Esther 1-4: Esther and the King

It is typical to see Esther simply as a book about a woman coming out of her young shell of faith to stand firm and risk death at the hands of her otherwise tyrannical husband.  However, it is also one of the core books which firmly portray by contrast the relationship between the true husband and the Church, as well as a rare example of Christ being portrayed typologically by a woman.

These events take place approximately in the 5th century BC, a number of years prior to the events in Nehemiah after the events of Ezra.

Chapter 1

Note the immediate contrast between the struggle of the Israelites in Ezra and Nehemiah and the lavishness of the kingdom of Ahasuerus in the first chapter of Esther.  V.1-5 is almost a mockery of the state of Israel and its traditions – a seven day feast (held in the court of the garden and the king’s palace – v.5) which is comparable to the Feast of Booths described in Leviticus 23:34-39, except that it is not bookended by solemnity in remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ; rather, Ahasuerus’ pomposity is very much summarised in v.7-8 – “There is no compulsion” and each man can do as each man desired.  Note also the distinction between the feast which was for men (v.1-8) and the one versed description of the feast for women held by Queen Vashti (meaning “beautiful“) in v.9 where the women only celebrated in the palace that “belonged” to King Ahasuerus.  This verb “belonged” will be a common refrain throughout these chapters, as is the undermining of women a common theme.

Noticeably v.10 begins with “on the seventh day”, which is a repeat of Genesis where the LORD rested on the seventh day to enjoy His creation.  Yet, the opening chapters of Esther 1 is a direct mockery of Genesis 1; where the LORD spent seven days to provide a beautiful creation for man and woman’s joint enjoyment, the king’s feast culminated in bringing Queen Vashti to “show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at”.  Paul Blackham states in his Book by Book guide on Esther:

“The Garden of Eden is called the Garden of God in the Bible (Ezekiel 28:13; 31:8-9), so Xerxes holds his seven day celebration in the Garden of Xerxes for everybody in the capital Susa!  Xerxes seems to position himself as (at the very least) the mirror of the Living God on earth.

The pride of Xerxes is also shown by the way he decorated his ‘garden’.  His blue and purple linen seems to echo the courtyard of the tabernacle of the LORD described in Exodus 38.  The temple of Solomon in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians about 150 years earlier, so there must have been records of the architecture and furnishings of the temple.  His use of the pillars with silver rings also indicates this kind of knowledge and symbolism.  He formed a pavement of precious metals and jewels (v.6).  If we remember the banquet with God in Exodus 24:9-11 or the throne room of heaven in Revelation 4:1-6 we get an insight into the way that Xerxes viewed himself.  If we remember that the book of Daniel had been written 100 years before we can understand how Xerxes got so much knowledge of heavenly realities.  A book of such literary and theological significance, written by such a high official in the empire, would certainly have been in the royal library.  Daniel’s work included a vision of the throne room of heaven (Daniel 7:9-14), so it is not too much to imagine that Xerxes saw himself as a Son of Man figure over all the nations.”

Such objectification of Vashti, though beautiful, is a far cry from the personal intimacy of the LORD who not only looks on us but embraces us and exalts us.  The LORD does not require Eve, nor does he require His ancient church Adam and Eve, to celebrate in a room separate from the garden and the king’s palace.  Contrarily, He celebrates with us in His garden of Eden, the ancient prototypical Temple.  Unsurprisingly, the king’s anger and drunkenness (c.f. Proverbs 20:1, 23:29-35) is atypical of and a direct contrast to the LORD’s patience and steadfast love.

As if this were not enough, these “wise men” (v.13) who were versed in law and judgment decided to brand Vashti as a poor example of how women should behave towards their husbands and immediately replace her with someone else.  It is heavily implied that their edict is unreasonable, and given that Vashti had upheld her duty towards the king and was an upright queen by way of the brief mention in v.9, their method of stifling her voice is most concerning when compared with the LORD’s edict in Ephesians 5:22-33.  Rather than love and die for her wife, Ahasuerus decided to oppress her and drive her away.

Further, this oppressive edict serves as a background and platform for Esther when she enters the scene.  Will she be like Vashti, beautiful but unloved and ultimately rebellious – in many ways similar to the old Israel (save that the king here is atypical of the LORD)?  Or will she be a new example for the women of Persia and Medes as a follower of Jesus?

Chapter 2

What nonsense that the king should listen to his advisors to replace the queen (v.1-4) – and what contrast it is that the LORD should never forsake His firstborn Israel in spite of His love for the Gentiles (Romans 11:11).  Yet, it is also this foolish plan (c.f. 2 Timothy 4:3) that the LORD used to further His glory, by introducing Mordecai (meaning “little man“), the uncle of Esther (meaning “a star“, the Persian name of Hadassah, meaning “myrtle” – a type of flowering plant, a family of trees and shrubs that are usually evergreen; myrtle plants often produce aromatic oils and are used in spices (e.g. cloves), and seems to indicate fertility and usefulness in Scripture – c.f. Isaiah 41:19; 55:13, Nehemiah 8:15, Zechariah 1:8, growing on the hills about Jerusalem).  Here is the little man of Israel, taken into captivity and living in Persia to bring up his cousin Esther (v.5-7) – a man who is godly, mindful of the rebuilding of Israel and was mentioned once in Ezra 2:2.  The first description of Esther is that she is immediately contrasted with Vashti – where Vashti is a beautiful queen who hosted a banquet for fellow women, Esther is a star who is also beautiful to look at but with a torn past of deceased parents (v.7).  Although Mordecai commanded Esther to not make known her people or kindred (v.10, repeated at v.20), this is firmly distinguished from his later rebuke in Esther 4:12-14 where she is to no longer remain silent.  This is often seen as an example of Mordecai commanding Esther to be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove (Matthew 10:16), allowing Esther to enter into the realms of Ahasuerus and be the example that Vashti was not, securing the safety of the future of the Israelites.  Mordecai had a very firm understanding of his position under Ahasuerus’ rule, and did not seek to destroy his kingdom; rather, through His understanding of Romans 13, he upholds Ahasuerus (v.21-23) – though the king’s two eunuchs were angry with the king. Notice how Mordecai was “sitting at the king’s gate” (v.19, 21), the gate being a place of public government and judgment in Scripture (c.f. Genesis 23:10-20, 34:20-24; Deuteronomy 21:19, 22:15, 25:7; Ruth 4:11; Job 29:7; Lamentations 5:14).  This may indicate that Mordecai was appointed as a judge or government official, possibly due to Esther’s coronation, another example of the LORD’s care and love for Mordecai and his and Esther’s house – enabling him to continue to preserve Esther’s interests.  Although Esther is the one who reveals the plot, she does so “in the name of Mordecai” (v.22) – clarifying that glory is due to Mordecai and not Esther.  These men were hanged on the gallows (v.23) – or more accurately, as the Hebrew puts it, “hanged on a tree” (see King James’ translation) – akin to the Hebrew curse under Deuteronomy 21.

Mordecai also seems to have harboured, in his own heart, the possibility that Esther is the rescuer of the Israelites should anything detrimental arise (c.f. Esther 4:14). Perhaps the Septuagint version of Esther, which provides several additions (including a prologue which describes Mordecai receiving a vision of a potential clash between the Israelites and its enemies), prompted Mordecai to prepare for such detriment.  The prologue is as follows:

“In the second year when Artaxerxes the Great was king, on the first day of Nisa, Mar- dochaios the son of Iairos son of Semeias son of Kisaios, from the tribe of Beniamin, saw a dream. 2He was a Judean man dwelling in the city of Susa, a great man, serving in the court of the king. 3Now he was of the group of exiles which Nabou- chodonosor, king of Babylon, took captive from Ie- rousalem with Iechonias, the king of Judea. 4And this was his dream: Look! Shouts and confusion! Thunder and earthquake! Chaos upon the earth! 5Look! Two great dragons came forward, both ready to fight, and a great noise arose from them! 6And at their sound every nation prepared for war, to fight against a nation of righteous people. 7Look! A day of darkness and gloom! Affliction and anguish! Oppression and great chaos upon the earth! 8And the whole righteous nation was in chaos, fearing the evils that threatened themselves, and they were ready to perish. 9Then they cried out to God, and from their cry, as though from a small spring, there came a great river, abundant water; 10light, and the sun rose, and the lowly were exalt- ed and devoured those held in esteem. 11Then when Mardochaios, who had seen this dream and what God had determined to do, awoke, he had it on his heart and sought until nightfall to under-stand it in every detail.

12 And Mardochaios took his rest in the court- yard with Gabatha and Tharra, the two eunuchs of the king who guarded the courtyard. 13He both overheard their deliberations and inquired into their ambitions, and learned that they were prepar- ing to lay hands on Artaxerxes the king, and he told the king about them. 14Then the king interro- gated the two eunuchs, and when they confessed, they were led away. 15And the king wrote these things in the record, and Mardochaios wrote con- cerning these things. 16And the king ordered Mar- dochaios to serve in the court and gave to him gifts for these things. 17But Haman son of Hama- dathos, a Bougean, was highly esteemed by the king, and he sought to harm Mardochaios and his people because of the two eunuchs of the king.”

Separately, it helps to compare her with Daniel (c.f. chapters 6-7 of Daniel) as Daniel and his friends were in a position where they could get on with obeying the law of the LORD, but Esther’s situation was directly forbidden (c.f. Deuteronomy 7:3-4 – marriage to a pagan man), and would make her a difficult witness.

It is peculiar that the 12 months of beautifying included six months of myrrh (one of the ingredients of the oil of holy ointment – Exodus 30:23, used also for embalming and preparation of the body either for love – Psalm 45:8; Proverbs 7:17; Song of Songs 1:13, 3:6, 4:6, 14, 5:1, 5, 13, or for burial – Matthew 2:11, John 19:39) and six months of spices and ointments – as if purifying the women for a holy act of divine marriage.  Esther’s charm is not lost on the king as she plays the game safely under the direction of Hegai the king’s eunuch, and is finally elected as the new queen (v.15-18).  Strangely, v.17 describes the king as loving Esther more than all the women – a verb not often associated with the king, given his failure to understand how marriage should work like Ephesians 5:22-33.  Yet, by contrast, the verbs associated to Esther do not fare much better – she is a woman often the object of other people’s initiations (she was adopted (v.7), she was taken into the king’s palace (v.8), she did not make knkown her people (v.10), she asked for nothing except whatever was advised to her (v.15), she was taken to the king (v.16)).  Her actions, so far, are mostly passive – indicating her vulnerability to the circumstances around her.  It is not until a later stage that Esther begins to take her own initiative to stand firm as a type of Christ the Mediator.

Chapter 3

Yet, in spite of Mordecai’s actions to protect the king, Haman the Agagite (perhaps one of the Amalekites – c.f. Numbers 24:7, Deuteronomy 25:17-19, 1 Samuel 15) gets promoted.  Saul’s failure to remove the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15) certainly laid the groundwork for Agag, the king of the Amaelkites, to live and prosper against the LORD’s command, the consequences of his sin creating this tricky situation for Mordecai to confront.  It is certainly peculiar that Mordecai should wish to protect the king (perhaps to lay the groundwork for Esther’s influence, since Mordecai warned the king through Esther) yet does not wish to bow down and pay homage to Haman – despite the king’s decree (v.1-3).  This is not taken lightly (v.3), filling Haman (the “magnificent“) with fury.  By Mordecai’s firmness in his faith, he was seen as an example of the Israelites – in many ways his act of rebellion being comparable to that of ex-Queen Vashti’s act of rebellion seen as an example of the women of Persia and Medes.  However, unlike Vashti who was eventually replaced, the LORD will continue to preserve the remnant of the Israelites despite the ridiculous genocidal decree (v.7-11) that Haman conjured (Genesis 45:7).  It is significant that the king grants Haman the signet ring (v.10, 13) – for without this ring, Haman could not act on behalf of the king.  Yet, it is more significant that Haman’s plot does not come to pass until the 12th month (rather than the first month upon casting lots), providing the Israelites one year to prepare for this incoming persecution (c.f. Proverbs 16:33).  What irony that Haman sets out to destroy the very man who uncovered the plot to destroy the king (v.9), such confusion which is lost on Haman and the king as they ironically sit down and enjoy their drink whilst the city of Susa was simply bewildered (v.15).

Chapter 4

Such a ridiculous edict is met with an appropriate response of the Israelites’ weeping and covering of sackcloth and ashes (v.3; c.f. Genesis 37:34, 42:35; 2 Samuel 3:31 – Matthew 11:21, and Jonah 3:8 – as a sign of repentance; Mordecai’s actions especially modeled after Daniel’s – see Daniel 9:3-19).  Yet, note the queen’s response is quite different.  Hers is an emotion of distress (v.4) – but she is far removed from Mordecai and the other Israelites’ scene and demise, as she had not voiced her heritage openly in the courts of Ahasuerus.  Even when Mordecai pleaded for the queen to beg his favour – this same Mordecai who had brought up Esther and who Esther owes her life to; the same Mordecai who disclosed to Hathach that Esther is of the same people who are being persecuted (v.8); the same Mordecai who would be murdered relentlessly by Haman’s edict, meeting the same end as the other Israelites in Ahasuerus’ reign – Esther’s response is cold (v.11):

“All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”

In other words – either the Israelites, including Mordecai, dies or Esther dies!  Mordecai immediately salvages this by rebuking Esther (v.12-14) and reminding her that even if Esther were to stay silent, “relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but [Esther] and [Esther’s house] will perish.”  What faith and trust that the LORD will indeed continue to rescue Israel His remnant (c.f. 2 Kings 19:4-31; Ezra 9; Isaiah 10:20-22, 37:4-32) through various possibilities not fatalistically predetermined through Esther.  Paul Blackham quotes Derek Prime’s “Unspoken Lessons about the Unseen God” (Evangelical Press, Darlington, 2001) pg. 20-21 which states:

“…crucial to the background of the book of Esther is the conflict described in God’s words to the serpent, the devil’s instrument, in Genesis 3:15… Satan’s activity is traceable throughout the Bible.  His tracks may be discerned, together with the aliases he employs – in this case, that of Haman.  Satan, the enemy of souls, was endeavouring to destroy the Jews, the people through whose seed the Messiah was to be born into the world, in order to make null and void God’s promise of a Redeemer… God was committed to preserving the Jewish people so that from them salvation might go out into the ends of the earth… God’s protection of his people was the protection of the Offspring of the woman though which he preserved and carried on his plan of redemption.”

Mordecai simply trusted in this Promised Seed, and knew clearly that whatever Satan’s plan was, the prophesied Offspring of Adam will protect His church of all times.

Esther’s response is finally one of initiation (v.15-17) – for the first time in these chapters, she proactively acted for God’s kingdom, commanding Mordecai to gather the Jews and hold a fast on Esther’s behalf (including her young women (v.16) which indicates that Esther’s quiet faith has also evangelised to others in Ahasuerus’ court to join the Ancient Church), for Esther may perish (v.16), although she is expecting a victorious outcome as a type of Christ the One who – to Esther – will be victorious from his mighty feat of resurrection by the third day (v.16).

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Esther 1-4: Esther and the King

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

Ezra 1-3: His love endures forever

Chapter 1

Ezra immediately begins after the Books of Chronicles, and the redemptive hope that Israel awaited for (whilst it stood under the captivity of Babylon) was found in Cyrus – a Gentile, a Persian king.  It is from Ezra that it becomes ever more apparent that the forward looking faith of the Old Testament saints was, as Abraham believed, not in the physical land of promise but in the new creation where He is preparing a place for us (John 14:2).  Isaiah prophesied concerning this anointed shepherd (Isaiah 44:28, 45:1), typological of Christ the Shepherd; Jeremiah prophesied concerning the end of the captivity, leading up to Cyrus’ rule (Jeremiah 25:12, 29:11).  Thus, in God’s specified timing of 70 years of captivity, the restoration begins not with the external infrastructure of the elected nation, but begins from inward out – from the house of the LORD outwards (v.3-4).  Thus the resources begin to be inherited, by the meek from the strong, as symbolically brought by Sheshbazzar – the prince of Judah also known to be “born of Babel”, a mark of our captivity now destroyed.

Chapter 2

As one can note from Ezra 2, the numbers of Israel have waned drastically under the captivity of Nebuchadnezzar (v.1-35), followed by the Levites (v.40-42), the temple servants (v.43-54), the sons of Solomon’s servants (v.55-57) (both temple servants and sons of Solomon’s servants being 392 people – v.58), the unidentifiable Israelites (v.59-63 – subject to the consultation of the Urim and Thummim, “light and perfection” / “revelation and truth“, to ensure that these are truly the once-exiled Israelites).  The whole assembly was no longer as glorious as it once was in the days of Moses (v.64-66; the resident aliens alone were 153,600 in Solomon and David’s day, c.f. 2 Chronicles 2:17).  In spite of this, the theme of redemption is not one of quantity but that of an identity shift – for Zerubbabel no longer needs to carry that name, and no one needs to carry a Chaldean / Babylonian name in slavery anymore – for the people are now, after a long 70 years, living “in their towns” (v.1, 70), which sandwiches what is otherwise a depressing census in between.  What joy to return to our Father’s house, despite being born in slavery to sin and given a name which is emblematic of our godless past, as we look forward to receiving new names in His eternal household (Revelation 2:17, 3:12).

Chapter 3

Thus, the re-unification begins in the seventh month, the month of beginnings – the month of the Day of Atonement – Tishri (seventh month of the ecclesiastical year).  It has been a while that the children of Israel were gathered as one man (c.f. Judges 20) to Jerusalem; just as these Babylonian captives were scattered and united in their fathers’ houses, so they are now gathered together as one Church – a glorious shadow of us being gathered to the Father’s house in new creation, as part of the grander scheme of an eternal co-existence with Christ as His unified Body.  So, by the hands of Jeshua (whom Jehovah helps), son of Jozadak (whom Jehovah has made just), and Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel (asked of God), the altar of the God of Israel was re-built – re-instituting the law of the burnt offerings (v.2-3), the Feast of Booths (v.4) and the other offerings and appointed feasts (v.5).

It is important that this occurred before the foundation of the temple of the LORD was laid (v.6).  Although the foundation was built first with the Tabernacle (Exodus 26) and the Temple (2 Chronicles 8:16), just as Israel was established before the Temple was built, so there is a turning point here.  It is more apparent now that the sacrifices are central to the identity of their renewed unity and restoration after captivity – and that such could be done before the restoration of the Levitical priesthood (v.8).  Finally, the chapter ends on the refrain – “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” – however, this refrain adds “toward Israel” at the end, an addition which is excluded in other passages (1 Chronicles 16:34, 41; 2 Chronicles 5:13, 7:3, 7:6, 20:21; c.f. Psalms 136).

In spite of the restored glory of Israel throughout the first three chapters of Ezra, it is met with a varied response – with sorrow by the older generation (who have seen the first Temple) and with joy by the newer (v.12).  It appears, however, the catalyst to the weeping of the older generation is the laying down of the foundation (as opposed to the direct comparison of the first Temple and the restored Temple), possibly reminding them of the glorious pre-captive days of the first Temple.  Although not touched on by the book of Ezra, Haggai provides much insight in chapter 1 (regarding the state of the house of the LORD as the people busy themselves in their own houses, reminding them that the house of the LORD is of equal if not greater priority), and chapter 2 (v.1-9):

“In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say,  ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?  Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts,  according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.  For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.  And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts.  The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts.  The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’”

Indeed, the “latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former” – referring not to the renewed temple, but rather to the true glory of Christ Jesus, shaking “the heavens and the earth” – so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, from both Israel and the Gentiles.

Therefore, Israel is no longer filled with the arrogance that once plagued the final generation before the Babylonian captivity – for the new blood rejoices in the central multimedia representation of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, whilst the old blood is reminded of their sins which caused this captivity, which led to the scatter and exile.  While the generations stand together in worship, the Church is at its weakest – its sins laid bare, and yet Israel should sing ever more proudly that the LORD’s steadfast love endures forever.  However, the His love is not merely for Israel – but for the Gentiles too, as exampled by Cyrus’ fundamental involvement in this restoration.

Ezra 1-3: His love endures forever

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 28-30: Renewing the Kingdom

Chapter 28

The civil unrest in Israel is summed up in the words of prophet Oded – “Behold, because the LORD, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven.  And now you intend to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as your slaves.  Have you not sins of your own against the LORD your God?  Now hear me, and send back the captives from your relatives whom you have taken, for the fierce wrath of the LORD is upon you.” (v.9-11; and see v.19).  Ahaz the son of Jotham walked “in the ways of the kings of Israel” (v.2) – yet, the LORD used Israel to enact judgment on Judah (v.5-8).  It is therefore clear that the covenant made with the house of David, leading Judah, means that the Davidic lineage is held to a higher responsibility for upholding the promise of the Messiah – especially in the actions of the king.  It does not matter in the same way that Israel is making metal images for the Baals; making offerings in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom and burning one’s sons as an offering; for it is the house of David which should define the whole of Israel.  If the king of Israel falls, the king of Judah should uphold the Christ-like example.  This is why the level of civil unrest in this chapter outweighs all that had gone before it.

In response to Oded’s proclamation, Azariah (whom Jehovah helps), Berechiah (blessed by Jehovah), Jehizkiah (Jehovah strengthens) and Amasa (burden) complied with the words of the prophet (v.12-15), and grace was bestowed on the people of Israel, that they were brought to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the city of palm trees.  What shame, that the house of David forgot the Wisdom by Whom Solomon walked (Proverbs 8), He who upholds the true king of Israel; instead, the chiefs of Ephraim reminded Judah of this fundamental truth.  Neither the king of Israel, nor the king of Judah, are the focus of this chapter – but the followers of Christ, the chiefs and the prophet and those who remember the grace of God. Even Ahaz’s petition to the king of Assyria for help has turned into an opportunity for Tiglath-pileser to exploit Judah’s predicament – all within the LORD’s allowance (v.19), to humble Judah, even so far as to remind Ahaz that he is but a shadow of the Elected King Jesus, and that the house of the LORD (v.21) is also but a shadow of the LORD’s heavenly dwelling, its portion bearing no significance if even the kings of Judah / Israel have forsaken its significance.

Yet, the LORD’s methods of humbling Ahaz have not been received with a circumcised heart, and Ahaz’s idolatry deepens as he sacrifices to the gods of the neighbouring nations – a king who does not even deserve to be buried in the tombs of the kings of Israel (v.27).

Chapter 29

Yet, Hezekiah turned the tide back to Christ (v.2), following Christ the way his forefather David did.  While Ahaz gathered together the vessels of the temple, shutting the doors of the temple and making himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem (chapter 28:22-24) – in blasphemy to the temple’s true purpose, Hezekiah opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them (v.3).  He also re-initiated the Levitical order (v.4-11), re-confirming the role of the king of Judah in keeping this covenant with the LORD, whose steadfast love endures forever.  The very fact that he prioritizes the reparation of the temple and the utter importance of the priests are both indicators that Hezekiah understands fully what Israel, as a nation, is in God’s eye – and their purpose as priesthood to other nations (Exodus 19:6), a role sorely forgotten time and time again.  What the priests have done in v.12-19 are a renewal of what Ahaz the Christless king has done; just as Christ will renew our bodies, the temples of the LORD (1 Corinthians 6:19) through the renewal and resurrection of his own (John 2:21).  The raping of Judah by its own and by the various nations (Edomites, Philistines, Assyrians, etc) is but a shadow of the crucifixion of Christ, before His glorious resurrection and renewal of His body in Hezekiah’s reformation.  The sons of the anointed Kohathites, Merarites, Gershonites and the sons of Elizaphan (whom God protects), and of the sons of Asaph (collector), all special clans of the Levites (c.f. their roles in Numbers).  These chosen Levites therefore cleaned the temple, and taking all uncleanness to the brook Kidron (v.16), the symbolic place of David’s flight (2 Samuel 15:23) and also the place of testing as Christ walked to the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1) – it is here that Christ was truly tested and made his decision to walk in accordance with the Father’s will, where our uncleanness was forever removed.

The beauty continues, as the temple restoration could not be complete without making a sevenfold sin offering for the kingdom, sanctuary and for Judah (v.21); the blood of the bulls, rams, lambs thrown against the altar (v.22) with the goats being the sin offering (in the manner of Leviticus 16:21 – the Day of Atonement).  With sacrifice, comes worship – our first response to Christ’s work on the cross, not being one of working to gain his trust or to gain his love, but a response of His service towards us, His love for us.  Worship (v.25-30) – to sing praises with gladness, the whole assembly worshipping (v.28) until the burnt offering was finished – the entire act edified as the kingdom truly rejoiced despite Ahaz’s idolatry in chapter 28.  This worship in conjunction with the national burnt offering, the effective Day of Atonement, was immediately followed by thank offerings (v.31-36), so much that like the day of Solomon, overflowed beyond all expectations (c.f. 2 Chronicles 7:7).

Chapter 30

Despite Manasseh’s attempt to unite Israel (v.1-9, 12) under the Passover, taking people back to the basics, back to the day when Israel could be called a large nomadic tribe (c.f. Exodus) no longer under the yoke of the Egyptians but now bondservants of the LORD, the invitation to unite was met with scorn (v.10).  However, some humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem (v.11).

Because of the suddenness of the reformation of Hezekiah (chapter 29:36), the priests and the Levites were ashamed at the speed of which the humbled Christians acted (v.15, v.17; c.f. chapter 29:34).  Yet, their consecration was set aside, for many had not cleansed themselves but rushed to be united with the house of David (v.18-19), rushed to set his heart to seek God (v.19).  The people were thus healed (v.20), after a sequence of renewing the temple, of renewing the sacrifice, of renewing the worship, of uniting the circumcised in the heart under the banner of the Passover Lamb – all but a shadow of the unity and renewal we will receive on the day of the Wedding Supper (Revelation 19:6-9).  Such rejoicing, that it extended beyond the 7 days for another 7 days (v.23), such unprecedented worship and healing – an indication of the everlasting healing by the leaves of the tree of life (Revelation 22:2) and such glorious everlasting Sabbath rest, for the first time typified from the time of Solomon (v.26), ending on the positive note:

Then the priests and the Levites arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard, and their prayer came to his holy habitation in heaven.(v.27)

 

2 Chronicles 28-30: Renewing the Kingdom

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