Try to put yourself in the place of God as he sees the repeated failure of his people. How do you think he feels?
8 The other events of Jehoiakim's reign, the detestable things he did and all that was found against him, are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah. And Jehoiachin his son succeeded him as king.
20 He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. 21 The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.
22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:
23 "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
" 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you—may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.' "
The story is coming to its tragic end – except that it is not the end. Josiah met his death at the hands of Pharaoh Necho (the king of Egypt in verse 4), then the Babylonians took over and things in Judah spiralled out of control until the fall of Jerusalem in 587/6 bc.
Always a way back
Both Kings and Chronicles see this as a direct consequence of Judah’s rebellion and idolatry. They brought it on themselves. This was not what God had wanted – so many messengers (24:19) and such little result (v 15; see too Matthew 21:33–46). God still patiently, lovingly reaches out to those who have turned their backs on him. There is always a way back for prodigals if only they will take it (Luke 15:11–32). Judgement is always something that we bring on ourselves (John 3:18). Verse 21 underlines this; the land itself was affected and needed time to recover. Human sin has far-reaching effects.
A new hope
As things collapsed, the prophets (at this point, Jeremiah, as we saw yesterday) pointed to a new hope. The return from exile was a further mark of God’s grace (v 23). But the final and greatest act of grace was yet to be.
Pray for any you know who have turned away from God, asking that they might come to their senses (Luke 15:17).
This isn’t one of the most inspirational chapters in the Bible. Have you ever seen a poster or memorised a verse from 2 Chronicles 36? It’s a quick summary of four kings, all whom did what was evil eyes of the Lord. You would think one of them would have considered the lives lived by his predecessors and thought, ‘Following idols hasn’t worked; maybe we should try following the Lord’ but, alas, their evil-doing leads to the conclusion we knew was coming: the fall of Jerusalem (vs 15–23).
How can we take something useful from a passage like this? Sometimes when reading about tragic endings in the Bible, I try to imagine how things might have been different if the characters had made different choices. So, in this case, how might Israel’s history have been different if one of these kings had humbled himself as Josiah did?
There’s another useful takeaway from this passage, but to appreciate it we must look at one of the Bible’s toughest themes: God’s wrath. After generations of disobedience the day of judgement has arrived: Nebuchadnezzar sacks Jerusalem and takes the people into exile. The chronicler ends his book by reminding us that God’s wrath can only be understood in the context of God’s love: notice the reference to God’s pity (v 15). This echoes Jesus’ words: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.’ (Matt 23:37) God’s wrath is always rooted in his loving purpose. For Judah, it took 70 years to work itself out – but God never gives up on his people.Whitney T Kuniholm