Unit: History of Israel (1-2 Kings; 2 Chronicles)
Theme: A Troubled Kingdom
Lesson Text: 2 Chronicles 36:11-23
Supplemental Text: Jeremiah 29:10-14
Aim: Seek the Lord with all your heart, and you will find him.
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By Mark Scott
The apostle Paul listed challenges he faced in ministry in more than one letter (1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 6:4-5; 11:24-29; 1 Thessalonians 2:17–3:5). But in 2 Corinthians 4:9 he used the phrase, “struck down, but not destroyed.” The writer of 2 Chronicles could say a similar thing about the nation of Israel (the Southern Kingdom) when they were taken away to Babylonian captivity. This pre-exilic historical book ends on a very sour note. The last king of Judah (Zedekiah) was horribly corrupt, and Nebuchadnezzar came and burned the city and the temple. But offstage a note of hope was being played that would allow God to fulfill his promise to save the world through Jesus (Genesis 12:3).
The Last King
2 Chronicles 36:11-14
Josiah was the last great king of Judah, but his sons (Jehoahaz and Eliakim) did not follow in the ways of their father. The first was deported to Egypt, and the second (whose name was changed to Jehoiakim) was deported to Babylon. Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, reigned just beyond three months, and then his brother Zedekiah became the last king of Judah. During his reign of eleven years, Zedekiah had a hot and cold relationship with Nebuchadnezzar. Ultimately, Nebuchadnezzar killed him.
Zedekiah did evil and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet (Jeremiah 21:3-7; 32:1-5). Even though Jeremiah spoke the word of the Lord to him, Zedekiah would not turn to the Lord. Even worse, Zedekiah led the leaders of the priests and the people also to be unfaithful to God by enjoining the practices of the nations. He also defiled (to pollute or to profane) the temple of the Lord. And, as if that were not enough, Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon who had empowered him. The last king of Judah was a really bad man.
The Last Straw
2 Chronicles 36:15-21
God cannot be faulted for his patience. Time and again God sent messengers (ambassadors or maybe even angels) and prophets because he had pity (compassion) on his people. But God (and his messengers) cannot be mocked (Galatians 6:7) or scoffed at. God’s wrath (anger, indignation, or fury) is nothing to be tested. When it kicks in, there is no remedy (healing).
The stunning truth in all of this is how God used a nation worse than Israel to punish Israel (see the book of Habakkuk). Nebuchadnezzar killed young men even in the temple; his death rampage was indiscriminate—age, gender, and health mattered not. The temple was burned, the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, and the treasures of the temple and the leaders were plundered. The people of Jerusalem who escaped death were hauled to captivity and became servants of the current and future empires.
Even in the midst of all this, one can see the mercy of God. Since God’s people were either dead or captured, there was no one to work the land. Therefore, in a twisted way, the land experienced an extended Sabbath of sorts. Jeremiah had predicted that this Sabbath would essentially last seventy years (Jeremiah 29:10-14; Daniel 9:2; Ezra 1:1). God’s people should not presume on the kindness of God (Romans 2:4).
The New Hope
2 Chronicles 36:22-23
The chronicler made a final historical note (538 BC). Babylon imploded (Daniel 5:30-31), and the Persians came to power. Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar were replaced by the likes of Cyrus, Darius, and Ahasuerus. Cyrus clearly was an unusual potentate. The text told us why. The Lord moved the heart of Cyrus. Even more than this, God called Cyrus his “anointed” (the word for Messiah in Isaiah 45:1). To what extent Cyrus realized Yahweh used him we do not know. But his generous nature of allowing conquered peoples to return to their homeland is well attested in a great archaeological artifact called the Cyrus Cylinder. While the writing on the clay cylinder does not mention Israel by name, it refers to Cyrus’s uncharacteristic benevolent ways.
Cyrus admitted as much in his decree (v. 23; cf. Ezra 1:2-3). He recognized that God had given him his reign and even appointed (charged) him to build a temple in Jerusalem. He allowed the Jews to return home, helped them financially, and gave them governmental protection. They returned home in three waves under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. These leaders were assisted by the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The new hope was that once the remnant was back in the land of Israel, God could send a savior so that the good news could come out of Zion. In that savior the nations could have a new hope.
Dr. Mark Scott serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin, Mo. He retired in May after more than 30 years as professor of New Testament with Ozark Christian College in Joplin.
Image: Detail from “Circle of Juan de la Corte – The Burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s Army – Google Art Project.jpg,” courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.