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Sunday, June 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
2 Chronicles 34

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-33


2 Chronicles 34:1-33; 2 Chronicles 35:1-27; 2 Chronicles 36:1-23

WHATEVER influence Manasseh’s reformation exercised over his people generally, the taint of idolatry was not removed from his own family. His son Amon succeeded him at the age of two-and-twenty. Into his reign of two years he compressed all the varieties of wickedness once practiced by his father, and undid the good work of Manasseh’s later years. He recovered the graven images which Manasseh had discarded, replaced them in their shrines, and worshipped them instead of Jehovah. But in his case there was no repentance, and he was cut off in his youth.

In the absence of any conclusive evidence as to the date of Manasseh’s reformation, we cannot determine with certainty whether Amon received his early training before or after his father returned to the worship of Jehovah. In either case Manasseh’s earlier history would make it difficult for him to counteract any evil influence that drew Amon towards idolatry. Amon could set the example and perhaps the teaching of his father’s former days against any later exhortations to righteousness. When a father has helped to lead his children astray, he cannot be sure that he will carry them with him in his repentance.

After Amon’s assassination the people placed his son Josiah on the throne. Like Joash and Manasseh, Josiah was a child, only eight years old. The chronicler follows the general line of the history in the book of Kings, modifying, abridging, and expanding, but introducing no new incidents; the reformation, the repairing of the Temple, the discovery of the book of the Law, the Passover, Josiah’s defeat and death at Megiddo, are narrated by both historians. We have only to notice differences in a somewhat similar treatment of the same subject.

Beyond the general statement that Josiah "did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah" we hear nothing about him in the book of Kings till the eighteenth year of his reign, and his reformation and putting away of idolatry are placed in that year. The chronicler’s authorities corrected the statement that the pious king tolerated idolatry for eighteen years. They record bow in the eighth year of his reign, when he was sixteen, he began to seek after the God of David; and in his twelfth year he set about the work of utterly destroying idols throughout the whole territory of Israel, in the cities and ruins of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, as well as in Judah and Benjamin. Seeing that the cities assigned to Simeon were in the south of Judah, it is a little difficult to understand why they appear with the northern tribes, unless they are reckoned with them technically to make up the ancient number.

The consequence of this change of date is that in Chronicles the reformation precedes the discovery of the book of the Law, whereas in the older history this discovery is the cause of the reformation. The chronicler’s account of the idols and other apparatus of false worship destroyed by Josiah is much less detailed than that of the book of Kings. To have reproduced the earlier narrative in full would have raised serious difficulties. According to the chronicler, Manasseh had purged Jerusalem of idols and idol altars; and Amon alone was responsible for any that existed there at the accession of Josiah: but in the book of Kings Josiah found in Jerusalem the altars erected by the kings of Judah and the horses they had given to the sun. Manasseh’s altars still stood in the courts of the Temple; and over against Jerusalem there still-remained the high places that Solomon had built for Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Milcom. As the chronicler in describing Solomon’s reign carefully omitted all mention of his sins, so he omits this reference to his idolatry. Moreover, if he had inserted it, he would have had to explain how these high places escaped the zeal of the many pious kings who did away with the high places. Similarly, having omitted the account of the man of God who prophesied the ruin of Jeroboam’s sanctuary at Bethel, he here omits the fulfillment of that prophecy.

The account of the repairing of the Temple is enlarged by the insertion of various details as to the names, functions, and zeal of the Levites, amongst whom those who had skill in instruments of music seem to have had the oversight of the workmen. We are reminded of the walls of Thebes, which rose out of the ground while Orpheus played upon his flute. Similarly in the account of the assembly called to hear the contents of the book of the Law the Levites are substituted for the prophets. This book of the Law is said in Chronicles to have been given by Moses, but his name is not connected with the book in the parallel narrative in the book of Kings.

The earlier authority simply states that Josiah held a great passover; Chronicles, as usual, describes the festival in detail. First of all, the king commanded the priests and Levites to purify themselves and take their places in due order, so that they might be ready to perform their sacred duties. The narrative is very obscure, but it seems that either during the apostasy of Amon or on account of the recent Temple repairs the Ark had been removed from the Holy of holies. The Law had specially assigned to the Levites the duty of carrying the Tabernacle and its furniture, and they seem to have thought that they were only bound to exercise the function of carrying the Ark; they perhaps proposed to bear it in solemn procession round the city as part of the celebration of the Passover, forgetting the words of David that the Levites should no more carry the Tabernacle and its vessels. They would have been glad to substitute this conspicuous and honorable service for the laborious and menial work of flaying the victims. Josiah, however, commanded them to put the Ark into the Temple and attend to their other duties.

Next, the king and his nobles provided beasts of various kinds for the sacrifices and the Passover meal. Josiah’s gifts were even more munificent than those of Hezekiah. The latter had given a thousand bullocks and ten thousand sheep; Josiah gave just three times as many. Moreover, at Hezekiah’s passover no offerings of the princes are mentioned, but now they added their gifts to those of the king. The heads of the priesthood provided three hundred Oxen and two thousand six hundred small cattle for the priests, and the chiefs of the Levites five hundred oxen and five thousand small cattle for the Levites. But numerous as were the victims at Josiah’s passover, they still fell far short of the great sacrifice of twenty-two thousand oxen and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep which Solomon offered at the dedication of the Temple.

Then began the actual work of the sacrifices: the victims were killed and flayed, and their blood was sprinkled on the altar; the burnt-offerings were distributed among the people; the Passover lambs were roasted, and the other offerings boiled, and the Levites "carried them quickly to all the children of the people." Apparently private individuals could not find the means of cooking the bountiful provision made for them; and, to meet the necessity of the case, the Temple courts were made kitchen as well as slaughterhouse for the assembled worshippers. The other offerings would not be eaten with the Passover lamb, but would serve for the remaining days of the feast.

The Levites not only provided for the people, for themselves, and the priests, but the Levites who ministered in the matter of the sacrifices also prepared for their brethren who were singers and porters, so that the latter were enabled to attend undisturbed to their own special duties; all the members of the guild of porters were at the gates maintaining order among the crowd of worshippers; and the full strength of the orchestra and choir contributed to the beauty and solemnity of the services. It was the greatest Passover held by any Israelite king.

Josiah’s passover, like that of Hezekiah, was followed by a formidable foreign invasion; but whereas Hezekiah was rewarded for renewed loyalty by a triumphant deliverance, Josiah was defeated and slain. These facts subject the chronicler’s theory of retribution to a severe strain. His perplexity finds pathetic expression in the opening words of the new section, "After all this," after all the idols had been put away, after the celebration of the most magnificent Passover the monarchy had ever seen. After all this, when we looked for the promised rewards of piety-for fertile seasons, peace and prosperity at home, victory and dominion abroad, tribute from subject peoples, and wealth from successful commerce - after all this, the rout of the armies of Jehovah at Megiddo, the flight and death of the wounded king, the lamentation over Josiah, the exaltation of a nominee of Pharaoh to the throne, and the payment of tribute to the Egyptian king. The chronicler has no complete explanation of this painful mystery, but he does what he can to meet the difficulties of the case. Like the great prophets in similar instances, he regards the heathen king as charged with a Divine commission. Pharaoh’s appeal to Josiah to remain neutral should have been received by the Jewish king as an authoritative message from Jehovah. It was the failure to discern in a heathen king the mouthpiece and prophet of Jehovah that cost Josiah his life and Judah its liberty.

The chronicler had no motive for lingering over the last sad days of the monarchy; the rest of his narrative is almost entirely abridged from the book of Kings. Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah pass over the scene in rapid and melancholy succession. In the case of Jehoahaz, who only reigned three months, the chronicler omits the unfavorable judgment recorded in the book of Kings; but he repeats it for the other three, even for the poor lad of eight who was carried away captive after a reign of three months and ten days. The chronicler had not learnt that kings can do no wrong; on the other hand, the ungodly policy of Jehoiachin’s ministers is labeled with the name of the boy-sovereign.

Each of these kings in turn was deposed and carried away into captivity, unless indeed Jehoiakim is an exception. In the book of Kings we are told that he slept with his fathers, i.e., that he died and was buried in the royal tombs at Jerusalem, a statement which the LXX inserts here also, specifying, however, that he was buried in the garden of Uzza. If the pious Josiah were punished for a single error by defeat and death, why was the wicked Jehoiakim allowed to reign till the end of his life and then die in his bed? The chronicler’s information differed from that of the earlier narrative in a way that removed, or at any rate suppressed the difficulty. He omits the statement that Jehoiakim slept with his fathers, and tells us that Nebuchadnezzar bound him in fetters to carry him to Babylon. Casual readers would naturally suppose that this purpose was carried out, and that the Divine justice was satisfied by Jehoiakim’s death in captivity; and yet if they compared this passage with that in the book of Kings, it might occur to them that after the king had been put in chains something might have led Nebuchadnezzar to change his mind, or, like Manasseh, Jehoiakim might have repented and been allowed to return. But it is very doubtful whether the chronicler’s authorities contemplated the possibility of such an interpretation; it is scarcely fair to credit them with all the subtle devices of modern commentators.

The real conclusion of the chronicler’s history of the kings of the house of David is a summary of the sins of the last days of the monarchy and of the history of its final ruin in 2 Chronicles 36:14-20. All the chief of the priests and of the people were given over to the abominations of idolatry; and in spite of constant and urgent admonitions from the prophets of Jehovah, they hardened their hearts, and mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of Jehovah arose against His people, and there was no healing.

However, to this peroration a note is added that the length of the Captivity was fixed at seventy years, in order that the land might "enjoy her sabbaths." This note rests upon Leviticus 25:1-7, according to which the land was to be left fallow every seventh year. The seventy years’ captivity would compensate for seventy periods of six years each during which no sabbatical years had been observed. Thus the Captivity, with the four hundred and twenty previous years of neglect, would be equivalent to seventy sabbatical periods. There is no economy in keeping back what is due to God.

Moreover, the editor who separated Chronicles from the book of Ezra and Nehemiah was loath to allow the first part of the history to end in a gloomy record of sin and ruin. Modern Jews, in reading the last chapter of Isaiah, rather than conclude with the ill-omened words of the last two verses, repeat a previous portion of the chapter. So here to the history of the ruin of Jerusalem the editor has appended two verses from the opening of the book of Ezra, which contain the decree of Cyrus authorizing the return from the Captivity. And thus Chronicles concludes in the middle of a sentence which is completed in the book of Ezra: "Who is there among you of all his people? Jehovah his God be with him, and let him go up." {2 Chronicles 36:23}

Such a conclusion suggests two considerations which will form a fitting close to our exposition. Chronicles is not a finished work; it has no formal end; it rather breaks off abruptly like an interrupted diary. In like manner the book of Kings concludes with a note as to the treatment of the captive Jehoiachin at Babylon: the last verse runs, "And for his allowance there was a continual allowance given him of the king, every day a portion, all the days of his life." The book of Nehemiah has a short final prayer: "Remember me, O my God, for good"; but the preceding paragraph is simply occupied, with the arrangements for the wood offering and the firstfruits. So in the New Testament the history of the Church breaks off with the statement that St. Paul abode two whole years in his own hired house, preaching the kingdom of God. The sacred writers recognize the continuity of God’s dealings with His people; they do not suggest that one period can be marked off by a clear dividing line or interval from another. Each historian leaves, as it were, the loose ends of his work ready to be taken up and continued by his successors. The Holy Spirit seeks to stimulate the Church to a forward outlook, that it may expect and work for a future wherein the power and grace of God will be no less manifest than in the past. Moreover, the final editor of Chronicles has shown himself unwilling that the book should conclude with a gloomy record of sin and ruin, and has appended a few lines to remind his readers of the new life of faith and hope that lay beyond the Captivity. In so doing, he has echoed the key-note of prophecy: ever beyond man’s transgression and punishment the prophets saw the vision of his forgiveness and restoration to God.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 34". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/2-chronicles-34.html.
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