The book of 2 Chronicles mirrors that of 2 Kings, just as the first respective books did. But because Chronicles was written when the Israelites were in captivity, the following passage stuck out to me far more than it did in 2 Kings.
When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly’; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their ancestors, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you. 2 Chronicles 6:36-39
From the perspective of a people who actually are captive in a foreign land, recounting time after time a king disobeyed God and ultimately led to the sacking of Jerusalem, this passage is especially moving. Through all the reigns of kings, both good and bad, the people of Israel always had their land and the promise from God that they would keep it. Now, however, they’ve been taken captive by the Babylonians and this passage struck me as a people pleading for help but knowing they may have used all of God’s forgiveness. In short, they don’t know if they’ll ever return home, and this book tells how they lost their way, almost as a warning.
Throughout 2 Chronicles we learn of kings who either obey God and prosper, or disobey God and suffer tragedies, losses in battle and civil uprisings. Some kings do both. Kings follow Baal and build altars to other gods, bringing God’s wrath upon them, and their rules end in ruin. Their son or successor then destroys the altars and returns to serving God, and they prosper until they die or follow idols again. And the cycle begins anew.
We also see the kingdoms of Judah and Israel battle each other in addition to fighting other bordering nations. These battles follow the same pattern, where a king in Judah is doing God’s work by “humbling” Israel and its arrogant king, or vice versa. These battles seem especially egregious because Judah is one of the 12 tribes of Israel. There are a few instances of commanders breaking sieges or not pursuing routing armies because the “enemy” is their own people.
That’s not to say these kings didn’t do horrible things to their populace. The switch from worshiping other gods to worshiping Jehovah wasn’t always smooth. For example, when King Asa converts “they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul. All who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, were to be put to death,whether small or great, man or woman” (2 Chron. 15 12-13). From the perspective of a common person, it seems exceedingly harsh to kill all those who don’t convert, though it does fit with the precedent set. But if Baal-worship was the norm, then it switched, and on top of that you knew that the same switch had happened two or three times before in previous generations, what do you do as a common person? There’s the argument that, according to the books of Moses, the people should be taught the earlier books of the Bible and their fate is in their own hands at that point. Yet God usually aided each king gain the throne only to see them turn away from him, and then lead the people to another religion. In short, why kill your own people?
That question stems from the larger question: Why does God keep helping these kings? Many of them follow in the footsteps of Solomon, obeying God, and in some cases having direct contact with a prophet or angel, until their reign is comfortable and then they turn to Baal or an idol. One king asks God for a victory, an angel of God descends and destroys an army with fire in front of the king’s eyes, and he still turns away years later. So what’s the point? The given answer is that God is keeping his promise to David and allowing his descendants to rule. But towards the end, I don’t know if I was more baffled at the kings turning away or God bringing a new king back.
One passage that I found very interesting occurs late in the book. Necho, king of Egypt, marches up near Judah to fight an enemy. King Josiah marches to meet him, though the Egyptians aren’t coming to fight Judah.
But Necho sent messengers to him, saying, “What quarrel is there, king of Judah, between you and me? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.”
This ultimatum is almost a verbatim example of what kings of Judah and Israel would tell their enemies before battle. But in this case, it’s an Egyptian king giving the ultimatum to Josiah. The kicker is that Josiah ignores him, disguises himself, rides into battle and dies. Necho was right, at least by Biblical standards. Necho’s god destroyed Josiah. Or is the God of Israel with Egypt this one time? It’s a strange antithesis to everything else in the Bible so far regarding the Israelite god and battle.
Finally, at the end of 2 Chronicles, the Babylonians attack. Maybe God finally had enough of his chosen people turning away from him and their day or reckoning had come. God “brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar” (2 Chron. 36:17).
Israel is humbled and taken captive. Jerusalem is sacked. If Solomon’s rule served as the high point of Israel’s power, this certainly is the low. Israel and its people are once again strangers in a strange land, praying toward the land of their ancestors.
Thank you for reading,