Sunday, December 24, 2006

The End of the Week





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Adrian Reynolds
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The Cure of Souls


2 Chronicles 35v20-36v21

The Chronicler has told his story from Adam to David, and from David down to Josiah. For around 420 years kings have ruled but now the curtain is falling. If longevity is a mark of faithfulness for a Jewish king then this story doesn't end well. There is no blaze of glory, but rather a damp squib - like a football club changing managers every few weeks as it sinks into relegation. David had reigned for 18 chapter, a glorious story. Solomon for nine... now we'll see four in the space of one chapter, four kings in 23 years.

But, we begin with Josiah. Josiah is like Hezekiah - a good king in so many ways. He was a reformer. And he found the Book of the Law in the House of God. He rediscovered God's word to his people. And yet, as so often the story ends badly. Josiah charges into a battle that wasn't his to fight and then fails to hear the word of God. No-one is neutral to God's word - if we do not take heed then we stand against God's word. God speaks surprisingly to Josiah, but the Chronicler recognises the voice. Where previously the Assyrian King Sennacherib had mocked God's people, now the Egyptian King Neco speaks God's word to Josiah. The tide turns and there is more truth beyond the boundaries of Judah than within it.

Consequently Josiah dies in a battle that God had told him not to be involved in. And so in the days of Jeremiah he dies. What follows is headed "Judah's decline" in my Bible, quite appropriately.

First comes Jehoahaz, who rules for three months before being deposed by Egypt. Then Jehoiakim (Eliakim) who is installed by Egypt for 11 years. Sadly, he like so many of his fathers does "evil in the sight of the LORD". Nebuchadnezzar captures him. Then comes Jehoiachin, a child king who reigns three months, and whose achievement is to have done "evil in the sight of the LORD". Finally, Zedekiah reigns for 11 years, also doing "evil in the sight of the LORD". Gone is the hope of the occasional good king. Zedekiah fails to be humbled as Jeremiah brings God's word to him. He rebels against Nebuchadnezzar and stiffens his neck against the Lord. Suitably, the priests, officials and the people follow their king and mimic the sin of the nations, rather than being the distinctive people of God. They reject God's word, and pollute God's house. The magnificent building erected to be a place holy to the Lord is defiled.

Yet still the LORD sends messengers. Prophet after prophet. He acts in great compassion to send messengers who will bring rebuke and calls for repentance. This is real love - calling God's people back to himself and away from their sin. If only we heard more of that kind of voice today. They are hard words, but love words.

Still they mock, they despise God's word and they scoff at God's prophets. They're like Ahab who only wanted to hear from God what he wanted to hear. They hate God by hating his word. And so, the LORD who is gracious, and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love... finally becomes deeply wrathful towards them. A people called to humble orthodoxy, to love God and his word and his place have embraced spiritual adultery, pride and heresy.

What can be done? A foreign king is sent in by the LORD to evict them from their land - as promised. To make them a byword of folly among the nations. Compassion ceases as young and old, men and women are killed... the temple is plundered and burned down. Yet, a few survive and are carried into exile in Babylon until Persia is established - until the time foretold by Jeremiah is completed.

All this happens to fulfill God's word through his prophet, Jeremiah. And so the land at last comes to rest for 70 years. The 420 years of Kings ends, and the land rests for 70. The week comes to it's close and all is at rest.

So we wait. The last book of the Hebrew Bible closes with words of waiting, of the expectation of unfulfilled promises of restoration, of a new age and a glorious King. A postscript reminds the original audience of their own post-exilic age, where a foreign king has returned them to the land. An apparent fulfillment of Jeremiah's word yet this is less glorious... Cyrus sounds like Solomon, led by God to rebuild God's house in Jerusalem... humbly following God's word and pursuing true worship. But will it be glorious? Were the original audience experiencing the fulfillment of all God's great promises of new life, new covenant...?

Everything waits. The people and the land, all creation waits in expectation of the fulfillment of God's great promises. Hearing those promises all the people should turn from their sin, and embrace humble orthodoxy - learning from the fall of God's people, and throwing themselves upon the mercy and compassion of the God who hears from heaven... And then several hundred years later, in the town of Bethlehem comes a new day...

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