Friday, March 09, 2018

Unexpected Bookends: 2 Chronicles 32

Reading 2 Chronicles 32 the other day, I was struck by the way in which the chronicler opens and closes the chapter. The first and last verses act as unexpected bookends that hold the material in between together, 2 Chronicles 32:1, 33. 

Hezekiah is something of a rarity in Chronicles. He is one of the good guys, matching up to the godly standard set by David, 2 Chronicles 29:2. In 2 Chronicles 29-31, the king leads Southern Kingdom in a programme of thoroughgoing reformation. He cleanses the temple in Jerusalem from the filth of idolatry. He reforms temple worship according to the biblical pattern. He revives the ancient feast of the Passover that had long been neglected. He ensures the priests and Levies are provided for and that they carried out their ministry in the temple. The Chronicler summarises Hezekiah's reforms in the most glowing terms, 2 Chronicles 31:20-21. 

It is something of a shock, then to read the opening words of 2 Chronicles 32, "After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself.". Not what you might expect. Following unparalleled faithfulness, Hezekiah finds himself under siege. The kingdom is in peril. Where did that come from? 

Times of blessing and advance often provoke a backlash. It doesn't seem as though the Lord was disciplining Hezekiah by sending Sennacherib against him. Hezekiah was no Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28). But the Lord was testing his servant to see whether he would remain faithful while surrounded by the Assyrian hordes. Hezekiah stood firm by taking practical measures to withstand the siege (2 Chronicles 32:1-5, preaching (2 Chronicles 32:6-8) and prayer (2 Chronicles 32:20-23). 

Similarly in church life, a fellowship may seek to be faithful to the Lord in their life and witness and experience some fruitfulness and blessing. Then comes trouble, from within, or without. That 'trouble' does not call into question the reality of former blessing. But difficulties and setbacks are a test of our spiritual resilience. By way of response we could do little better than take a leaf from Hezekiah's book. We should take practical measures can to address problems in the fellowship. But above all we need preaching and prayer to see us through in the face of enemy attack, Ephesians 6:10-20. 

The siege is broken, 2 Chronicles 32:21. 

Hezekiah dies as the chapter draws to a close. The king is buried in honour. Mention is made of his "good deeds" (2 Chronicles 32:32-33). But 2 Chronicles 32 ends on a devastating note, "And Manasseh his son reigned in his place." One of the best is followed by one of the worst. If not the worst. Manasseh systematically undid his father's reforms. His anti-Yahweh zeal is detailed in 2 Chronicles 33:1-9. 

Unexpected bookends. 

The cycle of faithfulness and failure in Chronicles ends with the Babylonian captivity of the Southern Kingdom. Not quite. The final paragraph points to life after Babylon, 2 Chronicles 36:22-23. Never again, however, would a king in the line of David sit upon the throne of Israel. 

Whole Bible unexpected bookends.

Adam lost his crown - and ours. 
David's successors lost their crown.
A new David won his crown by his Cross. 
The Last Adam crowned - and we in him. 

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