Control Over Kings and Countries

20 In the eleventh year, in the first month, on the seventh day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 21 “Son of man, I have broken the arm of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and behold, it has not been bound up, to heal it by binding it with a bandage, so that it may become strong to wield the sword. 22 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against Pharaoh king of Egypt and will break his arms, both the strong arm and the one that was broken, and I will make the sword fall from his hand. 23 I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them through the countries. 24 And I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon and put my sword in his hand, but I will break the arms of Pharaoh, and he will groan before him like a man mortally wounded. 25 I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, but the arms of Pharaoh shall fall. Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I put my sword into the hand of the king of Babylon and he stretches it out against the land of Egypt. 26 And I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them throughout the countries. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 30:20-26 ESV

Less than four months after receiving the first divine oracle concerning Egypt, Ezekiel was given another installment. The first part came in “the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month” (Ezekiel 29:1 ESV). This one arrived “in the eleventh year, in the first month, on the seventh day of the month” (Ezekiel 30:30 ESV). The New Living Translation places the date of this second oracle as “January 7, during the tenth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity” (Ezekiel 30:20 NLT). Thomas L. Constable calculated the date in question to be April 29. But both agree that it took place in the year 587 B.C.

In this oracle, God informs Ezekiel that the king of Egypt has suffered a debilitating wound that has left him incapable of wielding a sword or putting up a fight. This divinely inflicted wound, while not life-threatening, would prove to be decisive.

“Son of man, I have broken the arm of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. His arm has not been put in a cast so that it may heal. Neither has it been bound up with a splint to make it strong enough to hold a sword. – Ezekiel 30:21 NLT

Pharaoh’s arm, a symbol of his power, had been broken by God but never set, so it had healed properly. Unable to grasp a sword, Pharaoh was reduced to a state of impotence and defenselessness. As the sovereign ruler over the mighty nation of Egypt, he was reduced to a weakened and helpless state. This imagery was meant to be symbolic in nature, using the king as the representative of the kingdom. Many scholars believe this passage is a reference to Egypt’s debilitating defeat at the Battle of Carchemish.

As the Babylonians continued to assert their will in that part of the world, the Egyptians attempted to play the spoiler, clandestinely assisting nations like the Assyrians and Israelites in their efforts to oppose Nebuchadnezzar’s advances. In 612 B.C., the Assyrian capital of Nineveh had fallen to Babylonian forces. Unwilling to admit defeat, the Assyrians moved their capital to Haran. But two years later, that capital suffered the same fate. Still refusing to capitulate, the Assyrians moved their headquarters to Carchemish, some 38 miles east of Haran.

As Pharaoh Neco and his Egyptian forces made their way to Carchemish to fight alongside the Assyrians, King Josiah of Judah decided to stand in his way. This would prove to be an unwise decision on Josiah’s part, resulting in his death from wounds suffered during the battle. The story is recorded in the book of 2 Chronicles.

After Josiah had finished restoring the Temple, King Neco of Egypt led his army up from Egypt to do battle at Carchemish on the Euphrates River, and Josiah and his army marched out to fight him. But King Neco sent messengers to Josiah with this message:

“What do you want with me, king of Judah? I have no quarrel with you today! I am on my way to fight another nation, and God has told me to hurry! Do not interfere with God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.”

But Josiah refused to listen to Neco, to whom God had indeed spoken, and he would not turn back. Instead, he disguised himself and led his army into battle on the plain of Megiddo. But the enemy archers hit King Josiah with their arrows and wounded him. He cried out to his men, “Take me from the battle, for I am badly wounded!”

So they lifted Josiah out of his chariot and placed him in another chariot. Then they brought him back to Jerusalem, where he died. – 2 Chronicles 35:20-24 NLT

This battle at Megiddo delayed Neco’s arrival in Carchemish. And with Josiah’s death, Neco found himself embroiled in the local politics of Judah. Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, had ascended to the throne, but his reign only lasted three months before Neco had him imprisoned and replaced with one another of Josiah’s sons. Neco ended up pocketing a sizeable fortune in gold and silver in the form of tribute from Judah, but his eventual arrival in Carchemish proved too little, too late. Nebuchadnezzar had already defeated the Assyrians and, when the Egyptians arrived on the scene, they too were soundly routed. The battle of Carchemish brought about the end of the Assyrian Empire and reduced Egypt to a second-rate power in the region.

Now, some 25 years later, God warns that He is going to do a number of Egypt again. This time, He will break both arms, including the recently healed one.

“…this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am the enemy of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt! I will break both of his arms—the good arm along with the broken one—and I will make his sword clatter to the ground. I will scatter the Egyptians to many lands throughout the world.” – Ezekiel 30:23-23 NLT

The Egyptians had failed to learn their lesson. Despite their weakened state, they continued to try to exert their will in the region. But God wants Ezekiel to know that the Egyptian’s hope of regaining their former stature was a pipe dream. He was going to use Nebuchadnezzar to end their centuries-long role as major players on the world stage.

“…when I put my sword in the hand of Babylon’s king and he brings it against the land of Egypt, Egypt will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 30:25 NLT

God describes Egypt’s defeat as a mortal blow, not just a couple of broken arms. Without any way to defend themselves against the Babylonians, the Egyptians would suffer a devastating defeat that would render them “mortally wounded, groaning in pain” (Ezekiel 30:24 NLT).

Like the Israelites and the people of Judah, the Egyptians would find themselves scattered to the four winds. Some would end up as captives in Babylon, while others would seek refuge in foreign lands where they would live as refugees and outcasts.

I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, dispersing them throughout the earth.” – Ezekiel 30:26 NLT

Their defeat will be God’s doing, as will be their dispersion among the nations. This great and powerful nation would fall as a result of God’s sovereign, omnipotent will. Each of these nations; the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, were instruments in the hand of God. They served at His pleasure and were nothing more than bit players in the drama of His providential and irrepressible plan.

And, as always, God informs Ezekiel that. with their fall, the Egyptians will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is Lord. They will recognize that their defeat was His doing. And when they find themselves scattered to the four winds, living as helpless and hopeless exiles in foreign lands, their recognition of God’s Lordship will be confirmed.

“I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, dispersing them throughout the earth. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 30:26 NLT

As the prophet Daniel so aptly put it, God “controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings” (Daniel 2:21 NLT). Neco, Nebuchadnezzar, and even Josiah, lived their lives according to the will of God Almighty. They ruled at His discretion. Their countries flourished only as long as He deemed it necessary and critical to the accomplishment of His overarching plan. Their rise and fall was up to His sovereign will. Nothing happens on earth that is outside the providential plan of Yahweh.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NIV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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 Inescapable, Unavoidable Will of God

28 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him. 30 And his servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king in his father’s place.

31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 32 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 33 And Pharaoh Neco put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and laid on the land a tribute of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. 34 And Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the place of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz away, and he came to Egypt and died there. 35 And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land to give the money according to the command of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, from everyone according to his assessment, to give it to Pharaoh Neco.

36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 

1 In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord would not pardon. – 2 Kings 23:28-24:4 ESV

In his ongoing attempt to redeem the spiritual soul of the nation, King Josiah had bitten off more than he could chew. His many reforms and his ongoing battle against idolatry and apostasy were more than enough to keep him busy. But as the king of a powerful nation, he also had the responsibility to keep abreast of all the military and political machinations taking place in the region. At his point in history, the Assyrians were still the dominant force in the region, but the Babylonians were beginning to exert their formidable influence. They were an up-and-coming superpower that posed a real threat to Assyria’s global empire.

Josiah received word that the Egyptian army was on its way to Carchemish on the Euphrates River, where they were to join Assyrian forces in a battle against the upstart Babylonians. For some reason, Josiah made the fateful decision to oppose this military alliance between Egypt and Assyria.

After Josiah had finished restoring the Temple, King Neco of Egypt led his army up from Egypt to do battle at Carchemish on the Euphrates River, and Josiah and his army marched out to fight him. But King Neco sent messengers to Josiah with this message:

“What do you want with me, king of Judah? I have no quarrel with you today! I am on my way to fight another nation, and God has told me to hurry! Do not interfere with God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.” – 2 Chronicles 23:20-21 NLT

Perhaps Josiah was hoping that the Babylonians would bring an end to Assyria’s longstanding stranglehold on the region. Long after the Assyrians had called off their siege of Jerusalem, they remained a constant threat to Judah. So, Josiah rallied his troops and intercepted the Egyptian army as it made its way to Carchemish. But King Neco, the Pharaoh of Egypt, warned Josiah not to interfere, claiming to have a divine mandate from God.

But Josiah refused to listen to Neco, to whom God had indeed spoken, and he would not turn back. Instead, he disguised himself and led his army into battle on the plain of Megiddo. – 2 Chronicles 23:22 NLT

Josiah refused to believe that Yahweh was behind this unholy alliance between the Egyptians and the Assyrians. He couldn’t see any reason why God would direct the pagan king of the Egyptians to join forces with the already powerful and deadly kingdom of Assyrian. It made no sense. But Josiah failed to understand that God was orchestrating His sovereign will and raising up the nation of Babylon as His agent of judgment against Assyria for its role in the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. And Josiah was also unaware that God was preparing to use Babylon to destroy the nation of Judah.

Ignorant of God’s plans, King Josiah decided to take matters into his own hands and led his troops into battle against the Egyptians. They intercepted the Egyptian army at a place called Megiddo and in the ensuing battle, King Josiah was killed. The author of 2 Kings states that “Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him” (2 Kings 23:29 ESV). But in 2 Chronicles 35, we’re told that Josiah had disguised himself. It seems that Josiah’s little ploy to hide his kingly identity failed. King Neco recognized Josiah instantly and ordered his death.

But the enemy archers hit King Josiah with their arrows and wounded him. He cried out to his men, “Take me from the battle, for I am badly wounded!” – 2 Chronicles 35:23 NLT

The wounded king was placed in another chariot and returned to the city of Jerusalem, where he died. After giving their fallen king a state funeral, the people chose Jehoahaz as his replacement. This choice seems a bit odd because Jehoahaz was Josiah’s middle son and, therefore, not the next in line to the throne. But it seems that the people were looking for a king who would bring back the old way of life to which they had grown accustomed. They missed the days of Manasseh and were regretting all the reforms that Josiah had instituted in Judah. So, they chose the son of Josiah who represented their best chance at bringing back the good old days. And it appears that picked just the right man for the job.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestors had done. – 2 Kings 23:32 NLT

But Jehoahaz’s reign would be short-lived. The people failed to take into account that King Neco might have something to say about who took Josiah’s place on the throne of Judah. Just three months into his reign, Jehoahaz was deposed by the Pharaoh and taken captive to Egypt, where he died. Neco filled the vacancy with Eliakim, the older brother of Jehoahaz, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. This young man became little more than a vassal to the Pharaoh and was forced to make an annual tribute payment to the Egyptians. To do this, he imposed a debilitating tax on the people of Judah. The prophet provides a brief but sobering summary of the sad state of affairs in the southern kingdom of Judah after the death of Josiah.

Do not weep for the dead king or mourn his loss.
    Instead, weep for the captive king being led away!
    For he will never return to see his native land again.

For this is what the Lord says about Jehoahaz, who succeeded his father, King Josiah, and was taken away as a captive: “He will never return. He will die in a distant land and will never again see his own country.” – Jeremiah 22:10-12 NLT

With Josiah’s death, the period of reformation in Judah came to an abrupt end. He had been the heart and soul behind all the changes that had taken place. And without him, the people would revert to their old ways. Virtually overnight, the conditions in Judah took a dramatic turn for the worse. Judah was now a vassal state, ruled by a puppet king who answered to the Pharaoh of Egypt. Josiah’s attempt to stop the Egyptians from joining forces with the Assyrians had failed. In 605 BC, just four years after Josiah’s death, these two armies would be defeated by the Babylonians at the Battle of Carchemish. This unexpected victory by the Babylonians over the Egyptians and Assyrians would prove to be a game-changing event in the history of the middle east. It was catapult Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, into the role of the most powerful ruler on earth. With his defeat of the Assyrians, Nebuchadnezzar took over all the lands they had conquered, dramatically increasing the size and influence of his empire.

Eventually, the Babylonians would rest control of Judah from the hands of King Neco of Egypt. And Jehoiakim would find himself answering to yet another, more powerful, king. But as we will see, Jehoiakim will try to resist his new overlord, refusing to submit to his authority. Like his father, Josiah, Jehoiakim fails to see the sovereign hand of God behind all that is taking place. He is short-sighted in his outlook, and intent on making the most of his less-than-ideal circumstances. And the prophet Jeremiah records God’s stinging condemnation of Jehoiakim’s arrogant and self-centered approach to leadership.

And the Lord says, “What sorrow awaits Jehoiakim,
    who builds his palace with forced labor.
He builds injustice into its walls,
    for he makes his neighbors work for nothing.
    He does not pay them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build a magnificent palace
    with huge rooms and many windows.
I will panel it throughout with fragrant cedar
    and paint it a lovely red.’
But a beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king!
    Your father, Josiah, also had plenty to eat and drink.
But he was just and right in all his dealings.
    That is why God blessed him.
He gave justice and help to the poor and needy,
    and everything went well for him.
Isn’t that what it means to know me?”
    says the Lord.
“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty!
    You murder the innocent,
    oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.” – Jeremiah 22:13-17 NLT

Unlike his reform-minded father, Jehoiakim had no heart for God. He was a self-obsessed man who used his power and position to improve his own lot in life while allowing the nation of Judah to continue its slide into apostasy. When Neco was forced to abandon his hold on Judah, Jehoiakim saw it as an opportunity to assert his independence. But he failed to understand the gravity of his situation. He had no clue that Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians had been chosen by God to bring judgment against the nation of Judah. In attempting to resist the Babylonians, Jehoiakim was actually opposing the will of God. And he would pay dearly for his obstinance. For three years, God would send the Babylonians, Arameans, Moabites, and Ammonites against the rebellious nation of Judah. And the author leaves no doubt as to the purpose behind these raids.

These disasters happened to Judah because of the Lord’s command. He had decided to banish Judah from his presence because of the many sins of Manasseh. – 2 Kings 24:3 NLT

Little did Jehoiakim know that he was facing the beginning of the end. The coming judgment of Judah was imminent and unavoidable.

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

Going Through the Motions

21 And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” 22 For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.

24 Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. 25 Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.

26 Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. 27 And the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.” – 2 Kings 23:21-27 ESV

Josiah’s efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh in Judah were unprecedented. He did more than any of the other kings of Judah to reestablish and reaffirm the nation’s commitment to the covenant they had made with God. But he faced a formidable and seemingly endless task. His own father had bequeathed to him a kingdom that was in a state of spiritual disarray and moral decline. It seems that everywhere Josiah looked, he found more idols, altars, and shrines to the many false gods his predecessors had erected in Judah. Their pervasive presence provided tangible evidence of the nation’s steep spiritual decline. Like cancer cells in the human body, idolatry had invaded the nation of Judah, spreading its deadly influence to the far corners of the kingdom. And Josiah spent a lifetime attempting to seek and destroy every last vestige of idolatry from the land.

But Josiah knew that even if he was successful in removing every idol, shrine, and altar,  there would still be a problem. The eradication of idolatry would not necessarily result in faithfulness to Yahweh. To restore the peoples’ faith in God, Josiah knew they would need to be reminded of the greatness of God. That is why he spent so much time and money restoring the temple, the symbol of God’s presence and power. It also explains his determination to reinstitute the celebration of Passover.

This annual feast had been divinely ordained by God and was intended to serve as a perpetual reminder of God’s miraculous and gracious deliverance of the nation of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. On the night that God had sent the death angel to enact the tenth and final plague against the Egyptians, He had given the Israelites instructions that would guarantee their safety. Each family was to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts and lentil of their home. Then they were to gather inside their homes and “eat the meat the same night; they will eat it roasted over the fire with bread made without yeast and with bitter herbs” (Exodus 12:8 NLT).

The people of Israel were expected to faithfully observe this rather strange ritual in order to escape the judgment that was about to fall on the land of Egypt. And God assured them that if they would obey His instructions, they would be spared.

“I will pass through the land of Egypt in the same night, and I will attack all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both of humans and of animals, and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, so that when I see the blood I will pass over you, and this plague will not fall on you to destroy you when I attack the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 12:12-13 NLT

And even before the lambs were slaughtered and the death angel appeared, God commanded His people to make this an annual celebration.

This day will become a memorial for you, and you will celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—you will celebrate it perpetually as a lasting ordinance. – Exodus 12:14 NLT

They were to observe it every year as a reminder of God’s power and provision. And Moses even told them what to say when the future generations of Israelites asked about the nature of this strange celebration.

“It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, when he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck Egypt and delivered our households.” – Exodus 12:27 NLT

But by the time Josiah became king, the celebration of Passover had become a distant and fading memory. Generations of Israelites had grown up having never celebrated this annual feast or having heard the story of God’s deliverance. As a result, they were ignorant of His goodness and greatness. In their minds, Yahweh was just one more God in the pantheon of gods worshiped in Judah. And when Josiah systematically removed all the other options, they found themselves left with a God they didn’t know and could not fully appreciate. And because they had not been taught the Book of the Covenant, they failed to understand the danger of their ignorance of and indifference to God. Centuries earlier, before the Israelites entered the land of promise, Moses had warned them:

“Then when the Lord your God brings you to the land he promised your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you—a land with large, fine cities you did not build, houses filled with choice things you did not accumulate, hewn-out cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—and you eat your fill, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, that place of slavery. You must revere the Lord your God, serve him, and take oaths using only his name. You must not go after other gods, those of the surrounding peoples, for the Lord your God, who is present among you, is a jealous God—his anger will erupt against you and remove you from the land.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-15 NLT

Everything Moses had warned them about had happened. They had forgotten God. They had failed to revere and serve Him. And Josiah was desperately trying to remedy the situation by calling the people to recommit themselves to Yahweh. He used all his authority and power as king to reestablish the primacy of the one true God. He poured every ounce of his passion into the process and spared no expense to see that Yahweh was honored in a manner worthy of His greatness and goodness. Josiah went out of his way to ensure that this Passover was a spectacular occasion that would reaffirm God’s incomparable value and reignite the peoples’ faithfulness to Him.

Never since the time of the prophet Samuel had there been such a Passover. None of the kings of Israel had ever kept a Passover as Josiah did, involving all the priests and Levites, all the people of Jerusalem, and people from all over Judah and Israel. – 2 Chronicles 35:18 NLT

Josiah’s tireless efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh in Judah would not go unnoticed. He would go down in history as one of the greatest kings of Judah.

Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. – 2 Kings 23:25 ESV

He was a man of great faith who used his divinely ordained role as king to lead the people back to God. Like his ancestor David, Josiah was a man after God’s own heart who shepherded the flock of God “with a true heart and led them with skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72 NLT). He did all he could do to reestablish the holiness of God’s name and reinvigorate the hearts of the people to serve Him alone. But his efforts, while sincere, would prove unsuccessful. God was not going to relent concerning His judgment of Judah.

Even so, the Lord was very angry with Judah because of all the wicked things Manasseh had done to provoke him. For the Lord said, “I will also banish Judah from my presence just as I have banished Israel. And I will reject my chosen city of Jerusalem and the Temple where my name was to be honored.” – 2 Kings 23:26-27 NLT

God knew their hearts, and He was fully aware that their outward displays of repentance were insincere and insufficient. The idols had been removed, but their hardened hearts remained. And this sad state of affairs would lead God to declare through the prophet Isaiah:

“These people say they are loyal to me;
they say wonderful things about me,
but they are not really loyal to me.
Their worship consists of
nothing but man-made ritual.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

Josiah had torn down all the idols, shrines, and altars, but he could do nothing to heal the hearts of the people. Despite all his efforts, the people remained just as unfaithful and unresponsive to God. The prophet Isaiah would accuse them of having a diminished view of God.

Those who try to hide their plans from the Lord are as good as dead,
who do their work in secret and boast,
“Who sees us? Who knows what we’re doing?”
Your thinking is perverse!
Should the potter be regarded as clay?
Should the thing made say about its maker, “He didn’t make me”?
Or should the pottery say about the potter, “He doesn’t understand”? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

Josiah had purged the land of idols, restored the temple, reinstituted the Passover, and refamiliarized the people with the Book of the Covenant. But he could do nothing to legislate heart change. While he had successfully transformed the environment in which they lived, the people of Judah remained just as unfaithful as ever. God would later warn the prophet Ezekiel to be wary of the hypocritical hearts of the people of Judah.

“So my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money.” – Ezekiel 33:31 NLT

Judah would experience the same fate as their neighbor to the north. Their disobedience and unfaithfulness to God would result in their destruction. Josiah had done his best, but the fall of Judah was inevitable and unavoidable because the hearts of the people remained unresponsive and unrepentant.

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

Too Little, Too Late

1 Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

3 In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people. And let it be given into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord, and let them give it to the workmen who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house (that is, to the carpenters, and to the builders, and to the masons), and let them use it for buying timber and quarried stone to repair the house. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”

And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.

11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. 12 And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

14 So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter), and they talked with her. 15 And she said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 18 But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.’” And they brought back word to the king. – 2 Kings 22:1-20 ESV

Just as Manasseh had reversed all the reforms of his father Hezekiah, so Josiah used his authority as king to overturn Manasseh’s ungodly and pagan-inspired initiatives. The young king began an aggressive campaign to restore the spiritual health of Judah.

At the age of 16, just eight years into his reign, he began to “seek the God of his ancestor David” (2 Chronicles 34:3 NLT). Then, at the ripe old age of 20, he launched a widespread effort “to purify Judah and Jerusalem, destroying all the pagan shrines, the Asherah poles, and the carved idols and cast images” (2 Chronicles 34:3 NLT). And his reformation projects continued well into his reign. At the age of 26, Josiah turned his attention to the temple of God. In the 18th year of his reign, he “appointed Shaphan son of Azaliah, Maaseiah the governor of Jerusalem, and Joah son of Joahaz, the royal historian, to repair the Temple of the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 34:8 NLT).

Due to Manasseh’s efforts to promote idol worship in Judah, the temple had fallen into a state of neglect and disrepair. The former glory of the house that Solomon built had been greatly diminished by Manasseh’s shameless actions. He had desecrated God’s house and defamed the Lord’s name by ordering the placing altars to some of his false gods right in the temple itself.

…he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. – 2 Kings 21:5 ESV

What Manasseh failed to realize was that the temple was intended to be a symbol of God’s abiding presence. Inside the Holy of Holies, the sacred inner sanctum of the temple, was contained the Ark of the Covenant, and in the ark was kept a variety of items designed to remind Israel of God’s faithfulness and providential care.

Inside the Ark were a gold jar containing manna, Aaron’s staff that sprouted leaves, and the stone tablets of the covenant. – Hebrews 9:4 NLT

During Israel’s years wandering in the wilderness, God’s presence had dwelt above the mercy seat, which sat atop the Ark of the Covenant. Wherever God commanded Israel to stop and set up camp, they would erect the tabernacle and then God’s shekinah glory would take up residence within the Holy of Holies. The book of Exodus provides us with a description of this divine manifestation of God’s presence.

Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle.

Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. The cloud of the LORD hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys. – Isaiah 40:34-38 NLT

And when Solomon had built his magnificent temple in Jerusalem, he had ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be moved into the Holy of Holies. And God had promised to bless the temple with His presence as long as the people of Israel remained obedient to His commands.

“My name will be honored forever in this Temple and in Jerusalem—the city I have chosen from among all the tribes of Israel. If the Israelites will be careful to obey my commands—all the laws my servant Moses gave them—I will not send them into exile from this land that I gave their ancestors.” – 2 Kings 21:7-8 NLT

But by the time Josiah became king of Judah, the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians, due to their unfaithfulness to God. And the southern kingdom of Judah had come close to experiencing the same fate, but Hezekiah had repented, prompting God to miraculously deliver them from defeat at the hands of the Assyrians. Yet, the spiritual state of Judah had been greatly diminished by the ungodly leadership of men like Manasseh. And his son, Josiah, was forced to repair all the damage he had done to the kingdom and its relationship with God Almighty.

Not only had the nation of Judah failed to care for the temple of God, they had refused to keep the laws the God had handed down to Moses. And in doing so, they had unknowingly placed themselves in a dangerous predicament. God had promised to dwell among them and provide protection for them, only as long as they were careful to obey all His commands. But they had failed to do so. And their neglect of God’s temple was further exacerbated by their neglect of God’s law.

But in the process of repairing the temple, Hilkiah the high priest, made an important discovery.

“I have found the Book of the Law in the Lord’s Temple!” – 2 Kings 22:8 NLT

This is most likely a reference to the Torah or Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. Somewhere in the recesses of the temple , Hilkiah had run across a scroll containing God’s history of His relationship with Israel and the commands He had passed on to them through Moses. When the contents of this scroll were read to King Josiah, he was immediately and dramatically impacted by what he heard. He recognized that they were in serious trouble because had failed to keep their covenant commitment to God. He could restore the temple, but the people were going to have to restore their devotion to God and their determination to live in obedience to His holy law.

So, Josiah gave instructions to his high priest and other officials, ordering them to seek the Lord’s instructions. What were they to do? How were they to make up for all the years of disobedience?

“Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah. Inquire about the words written in this scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger is burning against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words in this scroll. We have not been doing everything it says we must do.” – 2 Kings 22:13 NLT

These men returned with a disturbing message from Hilduh, a prophetess of Yahweh. She informed the king that, because of their years of disobedience, the nation of Judah was going to experience all the curses described in the book of Deuteronomy.

“This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this city and its people. All the words written in the scroll that the king of Judah has read will come true. For my people have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to pagan gods, and I am very angry with them for everything they have done. My anger will burn against this place, and it will not be quenched.” – 2 Kings 22:16-17 NLT

This devastating news must have hit Josiah like a ton of bricks. He had faithfully doing all that he could to stop the nation’s spiritual decline, but now he was being told that it was too little, too late. But there was a second part to Hilduh’s message. God had taken note of Josiah’s response to the first part of the message. Rather than react in anger or resentment, Josiah had displayed a heart of sorrow marked by repentance.

“You were sorry and humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I said against this city and its people—that this land would be cursed and become desolate. You tore your clothing in despair and wept before me in repentance. And I have indeed heard you, says the Lord. So I will not send the promised disaster until after you have died and been buried in peace. You will not see the disaster I am going to bring on this city.’” – 2 Kings 22:19-20 NLT

God was going to reward Josiah’s repentance by exempting him from the coming judgment. God would still fulfill His promise to punish Judah for its insubordination and blatant immorality, but He would spare Josiah from having to watch it all happen. Josiah’s reform efforts, while sincere, would not result in the repentance of the people. God knew their hearts and was aware that they would never fully abandon their false gods and return to Him. Like their northern neighbors, Judah would stubbornly cling to its many idols and continue to reject Yahweh as the one true God. And they would pay dearly for their spiritual infidelity. But Josiah would be spared.

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 Impeccable Timing of God

16 Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides the sin that he made Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.

17 Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh and all that he did, and the sin that he committed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 18 And Manasseh slept with his fathers and was buried in the garden of his house, in the garden of Uzza, and Amon his son reigned in his place.

19 Amon was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Meshullemeth the daughter of Haruz of Jotbah. 20 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as Manasseh his father had done. 21 He walked in all the way in which his father walked and served the idols that his father served and worshiped them. 22 He abandoned the Lord, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the Lord. 23 And the servants of Amon conspired against him and put the king to death in his house. 24 But the people of the land struck down all those who had conspired against King Amon, and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his place. 25 Now the rest of the acts of Amon that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 26 And he was buried in his tomb in the garden of Uzza, and Josiah his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 21:16-26 ESV

Manasseh seems to have been obsessed with overturning every one of the religious reforms his father had instituted in Judah. He systematically dismantled his father’s legacy of godly leadership, supplanting with his own reign of moral decay and domestic terror. As the heir to his father’s throne, Manasseh did nothing to keep alive his father’s policies or programs. Instead, he led the nation of Judah down a dark and dangerous path that ultimately led to the judgment of God. And his condemnation by God was well-deserved.

Manasseh also murdered many innocent people until Jerusalem was filled from one end to the other with innocent blood. This was in addition to the sin that he caused the people of Judah to commit, leading them to do evil in the Lord’s sight. – 2 Kings 21:16 NLT

But God continued to send His prophets, calling the wayward king to repent and lead the people back to Him. But their words of warning fell on deaf ears.

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they ignored all his warnings. – 2 Chronicles 33:10 NLT

Their arrogant refusal to listen to God’s prophets led the Almighty to send another kind of messenger.

So the Lord sent the commanders of the Assyrian armies, and they took Manasseh prisoner. They put a ring through his nose, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. But while in deep distress, Manasseh sought the Lord his God and sincerely humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed, the Lord listened to him and was moved by his request. So the Lord brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh finally realized that the Lord alone is God! – 2 Chronicles 33:11-13 NLT

Manasseh’s imprisonment and debasement by the Assyrians got his attention. In his miserable and hopeless condition the formerly prideful king called out to God. And Yahweh graciously listened to his prayer and ended his exile in Babylon.

And Manasseh was a changed man. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he began an aggressive campaign to reverse the downward spiritual decline he had helped to cause.

After this Manasseh rebuilt the outer wall of the City of David, from west of the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley to the Fish Gate, and continuing around the hill of Ophel. He built the wall very high. And he stationed his military officers in all of the fortified towns of Judah. Manasseh also removed the foreign gods and the idol from the Lord’s Temple. He tore down all the altars he had built on the hill where the Temple stood and all the altars that were in Jerusalem, and he dumped them outside the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings and thanksgiving offerings on it. He also encouraged the people of Judah to worship the Lord, the God of Israel. – 2 Chronicles 33:14-16 NLT

But, while his efforts were well-intended, they were only partially successful.

However, the people still sacrificed at the pagan shrines, though only to the Lord their God. – 2 Chronicles 33:17 NLT

He had helped to restore the worship of Yahweh, but the people remained strangely attached to the pagan shrines where they once worshiped the false gods of their enemies. They continued to frequent these unholy sites and desecrated the name of Yahweh by worshiping him in these unconsecrated locations. Manasseh’s reforms, while significant, couldn’t completely eradicate the years of damage he had done through his godless leadership. Prior to his humble return to God, Manasseh had “built pagan shrines and set up Asherah poles and idols” all over Judah (2 Chronicles 33:19 NLT). And because he failed to remove these physical sites where the people had regularly dishonored God, he allowed the roots of idolatry and apostasy to remain the land of Judah.

And Manasseh would leave this partially restored but highly unstable environment to his son. At the young age of 22, Amon ascended to the throne of his father and took over the reins of responsibility for a nation that wavered in the dangerous state between semi-faithfulness and outright rebellion. While Manasseh had ended his reign in repentance and had made a concerted effort to restore the nation’s commitment to Yahweh, it proved to be too little, too late. His years of ungodly leadership and idolatrous behavior had negatively influenced his young son. So, when Amon became king, rather than continuing the reforms of his father, he returned the nation to the days of darkness that had marked the early years of Manasseh’s reign.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Manasseh, had done. He worshiped and sacrificed to all the idols his father had made. But unlike his father, he did not humble himself before the Lord. Instead, Amon sinned even more. – 2 Chronicles 33:22-23 NLT

In less than two years, Amon managed to plunge Judah back into the dark ages of sin, idolatry, and moral instability. And his chaotic and destructive reign abruptly ended with his assassination. His own disgruntled servants tried to take over Amon’s throne by taking his life. But their attempt at insurrection failed and they were summarily executed.

With Amon’s abbreviated but sin-laced reign over, his eight-year-old son Josiah took his place. And everything about this succession plan has disaster written all over it. Josiah was just a child when he ascended to the throne, and he was inheriting a kingdom that was reeling from the effects of a failed coup attempt and a two-year campaign of state-enforced moral decline. Conditions in Judah could not have been worse and would have proven problematic for any newly crowned king. But Josiah was young and poorly prepared to step into such a unstable political and spiritual situation. Or was he?

A brief glimpse into 2 Chronicles 34 reveals that this innocent young boy was far better prepared than we might assume. At the age of 16, Josiah would begin a passionate pursuit of God that would result in a revival within the land of Judah.

For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. – 2 Chronicles 34:3 NLT

God was at work behind the scenes, orchestrating events in such a way that Josiah would come to the throne at just the right time and equipped with a heart for the things of God. Despite the legacy left by his father, Josiah would prove to be a God-fearing king who began one of the most aggressive reform efforts ever seen in the nation of Judah. He was God’s man for the occasion.

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 Ways of God

1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. Habakkuk 1:1 ESV

This rather obscure little Old Testament book has an equally obscure author. We know very little about Habakkuk, other than his role as a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah during the days before the nation was judged by God, defeated by the Babylonians, and sent into exile. Thus, he is what is known as a pre-exilic prophet. His primary job was to warn God’s people of His pending judgment and to call them to repentance.

The book is comprised of a unique combination of poetry and prose, revealing Habakkuk as a poet as well as a prophet. And, like all the other prophets of God, Habakkuk was not intended to be the focus of the book that bears his name. He was a spokesman for God Almighty, tasked with delivering His divine warning of imminent judgment against God’s chosen people for their sins against Him.

It seems likely that Habakkuk prophesied during the reign of King Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.). His prophetic ministry covered a period of time when Judah was in a steep spiritual decline following the death of Josiah, the great reformer king. Josiah was one of the few kings of either Israel or Judah who proved faithful to God. When he had ascended to the throne of Judah, he inherited a spiritually bankrupt legacy passed down by his father Manasseh.

Manasseh…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. – 2 Kings 21:1-2 ESV

He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. – 2 Kings 21:6 ESV

Manasseh turned the people of Judah against God, erecting shrines and high places to false gods all throughout the nation. He even placed “the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord” (2 Kings 21:7 ESV). On top of that, Manasseh followed the practices of the pagan nations, instituting child sacrifice as a part of their worship. He was so wicked that the author of 2 Kings states, “Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel” (2 Kings 21:9 ESV).

And God pronounced His judgment against Manasseh, warning that his behavior was going to have dire consequences.

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, 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. 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. 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, 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 21:11-15 ESV

Eventually, Manasseh died and his son, Amon took his place on the throne. He followed in his father’s footsteps, continuing his legacy of idolatry and apostasy. But his reign was shortlived, lasting only two years before he was assassinated by his own servants. He was succeeded by his son Josiah who, at the age of eight, was given the responsibility of leading a nation who had turned its back on God. But for the next 31 years, Josiah would prove to be a royal anomaly, leading the nation of Judah in a period of unprecedented spiritual renewal and revival.

…he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left. – 2 Kings 22:2 ESV

Josiah instituted a series of reforms designed to restore the nation’s allegiance to Yahweh. He ordered repairs to the much-neglected temple. He recommitted the nation to keep the law of God. He razed all the high places and pagan shrines dedicated to the false gods of the Canaanites. And finally, he reinstituted the annual celebration of Passover. These initiatives set Josiah apart from all his predecessors, establishing him as an example of faithfulness and righteousness.

Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. – 2 Kings 23:25 ESV

But despite all of his efforts, Josiah’s reforms made little impact on the hearts of the people of Judah. God knew that nothing had really changed and His plans for dealing with the sins of Manasseh remained unaltered because the people remained unfaithful.

Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. – 2 Kings 23:26 ESV

Josiah was eventually killed in combat by Egyptian forces and replaced as king by his son Jehoahaz. But his reign would last only three months before Neco, the Pharaoh of Egypt, removed him from power and replaced him with his brother, Jehoiakim. For the next 11 years, Jehoiakim would rule over Judah, emulating his father’s evil ways and continuing the nation’s downward spiritual spiral. All the reforms of Josiah would be neglected and the idolatrous practices of Manasseh would be restored.

he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. – 2 Kings 23:37 ESV

And it was during this dark period of Judah’s history that Habakkuk received his prophetic call from God. It was accompanied by the rise of the nation of Babylon, a powerful pagan people who were slowly replacing the Assyrians as the force to be reckoned with in the region. While the Assyrians had already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and taken a large contingent of their people into captivity, they would soon find their 15-minutes of fame coming to an abrupt end. In 605 B.C., the Babylonians defeated a combined army of Egyptians and Assyrians at the battle of Carchemish, establishing themselves as the major power in the ancient Near East. The book of 2 Kings reveals that the Babylonians soon relegated Judah’s status in the region as that of a vassal state.

In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done… – 2 Kings 24:1-3 ESV

Jehoiakim’s reign would last 11 years, with the final three years marked by subservience to the Babylonians. But long before the Babylonians came to prominence and power, God would use Habakkuk to warn of their coming.

For I am doing something in your own day,
    something you wouldn’t believe
    even if someone told you about it.
I am raising up the Babylonians,
    a cruel and violent people.
They will march across the world
    and conquer other lands. – Habakkuk 1:5-6 NLT

While Jehoiakim and the people of Judah were busy turning their backs on God, He was planning their judgment. And what God was going to do would come as a complete surprise to the people of Judah. They had no way of knowing about Babylon’s rise to power. In their minds, it was the Assyrians who were the major threat to their well-being. But God had something else in store. While they continued to place their hope and trust in false gods, Yahweh was planning His righteous retribution for their blatant violation of their covenant commitment to Him.

One of the things that the book of Habakkuk will reveal is the prophet’s struggle with God’s ways. He was commissioned to speak on God’s behalf, but he didn’t fully comprehend what it was that God was doing. Even as a prophet, he was confused as to why God would choose to use a pagan nation to punish the chosen people of God. To Habakkuk, the plans God had for Judah’s demise seemed unfair and uncharacteristic of His covenant commitment to them. While Habakkuk was fully aware of Judah’s wickedness, his national pride made it difficult for him to understand what God was doing. So, part of the book contains his questions to God. In fact, verse two opens up with the words, “O Lord, how long?”

But God wanted Habakkuk to know what Isaiah the prophet had come to understand.

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:6-9 NLT

Habakkuk may not have understood what God was doing, but he would eventually to learn to trust His ways.

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

Stubbornly Refusing to Repent

Jerusalem sinned grievously;
    therefore she became filthy;
all who honored her despise her,
    for they have seen her nakedness;
she herself groans
    and turns her face away.

Her uncleanness was in her skirts;
    she took no thought of her future;
therefore her fall is terrible;
    she has no comforter.
“O Lord, behold my affliction,
    for the enemy has triumphed!”

10 The enemy has stretched out his hands
    over all her precious things;
for she has seen the nations
    enter her sanctuary,
those whom you forbade
    to enter your congregation.

11 All her people groan
    as they search for bread;
they trade their treasures for food
    to revive their strength.
“Look, O Lord, and see,
    for I am despised.” – Lamentations 1:8-11 ESV

The city of Jerusalem fell because the kings of Israel failed. They had failed to lead the people in faithful obedience to the revealed will of God. While there had been a handful of godly kings who reigned over Judah, the nation’s latter years had been marked by men like Ahaz.

Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 16:2-4 ESV

Virtually every one of the kings who ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel had been wicked and idolatrous, leading their people to turn their backs on Yahweh and worship false gods instead. And, in time, the kings of Judah began to follow the lead of their northern counterparts, walking in the way of the kings of Israel. King Ahaz had even gone so far as to participate in child sacrifice, offering his own son as an offering to a false god.

At his death, Ahaz was succeeded by Hezekiah, who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 18:3 ESV). He provided Judah with a welcome respite from the sins of his father, instituting a series of reforms that reversed the years of spiritual decline and unfaithfulness fostered by Ahaz. He removed all the idols and pagan shrines his father had erected.

He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him… – 2 Kings 18:4-5 ESV

But sadly, Hezekiah’s reign eventually came to an end, and he was followed by his 12-year-old son Manasseh, who quickly reversed all his father’s reforms.

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. – 2 Kings 21:2-6 ESV

And the pattern continued, with Manasseh’s son, Amon, following in his immoral footsteps.

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as Manasseh his father had done. He walked in all the way in which his father walked and served the idols that his father served and worshiped them. He abandoned the Lord, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the Lord. – 2 Kings 21:20-22 ESV

Amazingly, the downward trend was broken once again by Josiah, who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2 ESV). Josiah instituted a series of sweeping reforms intended to restore the nation’s allegiance to God. He repaired the long-neglected temple of God. He reinstituted the observance of the Mosaic law. He 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. And he broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with the bones of men” (2 Kings 23:13-14 ESV).

But Josiah, for all his good intentions, was unsuccessful in changing the hearts of his people. And when his sons eventually ascended to the throne, the each “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 23:37 ESV). Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jehoiachin each had their opportunity to rule over Judah, but each failed to restore the hearts of the people to a right relationship with God. The pattern of spiritual adultery continued as the Babylonians stood poised to bring the judgment of God against His unfaithful people. And eventually, just as God had warned, the nation of Judah fell to the king of Babylon.

And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign and carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land.  – 2 Kings 24:11-14 ESV

Jerusalem had “sinned grievously” (Lamentations 1:8 ESV). And Jeremiah describes in somber tones the consequences of her sin.

The enemy has plundered her completely,
    taking every precious thing she owns.
She has seen foreigners violate her sacred Temple,
    the place the Lord had forbidden them to enter. – Lamentations 1:10 NLT

The very temple that Manasseh had filled with altars “for all the host of heaven” had been filled with Nebuchadnezzar’s troops, who pillaged the sacred site of all its gold, jewels, fabric, and sacred furniture.

The entire city had been left in ruins, its buildings and homes burned, its gates destroyed, and its walls full of gaping holes through which the Babylonians had entered the city. And the few who were not taken into captivity to Babylon were appalled and ashamed at the sorry state of the once-grand capital of their nation.

All who once honored her now despise her,
    for they have seen her stripped naked and humiliated. – Lamentations 1:8 NLT

And Jeremiah pulls no punches when describing the cause of Judah’s downfall.

She defiled herself with immorality
    and gave no thought to her future. – Lamentations 1:9 NLT

In the book that bears his name, Jeremiah records God’s indictment against His chosen people.

“You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me? declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 3:2 ESV

When the inevitable happened and the judgment of God came, the people had displayed surprise and dismay. They even called out to God, begging Him to rescue them from their predicament.

Now she lies in the gutter
    with no one to lift her out.
Lord, see my misery,” she cries.
    “The enemy has triumphed.” – Lamentations 1:9 NLT

Her people groan as they search for bread.
    They have sold their treasures for food to stay alive.
“O Lord, look,” she mourns,
    “and see how I am despised.” – Lamentations 1:11 NLT

But it was too little, too late. God had given them ample opportunity to reform their ways. He had given them godly kings like Hezekiah and Josiah, who had attempted to reform the hearts of the people and restore their commitment to Him. But the people had proven to be stubborn and committed to remaining unfaithful to God. Now they were suffering the consequences of their sins. But rather than acknowledge their guilt and humbly confess their sin to God, they remained stubbornly defiant. They were quick to inform God about how bad things were in Judah but unwilling to admit how badly they had sinned against Him.

But all the way back at the dedication of the temple Solomon had built for Him, God had told His people the key to getting HIs attention and to enjoying their restoration to a right relationship with Him.

“…if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”  – 2 Chronicles 7:14 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

Enough is Enough

7 Be silent before the Lord God!
    For the day of the Lord is near;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice
    and consecrated his guests.
And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice—
“I will punish the officials and the king’s sons
    and all who array themselves in foreign attire.
On that day I will punish
    everyone who leaps over the threshold,
and those who fill their master’s house
    with violence and fraud.

10 “On that day,” declares the Lord,
    “a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate,
a wail from the Second Quarter,
    a loud crash from the hills.
11 Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar!
    For all the traders are no more;
    all who weigh out silver are cut off.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
    and I will punish the men
who are complacent,
    those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do ill.’
13 Their goods shall be plundered,
    and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
    they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
    they shall not drink wine from them.”Zephaniah 1:7-13 ESV

The message of Zephaniah is one of judgment. He is a messenger of God delivering a series of prophecies that outline specific acts of divine retribution awaiting Judah for its persistent apostasy. His message contains the “what” but not the “when.” Zephaniah has no idea of the timeline involved in God’s judgment. But God had made it clear that the “what” was going to be significant and inescapable. The entire world would bear the brunt of God’s righteous indignation.

“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth…” – vs. 2

I will sweep away man and beast;…the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea…” – vs. 3

I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth…” – vs. 3

God warns of the global and all-encompassing nature of His coming judgment. The entire world will experience the wrath of God being poured out on the sins of mankind.  But God also directs the prophet’s attention to the fate of Judah.

I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem…” – vs. 4

There seems to be a separate series of judgments reserved for the nation of Judah. The “what” God has in store for them is distinctly different than the one He has planned for the rest of the world. And as we will see, the “when” or the timeline concerning their judgment will also differ.

Judah’s status as God’s chosen people had always set them apart. They had enjoyed the distinct privilege of being His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5), a people holy to the Lord (Deuteronomy 7:6), and had been called to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). So, it only makes sense that God would have a separate and distinct judgment in store for His chosen people. Their unmerited status as His chosen people had afforded them unprecedented blessings and had set them apart from all the nations of the earth.

Centuries earlier, Moses had told the Jews who had been released from captivity in Egypt: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV). And God had graciously provided them with His law to establish His criteria for holy conduct. If they were to be a holy nation they would have to live holy lives. And for those times when they failed to live up to God’s law, He had provided the tabernacle and the sacrificial system as a means for receiving atonement for their sins. God had given them the land of Canaan as their inheritance. A land flowing with milk and honey, rich in produce, and abundant in natural resources. They had been richly blessed. And yet, they had proven to be deeply unfaithful.

The oft-quoted phrase, “with great power comes great responsibility” applies here. The people of Judah had enjoyed periods of tremendous power and prestige. They had benefited greatly from their relationship with God. But as Jesus Himself once said, When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required (Luke 12:48 NLT).

So, we see in this prophecy from the pen of Zephaniah a two-fold description of coming judgment. There will be a judgment reserved for the nation of Judah and one that will encompass the rest of mankind. In the text, the two are woven together, creating an overwhelming sense of God’s righteous anger with the state of His creation and the spiritual apostasy of His chosen people. God is not happy, and He will not continue to tolerate the current state of affairs in the world or in the nation Judah. The question remains, who will He punish first, when He will do it, and how.

Verses 4-6 contain God’s indictment against the people of Judah. They were guilty of idolatry. They worshiped Baal, Molech, and a host of other false gods representing the sun, moon, and stars. And while the people still swore allegiance to God, they committed spiritual adultery by giving themselves to the gods of the Canaanites. They had turned their backs on God. They had repeatedly displayed their unfaithfulness through acts of infidelity.

So, Zephaniah warns them, “the day of the Lord is near” (Zephaniah 1:7 ESV). And he commands the people of Judah to “be silent.” Now that they were hearing about God’s coming judgment, they were to keep their mouths shut. It was too late to cry out for mercy. Notice that in verse six, the people of Judah are described as those “who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.” They had stopped calling on God. They were too busy bowing down to their false gods. And now that judgment was coming, God denied them the right to call out to Him for mercy.

Zephaniah describes the familiar scene of a sacrifice. But in this case, God is the one offering the sacrifice, and He has invited guests to join Him for the occasion. In this case, Judah represents the sacrificial animal and the Babylonians are the guests. When the time is right, God will issue an invitation to the Nebuchadnezzar and his army to feast on the sacrifice that God has offered. In 586 BC, the nation of Judah would fall to the Babylonians. The city of Jerusalem would be plundered and destroyed. The temple would be ransacked and left as a pile of stones. The people would be taken captive and returned to Babylon as slaves.

And God warns “And on the day of the Lord‘s sacrifice — ‘I will punish the officials and the king’s sons’” (Zephaniah 1:8 ESV). With great power comes great responsibility. To whom much has been given, much will be required. The kings of Judah would be held responsible by God. Rather than using their power and positions to lead the people in the faithful service of God, they had displayed a pattern of disdain and disobedience. And God warned that they would suffer the consequences.

According to 2 Kings 23:34, Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah who would ascend to the throne after him, was taken captive to Egypt. The next king, Jehoiakim, would fall to the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:1-6). Jehoiachin, the grandson of Josiah, was taken captive to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8-10). Zedekiah, the last son of Josiah to reign in Jerusalem, was eventually blinded by Nebuchadnezzar and taken captive to Babylon (2 Kings 24:18-25:7). Each of these men had been guilty of idolatry and of making alliances with foreign nations, rather than trusting in God. Zephaniah describes them as having arrayed themselves in foreign attire. They had modeled themselves after pagan kings, emulating their appearance and worshiping their false gods.

But not only the kings of Judah will suffer judgment at the hands of God. The nation as a whole stands guilty and worthy of divine punishment. Zephaniah describes “everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud” (Zephaniah 1:9 ESV). The exact meaning of this phrase is unclear, but it seems likely that Zephaniah is accusing the people of Judah of practicing injustice, in direct violation of God’s commands.

Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. – Jeremiah 22:23 ESV

And yet, the people of Judah had made a habit out of taking advantage of one another.

The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.
 – Ezekiel 22:29 ESV

They were marked by greed, violence, and fraud. And they would pay for dearly for their decision to ignore God’s commands.

On that day – when the judgment of God comes – the impact will be felt throughout the city of Jerusalem. From the Fish Gate to the Second Quarter and from the hills to the marketplace, every single inhabitant of Jerusalem would feel the heat of God’s wrath. “Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste” (Zephaniah 1:13 ESV). No one will escape judgment because all will stand as guilty before God.

And while there will be those who think that God is disinterested in their affairs and has turned a blind eye to their behavior, they will be in for a rude awakening.

“I will punish the men
who are complacent,
    those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do ill.’” – Zephaniah 1:12 ESV

God would no longer tolerate sin among His people. He would not allow them to continue denigrating His name and defaming His holy character by their actions. They were His people and their behavior was leaving a black mark on His name. But God was about to rectify that problem.

“And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” – Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

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

   

 

I Will…

1 The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.

“I will utterly sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away man and beast;
    I will sweep away the birds of the heavens
    and the fish of the sea,
and the rubble with the wicked.
    I will cut off mankind
    from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
    and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal
    and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests,
those who bow down on the roofs
    to the host of the heavens,
those who bow down and swear to the Lord
    and yet swear by Milcom,
those who have turned back from following the Lord,
who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.” – Zephaniah 1:1-6 ESV

To understand a book like Zephaniah, you have to establish the historical context. Any attempt to read it without first determining the identity of his original audience, and the unique circumstances in which they lived, will leave its content obscure and its application impossible.

The book was most likely authored by the man whose name it bears: Zephaniah. There is debate over the exact meaning of his name. It has been translated as “Jehovah has treasured” and “whom Jehovah hid.” Along with the obscurity of his name, we are given little in the way of details concerning Zephaniah’s background. In the opening verse he describes himself as “the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah.” This would make him the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah, one of Judah’s former kings. Which means he had royal blood pulsing through his veins.

Zephaniah’s royal lineage provides a unique link between Judah’s past and the present circumstances in which the prophet is living. He acts as a kind of human bridge between two different eras of the nation’s history. The very mention of King Hezekiah’s name provides a link to his reign. He is one of the few kings of Judah who, upon death, received a positive statement regarding his time on the throne. The book of 2 Chronicles states, “he did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 31:20 ESV). And it adds, “every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:21 ESV).

What makes Hezekiah’s reign especially significant is that he inherited the throne from his father, Ahaz, one of the most wicked and immoral kings in Judah’s long history. And Zephaniah, the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah provides a bridge between this godly king and the current king of Judah, Josiah.

King Hezekiah had been a godly outlier in the long line of unrighteous and disobedient kings of Judah. The book of 2 Kings provides a flattering description of this man reveals the one-of-a-kind nature of his reign.

He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. – 2 Kings 18:5-7 ESV

Josiah had been a reformer, spending the majority of his reign attempting to correct all the immoral excesses of his father. He had reopened the temple and reinstated the Levitical priesthood. He destroyed all the pagan altars and temples, removing all vestiges of idol worship from the land of Judah. He even reestablished Passover as a national holiday in Judah. Under his leadership, the nation experienced a spiritual renewal and revival.

But after his death, the nation would find itself headed back into apostasy. Hezekiah was succeeded by Manasseh, who ascended to the throne at the young age of 12 and promptly led the nation into another season of spiritual rebellion. Sadly, he is described in less-than-flattering terms: “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 21:2 ESV). This young man undid all that his father had done, returning the people to a state of idolatry and apostasy.

“…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.” – 2 Kings 21:3 ESV

Upon his death, Manasseh was followed by his son Amon. And this apple did not fall far from the tree. He picked up where his father had left off, leading the nation into further spiritual decline.

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as Manasseh his father had done. He walked in all the way in which his father walked and served the idols that his father served and worshiped them. He abandoned the Lord, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the Lord. – 2 Kings 21:20-22 ESV

But this wicked young man did not reign for long. He was assassinated by his own servants and his son Josiah was made king in his place. Amazingly, in spite of his father’s evil influence and example, Josiah proved to be a godly king. The description of his reign bears a striking resemblance to that of Hezekiah.

“And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” – 2 Kings 22:2 ESV

Josiah reigned in Jerusalem from approximately 640 to 609 B.C. And while he was far from a perfect king, he made significant strides in restoring the nation’s spiritual state. In the 18th year of his reign, he ordered the restoration of the temple, which had fallen into a state of disrepair. In the process, the workmen discovered the Book of the Law, the Mosaic Law given by God on Mount Sinai. Hilkiah, the high priest, read the content of the book to Josiah, and “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes” (2 Kings 22:11 ESV). Convicted by what he heard, Josiah repented and called the entire nation of Judah to a time of renewal and rededication to the ways of God.

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. – 2 Kings 23:3 ESV

We are not told when Zephaniah received his calling to be a messenger for God. So, it is impossible to know if he began his prophetic role before or after the reforms of Josiah. All we know is that it was “in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah.”

And the opening verses of his book seem to paint a rather bleak picture. While the reign of Josiah would be marked by radical reforms and a renewal of the covenant between God and His people, Zephaniah’s words are far from encouraging or complimentary. The news he delivers is not good. And what makes it worse is that it comes from the lips of God Himself.

“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth…” – vs. 2

“I will sweep away man and beast…” – vs. 3

“I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked…” – vs. 3

 I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth…” – vs. 3

“I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem…” – vs. 4

I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests…” – vs. 4

God is not happy. And it really doesn’t matter if these messages from God came before or after the reforms of Josiah. God knew the hearts of His people. He had seen reform and revival before, and He knew that, too often than not, it was short-lived. Restoring the temple, reestablishing the Passover, and renewing the covenant did not mean that the hearts of the people had been changed. God could see into the hearts of His people and He was well aware that external behavior was not always an indicator of internal change.

“These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men.” – Isaiah 29:13 BSB

“What right have you to recite My statutes and to bear My covenant on your lips?” – Psalm 50:16 BSB

Hezekiah and Josiah act as bookmarks, bracketing a period of spiritual apathy and apostasy in Judah. Hezekiah began a series of reforms, but his efforts were curtailed by Manasseh and Amon. Josiah would pick up the mantel of his predecessor, but he too would find that his reforms lacked staying power. The propensity of the people to act unfaithfully was too strong. In spite of Josiah’s best attempts to restore righteousness in Judah, the people would continue to “bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens” (Zephaniah 1:5 ESV). And their hypocrisy would be evident as they “bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom” (Zephaniah 1:5 ESV). Milcom was another name for Molech, the god of Ammon. So, in other words, the people of Judah were guilty of worshiping Yahweh while also bowing down to the false gods of the nations of Canaan. They were hedging their bets, attempting to maintain their relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while supplementing His care with that of the myriad idols available to them in Canaan. 

But God wanted no part of their syncretistic worship. He described it as what it truly was, their abandonment of Him, accusing them as having “turned back from following the Lord” (Zephaniah 1:6 ESV), and of no longer seeking or inquiring of Him.

These opening verses are prophetic in nature, describing a series of future events that will involve not only Judah but the world as a whole. At this point, it is impossible to tell the exact timeline God has in mind here. All of the things Zephaniah has shared lie in the future, but some will take place long before others. When will God “sweep away everything from the face of the earth”? The prophet doesn’t say. When will God “sweep away man and beast” and “cut off mankind from the face of the earth”? Again, we are given no details. But it is painfully clear that God is unhappy with the state of affairs on earth. Things are not as they should be and He is stating His intention to rectify what is wrong. When it will happen is far less important than the fact that it will happen.

God is attempting to gain the attention of the people of Judah. They have become complacent and comfortable. Some are living in obvious rebellion to God, while others feign allegiance and practice their infidelity in secret. But God sees through it all. He is well aware of the true condition of His peoples’ hearts. And He will not tolerate their unfaithfulness and unrighteousness forever. So, as He has done so many times before, God sends His prophet to warn the people about the unavoidable consequences of their actions. And He lets them know that if they continue to what they are doing, He will be forced to act. And He simply states, “I will…”

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