Key Texts: 1 Chron. 34; Jeremiah 21-22
A Touch of Good, an Avalanche of Evil
Josiah and his four sons were listed in connection with the first lesson of this quarter. That list is repeated here as a reference point for this lesson.
Josiah’s sons: 1 Chron. 3:15 lists Josiah’s four sons in this order:
- 1) Johanan (oldest, but mentioned only here in Scripture)
- Shallum = Jehoahaz
But the sons did not rule in their birth order. Here is the record, additional names included:
- Jehoahaz (Josiah’s #4) = Shallum; reigned 3 months (608)
- Jehoiakim (Josiah’s #2) = Eliakim; reigned 11 years (608-597)
- Jehoiachin (Josiah’s grandson, son of #2, Jehoiakim) = Joiachin = Jeconiah = Coniah; reigned 3 months (597). According to the Hebrew Massoretic text, he was 8 years old when he began to reign. But a comparison of 2 Kings 24:8 with the Septuagint (Greek) of 2 Chron. 36:9 indicates that he was 18 years old when he began to reign.
- Zedekiah (Josiah’s #3) = Mattaniah; reigned 11 years (not the brother of Jehoiachin as in 2 Chron. 36:10; cf. 1 Chron. 3:16 where it is stated that Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) had a son named Zedekiah; 2 Kings 24:17 rightly identifies Zedekiah as uncle to Jehoiachin. NOTE: Ezekiel dates his prophecies (8:1; 20:1, etc.) to the exile of Jehoiachin, not to the reign of Zedekiah. In 2 Kings 25:27 Jehoiachin is still referred to as king.
The alternating pattern of good king-bad king, mentioned in last week’s lesson is further amplified in this lesson. Josiah led out in a great reform, but was unable to pass on that experience to his sons. Furthermore, Josiah’s gradual awakening to his spiritual responsibilities is a stunning illustration of the “low road” approach in the Old Testament. Note these steps and the accompanying questions, based on 2 Chronicles 34:
1. Josiah’s reign began when he was eight years of age, but he began to seek the Lord only at age sixteen (34:1-3a). Question: What was Josiah doing “religiously” during the first eight years of his reign? Apparently he only began to worship Yahweh after eight years as king.
2. At age twenty, in the twelfth year of his reign, Josiah begans an active program of reform in Jerusalem and beyond (34:3b). Question: Why did it take four years of Bible studies before Josiah began to put his faith into practice?
3. At age twenty-six, in the eighteenth year of his reign, Josiah sent workers to repair the temple. Question: What was the status of Israel’s central shrine if it took King Josiah ten years to “discover” that the temple was not in use?
4. During the temple clean-up, the workers “found” the scroll of the law (34:14-15), mostly likely a copy of Deuteronomy. Question: When the law scroll was read to the king, why was the king so was shocked to learn of the curses that were to come on Judah for disobeying the law? Was he unfamiliar with the law up to that point? Apparently so.
5. The prophetess Huldah apparently knew about the law for she was prepared to emphasize the seriousness of the coming disaster (34:19-28). Question: If serious repentance on the part of the king resulted in a postponement of the disaster until after his death (34:26-28), could continued repentance on the part of his descendants postpone the disaster further, perhaps even indefinitely?
Note: Jeremiah 26 introduces the question of conditionality, a matter that we will take up seriously in Lesson #7. There, early in the reign of Jehoiakim – he began his reign in 608 some thirteen years after Josiah’s reform of 621 – Jeremiah promises that repentance and reformation could, in fact, reverse the judgment: “Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you” (NRSV). The KJV uses the word “repent” – in the KJV Old Testament, God repents more often than anyone else. That idea is so shocking to the Calvinist mind that the NIV softens the word to “relent.”
The point is that the promise of reversal is clear, and comes after the statement of judgment is declared. Yet even the book of 2 Kings is ambivalent, for though it records the promise of relief as a result of Josiah’s righteous reign (2 Kings 22:20), it still sees the results of Manasseh’s wickedness as an irrevokable judgment: “Still the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.” (2 Kings 23:26, NRSV).
Remarkably, this statement of irrevokable judgment stemming from Manasseh’s wickedness immediately follows the statement that Josiah was the best king ever: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him” (2 Kings 23:25, NRSV). It is worth noting that the same book includes an equally exuberant and expansive claim for Hezekiah as the best king ever: “He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5, NRSV).
It is also worth noting that the author of Kings seems to know nothing of Manasseh’s repentance as recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:10-20. In the Chronicler’s account of Judah’s kings, the exile is never attributed directly to Manasseh, probably because it records Manasseh’s repentance. Jeremiah 15:4, however, seems to adopt the argument from Kings that the punishment on Judah came as the result of Manasseh’s (irrevokable) sins.
Further Questions for Discussion
1. Question: Conditional Prophecy. How does the possibility of “conditionality” effect the value of “prophecy” as predictive?
Note: As a result of the 1844 Disappointment, Ellen White makes this striking statement about conditionality:
The angels of God in their messages to men represent time as very short. Thus it has always been presented to me. It is true that time has continued longer than we expected in the early days of this message. Our Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped. But has the Word of the Lord failed? Never! It should be remembered that the promises and the threatenings of God are alike conditional. – MS 4, 1883, unpublished until Evangelism, 695 , and then more completely in 1 SM 67 .
Ellen White apparently sensed that “conditionality” was a difficult concept for devout conservatives. This quotation was never published in her lifetime, indeed there is no evidence that it was even sent to the one who raised the question about the delay. The whole manuscript lay stillborn in the White Estate Files until it was excerpted in the book Evangelism (1946) then reproduced in full in 1958 in Selected Messages, Book 1.
2. Question: Contradictions and Prophetic Overstatement. What goes missing from the message of Scripture if we attempt too hard to eliminate all potential contradictions? Is there a place for prophetic overstatement and/or exuberance, methods calculated to bring the right response to the message?