Nehemiah 10-13: Remember me – the Ancient Reformers

Chapter 10

The covenant briefly described in chapter 9 was sealed by the people listed in this chapter (cf v.20-27, and chapter 3) in v.1-28.  More importantly, these people are described as those “who have knowledge and understanding” – a refrain of what was stated in Nehemiah 8:12.  But for such clear understanding, they would not be able to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD (v.29) and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law.

Note how the law is seen as a curse (c.f. 1 Kings 19:2, Jeremiah 34:18) and an oath, a conveyance of the people’s serious intention to simultaneously to be faithful to the LORD but also understand that such law works to only reveal our sins and is a curse unto us, holding us captive (Romans 7; 1 Corinthians 15:56; Galatians 3:23-24).  As Paul states, righteousness is not by the law, for the law did not give life as long as we did not look on Christ (Galatians 3:21).  So the Israelite mentality is not simply that of justifying their walks with God by their own righteousness, but recognising what the purpose of the law is – to point us to Christ the fulfiller. 

Of the law, the following are described, indicating the foci of Ezra and Nehemiah’s day:

  • v.30 – Problems of inter-faith marriage – bringing us back to the precepts of Ezra (Ezra 9-10);
  • v.31 – Crops of seventh year (Leviticus 25:2-7)
  • v.32 – Third part of shekel is a new law (c.f. Exodus 30:11-16).  Service of the house of God.
  • v.33 – Offerings /showbread – Leviticus 24:5-9
  • v.34 – Wood offering (no specific law on this tax, but implied) – Leviticus 6:12-13
  • v.35 – Agricultural offerings re: temple personnel supply (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, Num 18:12-13, Deut 26:1-11).
  • v.36 – Firstborn of sons (Exodus 13:13, 34:20) (redeemed), herds / flocks (Num 18:15-18) and Deut 15:19-23
  • v.37 – First of our dough (Num 15:20-21, Deut 18:4)
  • v.38-39 – Tithes (Num 18:21-24), laity participates in a celebration of the tithe at the sanctuary in Deut 14:22-27, and for Levites as well (Num 18:25-32)

Notably, most of the commandments are in relation to spiritual adultery through inter-marriage, the lack of offerings and the relinquishing of the Levitical practices.  These laws are also noticeably free-will related, indicating that the heaviness of the law has weighed on the hearts of the Israelites to the point where worship and praise has long been forgotten.  It should be a delight then that their rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem shall be coupled not with a re-statement of the entirety of the law, but with acts of worship and praise out of the pure joy that the LORD has been faithful to the Israelites unceasingly.  His cords of love could never be broken even by the Israelites’ and our constant rebellion.

Chapter 11

Just as a tenth was given to Melchizedek the King of Peace (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:2-4; c.f. Numbers 28-29), so a tenth of the people were given to the City of Peace.  The opening verses of this chapter touch on the Temple servants who were part of the classes of Levites (Ezra 2:40-43) descendants of Solomon’s servants (Ezra 2:55-58), blessing this free-will offering of the people who lives apart from their towns to be in this city (v.2 – “willingly offered“).

The immediate description of Judah, Benjamin and the Levites which followed (v.4-19) harkens us back to the fact that these were the only three tribes of the Southern Kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12:21-23, the Levites having no specific land as inheritance) – now composing the majority of the restored community of the entire nation.  As noted in v.20 – the rest of Israel, and of the priests and the Levites, were in all the towns of Judah, every one in his “inheritance” (the ancestral property – Ezra 2:59-63). However, the temple servants lived symbolically on Ophel (v.21), which is the source of water at the Gihon Spring near the Water Gate (Nehemiah 3:26, Ezra 2:43-54).

The places in particular mentioned in v.25-35 are a repeat of the same places of inheritance mentioned in Joshua 15:20-63 and Ezra 2:26-33.  The Levites are now therefore seen more officially as the third tribe in this restored community (v.36), originally to have settlementsthroughoutthe land (Joshua 21).

The fact that the majority of Israel now consists of these Southern tribes and the priesthood is almost a sifting of the wheat from the chaff; a refinement of the spiritual from the nominal (Romans 9-11), that the Root of Jesse and Son of Judah shall be the Incarnate One.  Even the consolidation of the priesthood as an official tribe, and the giving of a 10th of all people to live in Jerusalem sees a type of reformation which is becoming more and more like the Church which the Lord had always envisioned – a Church which is not merely a division of land and spoils, but where the Elect are to live in Jerusalem.  Where the priesthood is at the forefront of this reformation.  Where the entire nation has the law written on their hearts and guarded by the walls of Jerusalem.

Levites effectively a third tribe in the restored community (v.36), originally having settlements throughout the land (Joshua 21).

Chapter 12

This chapter again reinforces the focus on the priesthood and the Levites, relating to the high priesthood from the time of Zerubbabel to Nehemiah.  Zerubbabel was the first leader and Jeshua the high priest who returned with him (which was a century before Nehemiah – see Ezra 2:2a). It would appear in the following verses (v.8-26) that Ezra and Nehemiah lived in the days of Joiakim, the son of Jeshua (c.f. v.13).  The days of Eliashib, Joiakim’s son, until Johanan (Eliashib’s son) was also described at v.22-23.  It is described at v.24 that the divisions were commanded by David (at 2 Chronicles 8:14), for praise and to give thanks – emphasising again the free-will nature at the heart of these Levitical traditions.  This is brought to the fore in v.27-30 by the cymbals, harps and lyres used in thankgivings and with singing by the Levites when the wall of Jerusalem was dedicated with gladness (Ezra 3:10-13).  Thus, the gates themselves were purified, a new start to Jerusalem (v.30; c.f. Exodus 19:10-15).

This free-will worship is emphasised even more in the remainder of this chapter, by way of two choirs (v.31-37, v.38-43 respectively) and the men appointed over the storerooms, contributions, firstfruits, and tithes (v.44-47).  The southern choir is led by Ezra (v.36) to the Dung Gate in the furthest south before moving north through the Fountain Gate to the Water Gate in the east (v.37).

The northern choir is joined by Nehemiah whilst it is led by Jezrahiah (a Levite) to the Gate of Guard (v.39) passing by all the gates from Gate of Ephraim onwards to the Sheep Gate (v.39).  The choirs, jointly offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy (v.43) – the women and children also rejoiced – such is the beauty of the unified Church of no divisions (Galatians 3:28), led by the priesthood to sing such songs of glory!

This glorious worship shapes the ministry of those appointed over the material wealth of the nation apportioning such wealth to the priests and the Levites (v.44-47).  “They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon” (v.45) – though the treasure that we seek is to see the LORD face to face in such free-will rejoicing, we are also given treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20) which such apportionment symbolises.

Chapter 13

In spite of such awesome worship, Israel is still Israel – just as the Church is still filled with sinners to the boot.  It is notable that this book of ancient Reformation should end not on a sweet note of victory, but on a note that until the first coming of the Christ, and until the renewal of New Creation at His second coming, such changes are but external and the sin in us festering in our adamic flesh.  Note the following:

  • the removal of those of foreign descent (v.1-3) which is the first act of cleansing presumably on the basis that the Ammonites / Moabites’ spiritual history could lead the Israelites astray;
  • the corruption of Eliashib in favouring his relative Tobiah and setting for him a large chamber in the house of the LORD where the material wealth for the Levites and the Temple had been kept (v.4-9), desecrating the holiness of the Temple
  • the failure of the proper apportionment of wealth to the Levites (v.10-14), replacing the officials with reliable men who distributed to their brothers (v.13)
  • the profanity of the Sabbath by working and doing business with the Tyrians and lodging all kinds of wares outside Jerusalem around the Sabbath date (v.15-22; c.f. Jeremiah 17:19-27; Amos 8:4-6
  • the intermarriage of Jews to women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab and the failure to speak in the language of Judah, immediately breaching what Nehemiah had done at Nehemiah 10:30 (c.f. Ezra 9-10; Deuteronomy 7:1-5), quoting the widespread knowledge of the sins of Solomon (v.23-29; c.f. 1 Kings 11), desecrating the spiritual purity of the priesthood

Thus Nehemiah cleansed Israel from everything foreign, and he established the duties of the priests and the Levites, each in his work (v.30) – as a summary of his entire work in this book.  The wood offering thus acts as a fitting bookend to this book (c.f. Nehemiah 10:34, Leviticus 6:12-13) – a reminder that it is the wood-offering which points us to Christ the One who was offered on the Tree, the wood.  All of Nehemiah’s reforms mean nothing if Christ is removed from the picture.

Yet – at the end of all this – Nehemiah pleads a prayer that the LORD remember Him for good (a repeated refrain throughout this book – 1:8, 5:19, 6:14, 13:14, 13:22, 13:30; c.f. Psalm 7, 17).  As Nehemiah and Ezra were both the reformers and typological mediators of Christ, their faithfulness are but shadows of the faithfulness of Christ.  It is Christ’s faithfulness which is remembered by the Father and truly eternal in the sense that Nehemiah and Ezra sought to achieve in the ancient Reformation.  May the Christ reform our hearts so thoroughly and guard us with His Spirit!

Nehemiah 10-13: Remember me – the Ancient Reformers

Nehemiah 7-9: Clear Understanding

Nehemiah 7

Upon the building of the wall, Hanani (God is gracious) and Hananiah (God has given) are appointed to take charge over Jerusalem, “for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many” – an indication that such restoration of the wall is to be maintained in the hands of one who is a Christ-follower.  This is accompanied by the need for the gates of Jerusalem to be open when the sun is hot (c.f. Exodus 17:12; Malachi 4:2; Revelation 1:16), a reminder that the Son is the one who allows the gates to be open for people to enter New Jerusalem (John 14:6; Revelation 3:12).  However, as of now, the city though wide and large – the people within it were few and no houses had been rebuilt (v.4).  A shame that there are not enough labourers sent out into His harvest (Matthew 9:38).

From v.6-73, the genealogy largely matches that which was stated in Ezra 2 – bringing us into the context of Ezra and remembering that Nehemiah’s actions are meaningless without the restoration of the Mosaic law through Ezra.  V.73 is a exact repeat of Ezra 2:70, except the new addition that “when the seventh month had come, the people of Israel were in their towns” – reminder of Leviticus 23, where the month of Tishri includes the keeping of the the Day of Atonement and Feast of Booths.

Nehemiah 8

The gathering of people “as one man” has been few and far in between, matching the language in Ezra 3:1 here (and the last time this happened was in 2 Samuel 19:14).  Their congregation around the Water Gate supplements the symbology of this gate, that the water of life, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, should be the true food which these gates of Jerusalem are protecting.  This chapter therefore reinstates the importance of Ezra’s reforms as the undergirding element of Nehemiah’s rebuilding – in the presence of men and women and those who could understand (v.3).  This is different from the strict keeping of the great Jerusalem feasts by men alone (Deuteronomy 16:16-17) – instead, now the crowd is to all who could understand.  “And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (v.3).  Ezra opened the Book of the Law in the sight of all the people and blessed the LORD (v.5-6), with several others (including both Levites and non-Levites) helping the people to understand the Law (v.7).  The Law of God was read “clearly”, and they “gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading”.  This type of detail is so far removed from what is the norm in the Mosaic books through to Ezra, where the keeping of the law was often not explained to come hand in hand with “clear understanding” – the theme of this chapter.  In many ways, this clear understanding and the inclusion of all who could understand (i.e. including women) is a shadow of the freedom in Christ (Galatians 3:28) only upon the circumcision of the heart, represented through Ezra (the priest and scribe) and Nehemiah’s (the governor) joint reformation of the Ancient Church.  Their spiritual emancipation and release from understanding the Law was transformed from weeping to joy – an eschatological picture of our weeping turning into joy in New Creation (Revelation 21:4).

It is interesting that instead of describing the keeping of Yom Kippur, v.13-14 immediately begins with the keeping of the Feast of Booths, as a restoration of a practice not done since the days of Yeshua the son of Nun (v.17), keeping to what the law had stated in Leviticus 23:34-39 / Deuteronomy 16:13-15.  In fact, this follows naturally from the hearing of the law earlier in this chapter – for the themes have been one of release, one of understanding, one of rejoicing that the LORD has taken away our grievances, as symbolised most starkly in the festival of Feast of Booths.  As Leviticus 23:35 states, “On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.  For seven days you shall present food offerings to the Lord.”  Deuteronomy 16:14 states, “You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow who are within your towns.”

Nehemiah 9

It is only upon such grateful thanksgiving that they then assemble with fasting and in sackcloth, confessing their sins and iniquities of their fathers (v.1-2), finding confidence first in the Word, then in confession, then in worship (v.3).  It is from v.6 onwards that we see a history of redemption, from Genesis up till now, His promises fulfilled through Abraham’s faithfulness (v.6-8), through the great exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (v.9-15) – and despite the stiffneckedness of the Israelites, He still remained faithful and gracious (v.16-21), sustaining them in the wilderness and instructing them by giving them the Holy Spirit.  Such goodness which came to them was completely by His hand (v.22-25).

Yet, the Israelites continued to be disobedient and ignored His law (v.26-31) – and here, His mercies are repeated (3 times “in your great mercies” repeated in these few verses) throughout the age of the judges and the kings from the time of Moses to the time of Zedekiah, the last king of Israel before the Babylonian exile.  By His prophets, by His saviors, by His warnings, by His Spirit (v.30) – all rejected and blasphemed (c.f. Leviticus 24:16; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10).  Hence, their current state of slavery is one not caused by God – but (notably) it is the Levites who recognise that their kings, their princes, their priests and their fathers have not kept their law or paid attention to His commandments and His warnings.  Because of all this, the Levites (v.38) make a firm covenant in writing, with the names of Israel’s princes, Levites and priests.

Nehemiah 7-9: Clear Understanding

Ezra 7-10: Pleading of the High Priest

Chapter 7

The events leading up to chapter 7 have been providing a background to Ezra’s (the name means “help”) involvement in the restoration of Israel, a context and culture in which Ezra operated as the LORD’s key servant in re-building of the Temple.  This is the same Ezra whose lineage is traced directly back to Aaron, the chief priest – as a reminder that it is the High Priest who re-built the temple, and no mere “layman”, pointing towards Jesus the High Priest who is the one who destroyed the temple and also built it up in three days (John 2:19).  Not only is it refreshing to know that this son of the high priest Aaron is the key catalyst behind the Second Temple, but he is also a “scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD the God of Israel had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him”.  Indeed, his faithful walk with Christ has led those around him to grant him favour and understand the ways of the LORD as well.  Therefore, this man is equipped, and ready to leave Babylonia to Israel for the purpose of teaching the LORD’s statutes and rules in Israel (v.10), knowing that the previous six chapters provided the context of the return of the exiles as summarised in v.7-9 of this chapter.  The LORD effectively uses King Artaxerxes to provide Ezra (the refrain, again – “a man learned in matters of the commandments of the LORD and his statutes for Israel” – repeated previously in v.6 and v.10) with the resources (i.e. all the silver and gold that Ezra shall find in the whole province of Babylonia, v.16, the money used to purchase bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, v.17) to do all that is necessary, “according to the will of your God” (v.18).  It is clear from v.11-20 that the king, too, is well-versed in the necessities of Temple maintenance.  What a contrast in v.24 for Artaxerxes to command the treasurers to not impose a tribute, custom or toll on anyone of the specified servants of the house of God (c.f. Rehum and Shimshai’s lies in Ezra 4:11-15).

This chapter ends with a first person commentary of Ezra – indeed, blessed be the LORD who put such a thing as this into the heart of the non-Israelite king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem.  Whilst the book of Ezra focused primarily on theology than chronology, we saw Zerubbabel and Jeshua’s work on the Second Temple completed by chapter 6; and in the remaining chapters of Ezra, we shall see this scribe of the LORD focus on the community of Israel and the issues of their hearts as revealed later.

Chapter 8

Ezra therefore left Babylonia with a number of exiles to return to rebuilt Jerusalem – yet, his primary concern is the presence of the sons of Levi (v.15), despite the lengthy detail given to the returning exiles in v.1-14.  It is from Iddo that Sherebiah (“heat/flame of the LORD”) (with his sons and kinsmen, sons of Mahli the son of Levi), Hashabiah (“whom God regards”), and Jeshaiah (“salvation of the LORD”) (of the sons of Merari, with his kinsmen and their sons) were appointed, these men (and their kinsmen/sons) making up the 12 leading priests (v.24).  In the same vein, Ezra continues to rely on the LORD for protection by fasting and imploring Him for safety at the river Ahava (meaning “water/essence“), relying not on Artaxerxes’ band of soldiers and horsemen which would otherwise be reliable in worldly eyes.  Most importantly is Ezra’s pronouncement that these men are “holy to the LORD”, a refrain often used as a reminder of the priesthood, the setting apart of Israel from other nations and the Sabbath rest (c.f. Exodus 28:36, 30:37, 31:15, 35:2, 39:30; Deuteronomy 7:6).  This is key, given the events in chapters 9 and 10.

Symbolically, Ezra’s return is timed to a meaningful date in the Israelite calendar.  Where chapter 3 began with the Feast of Booths in the 7th month (Tishri) of the ecclesiastical year, this chapter focuses on the Passover, occuring between the 15th to the 21st of the month of Nisan (the 1st month).  Therefore, whilst under Zerubbabel and Jeshua’s re-institution of the Temple the Feast of Booths and other offerings were kept (fitting in the context of the Feast reminding them of the tent-centric life of Abraham and the saints as we look forward to new creation), under Ezra the re-institution began with the Passover, an equally fitting reminder of the separation of the Israelite community from the captivity of the Egyptians, just as the community is now restored after 70 years of Babylonian captivity.  To conclude this chapter with the words of Matthew Henry as the churches finally entered (a temporary) rest:

“That will be dispensed with when we want opportunity which when the door is opened again will be expected from us. It is observable, … That among their sacrifices they had a sin-offering; for it is the atonement that sweetens and secures every mercy to us, which will not be truly comfortable unless iniquity be taken away and our peace made with God… That the number of their offerings related to the number of the tribes, twelve bullocks, twelve he-goats, and ninety-six rams (that is, eight times twelve), intimating the union of the two kingdoms, according to what was foretold, Ezek. xxxvii. 22. They did not any longer go two tribes one way and ten another, but all the twelve met by their representatives at the same altar.
…That even the enemies of the Jews became their friends, bowed to Ezra’s commission, and, instead of hindering the people of God, furthered them, purely in complaisance to the king: when he appeared moderate they all coveted to appear so too. Then had the churches rest.”

Chapter 9

Throughout chapter 8, the theme of being “holy to the LORD” (taking us back to Exodus and Deuteronomy) has been briefly explored – and immediately Ezra is faced with the challenge of spiritual purity of the returned Israelites.  “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations” – language which is directly lifted from the Deuteronomic law (chapters 13, 14, 17, 18, 22-27).  What beauty then, that in spite of our sins, that the LORD is merciful.  Look at Ezra’s humility as he stood on behalf of Israel before the LORD, praying as if he himself was the High Priest mediating on behalf of the nation, as if it was Christ mediating between Israel and His Father.  The words in v.6-15 could be lifted from the lips of Christ as he bore our sins on the cross – that he should be counted as a worm whilst the burden of the Fall was on His shoulders (Psalms 22:6), pleading in relation to man’s heaven-high guilt (v.6), the nation given into captivity for its iniquities (v.7), that the LORD has not forsaken them in their slavery (v.9), that they still break His commandments (v.10), that they have inter-married against the commandments of the prophets (v.11-14; c.f. Exodus 34; Deuteronomy 7:3).  Ezra recognises that His grace and His steadfast love is still on this remnant of Israel (v.15), preserved as this remnant hides in Christ.

Chapter 10

It is telling that the first person to confess the sin of inter-marriage is from Shecaniah (the name aptly means “dweller with Jehovah or intimate with Jehovah”) son of Jehiel (“God lives”), of the sons of Elam (“eternity”).  It is because of his first confession that the nation is on its first steps to heart-felt recovery, rather than that of the mere infrastructure.  The restoration of the Temple, though centre to the lives of the Israelites, would be meaningless in face of a rebellious remnant.  It would take a man, intimate with Christ, to proclaim the living and eternal God through true repentance by separation from their wives, as Ezra calls for in v.9-11 (though not universally agreed by the Israelites – v.15).  Symbolically, this begins in the 9th month (Kislev – commonly known as the month of “hope”, during the autumn season), lasting until the first day of the first month (v.17 – i.e. Tishri, the month of “beginnings”) – that in this period of refining, Israel would not only hope to be restored but is given a new beginning (and, especially, that even the sons of Jeshua, son of Jozadak (v.18), the Levites (v.23) would be purified from their sins the same way as the other “laymen” of Israel, a reminder that the Israelites are all but sinners, with Ezra standing as the typological mediator between them and the LORD). 

The book interestingly ends on this “census” of those who have sinned and inter-married – a bittersweet mixture of a new beginning under Ezra’s leadership of the community, having established the re-institution of the Temple in the earlier chapters under Zerubbabel and Jeshua; yet time with tell as to whether these sons of intermarriage (v.44) would have a role to play in the first coming of the Messiah and whether they cling to the Promised Seed or become the seeds of Satan, leading Israel astray.

Ezra 7-10: Pleading of the High Priest

2 Chronicles 34-36: Gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world

Chapter 34

Josiah, the last glorious king before Judah’s lengthy captivity in the hands of the Babylonians, sought the LORD when he was sixteen (v.3) and immediately purged the city and the temple in which was the Name of the LORD (2 Chronicles 6).  The cleansing involved the chopping down of altars of Baals (v.4), burning the bones of the priests on their altars as a retribution of the wrath they incurred upon themselves (v.5) and bearing the Asherim and images into powder, cutting down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel (v.7).  At 24 years old (v.8), upon cleaning the land, the Law of the LORD was found (v.8-18), commencing a reformation of Israel once again – just as Christ cleansed our hearts so that the law could be written on them (Jeremiah 31:33) and allow the spiritual Israelites to be reminded that the removal of idolatry comes hand in hand with worshipping the true God and find their identity as His collective children.  Josiah’s reaction (v.21) is exactly that of a person who understands the implications of not truly following Christ and merely “playing church”, as a worshipper of the LORD who does not have His law.  Yet, note the narrator’s decision to state clearly that Josiah had been walking with the LORD since 16; and for 8 years, Josiah had not the law of the LORD to guide Him, yet His mandates were already written on Josiah’s heart by the indwelling Holy Spirit – a reminder that the era before Moses, too, walked with Jesus without the written law.

Note, then, prophetess Huldah’s prophecy on Israel and Judah – that Josiah shall sleep with his fathers (v.28) before witnessing the inevitable tragedy and destruction to fall on Israel.  In the wake of this, Josiah immediately worships the LORD by making a covenant with Him, clearly understanding the purpose of the Law is relational and not simply that of a master bidding a slave to merely work.

Chapter 35

Josiah’s relationship with the LORD upon Huldah’s prophecy is most importantly marked by his keeping of the Passover through the properly elected divisions and positions of the Levites (v.1-6).  Such worship and sacrifice in the face of Israel’s impending disaster (v.7-9)!  Note clearly that no Passover of this grandeur and detail to the iota has been kept since the days of Samuel the prophet, indicating that Josiah’s keeping of the Passover is the ending bookend to the book of Samuel which opens the eras of the kings of Israel.  The repeating refrain in these verses are “according to the king’s command” and “as it is written in the Book of Moses” / “according to the rule“, which prove that the Law is closely adhered to, by the faithful Christian king’s command at a tender age of 26 years.

Yet, Josiah’s death is sudden and is indeed brought about the the Egyptian king Neco, who himself understands to be carrying out the LORD’s will (v.21-22).  It is a strange turn of events, for Neco to state that it would be against His will if Josiah opposes Neco; yet, Huldah had already prophesied that Josiah’s death was the LORD’s grace towards him, in preventing him from seeing Israel’s eventual downfall.  Surely, it is not contrary to God’s will that Josiah oppose Neco and is brought to the grave in return?  Is it not because of Josiah’s faithfulness to even the smallest iota of the Law that Israel has this temporary peace, and thus the king’s removal is tantamount to the LORD’s eventual disciplining of His elected nation?  Observe Matthew Henry’s commentary on Josiah’s death:

“From principles of religion: “God is with me; nay, He commanded me to make haste, and therefore, if thou retard my motions, thou meddlest with God.” It cannot be that the king of Egypt only pretended this (as Sennacherib did in a like case, 2 Kings xviii. 25), hoping thereby to make Josiah desist, because he knew he had a veneration for the word of God; for it is said here ( 22) that the words of Necho were from the mouth of God. We must therefore suppose that either by a dream, or by a strong impulse upon his spirit which he had reason to think was from God, or by Jeremiah or some other prophet, he had ordered him to make war upon the king of Assyria. (3.) From principles of policy: “That he destroy thee not; it is at thy peril if thou engage against one that has not only a better army and a better cause, but God on his side.”
…It was not in wrath to Josiah, whose heart was upright with the Lord his God, but in wrath to a hypocritical nation, who were unworthy of so good a king, that he was so far infatuated as not to hearken to these fair reasonings and desist from his enterprise. He would not turn his face from him, but went in person and fought the Egyptian army in the valley of Megiddo, 22. If perhaps he could not believe that the king of Egypt had a command from God to do what he did, yet, upon his pleading such a command, he ought to have consulted the oracles of God before he went out against him. His not doing that was his great fault, and of fatal consequence. In this matter he walked not in the ways of David his father; for, had it been his case, he would have enquired of the Lord, Shall I go up? Wilt thou deliver them into my hands? How can we think to prosper in our ways if we do not acknowledge God in them?”

Indeed, Josiah died in the Valley of Megiddo (symbolically called the place of crowns).  In further distinction to Matthew Henry’s views, Dev Menon’s commentary on the book of Revelations (chapter 16:15-16) reveals that Josiah’s death at Megiddo is prophetic of a greater death:

” The victory is assured – the armies of the world assemble at the Mount of Megiddo, the very place where Josiah (God supports) was pierced (2 Chronicles 35, Zechariah 12, John 19:37). That is the place of their destruction. The place of the cross.”

Josiah’s death is therefore compared in Zechariah 12 to the death of Christ; and it is in the death of Christ that the disciples were scattered, albeit for 3 days and 3 nights.  It is this short, dark period that the remainder of the Old Testament points towards – the fall and scattering of Israel until Christ’s resurrection, when similarly the Church is restored and shines gloriously.  Here, Josiah’s death prompts the inevitable downfall of Israel, as he is pierced in God’s plan by a Gentile, just as the first Passover was held in Egypt – the same Passover which only king Josiah has kept since the day of Samuel’s leadership.

Chapter 36

In this short chapter we see an usurping of the throne of Josiah’s appointed son (v.2-3), followed by the folly of Eliakim (raised up by God) / Jehoiakim (brother of Josiah’s son Jehoahaz, renamed as Jehoiakim – whom Jehovah sets up, as a mockery that the king of Egypt is Jehovah), and his son Jehoiachin (v.8-9, whom Jehovah has appointed), and Jehoiachin’s brother Zedekiah (justice of the LORD) – the narrator intentionally grouping the three kings together as having hard hearts against the LORD (v.13), leading to Israel’s unfaithfulness (v.14) and failure to keep and protect the house of the LORD (v.7, 14).  Yet, despite His unwavering steadfast love (v.15-16), they kept mocking the messengers of God.

It is in Israel’s own rejection of God that the house of the LORD is destroyed, just as the body of Christ had to be destroyed before being re-built (John 2).  So this temporary destruction of the house is but a prophecy of Israel’s own rejection of Christ, leading to the destruction of the true temple of God – Jesus’ body – just so we could be baptized in Christ’s death and raised in His resurrection (Romans 6:3), just as the Israelites are now scattered and baptised in Christ’s death, and whether they resurrect with His glory or not depends on whether they cling onto Christ or their empty religion for the generations to come.

This resurrection of Israel, akin to Christ’s resurrection, is described at the end of 2 Chronicles which is a sweeter note than that of 2 Kings.  Where in 2 Kings 25 we see a description of grace falling on Jehoiachin, both books of Chronicles’ intention is on a larger scale beyond that of microscopic mercy; rather, Chronicles detail the macroscope of the importance of the priesthood, and the victories of the kings when the priesthood and the Levites are restored to their proper duty – with the temple and Jerusalem being once again the focus of Israel’s identity (c.f. 2 Chronicles 26), given their dual importance as the place of Christ’s work on the cross and a multimedia presentation of the gospel respectively.  Jeremiah’s positive prophecy concerning Israel is therefore not surprising, and had been fulfilled (v.21-22), for Israel’s captivity is but a foreshadowing of Christ’s death on the cross leading to the scattering of the disciples.  That time of darkness was merely temporary.  Similarly, Babylon’s captivity would end under Persia eventual leadership, and Cyrus’ decision to release the Israelites and rebuild the destroyed house in Judah.  Here, for the first time, the Gentiles are not merely contributing to the house of God (i.e. Sheba / other kings paying tributes to Israel in the past) – but Cyrus is proactively commissioning Israelites to rebuild the temple, a foreshadowing of the global evangelism involving both Jews and Gentiles in building up the dwelling place of God on earth.  That is the hope we are left with at the end of 2 Chronicles, that not only Israel, but also the Gentiles, are workers of the resurrected global House of the LORD – but not until after being exiled and banished in the wake of the crucifixion of Josiah, a type of Christ.

2 Chronicles 34-36: Gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world

2 Chronicles 31-33: Humbled

Chapter 31

Hezekiah’s focus on the priesthood continues in chapter 31, as (like David in 1 Chronicles 16) he appointed the divisions of the priests and the Levites (v.2-10).  In the wake of the destruction of idolatry (v.1), the response is to replace such idolatry with passion for Jesus, giving thanks and praise (v.2) and giving the portion due to the priests and the Levites that they might give themselves to the Law of the LORD which points to Christ alone (v.3-4), such tithing through the Levites which have not been done for many generations of kings (v.7-8 – from the third month to the seventh month).  Such overflowing blessing which is beyond all that the Levites had needed (v.10)!  This prompted Hezekiah to command the Levites to prepare chambers in the house of the LORD (v.11) to house such contributions, tithes and dedicated things (v.12), a reminder that these are all the LORD’s to begin with – also a symbolic storing of the treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20).

This very much defines the period in which Hezekiah led – doing what was good and right and faithful before the LORD (v.20).  Yet, Hezekiah was not the promised offspring, despite his temporary shortcomings described in chapter 32; he is not the Son spoken of in Psalm 2; like Solomon, they both shine brightly as types of Jesus, representing ages where heaven seemed to kiss earth.  Not yet, not yet.

Chapter 32

The arrogance of Sennacherib is almost a red herring given Hezekiah’s walk with Christ and devotion to the priesthood, as surety that the LORD’s steadfast love is manifested in His victory through Israel against all enemies and odds.  The waters of the Law of the LORD flows from and to Israel (Isaiah 2:2) and Hezekiah’s decision to stop the water of the springs outside the city (v.3) is a conscious act of pronouncing judgment on Sennacherib for failing to recognise the importance of Israel’s identity to Sennacherib’s salvation.  Indeed – for with Israel is the right arm of the LORD, whereas Sennacherib is but an arm of man.

Sennacherib’s blasphemy in v.9-15 is but a repeat of what Israel believes – indeed, that what the other nations believe in are but false idols.  Of course they are incapable to fend themselves against man’s mightiest threats (v.9-15) when their object of faith is dead and lacks the power to protect but only the power to deceive.  Hezekiah’s God is the true deliverer – the story of the exodus preached in Israel and surely in the surrounding nations.  Sennacherib’s ignorance of the Passover and this protected nation is already testimony to this eventual downfall – that this tribal nation’s survival has been and will continue to be entirely dependent on the LORD’s steadfast love to Israel through Jesus.  “How much less will your God deliver you out of my hand!” (v.15, c.f. v.17) is in itself a fabricated lie.

The Israelites’ first response could have been to justify themselves; to seek confidence in their military might.  Yet, Hezekiah and Isaiah’s response is exactly that required and expected of an Israelite – to pray because of such blasphemy and crying to heaven (v.20).  The irony of Sennacherib’s death is that his lie has turned on himself – that in the house of his god he was struck down rather than delivered.  One of LORD’s mere angels is sufficient to cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the Assyrian camp (v.21), and not even the Angel of the LORD Jesus Christ Himself – let alone the angelic army which protects Israel (2 Kings 6:17)?  Once again, the king of Israel is honoured because of Israel sealing its identity as the LORD’s child, as initiated by Hezekiah and Isaiah’s joint plea (v.23) – just as Christ was exalted by the Father (Acts 5:31) and was challenged by the lies of men like Sennacherib (Matthew 27:40).  Even Hezekiah’s pride was merely mentioned as a passing stage in his life, his sin overshadowed by his humility (v.26) which blessed the nation, just as Christ’s humility on the cross provided the gifts of salvation and Holy Spirit to us.

Thus, the sign Hezekiah received (v.24), amongst the various signs he received in the destruction of Sennacherib, were the Babylonian princes’ and envoys’ subject of inquiry.  The “sign that had been done in the land” is the sacrament of God’s love towards Israel, manifested in the Shekinah glory in the House of the LORD.  Yet, God left Hezekiah to himself (v.30), in order to test him and to know all that was in Hezekiah’s heart – whether Jesus was written on his heart, or whether his own name was written on his heart.

Chapter 33

Yet, just as Hezekiah was described to have a life walking with Jesus, his son Manasseh shakes that stability in Israel by his evil leadership once again (v.2) – the mindless sheep of Israel following their sinful king even in rejecting the same LORD Whom Hezekiah lifted up.  Just like Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28) who had similarly sacrificed his offspring as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, a direct threat to the Offspring Who would have brought everlasting to Israel.  Instead, Ahaz and Manasseh choose to adopt the idolatrous practices and abominations of other nations to achieve such victory – Manasseh in particular rejecting the LORD despite receiving direct revelation from Him (v.10), leading him to be chained down like a slave, like an animal (Isaiah 37:29).  Yet, in fulfillment of Solomon’s plea in 2 Chronicles 6, that even a man like Manasseh, if he were to turn back to the LORD, he would be redeemed – v.12-13 is a fulfillment of this.  Manasseh humbled himself before the LORD, and God was moved – His steadfast love expressed in bringing Manasseh back to Jerusalem (v.13).  Only at this stage did Manasseh know that the LORD was God.  As a response in faith, he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the LORD (v.15-17), restoring the altar of the LORD and sacrificing peace and thanksgiving offering.  Judah is to return to serving the LORD, not to sway from the promise of the gospel which Manasseh newly received.

Yet, like how Manasseh has “undone” the work of Hezekiah, so also Amon is another faulty line in the lineage of David threatening the coming of the Son.  He did not humble himself before the LORD, and instead he incurred more and more guilt – bearing a death very similar to Sennacherib’s (chapter 32:21).  However, there was still some ray of light – that the people would reject those who killed Amon (v.25) – and his short reign is thus replaced by young Josiah.

 

2 Chronicles 31-33: Humbled

2 Chronicles 25-27: Leprous Head

Chapter 25

Amaziah’s reign is already earmarked with a mixture of success and failure – while he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, he did not do so with a “whole heart” (v.2).  Yet, his decision to kill his servants who struck down the king his father is indicated as a compliance with the Law in the Book of Moses, so long as the children do not die of their fathers’ sins (v.4) (which does not indicate a rejection of the doctrine of original sin – c.f. Romans 3:23).

Yet, his decision to hire the Ephraimites was an unwise one.  Thankfully he turned to listen to the man of God and discharged the Ephraimites (although they were paid! v.9) and eventually was successful against the men of Seir not with the strength of men but by the LORD’s provision.  However, his decision to hire the Ephraimites, rather than see them join arms as brethren of Israel, has already made its impact – leading to the demise of 3,000 people in Judah and its various cities.  It would appear that although a tragedy this is, the tragedy of what would have happened (v.7) in alliance with the Ephraimites would have been far worse.  The Ephraimites, unlike those aligning with the house of David in Judah, were clearly not with the LORD (v.7) and were men thirsting for war, for blood, and not merely for money (v.13).  In spite of Amaziah’s victory over the men of Seir and the Edomites by the LORD, he still opted to worship the foreign idols which should have been destroyed like their worshippers – yet, just as the LORD has used Ephraim to shame Judah in Amaziah’s mistake, so also Israel was used to defeat Amaziah in response to his idolatry (v.17-24; esp. v. 20).  Indeed, Judah is but a thistle on Lebanon compared to the rest of Israel, compared to a “cedar on Lebanon” or even a “wild beast”.  Without walking with Jesus, Amaziah is but a thistle, ready to be trampled.  By defeating Edom, Amaziah is but a boaster (v.19); had he remembered the victory and glory belonged to the LORD, then King Jehu would have also recognized the rest of Israel to be the thistle, and Judah the cedar – for the LORD is with the house of David.  Yet, King Jehu spits on the house of David, on Judah, on Amaziah – not because Amaziah was walking as a Christian but because of his arrogance, contrary to the spirit of 2 Timothy 3:12.  It was therefore at the house of the sun (Beth-shemesh) where Amaziah’s true face was revealed; and though Judah was the elected tribe, it was defeated on its own ground (v.21, v.23).  Like his father, his life ended in tragedy (v.27-28) – will the lamp in David’s house be slowly extinguished as the light in his lineage continually dims to be akin to the life of non-Christian kings?

Chapter 26

Uzziah, too, walked in Amaziah’s footsteps – a life with Jesus filled with various compromises.  He sought to seek God in the days of Zechariah (v.5), but was struck down for his disobedience to the priesthood (v.16-23) – again highlighting the importance of the prophets and the priests as the crucial identity of Israel.  By the victory of Jesus (v.7), he broke through the wall of Gath (one of the five royal cities of the Philistines – Joshua 13:3), wall of Jabneh and wall of Ashdod (the winepress, building of God and stronghold respectively), all important landmarks in the Philistine geography; as well as against the Arabians in Gurbaal and the Meunites, so much that the Ammonites (v.8) actually paid tribute to Uzziah.  Yet, the remainder of the description of his life spells inevitable destruction – note v.9-15: Uzziah was not surrounded by priests or prophets, but by men of war, building towers and fortifying them; having an awesome army fit for war (v.11-15), all to strengthen Israel in the military sense.  Yet, our role in the world is not that of a warrior, but that of a worshipper first.  Have we yet to meet a person who would dance before the LORD as David did before identifying oneself as a soldier (2 Samuel 6:14)?

Thus, his inevitable downfall is described in v.16-21 as his pride led him to believe that he, like Jesus, can transcend the priest-king divide.  Yet, Amaziah forgets that he is but a shadow and not the same type of son as the Son of God Jesus Christ.  Uzziah should have known as king of Judah that it is not for him to burn incense to the LORD, but this is the role specifically ordained by the Spirit to the sons of Aaron (v.18; c.f. Exodus 27:21).  Had Uzziah understood the significance of the priesthood as a multimedia presentation of the gospel, then he would not have intervened and arrogantly believed that he could stand in the house of the LORD in his own holiness.  Nay, the holy priestly garb, the offerings and the various procedures all point towards the need for the priests to rely on Jesus to gift them the robe of righteousness and salvation.  Thus, the breakout of leprosy on Uzziah’s forehead is a suitable diagnosis of the sin in his heart, which (if not for the priests!) would not be dealt with vicariously in Christ.  Note Exodus 28:

“36  “You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ 37  And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. 38  It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.”

Instead of a gold plate saying “Holy to the LORD” on Aaron’s forehead, the High Priest who shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts, we have Uzziah whose guilt is upon himself and equally marked on his forehead as he illegally burns incense on the altar of incense.  From that day onward, he lived in seclusion – far away from the house of the LORD, as he was reminded of his sinfulness against the LORD’s righteousness. Yet, Uzziah’s life is what characterises that of the climate of the kings of Judah now – forgetting one’s place as one of the kings in the promised lineage of David.  Instead of a king whose kingship is “Holy to the LORD”, we have a line of kings increasingly acting effectively as leprous heads of Israel, leading the entire nation into potential exile just as Uzziah was.

This also goes to explain the variant of Uzziah’s name in 1 Chronicles 3:12 where he is given the name Azariah, the same name as the High Priest around his era.  Uzziah’s attempt to do the work of the High Priest is mocked in 1 Chronicles 3, and laid bare in this chapter, reminding us that there is only one true High Priest.

Chapter 27

Unlike his father, Jotham walked in the way of the LORD and also did not arrogantly enter the temple of the LORD knowing this to be the role of the ordained priesthood.  The tributes from the Ammonites continued to be given – but unlike Amaziah and Uzziah, his ways were ordered before Jesus (v.6), his fights in the name of Christ, and his fortifications belonged not to military might, but to the temple (v.3).  However, his life is described in few words, an indication that the light in David’s house – except by the LORD’s grace – is rare and far in between.

2 Chronicles 25-27: Leprous Head

2 Chronicles 22-24: Preserving the house of David

Chapter 22

The wicked mother Athaliah is the instigator of the potential destruction of the promise and hope of Israel in her attempt to destroy all the royal family of the house of Judah.  This begins with her son Ahaziah, in her marriage with Jehoram – and unfortunately Ahaziah walked in the ways of the house of Ahab (v.3), in the counsel of those in this wicked house (v.4-5).  Rather than instilling the fear of the LORD, the knowledge of the gospel, into the hearts of the neighbouring nations, he would rather join in alliance with Ahab’s son Jehoram to make war against Syria.  It is therefore righteous and in God’s ordinance that Jehu son of Nimshi should destroy the house of Ahab and Ahaziah alongside with it (v.9).  However, this is not the same as destroying the royal house of David, which was Athaliah’s intent (v.10), for Ahaziah had a son Joash (who was not yet able to rule v.9, v.11).

It is in God’s providence that Joash is protected from the murderous intent of Athaliah and that the lamp in the house of David is not extinguished – and this is done by the hand of Ahaziah’s sister Jehoshabeath (oath of Jehovah), wife of a priest Jehoiada (knowledge of the LORD), again the preservation of the house of David initiated not by mere man, nor by mere king, but by the ordained priesthood.  Joash was therefore hidden in the house of God whilst Athaliah the whore reigned free, just as Christ was hidden in the house of God – known to those faithful to Him – awaiting the day when He would glorify the Father and display the Triune glory in fullness on the cross and destroy the whore once and for all (Revelation 17).

Chapter 23

Just like the scene of the wise men Matthew 2, Jehoiada with Azariah (whom Jehovah helps) (son of Jeroham (cherished)), Ishmael (whom God hears) (son of Jehohanan (whom God gave)), Azariah (son of Obed (serving)), Maaseiah (work of the LORD) (son of Adaiah (adorned by Jehovah)) and Elishaphat (whom God judges) (son of Zichri (memorable)) together gathered the Levites from all the cities of Judah and came to Jerusalem to announce the coming of the true king.  These are clearly men who looked forward to the Promised Seed and saw in Joash the need to overthrow Athaliah’s mad rule, Joash being the only hope and lineage from whom the Promised Seed shall come.  This is indeed a literal keeping/guarding of the law and covenant until the day of Christ’s first coming (c.f. Genesis 2:15 original Hebrew interpretation), as we see the synonymous nature of protecting Joash as if protecting the LORD Himself (v.6)!  These were men who understood what the Sabbath truly meant – an act of worship and not a secular piece of work to further one’s own kingdom (c.f. Luke 6:1-5); thus they fulfilled the true meaning of the Sabbath not by taking “rest”, but by achieving the promised rest in protecting the king of the house of David.

It is therefore a beautiful comparison in v.11-15, the imagery of the anointed, protected and elected king Joash from the line of David (with much song and dance!) contrasted to Athaliah’s madness and eventual death (v.13-15).  Therefore Jehoiada, from the protection of the king in his early youth, to the king’s anointing was very much the picture of the John the Baptist was to Christ, making the way straight for the king’s headship over the kingdom.  His covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the LORD’s people (v.16) is a restoration of the status quo set down in David’s and Solomon’s day.  Like the period of Asa, Israel once again went through a reformation of its identity (v.17-18), reminded time and time again the importance of the house of David and the lineage of priests in presenting a multimedia presentation of the true King to come.  They should all know that the peace achieved after Athaliah’s death (v.21) was but a short one, a mere taste of the everlasting peace only achievable by the destroyer of the serpent’s head.

Chapter 24

However, it was foreboding that all the work and the covenant was kept by Jehoiada – but not Joash.  Joash was only a type of the foretold King, but bore hardly any quality similar to that of Christ.  Only during the days of Jehoiada that he worked to restore the house of the LORD and re-introduced the tax initiated by Moses in the wilderness (Exodus 30:12-14) as a reminder of the people’s need to focus on the House of the LORD (which was the tabernacle, the sanctuary, in Moses’ time) which defines the entire nation.  So the national dedication of the LORD’s offering was pleasing (v.8-14) and worked towards the proper reparation of the house of the LORD as well as utensils for serving in the house of the LORD (v.14), with burnt offerings offered in the days of Jehoiada’s leadership.  However, it is apparent that Joash’s heart was merely skin-deep in his love for Jesus; where Jehoiada focused not on the pomp and presentation of the House (possibly a reason why the Levites did not act quickly under Jehoiada’s leadership – v.5-6), he compensated in his spiritual influence over the kingdom that all would offer burnt offerings and provide wise advice to the king to prevent him defecting from his role as king in the house of David.  Yet, his death led to inevitable trouble (v.17) as the heart of the king was not grounded in the Word, nor the true meaning of the glorious physicality of the temple, and instead he was led astray by the princes of Judah to abandon the house of the LORD.

Joash’s eventual murder of Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada (forgetting the kindness of Jehoiada v.22 who had preserved Joash lest he be murdered by Athaliah) is a picture of the chosen nation Israel crucifying our LORD Jesus, solidifying the truth that Israel is not an elect nation due to its purity or virtue.  Rather, Israel was elected to display itself as a type of the sinner of the world, and Jesus the creator (with the Father and the Spirit) being crucified by the rebellious created.  Thus, the irony that Ahaziah and Jehoram’s invasion of Syria is brought back on its head as the Syrians return to destroy the princes of Judah and execution of Joash despite the Syrians having come with few men (v.24).  Although Jehoiada preserved Joash under the LORD’s direction, it was also His discretion to destroy Joash for not walking with Christ and for walking in the ways of his father Ahaziah and grandmother Athaliah.  However, his destruction now is the the vengeance of the LORD (at the hand of non-Israelites – the Syrians, Ammonites and Moabites c.f. v. 26 – a picture foretelling the Gentiles being led by the LORD instead of the Israelites themselves) and His justice truly served, as the house of David is still preserved in Amaziah (v.27).  The preservation of the house of David would not have been possible had Athaliah murdered Joash at the outset, yet it is in the LORD’s mercy that He should continue his steadfast love for David’s descendants, despite the Israelites’ continual relapses into rebellion.

 

2 Chronicles 22-24: Preserving the house of David