Sunday, May 30, 2021

King Josiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, & the Fall of Judah

“Surrender to Babylon! Save yourselves!” Cried out the young prophet Jeremiah in the streets of Jerusalem, the holy city of God. The walls around the whole city were completely surrounded by hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Babylon, firing boulders and arrows by the hundreds into the city defenses. King Zedekiah, only about 30 years old, younger than me, sat in the throne room hoping after hope that Egypt’s army might come to save them, but it was not to be. Not only had Samaria, the northern kingdom of Israel been destroyed, and taken into captivity, but now even the last holdout of Judah, was now crumbling before the attacks of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

What happened? What went wrong? How could a new enemy be at the gates once again? We know how King Hezekiah had done great things, and had been a godly king, and so God had delivered Judah from Assyria. But now Manasseh ruled in Judah.

Manasseh was an evil king, the son of Hezekiah, and he went his own way, and did great evil. His sins and mistakes led to his being taken captive by Assyria, the nation that had destroyed Samaria. Interestingly enough, while Manasseh was in captivity he changed his ways, and God had mercy on him. It’s an important reminder to us today that even the worst sinner who does the worst evil imaginable is not beyond the grace of God.

In any case, after Manasseh came a great king, named King Josiah. I love the events of Josiah’s life. This is a truly courageous king, much like Hezekiah. But Manasseh had done so much damage during his reign, it would be a steep climb to draw close to the Lord once again.

How often do we do the same thing? For a season we’re close with God, but then we start to drift away, then we draw close again, then we drift away, why is it like that? I wish I knew. It’s a struggle in my own life. In any case, in 2nd Kings 22 it says, “Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. 2 He did what was right in the Lord’s sight and walked in all the ways of his ancestor David; he did not turn to the right or the left.”

He was only eight when he became king. Nevertheless, he did the right things. He followed God.

The nation had so lost touch with God that they didn’t even know where the book of the law was. They’d lost it. The temple was in ruins. It was a mess.

But Josiah sent for the high priest, to discover what had been going on. During Manasseh’s reign, a sculpture of Baal had been put on the altar in God’s temple. Now that’s creepy.

It says in 2nd Kings 22:8-13 8 The high priest Hilkiah told the court secretary Shaphan, “I have found the book of the law in the Lord’s temple,” and he gave the book to Shaphan, who read it.

9 Then the court secretary Shaphan went to the king and reported, “Your servants have emptied out the silver that was found in the temple and have given it to those doing the work—those who oversee the Lord’s temple.” 10 Then the court secretary Shaphan told the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book,” and Shaphan read it in the presence of the king.

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

So after hearing the book of the law read to him, that would include the Torah, the first five books, the ten commandments and so on, he’s so upset he rips his clothes apart. He’s shocked. And he can sense God’s wrath against them because Judah has fallen so far from God. So he sends word to the prophet of this time to discover what God is going to say in response so all this chaos.

So they go to a female prophet named Huldah and God says this through her: “I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made,[a] my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord: 19 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse[b] and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’”

So really at this point Josiah finds out that it’s too late for Judah. Judah is going to be destroyed. But God is going to delay the destruction until after Josiah, because Josiah is faithful to God.

So then we learn in 2nd Kings 23 that Josiah gathered the people to observe the Passover festival, this festival where they would celebrate each year how God had delivered them from Egypt to the promised land. But they hadn’t even been celebrating it for years.

It says in 2nd King 23 21 The king commanded all the people, “Observe the Passover of the Lord your God as written in the book of the covenant.” 22 No such Passover had ever been observed from the time of the judges who judged Israel through the entire time of the kings of Israel and Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the Lord’s Passover was observed in Jerusalem.”

So it’s a big success, a Passover like no other Passover before it. The people hear the word of the Lord, they obey, they celebrate the Passover and its just a great moment of unity and hope for the nation.

Then it talks all about everything Josiah did, getting rid of the baal statues, the Asherah poles, the high places and so on. It says in 2nd King 23: 24 In addition, Josiah eradicated the mediums, the spiritists, household idols, images, and all the abhorrent things that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem. He did this in order to carry out the words of the law that were written in the book that the priest Hilkiah found in the Lord’s temple. 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 strength according to all the law of Moses, and no one like him arose after him.

26 In spite of all that, the Lord did not turn from the fury of his intense burning anger, which burned against Judah because of all the affronts with which Manasseh had angered him. 27 For the Lord had said, “I will also remove Judah from my presence just as I have removed Israel. I will reject this city Jerusalem, that I have chosen, and the temple about which I said, ‘My name will be there.’”

Josiah is a great king. He later dies in battle with Egypt after being hit by arrows during the battle. After Josiah, we see a series of increasingly bad kings, and there are several attacks by a powerful nation that existed in the area of present day Iraq, called Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah several times, carrying away people and supplies, and defeating several kings after Josiah. Eventually King Zedekiah became king of Judah.

During the reign of King Zedekiah, the prophet of the Lord is Jeremiah. History often refers to Jeremiah as the “weeping prophet.” Jeremiah’s job is very challenging. He cries out to the people to repent, but they really don’t repent. And Zedekiah kinda listens to him, but mostly doesn’t listen to him, and Jeremiah is persecuted, by the leaders and by false prophets who are telling Zedekiah everything he wants to hear.

Jeremiah tells Zedekiah he needs to surrender to Babylon. It’s really too late. He needs to surrender. But Zedekiah refuses. And brands Jeremiah a traitor.

But Jeremiah was right, and the other prophets were liars. It says in

2nd Kings 25: In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon advanced against Jerusalem with his entire army. They laid siege to the city and built a siege wall against it all around. 2 The city was under siege until King Zedekiah’s eleventh year.

3 By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that the common people had no food. 4 Then the city was broken into, and all the warriors fled at night by way of the city gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, even though the Chaldeans surrounded the city. As the king made his way along the route to the Arabah, 5 the Chaldean army pursued him and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. Zedekiah’s entire army left him and scattered. 6 The Chaldeans seized the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they passed sentence on him. 7 They slaughtered Zedekiah’s sons before his eyes. Finally, the king of Babylon blinded Zedekiah, bound him in bronze chains, and took him to Babylon.”

Zedekiah refused to listen to Jeremiah, who told him to surrender to Babylon. But he didn’t listen. So his end is, he watches his own sons killed before his eyes, then his eyes are gouged out and he is taken as a slave to Babylon. How terrible! What a horrific end! And it’s an important reminder to us today. If we disobey God, if we persevere in sin, if we continue to reject god and turn against his ways, eventually, we can and will suffer the same fate of Zedekiah. A lot of people think oh no, God wouldn’t do that to me. He loves me too much.

God does love us very, very deeply. But god is a just judge. And he must punish sin. He does not show favoritism. He’s not gonna let it slide because he likes us. Though he certainly does like us, and love us deeply. But if we persevere in sin, and continue to reject God, and live in active sin as Christians, we can and will face damnation, and eternal hell fire. And I’m sure many people thought, this could never happen to me, and then it did. So I’m just warning you, be careful here, and realize we’ve gotta live right before our God who loves us.

Then we come to the final conclusion of the conflict it says, 2nd Kings 25:8-12 8 On the seventh day of the fifth month—which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guards, a servant of the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. 9 He burned the Lord’s temple, the king’s palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem; he burned down all the great houses. 10 The whole Chaldean army with the captain of the guards tore down the walls surrounding Jerusalem. 11 Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guards, deported the rest of the people who remained in the city, the deserters who had defected to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the population. 12 But the captain of the guards left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and farmers.”

This is the final despairing moment of it all, the Lord’s temple is burned to the ground, the kings palace is burned to the ground, and the houses of the city are all burned to the ground. It’s over.

So first Samaria, the northern kingdom was destroyed and taken into captivity by Assyria, and now Judah has been invaded and taken into captivity by Babylon. Basically the entire nation of Israel has so completely failed God that they are gone, collapsed… completely destroyed.

Have you ever experienced something like this in your life? You might call it a rock bottom experience. Everything has been lost. Your marriage falls apart, your addiction ruins your life, you end up in jail, or physically disabled, or mentally crushed. And off you go, into exile. You’ve lost everything. It’s a dark moment for any person to face. But many of us have faced it. Yet God still offers hope in the darkness.

I remember when I was 15, 16, 17 years old I had a poster in my room of The Smashing Pumpkins one of my favorite bands, and it was a promo shot from their music video Tonight, Tonight. And my family was falling apart, parents were getting divorced, I was about to be expelled from high school. And as I listened to that song, Tonight tonight, and looked at the poster, I felt like the Lord was telling me. You’re about to enter a dark path in your life. And it’s going to get very bad. You’re going to hit rock bottom, and lose everything in your life. But eventually, despite the chaos, I’ll bring you home to myself.

So, even in exile God continues to minister to the Israelites. Jeremiah continues to advise the poor remnants who continue to live in Judah, basically the poor farmers and beggars who are left by Nebuchanezzar. Meanwhile in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel continues to minister to the many Israelites who were taken to Babylon in captivity.

Ezekiel challenges the Israelites for their failures. But he also offers hope, that one day, they will return to Israel and be brought close to God once again. Ezekiel even speaks of a valley of dry bones coming to life, In Ezekiel 37 it says, “37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”