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Kingdom Gone

Date: Sep. 13, 2015

Author: Bob Henkins

2 Kings 23:31-25:30

Key Verse: 2 Kings 23:3-4

“Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive.”

In our media driven society people are consumed with TV and the popular shows. One of the things that draws a lot of attention is how a series ends. As soon as the series finale airs, the next day the internet is filled with reviews and people commenting good and bad. I still remember when the TV show MASH broadcast its series finale in 1978. It was such a heart breaking end to a show that was normally funny. And in 2013 the hit show Breaking Bad went out with a bang much to the audience’s delight. And another much talked about finale was the Soprano’s in 2007. In which the mobster Tony Soprano had just engaged in an intense mob war that left most of his cohorts dead was meeting his family for dinner. In a drawn-out scene, he surveys the restaurant, looking up expectedly, or maybe nervously, each time the front door opens and a shady-looking customer enters. One by one, his family members arrive until the last one, his daughter is seen outside parking her car. The tension grows as Tony continues to look around at many suspicious characters while finally the door opens and ….. the screen goes black. It was the gasp heard around the world: Otherwise known as, the moment when millions of TV viewers thought their cable went out during the most crucial scene of the popular HBO show's finale. It left you wondering, who came in the door was it his daughter or a hitman coming to take out Tony? It was a clever ending because it left everything up to the viewer’s imagination. Our passage today deals with Judah’s finale and it doesn’t leave you hanging at all. Everything is clear the once mighty kingdom is completely wiped out and its people dragged off into captivity. To some this may have come as a surprise, but not to the Lord or his servants.

Take a look at verses 23:31-35. At first everything seems normal in Judah following Josiah’s tragic death. His son Jehoahaz succeeds him as king so that the line of David can continue. But there’s a problem, he doesn’t follow in his father’s footsteps instead he takes up his grandfather’s evil lifestyle. I don’t know how he could have been so bad because he only reigned for three-months. He barely had time to relax and yet it’s recorded that he did evil in the eyes of the Lord. Around that time the Pharaoh Neco begins to flex his power. After he killed Josiah he decides he wants to change who will be king in Judah. So he puts Jehoahaz is chains, perhaps because of his anti-Egyptian policy, and places his brother Eliakim, who seems to have no problem at all complying with Egypt’s wishes, on the throne. So complete is Neco’s control over his vassal, that he even changes his name to Jehoiakim. After seeing what happened to his brother, Jehoiakim submits to Neco’s heavy financial demands (a talent weighs about 110 lbs – gold=$1.95 M + silver=$2.6M =$4.55M) and taxes his own people in order to raise the money that his brother wouldn’t.

Jehoiakim rules from about 609 b.c. to 598 b.c. From this text don’t know a lot about him however the prophet Jeremiah offers some insight as to Jehoiakim’s character. In chapter 22 Jeremiah says, “But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.” (Jer 22:17) Jeremiah denounces the king as one who oppresses, extorts, and sheds innocent blood to get the money to build himself a new palace during tough economic times in Judah (Jer 22:13–17). What’s worse, Jehoiakim threatens and even kills truthful prophets (Jer 26:1–24) and shows no regard for God’s word. Jeremiah sent him a scroll telling him of the judgment that was to come and the king sat there in his winter home throwing each column that was read into his fireplace (Jer 36:20–26). Clearly, Josiah’s reform is dead. Therefore Jeremiah declares that the Lord has determined Jehoiakim “will have the burial of a donkey – he will be dragged away and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem.” A more fitting end could hardly be imagined for such a self-serving a king.

Take a lookat 24:1. “During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. But then he turned against Nebuchadnezzar and rebelled.” Some time during Jehoiakim’s reign, Babylon grows to become the major power in the region and defeats Pharaoh Neco in the battle of Carchemish as Egypt’s power begins to subside. Jehoiakim seizes this opportunity to break away from Egypt and becomes the servant of Babylon. However after 3 years he’s had enough and he rebels against the king of Babylon. Take a look at verse 2, “The Lord sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by his servants the prophets.” Reaction to Jehoiakim’s rebellion was swift and it’s at this time that Daniel and his friends are carried off to Babylon in one of these raids.

During this period of hardship they may wondered why is this happening to us but from verse 3-4 its clear why. Take a look. “3 Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, 4 including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive.” From these verses we see that these things were happening because it was God’s will that they should happen. And people often ask, “Why would God want these bad things to happen to his people?” And I believe that God didn’t want them to happen, in fact he was trying to prevent them from happening, that’s why God sent his prophets again and again to warn the people it’s just that they refused to listen. [its as if you’re driving on the highway and you come across a sign that says, “danger bridge out ahead” and you don’t believe it so you keep going. If you fall off the bridge, who’s fault is it?] In these verses I find a striking statement, “the Lord was not willing to forgive” This is a statement that we don’t find a lot in the Bible. We’ve often told, “the Lord is gracious, he is willing to forgive,” so when I read this verse it’s hard for me to reconcile them. How can the Lord be gracious and forgiving and yet here he is unwilling to forgive? And I came to this conclusion, this should stand as a warning to us. God kept warning them to repent of their sin, but they kept pushing and pushing. God wanted to forgive them, but he can not forgive if they are so hard hearted and not willing to ask for forgiveness. [we can forgive someone if they sin against us] Jesus said that we should be willing to forgive some 77 times if they sin against us (Mt 18) this reveals God’s mercy and grace, however the sinner must be willing to repent and ask for forgiveness. And it should be sincere not just lip service! However sometimes, things get so bad, everything has to be cleared out in order to get a fresh start. Last Monday, a few of us went to the Bible house to clean it up. While we were there we cut down weeds and cleaned up the trash. And under the front stairs by the basement door it was particularly dirty. Among the things, it was full of leaves, dirt, old shampoo bottle and a dead, decaying squirrel that was stuck to the concrete. All that crap had to be cleared out of there otherwise it was just going to get worse. It had to be cleaned. Maybe this was the case here in this passage and why the Lord was unwilling to forgive. It just had to be cleared out. Their sin was so bad and built up so much, the Lord had enough. And its at this point Jehoiakim dies and gets his donkey’s burial and his son Jehoiachin becomes king.

However Jehoiachin isn’t any better and he does evil in the eyes of the Lord. His reign lasts only 3 months before Babylon attacks Jerusalem. “At that time the officers of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem and laid siege to it, 11 and Nebuchadnezzar himself came up to the city while his officers were besieging it. 12 Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his attendants, his nobles and his officials all surrendered to him.” (24:10-12) When Jerusalem surrenders, Babylon’s domination of Judah is complete. Nebuchadnezzar collects his unpaid tribute by raiding the temple treasury and the royal palace. He takes Jehoiachin, his family and 2000 of Jerusalem’s prominent people and officials, 1000 skilled workers and 7000 soldiers captive to Babylon, and places Zedekiah (Jehoiachin’s uncle, Josiah’s other son) on the throne. The prophet Ezekiel is one of the people taken to Babylon (Ezek 1:1–3). The loss of such elite citizens must have furthered the disintegration of Judah’s society. Babylon now runs Judah’s affairs. Most of its societal leaders are gone, as is its military. Stripped of everything but an existence that lacks integrity and dignity, Judah stumbles closer to its end. At this point only a few faithful people remain the most know is the prophet Jeremiah who attempts to change the people’s hearts and the nation’s destiny.

The new king, Zedekiah’s lack of character during his ten-year reign (597–587 B.C.) destroys any chance of delaying the inevitable. The author depicts him as no better than Jehoiakim, which at least means that he does not reinstate Josiah’s policies. Furthermore through the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 21:1–2) God indicates that he wants to save Jerusalem even though Zedekiah does not worship the Lord. Later we find out that Zedekiah is a man who hears and understands the prophet’s warnings yet he doesn’t listen to them. (Jer 34:1–22) Ultimately he is a king who first helps, then oppresses the poor in order to please the power brokers of Judah in order to keep his position. Zedekiah makes one final mistake and rebels against the king of Babylon which causes Nebuchadnezzar to march out with his whole army. This is it, Jerusalem’s final destruction is at hand.

For 2 years Nebuchadnezzar lays siege to Jerusalem. Since we just remembered 9/11, I find it interesting that we know exactly, to the day, when the siege began and ended. It started on January 15, 588 B.C. and ended on July 18,588. They probably commemorated the dates just like we do for September 11th. Take a look at verses 3-6. “By the ninth day of the fourth[d] month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat. 4 Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled at night through the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, though the Babylonians[e] were surrounding the city. They fled toward the Arabah,[f] 5 but the Babylonian[g]army pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, 6 and he was captured.” When the people needed him most, the king and the army tried to save themselves by running away in the night. However Nebuchadnezzar caught Zedekiah and took him to Riblah, where sentence was pronounced on him. They killed his sons before his eyes and then gouged out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. (v6-7)

Nebuchadnezzar calls to Jerusalem Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard. [he is like Darth Vader & Nebuchadnezzar is like the Emperor in Star Wars ) He sets fire to the whole city and burns down, the temple, the royal palace, all the houses and every important building. He carries off almost all of the remaining people leaving only the poorest to work the fields. He takes all the precious metals to Babylon and executes the few remaining officials. For those who believed the covenant, the loss of the temple means much more than the destruction of a significant public building. The temple symbolizes God’s presence in the midst of his chosen people and the possibility of receiving forgiveness with the offering of a sacrifice. Even though the temple was rarely used properly, yet as long as it stood, the hope God existed but now with the temple gone what will happen to God’s people?

Readers of this story may have expected the story to end with Israel and Judah scattered to Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt. After all, the nation seems thoroughly crushed. David’s dynasty appears completely cut off from power. Temple worship seems stopped forever. The land has apparently changed hands. How could anything change these potentially permanent realities?

However God gives them a sliver of hope. Take a look at verses 27-30. Do you remember Jehoiachin, after spending 37 years in prison (he’s about 55 years old), the new king of Babylon, Awel-Marduk releases him (March 22,561 B.C.) and gives him a seat of honor. He even gets to eat at the king’s table and Awel-Marduk treats Jehoiachin like a son and gives him a daily allowance. When Nebuchadnezzar carried Jehoiachin off into captivity, it looked harsh but actually this was God’s grace. Because it was there in Babylon, Jehoiachin was protected otherwise he may have been wiped out like the others. This shows us that we have to view events from God’s point of view. We don’t like bad events, but sometimes God uses them for our own good. [like getting a flat tire may save us from a terrible accident] God used Jehoiachin’s captivity to keep David’s blood line in tact.

In this passage we see how God was not willing to forgive Judah because of their sin. However 2 kings ends on a note of hope. Even after all this destruction, the former king of Judah, Jehoiachin, is released from prison and given a seat of honor at the king of Babylon’s table and even a daily allowance. Even though God was not willing to forgive, still he is able to maintain his promise to King David and his blood line is maintained through Jehoachin and his five sons. This paves the way for God’s final victory and the restoration of his kingdom where his king will come and rule.

The end of the grand experiment of a human led kingdom comes to an end. Everything the David and Solomon built has been wiped out. God wanted to be the leader of his people. But back in 1 Samuel they requested a man to be their leader. Kings were supposed to be the best of men. The heads of state. But even in the best of men there are flaws because of sin. (there were exactly 20 kings each kingdom – mostly bad) The end result is the shedding of innocent blood. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. If there is no justice how can a nation survive? The books of 1&2 Kings was written to explain to Israel why they were in captivity. And at the end there is a glimmer of hope. It looks like the end but just like a teaser at the end of (superhero) movie that alludes to a sequel, God alludes to the future that he has something in the works. God has a plan to restore his people. In the big picture of history, Israel lasted only a short while. Comparatively our nation has lasted even shorter and even now seems to be on shaky ground. I believe that originally, God established our nation upon a solid foundation of God’s word and faith. Most of the early universities were established to teach the Bible and people were honored if they chose to become a minister. However now, most universities and people are going away from God. The founders established the separation of church and state to protect the church. But we’ve taken it and used that to remove God from every aspect of public life and society. When God is removed from a nation, it is left to survive on its own and as we’ve seen earthly kingdoms can’t last based upon their own effort. We need the Lord. Today’s passage should stand as a warning to us. Unless we repent of our sins and ask God for forgiveness judgment is coming.

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Daily Bread

Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
  seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

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