2 CHRONICLES 31:1 – 33:25 AND ACTS 15:1–41
2 Chr 31
The people from Israel who had joined Judah in observing the feast went about the work of throwing down the altars and high places out of all of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh. After this work was done the people who came down from Israel returned to their places. King Hezekiah continued to appoint the courses of the priests for the work of the sacrifices, their ministry unto the people and their ministry of praise unto the Lord. He also made sure that the king’s portion of offerings for the morning and evening sacrifices were properly appointed. We see thus far in the reign of Hezekiah that he did everything that was right and lawful which helped to further secure his kingdom. One other act we can note was that he made sure the priests were properly looked after since they had the responsibility of promoting and enforcing the laws of God (vs 4).
The men of Israel began to supply their first-fruit offering of the abundance of their field into the house of the Lord. These were the men who responded to the declaration of the King to return unto Jerusalem for the annual feast of Passover. The men from Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah also brought in their tithe of cattle, sheep and holy things which were consecrated unto the Lord. The intake of tithes and offerings began to be so much that it could not be contained (vs 8). It is amazing to see how the blessings of God can increase and multiply so quickly when things are done in order. We are seeing the fulfilment of what the prophet Malachi speaks about concerning the bringing in of tithes and offerings.
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts (Mal 3:10-12).
Hezekiah inquired regarding the abundance and what was being done with it. One of the priests named Azariah responded that since the people started bringing in the tithes and offerings that people had more than enough to eat and that there was plenty left over. The King commanded that they then were to prepare chambers in the house of the Lord and to put them under the stewardship of capable men consisting of Levites. This example is instructional to us in seeing how to prepare for times of famine and judgement. These events seem to parallel the account of Joseph as he prepared for the 7 year period of drought during the times of plentiful harvests.
What is seen here are the fruits of doing things according to God’s ordinances. Hezekiah’s reign to date is an absolute marvel. Remember, he came to the throne on the heels of his father Ahaz’s rule of degradation. He immediately went about the work of restoration and within a very short period of time restored the kingdom to great prominence. This is not just an account of a solitary act of God. It is a picture of what God can do to any nation and any person who puts God first and foremost in all things. This account needs to be meditated and reflected upon because it represents who God is. This account also speaks of how God works and how God can redeem and restore to the uttermost. Regretfully, it is not a picture of what we are seeing in most of today’s churches. True, we do see elements of Hezekiah’s early reign but there are also subtle areas of deviations from his pattern of rule. These deviations we can call compromises or altered doctrines that distorts the true gospel. These small deviations eventually result in some sort of damaging fallout that often go undetected until it is too late. This will be seen in King Hezekiah a bit later during his reign.
The primary problem today (in my opinion) is a diminished priesthood that is not properly deployed in the functioning of the church. The emphasis always seems to be on kingdom living and how to establish God’s kingdom on earth as he decreed it in heaven (Math 6:10). After all is this not a primary point of the Lord’s Prayer? Absolutely, but we often forget the preceding part of the model prayer that the Lord gave His disciples. “Hallowed be thy name” What does this mean? It means that we are to have a reverence for the presence of God; to not take Him for granted and seek to promote His agenda. It means we put an emphasis on righteous and holy living. If this is truly our heart we then come to know God’s heart resulting in our pleading and interceding to see His agenda employed upon the earth. Today’s kingdom now mind-set often by-passes this where the agenda of man is promoted. It is subtle, it often goes undetected but the end result is that such teaching makes us gods which puts at variance with God’s ultimate desire; to have a bride prepared for His Son. King Hezekiah is showing us the pattern and the way in which we can have a life of abundance and a life that reflects His name and glory in the midst of a corrupt and perverse world. King Hezekiah was not a priest. He was a great king because he properly deployed the role of the priest; he put them at the forefront of the restoration effort. The result was a kingdom that projected the Fear of the Lord; a kingdom that established a measure of restoration with Israel and a kingdom that was preserved when the attacks of the Assyrians came heavily upon them. May we seek to learn the lessons from Hezekiah’s early years. The last verse of this chapter sums up his success best.
And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered (2 Chr 31:21).
2 Chr 32
The Assyrians now seek to make an advance against the kingdom of Judah. Israel has already fallen to them because of their idolatry and sinful ways. God gave them an opportunity through Hezekiah when he extended an invitation to unite together by gathering for the feast of Passover. This had not been done since the days of Jeroboam when he set up altars and alternative places of worship. Some of the men of Israel responded and they were blessed in doing so. The others mocked and disdained the overtures of King Hezekiah. The Assyrians are now an unstoppable force and they see Judah as but another jewel ripe for the taking. King Hezekiah sees the big picture and seeks to calm the people of Judah by making clear that there are more with them than with the Assyrians (vs 7). He instilled confidence in the midst of great opposition; exhorting them to be courageous and strong. The people were comforted by His words. This is one of the key qualities in godly leadership; the ability to instil calm and peace amongst the masses in the face of an opposing enemy. The next few verses gives a vivid insight into the tactics of the enemy. The Apostle Peter warns the church of what we need to look out for:
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet 5:8)
This is what is seen with the spokesperson on behalf of the Assyrian King Sennacherib. He is a man by the name of Rab-shakah. In verse 10-19 we see the verbal barrage of intimidation that is brought upon the representatives of Judah. The voices are emphatic to not put trust in Hezekiah and in his ability to deliver out of their hands. These voices speak of all their recent victories gained; they later speak and say that it was God who spoke to them in coming against Judah. These were no idle words or trivial threats. What did Hezekiah and the leaders do in the midst of this overwhelming threatening tone? The king linked with the prophet Isaiah and sought the Lord in heaven. The result was the Lord sending an angel and slaying the might of the Assyrians in one night. Shortly thereafter the king of Assyria was slain by the sword. This account was covered in 2 Kings 18 and 19 and will be picked up again when we look at the prophet Isaiah. It is a profound account of God’s faithfulness and deliverance. It is also a profound insight as to why God moved in such a way on Judah’s behalf.
The balance of this chapter does a reveal a chink in the armour of the greatness of Hezekiah. The Lord told him to prepare to die for he was sick unto death. If he would have died at this time his name would have been untarnished for all that he did and for how he lived and reigned. He prayed unto the Lord to be spared from death and God answered that prayer (vs 24). Soon afterwards his heart began to be lifted up with pride; forgetting the manner in how he previously served the Lord. This opened the door for God’s wrath to come upon him as well as upon Judah and Jerusalem. Hezekiah did repent and humbled himself for this transgression and there was again a measure of restoration of the storehouses and an abundance that came to the nation. He restored other needed areas as well (vs 30).
There was damage that was done due to his opening up of the treasures to Babylonian ambassadors when they came to see the glory of his kingdom. This act opened the door for Babylon to have more than just a picture of the treasures of the storehouse in the house of the Lord; it would be the means by which Babylon would one day take over Jerusalem and Judah. Just think if Hezekiah would have allowed the process of his sickness to play out as God intended for him. His name would have no taint. The foreknowledge of God indicated that it was God’s mercy to take him at an early age. The pleading prayer of Hezekiah circumvented God’s intention for Hezekiah. It seemed liked a blessing and an answer to prayer but was it really God’s best? This is an interesting question to ponder. God does and did answer the prayers of godly kings but their decisions were not always wise, in spite of their greatness. In these last days we truly need to know the heart and mind of God. He knows us, He knows our tendencies and He knows the decisions we will make in given situations. May we learn to pray the prayer that governed the Lord in his last few days upon the earth: Lord, not my will, but then be done. “
2 Chr 33
From the depths of depravity as seen in the reign of Ahaz to the heights of greatness in Hezekiah we now come to the next King named Manasseh who brings Judah once again on a downward plunge. He totally undid everything his father Hezekiah had done when he re-established the altars of worship. He turned to Balaam and worshipped all the host of heaven. He engaged in witchcraft and familiar spirits and caused children to walk through fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom. He placed a carved image in the house of God, the very place where God told David and Solomon to honor His name. This quick descent into spiritual perversion brought swift judgement from the Lord. Manasseh had caused Judah to transgress worse than the heathen that were in Israel before they were judged by the Assyrians. The Lord did try to speak to Manasseh and the people but they would not hearken. The Lord allowed the captains of the host of the Assyrians to capture Manasseh and bring him to Babylon. How was it that Manasseh and Judah could sin so wickedly after the godly reign of Hezekiah? Here are some clues:
In 2 Chronicles 33:1 it says that Manasseh came to the throne at the age of 12. In actuality he was a co-regent ruler alongside his father Hezekiah for a period of 11 years. He solely took the throne at age 22. It was during this time when Hezekiah opened the house of the Lord to the Babylonians to view the treasures that existed there. He should have used this period of time to train his son to be an example of how a godly king rules. He did not do a good job of transitional preparation for his son. Remember, it was during this period when Hezekiah began to be lifted up with pride. He repented of this but still made decisions that were not in line with his earlier years of godly rule. Hezekiah was told by Isaiah about Judah’s future destruction so why did he not prepare his son accordingly? In light of all these events it again makes one wonder what life would have been like in Judah and with Manasseh if Hezekiah would have died at the age of 39 when the Lord first told him to make final preparations. In any case we do see the importance of properly planning for succession. Hezekiah did have insight as to what was coming but seems to not have neglected to properly prepare his son for it.
Manasseh, while in captivity did make an appeal to the Lord. The Lord in his mercy did deliver him and brought him back to Jerusalem. He came to know that the Lord was indeed God. He quickly restored the altar of the Lord and commended the people to serve the Lord God of Israel (vs 16). It is an amazing turnaround we see in the life of Manasseh. One of Judah’s worst kings came to a place of repentance and was able to be restored in measure. The damage done however under his reign was immense and did leave a mark upon Judah. It pretty much sealed up the future judgment upon Judah for its sins against light. Manasseh is a small type and example of the future exile and restoration that Israel would soon experience. He was taken to Babylon and then later restored to Jerusalem. This would be the case for Israel as a nation. They would soon come under the rule of Babylon for a period of 70 years but one day would be restored to their cities. The mercies seen in how God dealt with Manasseh is a picture of the sure mercies of David upon Israel through their captivity.
Amon, the son of Manasseh now comes to the throne and rules for a period of two years. He resembled the reign of his father in his earlier years. He resorted to the kind of worship seen in his father when he came to the throne. The difference between the two is that Amon did not humble himself as his father Manasseh did; in fact he added sin to sin (vs 23). His servants ended up slaying him in his own house. The people of the land then slew those servants paving the way for the next king. His name is Josiah.
This proves to be a pivotal chapter due to the many discussions and issues that get addressed. We will see some areas of contention amongst the brethren as well. It is instructive on many fronts. There were those who taught that people had to be circumcised after the manner of Moses. These would be those who took issue with the New Covenant realities of the early church. It is an issue still seen today when ritual can take precedence over a changed inner life.
Paul and Barnabus were brought into some strong disputations with these men over this question of circumcision. It was decided to take this matter to the elders and apostles at Jerusalem. They took advantage of sharing their testimony of how Gentiles were turning to the Lord in great numbers. This brought great joy to those who heard. They eventually reached Jerusalem and were received by the brethren there. They shared their testimony with the gathered men. As one would assume there were those who opposed the message by reemphasizing the need for physical circumcision as Moses had instructed them in the Old Testament. As seen earlier at the birthing of the early church it is Peter that arises to try and bring perspective to this question. In verses 7-11 he makes the case that God has now made a way for the Gentiles to receive the Gospel message. He makes clear that there is no difference between the Jew and Gentile seeing their hearts are purified by faith. This is a tremendous admission on Peter’s part of how God had brought him around to this view. Once this matter was addressed they then turned their attention to Paul and Barnabus who proceeded to share their testimony of how God moved and worked on their behalf among the Gentiles.
It is now the opportunity for James to speak to this gathered council. In verses 14-21 James gives added perspective to help support the view of the Gospel message going forth to the Gentiles. He refers to the Tabernacle of David which was fallen down but would one day be restored (vs 16). He brought a balance of what Moses taught regarding the keeping of laws with the New Testament realities that in the end satisfied those who were gathered. They all came to the conclusion that the Gospel message was intended for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews. Once this was settled they then took the decision to send men of their company to accompany Paul and Barnabus to Antioch. Among these men would be Silas, who soon become a primary companion of Paul (vs 22). The council then adopted a letter that would be sent with Paul and Barnabus to Antioch to be read to the Gentiles who were affected by the disputes regarding the issue of circumcision. They made clear that they gave no such directive and they do not support it. They shared in the letter that there was to be abstaining from meats offered to idols and from blood and fornication (vs 29). They brought the epistle to Antioch and read it to the people. They rejoiced in its content and gave further support to Judas and Silas who came to encourage and confirm the people.
They all returned to Antioch from Jerusalem where several men gathered. Among them were Judas and Silas who were prophets who were able to give them words of exhortation before their upcoming journey. This is essential in the preparation and sending out of mission teams. It is imperative to prepare and to spend time waiting upon the Lord before going forth. There are many unknowns that are oftentimes faced and they can be managed to the extent we hear from God. Paul and Barnabus continued for a time preaching and speaking at Antioch. There came the time when Paul suggested returning to the field to see how the brethren were doing from their first journey (vs 36). Barnabus wanted to have John Mark accompany them but Paul refused seeing that he departed from them while they were earlier at Pamphylia. This became an issue of great contention resulting in Barnabus and Mark separating and heading towards Cyprus. Paul and Silas were approved by the brethren to go together by the grace of God.
The contention between Paul and Barnabus was sharp however it pales to the contention seen today as churches seek to determine who was right in this matter. There are those who say that Paul was right to assert strongly his opinion and then there are those who say Barnabus was more honourable in this seeing that he took John Mark to Cypress. Which is it? Are both opinions valid? I do not think we need to establish doctrine for either position but there are some things to consider. We can rejoice that John Mark matured and became someone who was later useful to Paul. Some look at this and say that Paul was not giving a maturing young man a chance to grow from his earlier departure during the 1st missionary journey. They credit Barnabus with taking up interest in John Mark and helping to further develop his ministry capacities. The problem however is that we do not hear much more of this great man Barnabus after this incident. Secondly, Paul and Barnabus planned and prepared for their second journey and they received prophetic words to help focus their efforts. You do not see any such planning or blessing coming forth from the brethren for Barnabus and John Mark. It could have happened but scripture does not record it. After Silas replaced Barnabus we see that they were recommended unto the grace of God by the brethren. They had a covering as they were sent forth; something that is not recorded for Barnabus and John Mark. My personal feeling is that Barnabus acted prematurely with regard to taking on John Mark in the manner that he did. He was a great man, an encourager and one who opened doors for the Apostle Paul. I feel there is a measure of offense taken up regarding John Mark which may have been the result of a deeper issue in his heart. This is only my conjecture. My concern is that we do not see a similar covering and blessing by the brethren for Barnabus and John Mark as was saw with Silas and Paul. They may have had successes and we know that John Mark became a later blessing to Paul but the events surrounding their separation are concerning. Once again, I do not make a doctrinal determination just merely some personal observations.