Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 22. 2 Chronicles
2 Chron 36:15,16 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place / But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets / until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.
I choose these two verses from 2 Chronicles as the highlights of this book as they summarize everything else that had gone on, and explain how the book concludes in the way it does. There are three parts to it, I suggest, and I have put dividers in the above verses to show those divisions.
It starts with God. Now we might expect that a book on history, which is what 2 Chronicles basically is, should start with a focus on people because usually history is all about how people have acted in different periods of ‘history’. However, the Bible is all about God and the revelation of His purposes for the earth and specifically, as He sought to use Israel to reveal Himself and His plans and purposes to the rest of the world. So it starts out with God’s activity.
I am tempted to produce a long list of references showing how God spoke into the life of Israel and its kings from the period of the reign of Solomon to the Exile but instead I will simply recommend you read the book and make the list yourself. The truth is that God spoke again and again into the lives of these people and, says the recorder, it was because He had pity on His people. Now that is quite remarkable for I have to confess if it had been me overseeing Israel’s history I would have been first of all frustrated, then annoyed and finally angry with Israel, and all that quite quickly – but God held back again and again and again.
As I have studied the judgments of God in detail, the thing that amazed me most of all is that during the period of the kings of the two kingdoms, was the Lord’s restraint. I have concluded that there must be various reasons why this was so, but ultimately the thing that stands out most, in the apostle Peter’s words, is that “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 pet 3:9) or, to apply that to the period of the Kings, He was giving them opportunity after opportunity to learn from past mistakes and eventually get it right.
However, that is where one of my favourite quotes kicks in: “The one thing that history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing.” i.e. we fail to learn from the past! This takes us into the second part of these verses and we see here the folly of Israel as the recorder observes, “But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets”. And we might add – and kept on doing it!
That is the tragedy of the Old Testament historical record – that Israel failed to learn and, instead of rising to greatness with the wonder of all the things that God had done for them, especially in their early days, they mocked the prophets, they despised what they were saying and generally made fun of them. These were men (and the occasional woman) who sought to get Israel back into a good place with God, but again and again and again the folly of Sin broke through and they continued to worship idols and pick up on other nations’ false religions.
For those who have never thought about these things, the last part may come as a shock: “until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.” Anger, or wrath, is a signpost within our consciousness that things around us are going wrong and are contrary to what we feel is right or just or fair. It is, in fact, right to become angry in the presence of such things, but what we do with our anger is another matter. Bear in mind that we are talking about God tolerating Israel’s folly for centuries, and we see that God’s anger is not hasty! Now in assessing the judgments of God throughout the Bible, as I have noted before in these studies, ‘terminal judgments’ are those which involve death and destruction (as against ‘disciplinary judgments’ which are designed to change people’s minds) and in the light of how long it takes for God to bring a terminal judgment, I have also named them as “judgments of the last resort”, i.e. God only brings them when He sees there is no hope of getting the people to change. “There was no remedy” or there was no other way to stop what was going on.
That is why in the last chapter of 2 Chronicles we have the record of King Nebuchadnezzar coming and destroying Jerusalem and taking most of its inhabitants into exile. The book was either compiled much later than the events recorded, or there was a postscript added for the book concludes with the record of King Cyrus, decades later, under the inspiration and direction of God, sending back the Jews to rebuild, first the temple and then the walls of Jerusalem. There are two major events in the life of Israel: the Exodus and the Exile.
The Exodus had brought them out of Egypt, taken them to Mount Sinai to become a nation before God, and then on into the Promised Land forty years later. The Exile was the ‘last resort’ action of God to take Israel out of the Land to be purged of their idolatry while in Babylon until they could be brought back forty years later. It would appear that the presence of God was absent from Jerusalem for a unique period, since the reign of David who captured Jerusalem and made it his capital, a period of seventy years, as prophesied by Jeremiah, from the destruction of the Temple until its rebuilding completion.
These are enormous sweeps of history and they reveal the wonder of the plans and purposes of God stretching over centuries and millennia. Living with our slow day by day lives, it is difficult to comprehend such long periods and the things that went on in them, which is why the last chapter of 2 Chronicles is such a remarkable record. We may not be able to see much significance as we look back over our lives, and find it difficult to think about the years yet ahead, but both are still within the ambit of the plans of God. Someone once wrote, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origins and culture is like a tree without roots.” The book of 2 Chronicles provides that history and God-culture for Israel and provides endless learning resources that we can apply into our lives today as part of the Church.
Perhaps these notes will challenge us to also become more knowledgeable about the beginnings and history of the Church so that we may see ourselves in a greater perspective. In one of his books, author Terry Pratchett wrote, “If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become part of someone else’s story.” Your story with God is your testimony. Like Israel’s, it probably has highs and lows, but if it reveals the love and goodness of God, we have indeed had our eyes opened to reality, and that is worth sharing.