their willing participation in Manasseh’s apostasy.

“I will send four kinds of destroyers against them,” says the Lord. “I will send the sword to kill, the dogs to drag away, the vultures to devour, and the wild animals to finish up what is left. Because of the wicked things Manasseh son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem, I will make my people an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” – Jeremiah 15:3-4 NLT

Jeremiah would go on to record God’s words concerning the capital city of Jerusalem, where Manasseh instigated his wicked and rebellious anti-reform measures.

“Who will feel sorry for you, Jerusalem?
    Who will weep for you?
    Who will even bother to ask how you are?
You have abandoned me
    and turned your back on me,”
    says the Lord.
“Therefore, I will raise my fist to destroy you.
    I am tired of always giving you another chance.” – Jeremiah 15:5-6 NLT

God declared Manasseh to be more wicked than the pagan nations who had previously occupied the land of Canaan before the arrival of the Israelites. This leader of God’s chosen people had managed to out-sin the godless Amorites. Rather than follow in the steps of his father, Manasseh had decided to emulate the behavior of Ahab, the infamous king of Israel who, with the help of his wife, Jezebel, had led the northern kingdom into such depths of moral and spiritual decay that God eventually destroyed them. And now, under Manasseh’s leadership, Judah was headed down the very same path and facing a very similar outcome.

I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down.” – 2 Kings 21:13 NLT

Manasseh may have been the sovereign ruler over the kingdom of Judah but he would soon discover that he was no match for the King of the universe. His ongoing disregard and disrespect for God would not be tolerated.  God would not be mocked and those who refused to honor their covenant commitments would not be unpunished. And His blunt assessment of Judah leaves no doubt concerning their guilt and well-deserved condemnation.

“…they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.” – 2 Kings 21:15 NLT

Manasseh believed that he had the freedom and authority to replace Yahweh. After all, he was king. But he was about to learn the same painful lesson that God had taught to Ahab, Sennacherib, and so many other human kings. There is but one King over all the earth and He alone decides who rules and reigns over the kingdoms of the earth. Manasseh served at God’s discretion and he would soon discover that his ego was no match for God’s divine will. Years later, another pride-filled king would learn the same timeless lesson from the lips of another prophet of God, as Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses—even to the lowliest of people” (Daniel 4:17 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Where Are the Gods?

26 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 27 But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?”

28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh. 2 Kings 18:26-37 ESV

This entire scene is filled with a sense of nervous anticipation. The people of Judah are lining the eastern walls of the city, overlooking the Kidron Valley, where the Assyrian army lies spread out before them in numbers too great to count. But their eyes are locked on the three emissaries whom King Hezekiah commissioned to discuss terms of peace with the Assyrians. Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah hold the fate of the nation in their hands. The people know that the negotiating skills of these three men will determine whether Judah stands or falls. So, all eyes are fixed on the momentous scene taking place at the base of the walls of the city.

But the Rabshakeh, or supreme commander of the Assyrian army, is not interested in peace negotiations. He has come to demand the unconditional surrender of the city and its inhabitants. He and his troops have repeatedly proven their superior power and he is confident that the city of Jerusalem will be one more domino to fall as they continue their conquest of Palestine. Speaking on behalf of his commander-in-chief, the Rabshakeh declares Hezekiah’s rebellion to be ill-conceived and ill-fated.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? – 2 Kings 18:19-20 NLT

With the citizens of Jerusalem looking on and listening in, this arrogant military commander summarily dismisses any likelihood that the Egyptians will come to the aid of the city. The last-minute military alliance that King Hezekiah made with Pharaoh will prove disappointingly insufficient. The Rabshakeh sarcastically compares Pharaoh to a cane or walking stick made from a reed. It may appear to give support, but it will shatter as soon as any weight is placed upon it.

And the overly confident Assyrian commander informs the Jewish emissaries that if they are holding out hope that Yahweh will come to their rescue, they will find themselves sorely disappointed. Their deity will join a long list of other gods who proved unsuccessful in stopping the Assyrian juggernaut. And, hoping to further undermine their faith in divine rescue, the Rabshakeh announces to the people of Judah that Yahweh had ordered their destruction.

“What’s more, do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’”  2 Kings 18:25 NLT

Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah could sense that all this boastful rhetoric was having its intended effect. The Rabshakeh had purposefully delivered his message in Hebrew so that all the people on the wall could hear what he had to say. And they were growing increasingly more concerned. When the king’s three emissaries asked that the conversation be switched to Aramaic, the Rabshakeh refused and called out in a loud voice, “Do you think my master sent this message only to you and your master? He wants all the people to hear it, for when we put this city under siege, they will suffer along with you. They will be so hungry and thirsty that they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine” (2 Kings 18:27 NLT).

At this point, the Rabshakeh turns his attention to the people on the walls of the city. He begins to sow seeds of doubt and suspicion by raising questions concerning King Hezekiah’s intentions and trustworthiness. By addressing the people directly, the Rabshakeh hopes to foment an uprising within the walls of the city, inciting the citizens to turn on their king and demand that he spare their lives by surrendering to the Assyrians. And to help sweeten the pot, the Rabshakeh offers them tempting promises of peace and prosperity.

“Don’t listen to Hezekiah! These are the terms the king of Assyria is offering: Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive groves and honey. Choose life instead of death! – 2 Kings 18:31-32 NLT

Look closely at what the Assyrian king is offering the people of Judah. Essentially, this pagan king is putting himself in the place of God, promising to meet all their needs. He will supply them with ample food and drink. He will provide them with fresh water. And he will take them to “a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive groves and honey.” That should sound familiar. When God had called Moses to rescue the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, He had promised to lead them to a “fertile and spacious land…a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8 NLT). And after God had successfully freed them from their captivity and led them to the land of Canaan, He had reminded them again of His promise to give them “a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9 NLT).

Now, centuries later, here was the pagan king of Assyria offering to replicate what God had done for His chosen people. If they would only turn their backs on Yahweh and trust in King Sennacherib, he would provide for all their needs and take them to a new “promised land.”

Sennacherib was placing himself in the role of God, declaring himself to be the source of life and death. By placing their trust in him, they would be assured of peace, prosperity, and life. But centuries earlier, Moses had delivered a much different message to the people of Israel. As they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, preparing to enter the land of promise for the very first time, he had warned them:

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the LORD, you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NLT

Sennacherib was playing God. This over-confident king with an overactive ego was daring to place himself on equal standing with God Almighty. And he was attempting to persuade the people of Judah to abandon their hope and trust in Yahweh by offering them a “better” promised land.

But while the people on the wall were disturbed by what they heard, they obeyed King Hezekiah’s command and remained silent. And the three emissaries, their clothes torn in an act of mourning, returned to the king and reported all that they had heard. It was a dark day in Judah. The enemy was at the gate. The allies of Judah were nowhere to be found. But despite the boasts of the Rabshakeh, the God of Judah was still on His throne and in complete control of all that was happening. He alone held the power of life and death in His hands. And King Sennacherib and his overconfident military commander were about to discover the painful lesson that they were no match for the all-powerful God of Judah.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When the Odds Are Against You

13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house. 16 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria. 17 And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 18 And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

19 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 20 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 22 But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem”? 23 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”  2 Kings 18:13-25 ESV

King Hezekiah instituted a variety of reforms in Judah, including the restoration of the temple of God and the reinstitution of the sacrificial system. He also reconsecrated the priestly order, challenging these men to recommit themselves to their God-ordained role as the spiritual leaders of Judah.

Not long after becoming king, Hezekiah had to deal with yet another long-neglected aspect of Judah’s worship: The annual celebration of Passover. He was informed that “the people had not been celebrating it in great numbers as required in the Law” (Deuteronomy 30:5 NLT). So, Hezekiah sent couriers throughout the kingdom of Judah with letters calling the people to gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

“O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that he will return to the few of us who have survived the conquest of the Assyrian kings. Do not be like your ancestors and relatives who abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and became an object of derision, as you yourselves can see. Do not be stubborn, as they were, but submit yourselves to the Lord. Come to his Temple, which he has set apart as holy forever. Worship the Lord your God so that his fierce anger will turn away from you.

“For if you return to the Lord, your relatives and your children will be treated mercifully by their captors, and they will be able to return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful. If you return to him, he will not continue to turn his face from you.” – Deuteronomy 30:6-9 NLT

Some of the people responded in derision, refusing to gather for this sacred celebration. But the majority of the people heeded Hezekiah’s call and “a huge crowd assembled at Jerusalem in midspring to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread” (Deuteronomy 30:13 NLT). As a result, the Passover was reinstituted and the nation experienced a much-needed spiritual renewal.

The entire assembly of Judah rejoiced, including the priests, the Levites, all who came from the land of Israel, the foreigners who came to the festival, and all those who lived in Judah. There was great joy in the city, for Jerusalem had not seen a celebration like this one since the days of Solomon, King David’s son. Then the priests and Levites stood and blessed the people, and God heard their prayer from his holy dwelling in heaven. – Deuteronomy 30:25-27 NLT

Things were looking up in Judah. The nation’s spiritual condition was on an upward trajectory. But there was trouble on the horizon. It had been 21 years since the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. And while Judah had been graciously spared, the Assyrians remained a constant threat in the region. This powerful enemy had a new king, Sennacherib, who reinvigorated his predecessor’s grand ambitions to conquer all of Palestine. Sennacherib had established a military base in Lachish, just 28 miles from the capital city of Jerusalem. This obvious threat to Judah’s sovereignty forced Hezekiah to join an alliance with Phoenicia, Philistia, and Egypt. But to demonstrate the futility of any armed resistance, the Assyrians launched a series of raids within Judah that resulted in the easy capture of a number of well-fortified cities. This devastating turn of events forced Hezekiah to rethink his strategy and appeal to the mercy of Sennacherib

King Hezekiah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. I will pay whatever tribute money you demand if you will only withdraw.” – 2 Kings 18:14 NLT

The year was 701 BC, and Hezekiah was in the 14th year of his reign. He had been a good and godly king, choosing to walk in the ways of David. Unlike many of his predecessors, Hezekiah had “remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses” (2 Kings 18:6 NLT). As a result, “the Lord was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did” (2 Kings 18:7 NLT). And yet, here he was facing the very same threat that had brought about the fall of Israel. The Assyrians were just 28 miles away and King Hezekiah found himself having to open up the coffers of the royal treasury in order to raise a hefty ransom to protect the capital city of Jerusalem.

The king of Assyria then demanded a settlement of more than eleven tons of silver and one ton of gold. To gather this amount, King Hezekiah used all the silver stored in the Temple of the Lord and in the palace treasury. Hezekiah even stripped the gold from the doors of the Lord’s Temple and from the doorposts he had overlaid with gold, and he gave it all to the Assyrian king. – 2 Kings 18:14-16 NLT

To come up with this exorbitant ransom, Hezekiah was forced to desecrate the very temple he had painstakingly restored. To pay off this pagan king, Hezekiah ordered that the house of God be stripped of its gold and silver. This decision must have pained Hezekiah greatly. But it appeared that he had no other choice. And to make matters worse, his costly and compromising decision proved ineffective. Though Hezekiah had faithfully met the full terms of Sennacherib’s demands, the Assyrians still ended up besieging Jerusalem. A massive army marched from Lachish and “took up a position beside the aqueduct that feeds water into the upper pool, near the road leading to the field where cloth is washed” (2 Kings 18:17 NLT).

The army of Assyria gathered just outside the eastern walls of Jerusalem, where they set up camp in the Kidron Valley. Their intentions were clear. And when Hezekiah was summoned by the representatives of King Sennacherib, he chose to send three emissaries to negotiate with the Assyrians. Evidently, the 11 tons of silver and one ton of gold were not going to be enough. The Assyrians wanted more. King Sennacherib would not be satisfied until Jerusalem and all Judah were under his control and part of his ever-expanding global empire.

In spite of all his reforms and ongoing efforts to renew the spiritual state of Judah, Hezekiah still found himself facing the same fate as the apostate kings of Israel. The very same Assyrians who had destroyed Samaria 14 years earlier were now camped outside the walls of his own capital city. But unlike his contemporaries in Israel, King Hezekiah had been faithful to Yahweh. He had done all the right things.

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. He remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses. – 2 Kings 18:5-6 NLT

And yet, his kingdom was under siege. His royal city was being threatened by a pagan king with grand aspirations of global dominance. But this time, the Assyrians were going to find that they had overstepped their bounds and were facing a foe far more powerful than any they had ever encountered. Judah had a far greater ally than the Egyptians, Phoenicians, or Philistines. They had God Almighty on their side.

But Sennacherib’s spokesman would downplay all of these potential allies, even ridiculing any hope that the God of Judah would come to their aid.

“But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem? – 2 Kings 18:22 NLT

This pagan representative of King Sennacherib had no understanding of who Yahweh was or the kind of power He wielded. To the Assyrians, Yahweh was just one more god among many, and He would prove no less able to stand against their superior forces as any of the other gods of their conquered foes. In fact, this Assyrian emissary had wrongly assumed that Hezekiah must have offended the God of Judah when he had ordered the destruction of all the altars and shrines throughout the land. From his pagan perspective, Hezekiah was in a no-win situation. Judah’s military allies would prove hopeless and helpless, and their God had turned against them. He even insinuated that the Assyrians had been sent by the God of Judah to punish them.

But while the situation looked bleak, Hezekiah was about to discover that his God had not abandoned them. The odds were not in Judah’s favor, but because of the faithfulness of Hezekiah, Judah would find that their God was going to respond favorably toward them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Uncompromising Conviction

1 And behold, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the Lord to Bethel. Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make offerings. And the man cried against the altar by the word of the Lord and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’” And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign that the Lord has spoken: ‘Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.’” And when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar at Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” And his hand, which he stretched out against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. The altar also was torn down, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign that the man of God had given by the word of the Lord. And the king said to the man of God, “Entreat now the favor of the Lord your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.” And the man of God entreated the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored to him and became as it was before. And the king said to the man of God, “Come home with me, and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.” And the man of God said to the king, “If you give me half your house, I will not go in with you. And I will not eat bread or drink water in this place, for so was it commanded me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came.’” 10 So he went another way and did not return by the way that he came to Bethel. 1 Kings 13:1-10 ESV

In an effort to preserve the kingdom given to him by God, Jeroboam had made a boneheaded decision that ended up offending God. He knew that the Israelites were a religious people and feared that they would continue to travel to Judah to offer sacrifices at the temple Solomon had built in Jerusalem. This continued spiritual connection to the holy city might influence them to restore their relationship with Rehoboam and the people of Judah. So, to prevent this from happening, Jeroboam had made the fateful decision to create an alternate religion for the ten tribes of Israel, complete with priests and golden idols made to look like calves, which he had placed in the cities of Dan and Bethel. Then he convinced the people to turn their backs on Yahweh by offering their sacrifices to the two golden calves.

“It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT

In following Jeroboam’s lead, the people no longer sought forgiveness, cleansing, and blessing from God Almighty, but placed their hopes in lifeless statues made by human hands. Years later, the prophet Isaiah would describe the futility of worshiping false gods.

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit?
All who worship idols will be disgraced
    along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—
    who claim they can make a god.
They may all stand together,
    but they will stand in terror and shame. – Isaiah 44:9-11 NLT

But to Jeroboam, his decision made all the sense in the world. He was a pragmatist who was more interested in preserving his newfound status as king than in promoting the ongoing worship of the one who had made him king. And his decision, while initially successful, was about to prove seriously flawed.

Jeroboam had traveled to Bethel in order to offer sacrifices to one of his false gods. But while there, he received a visit from a prophet of the one true God. This unnamed man had come from Judah with a message from the Almighty. So, as Jeroboam was about to offer sacrifices to his visible, but lifeless god, he was given a word from the invisible, yet all-powerful God of Israel. And the prophet, seemingly ignoring Jeroboam, directed his message at the altar the king had constructed. In a sense, this was one god speaking to another. Yahweh was challenging the false god of Jeroboam by delivering a prophecy concerning its coming destruction.

O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.” – 1 Kings 13:2 NLT

Jeroboam’s god was going to meet an untimely end. When faced with the power of God Almighty, Jeroboam’s false god proved incapable of defending itself. It remained speechless because it was lifeless. And the warning delivered by the prophet of God carried long-term ramifications. It would be 290 years later before God fulfilled His word, and all during that time, the nation of Israel would continue to worship their false gods. But eventually, God would raise up a king over Judah whose name was Josiah, and he would institute a series of religious reforms in both Judah and Israel. And, in doing so, he would fulfill God’s prophecy against the altar of Jeroboam’s false god.

The king also tore down the altar at Bethel—the pagan shrine that Jeroboam son of Nebat had made when he caused Israel to sin. He burned down the shrine and ground it to dust, and he burned the Asherah pole. Then Josiah turned around and noticed several tombs in the side of the hill. He ordered that the bones be brought out, and he burned them on the altar at Bethel to desecrate it. (This happened just as the Lord had promised through the man of God when Jeroboam stood beside the altar at the festival.) – 2 Kings 23:15-16 NLT

The very fact that this altar was still in existence and in use nearly 300 years later reveals the level of apostasy in Israel. Jeroboam’s decision to replace Yahweh with false gods was going to have long-lasting consequences. In an effort to preserve his kingdom Jeroboam was willing to sacrifice the spiritual well-being of his own people.

And to demonstrate that the words he had spoken were true, “the man of God gave a sign to prove his message” (1 Kings 13:3 NLT).

He said, “The Lord has promised to give this sign: This altar will split apart, and its ashes will be poured out on the ground.” – 1 Kings 13:3 NLT

God was going to validate His word with a powerful sign. There would be an immediate judgment on Jeroboam’s apostasy. His shrine and the golden calf it contained would be destroyed. But, once again, Jeroboam attempted to preserve his kingdom by rejecting the will of God. After the prophet had spoken his word of warning, Jeroboam commanded that he be arrested. He wrongly assumed that he could thwart the will of God by binding the messenger of God. And, in doing so, Jeroboam would establish a precedent that would carry over for generations. His successors to the throne of Israel would continue to reject the will of God by resisting and refusing the messengers of God. Rather than repent and return in humble submission to Yahweh, they would each cling stubbornly to their false gods, dooming their people to the judgment of God.

But Jeroboam’s attempt to stop God’s prophet proved ineffective and injurious. He still ended up with a shattered altar and a paralyzed hand. Suddenly convinced of the prophet’s position as God’s spokesman, Jeroboam begged him to intercede with Yahweh on his behalf.

“Entreat now the favor of the Lord your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.” – 1 Kings 13:6 ESV

The prophet prayed and God responded, restoring full mobility to Jeroboam’s paralyzed hand. But Jeroboam’s response to this miracle is revealing. Having just witnessed the miraculous destruction of the altar to his false god and having had his hand paralyzed by God, you would think that Jeroboam would have begged for forgiveness. But instead, he tries to win over the favor of the prophet by inviting him to dinner and offering him a reward. Perhaps Jeroboam feared that the prophet might turn his attention to Dan and destroy the altar there. So, in another attempt to preserve his kingdom, he tried to bribe the prophet of God.

But God, knowing the true nature of Jeroboam’s heart, had warned the prophet not to accept any invitation from this conniving and calculating king.

“Even if you gave me half of everything you own, I would not go with you. I would not eat or drink anything in this place. For the Lord gave me this command: ‘You must not eat or drink anything while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came.’” – 1 Kings 13:8-9 NLT

Jeroboam was a man who, for the sake of his kingdom, had been willing to compromise his faith in God. And he assumed that this unnamed prophet would be just as willing to make concessions in exchange for monetary gain. But he was wrong. This young prophet was unwilling to sell out his God for personal reward. Even when faced with Jeroboam’s offer of a reward, this faithful servant of God remained uncompromising in his commitment to the will of God. He recognized Yahweh as the one true God and would not allow Jeroboam or anyone else to cause him to compromise his convictions. And his actions reflect his firm and unwavering belief in his God.

This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer and Creator:
“I am the Lord, who made all things.
    I alone stretched out the heavens.
Who was with me
    when I made the earth?
I expose the false prophets as liars
    and make fools of fortune-tellers.
I cause the wise to give bad advice,
    thus proving them to be fools.
But I carry out the predictions of my prophets!” – Isaiah 44:24-26 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Man of Divided Allegiance

10 At the end of twenty years, in which Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the Lord and the king’s house, 11 and Hiram king of Tyre had supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress timber and gold, as much as he desired, King Solomon gave to Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee. 12 But when Hiram came from Tyre to see the cities that Solomon had given him, they did not please him. 13 Therefore he said, “What kind of cities are these that you have given me, my brother?” So they are called the land of Cabul to this day. 14 Hiram had sent to the king 120 talents of gold.

15 And this is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon drafted to build the house of the Lord and his own house and the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer 16 (Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it with fire, and had killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it as dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife; 17 so Solomon rebuilt Gezer) and Lower Beth-horon 18 and Baalath and Tamar in the wilderness, in the land of Judah, 19 and all the store cities that Solomon had, and the cities for his chariots, and the cities for his horsemen, and whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion. 20 All the people who were left of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, who were not of the people of Israel— 21 their descendants who were left after them in the land, whom the people of Israel were unable to devote to destruction—these Solomon drafted to be slaves, and so they are to this day. 22 But of the people of Israel Solomon made no slaves. They were the soldiers, they were his officials, his commanders, his captains, his chariot commanders and his horsemen.

23 These were the chief officers who were over Solomon’s work: 550 who had charge of the people who carried on the work.

24 But Pharaoh’s daughter went up from the city of David to her own house that Solomon had built for her. Then he built the Millo.

25 Three times a year Solomon used to offer up burnt offerings and peace offerings on the altar that he built to the Lord, making offerings with it before the Lord. So he finished the house.

26 King Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber, which is near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. 27 And Hiram sent with the fleet his servants, seamen who were familiar with the sea, together with the servants of Solomon. 28 And they went to Ophir and brought from there gold, 420 talents, and they brought it to King Solomon. 1 Kings 9:10-28 ESV

Solomon doesn’t realize it, but he is at the midway point of his 40-year reign. He has just completed the construction of the temple, his royal palaces, and all the buildings that will house his administrative offices.

With these projects behind him, Solomon turns his attention to other pressing matters. First, he makes an attempt to compensate King Hiram of Phoenicia for all the material and financial aid he had provided over the years. Early on in his reign, Solomon had made an agreement with Hiram that provided Solomon with all the lumber he needed for his many construction projects, while Hiram received much-needed grain and olive oil in return.

So Hiram supplied as much cedar and cypress timber as Solomon desired. In return, Solomon sent him an annual payment of 100,000 bushels of wheat for his household and 110,000 gallons of pure olive oil. – 1 Kings 5:10-11 NLT

This agreement had lasted for 20 years, and during that time, Solomon had compensated King Hiram for all the lumber and he had paid wages to all the Phoenician wood-workers who had helped with the various construction projects (1 Kings 5:6). But now that all the work was done, Solomon wanted to make a gesture of goodwill to his friend in Phoenicia. So, he gave Hiram 20 cities located in the land of Galilee along the border between Israel and Phoenicia. This appears to be a gracious act of generosity on Solomon’s part, but it quickly becomes apparent that his gift was a bit disingenuous. When Hiram personally inspected the cities Solomon had given him, his response reveals his deep disappointment.

“What kind of towns are these, my brother?” he asked. So Hiram called that area Cabul (which means “worthless”), as it is still known today. – 1 Kings 9:13 NLT

Evidently, these towns were located in a region of Galilee that was not conducive to agricultural production. Since Phoenicia occupied a narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea, they were woefully deficient in arable farmland. That’s why Solomon’s compensation for the lumber had taken the form of grain and olive oil. At first glance, it would appear that Solomon had given them what they had always needed: Land on which to grow crops. But Hiram described Solomon’s gift as “Cabul,” a word that means “bound” or “sterile.” And while these 20 towns expanded the range of Hiram’s kingdom, they were essentially worthless. They provided no practical value. And what makes Solomon’s gift that much more egregious is that, over the years, Hiram had given Solomon 120 talents of gold. To put that in perspective, that’s nearly 5 tons of gold.

One could almost draw the conclusion that Solomon was somewhat of a Scrooge, a financial tightwad who was more than willing to spend money on himself, but was a bit stingy when it came to others. And it’s interesting to note that Solomon had given away land that had been part of the inheritance given by God to the people of Israel.

It’s most likely that the 20 towns were located in territory that had belonged to the tribes of Asher, Naphtali, and Zebulun. In awarding these cities to Hiram, Solomon was guilty of giving away land that belonged to the people of God. His willingness to give it away, coupled with Hiram’s poor assessment of it, reveals that it held no real value to Solomon.

One of the things that can be learned from studying the history of the Israelites is that every decision they made had long-term ramifications. The book of Judges reveals that, at one point, the tribes of Asher, Napthali, and Zebulun had been given the opportunity to conquer and occupy the land allotted to them by God, but they had failed.

The tribe of Zebulun failed to drive out the residents of Kitron and Nahalol, so the Canaanites continued to live among them. But the Canaanites were forced to work as slaves for the people of Zebulun.

The tribe of Asher failed to drive out the residents of Acco, Sidon, Ahlab, Aczib, Helbah, Aphik, and Rehob. Instead, the people of Asher moved in among the Canaanites, who controlled the land, for they failed to drive them out.

Likewise, the tribe of Naphtali failed to drive out the residents of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath. Instead, they moved in among the Canaanites, who controlled the land. Nevertheless, the people of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath were forced to work as slaves for the people of Naphtali. – Judges 1:30-33 NLT

One of the reasons the Phoenicians even existed was because of the failure of these three tribes to do what God had commanded them to do. As a result of their failure to drive out the inhabitants of the land, the Phoenicians occupied territory that was supposed to belong to the people of God. Now, Solomon had just awarded the Phoenicians with even more of Israel’s God-given inheritance.

Solomon’s main focus was the city of Jerusalem. Having willingly forfeited the cities located in the north, Solomon poured his time and energy into expanding his royal capital. To do so, Solomon enslaved thousands of non-Jews to work as laborers on his various rebuilding and enlargement projects. He conscripted Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites who were living in the land of Israel to provide slave labor for his ambitious expansion program. These people were used to extend the walls of Jerusalem, connecting the old City of David with the newer area surrounding the temple complex and the royal palaces and administrative headquarters. They “built towns as supply centers and constructed towns where his chariots and horses could be stationed” (1 Kings 9:19 NLT). Solomon was constructing a virtual theme park dedicated to his greatness; replete with palaces, terraces, stables for his many horses, and barracks for his growing army. 

And it’s important to remember that God had warned that His kings were not to refrain from certain actions.

The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself… – Deuteronomy 17:16 NLT

The king must not take many wives for himself… – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself… – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

Solomon was in violation of each of these commands. And while at this point, it appears that the daughter of Pharaoh was his only wife, it wouldn’t be long before he expanded his household greatly.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the LORD. – 1 Kings 11:1-3 NLT

Whether it was wives and concubines or horses and chariots, Solomon always seemed to be in building mode. Enough was never enough. He even built a fleet of boats and began an aggressive trading venture that netted him 16 tons of gold. For Solomon, bigger was always better. And yet, late in his life, Solomon would make a sad but telling admission.

I increased my possessions:
I built houses for myself;
I planted vineyards for myself.
I designed royal gardens and parks for myself,
and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.
I constructed pools of water for myself,
to irrigate my grove of flourishing trees.
I purchased male and female slaves,
and I owned slaves who were born in my house;
I also possessed more livestock—both herds and flocks—
than any of my predecessors in Jerusalem.
I also amassed silver and gold for myself,
as well as valuable treasures taken from kingdoms and provinces.
I acquired male singers and female singers for myself,
and what gives a man sensual delight—a harem of beautiful concubines.
So I was far wealthier than all my predecessors in Jerusalem,
yet I maintained my objectivity.
I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted;
I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure.
So all my accomplishments gave me joy;
this was my reward for all my effort.
Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished
and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it,
I concluded: “All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless—
like chasing the wind!
There is nothing gained from them on earth.” – Ecclesiastes 1:4-11 NLT

They say, “hindsight is 20-20,” and that would prove to be true in Solomon’s life. He would one day discover that his obsession with constant expansion, endless pleasure, and rampant materialism would never satisfy. But at the midway point of his reign, he didn’t know any better. So, he continued to try and balance his love for the things of this world with his love for God.  He kept accumulating material goods, while at the same time, offering sacrifices to God. Without even realizing it, he was worshiping two gods. Solomon was living out the very thing Jesus would later warn His disciples about.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” – Matthew 6:24 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Mission Accomplished

12 Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13 I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.” 14 Then the king turned around and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel stood. 15 And he said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who with his hand has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to David my father, saying, 16 ‘Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there. But I chose David to be over my people Israel.’ 17 Now it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 18 But the Lord said to David my father, ‘Whereas it was in your heart to build a house for my name, you did well that it was in your heart. 19 Nevertheless, you shall not build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name.’ 20 Now the Lord has fulfilled his promise that he made. For I have risen in the place of David my father, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and I have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 21 And there I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.” 1 Kings 8:12-21 ESV

Having completed construction of the temple and safely secured the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies, Solomon was ready to formally dedicate the new structure. This was a momentous occasion for the entire nation of Israel and a great number of them had assembled to witness the official arrival of the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence, power, and mercy. These people also had a vested interest in the new temple, having witnessed and participated in its construction for more than seven years. By the order of Solomon, tens of thousands of Israelites had been conscripted to serve as laborers, carpenters, masons, cooks, and foremen on this massive project. David had come up with the idea of building a house for God and Solomon had made it a reality, but the people had supplied the blood, sweat, and tears. It had become a community project for which they took great pride.

Standing before the temple, with the citizens of Israel spread out behind him, Solomon summarized the fruit of their labor.

“O Lord, you have said that you would live in a thick cloud of darkness. Now I have built a glorious Temple for you, a place where you can live forever! – 1 Kings 8:12-13 NLT

Speaking directly to Yahweh, Solomon affirmed the Lord’s holy and transcendent nature. He paraphrased the words that God had spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai after He had delivered the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” – Exodus 19:9 NLT

Moses was told to assemble the people of Israel and prepare them for an encounter with God. And three days later, they gathered at the base of Mount Sinai.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. – Exodus 19:16-18 ESV

God made Himself visible to the people of Israel. He manifested His presence in the form of a thick, dark cloud that resembled smoke belching from a kiln. And this tangible representation of the Almighty was accompanied by a frightening pyrotechnic show that further enhanced His greatness and instilled fear in the people.

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. – Exodus 20:18-21 ESV

Forty years later, on the banks of the Jordan River, Moses addressed a new generation of Israelites who were preparing to enter the land of Canaan. And he reminded them of that fateful day when God had appeared to their fathers and mothers at Mount Sinai.

“You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while flames from the mountain shot into the sky. The mountain was shrouded in black clouds and deep darkness. And the Lord spoke to you from the heart of the fire. You heard the sound of his words but didn’t see his form; there was only a voice.” – Deuteronomy 4:11-12 NLT

God had chosen to reveal Himself to His people. Ever since the day they had left Egypt, He had traveled before them in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day (Exodus 40:34-38). And when God had given Moses instructions to build the tabernacle, He had also promised to make His presence known by appearing in the form of a cloud over the mercy seat, which sat on top of the Ark, located within the Holy of Holies.

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. – Leviticus 16:2 ESV

With the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant into the newly constructed temple, Solomon was welcoming God into His new home. It was “a glorious Temple” (1 Kings 8:13 NLT), where God would be able to dwell on a permanent basis. This was no tent, designed to be erected and taken down, then transported from one place to another. It was a massive stone structure built to last forever, providing Yahweh with an everlasting dwelling place on earth. And Solomon rejoiced over having been able to play a part in this great endeavor.

“I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.” – 1 Kings 8:13 ESV

This was not an expression of pride or arrogance on Solomon’s part. He was simply expressing his amazement at having been used by God to make his father’s dream a reality. Turning and addressing the people, Solomon gave them a brief history lesson, outlining the events that had led up to this great day.

While David had been the one to come up with the idea of building a permanent house for God, he would not be given the privilege to do so. Instead, God would build David’s kingdom, using David’s military prowess to ensure that the nation of Israel had secured all the land that God had promised as their inheritance. And David had proved successful. He fought many battles, conquering the enemies of Israel and establishing the nation as a formidable force in the region. But it was because of David’s bloody conquests that he would be denied the privilege of building a house for God.

“You have killed many men in the battles you have fought. And since you have shed so much blood in my sight, you will not be the one to build a Temple to honor my name. But you will have a son who will be a man of peace. I will give him peace with his enemies in all the surrounding lands. His name will be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel during his reign.” – 1 Chronicles 22:8-9 NLT

And Solomon reminds the people that, while David’s intentions had been admirable, God had declared that the honor of building the temple would fall to his son. Solomon had been divinely ordained to carry out the wishes of his father.

“You wanted to build the Temple to honor my name. Your intention is good, but you are not the one to do it. One of your own sons will build the Temple to honor me.” – 1 Kings 8:18-19 NLT

Solomon wanted the people to understand that the temple was not to be a monument to his own greatness. It had been built to honor the name of God. It existed for His glory alone. Solomon realized that he sat on the throne of Israel solely at God’s discretion.

“…now the Lord has fulfilled the promise he made, for I have become king in my father’s place, and now I sit on the throne of Israel, just as the Lord promised. – 1 Kings 8:20 NLT

And Solomon makes it clear that his ascendancy to the throne had been ordained and orchestrated by God so that he might build a house for God.

“I have built this Temple to honor the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.” – 1 Kings 8:20 NLT

He had successfully completed the task assigned to him by God. His nearly eight-year-long commitment to this project had come to an end and now he could rest in the knowledge that the Lord had taken up residence in His new home, assuring Israel of His permanent presence in their midst.

Yet, as will be revealed in Solomon’s prayer of dedication, he knew that God would not actually dwell in the temple. Yahweh was too great to be confined to a building built by human hands. But Solomon understood that the temple, in all its glory, would be a constant reminder to the people of Israel of both the greatness and the nearness of God. He would go on to ask the God who dwells in heaven to honor His temple on earth by hearing and answering the prayers offered up in its courts.

“May you watch over this Temple night and day, this place where you have said, ‘My name will be there.’ May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.” – 1 Kings 8:29-30 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson