Friday, October 7, 2011

The King After God: Perdition and the Law

The Bridgeman Art Library/Gettyimages
When considering Deuteronomy 17:18-19, there seems to be one specific king the events of whose life highlighted the conditions of the passage like fulfillment of a prophecy. Around 638 B.C. an eight-year-old child by the name of Josiah rose into power in the kingdom of Judah. Now someone coming to the throne at this age can give us the impression that the kingdom is at the verge of destruction, finding no one else fit to occupy the throne, desperately holds on to its tradition and gambles its everything on this one in whom is believed to be from the line of its best king. Yet by a slim margin there is that chance that the kingdom may be on a path to glory. Knowing the God whom the Israelites worshiped, Who split the Red Sea and delivered His people from certain slaughter, slim chances were His specialty. And with an eight-year-old Josiah, son and grandson of two of the most evil monarchs Judah has ever had, God was about to turn the tide of corruption upon itself through the relentless fury of this young king.

National Geographic Society/Corbis
Unlike his grandfather King Manasseh who prostituted the Israelite culture to the paganism of its neighbors, and his father King Amon who exceeded his father’s guilt (2 Chronicles 33:23), Josiah was raised in righteousness. In 2 Chronicles 34:2, it says that, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.” And by then he was only eight. At age 16, “he began to seek the God of his father David” (34:3). This became the vital four-year spiritual foundation that would fuel his mission to wage war on the paganism that was corroding the cultural integrity of Judah. At 20, his twelfth year on the throne, “he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles, carved idols and cast images” (Ibid.). With such violence, he “cut to pieces,” “smashed,” “broke,” “scattered” (verse 4), “burned,” “crushed…to powder” and “tore down” (verse 7) every symbol, altar, edifice, and bone of those who served as priests of the Baals and Asheras in his entire kingdom. Six years later, to complete the spiritual purification of his land, he ordered the repair of God’s Temple in Jerusalem. Apparently years of religious-cultural mutation had added a lot of changes in the Temple. The common impression of a reader reading about the Israelite kings, like Manasseh, who “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” is that when they worshiped their false gods in the Temple of God, they merely pushed in a few altars and some variously sized statues, added new draperies and probably decommissioned some menorahs and stuck them in the Temple warehouse. This is not what happened. Manasseh alone ruled a long fifty-five years (2 Chronicles 33:1) and in that period he renovated the Temple to incorporate his pagan pantheon. This required alterations in the original Temple plan to accommodate additions, probably promote and block some “positive” and “negative energies” coming in and going out of the building. You know what I mean. For a total of fifty-eight years, half a century, the Temple of God gained a new look, starkly alien from the Temple King David planned and which his son Solomon built. And it was Josiah’s self-appointed task—as far as he was spiritually concerned, that is—to restore the Temple to its original holiness.

National Geographic Society/Corbis
It could have been that Josiah's grandfather King Manasseh and father King Amon were trying to remodel the Temple of God to resemble a Mesopotamian ziggurat as during their lifetime they tried to identify themselves with their neighbors by adopting their religious culture and push the Jehovah away from Jehovic Israel.

The account is told in 2 Chronicles 34:9 to 13. One of the expressions of faith and rededication to God was the immense unanimous financial support given by the “people of Manasseh, Ephraim and the entire remnant of Israel and from all the people of Judah and Benjamin and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 34:9). Trust was another demonstration of their approval for their king and his mission to restore the Jehovah-centered society of Israel. According to the tenth and eleventh verses of our passage, the people entrusted the money they set aside for Temple restoration “to the men appointed to supervise the work on the Lord’s temple,” who, in turn, “paid the workers who repaired and restored the temple” and those who purchased the replacement stone and the timber. The workers worked in absolute honesty and diligence over the finances and in their specified jobs (verses 12 to 13).

The degradation of the Temple could have been externally as simple as the one on the left, with the Mesopotamian genies drawn at the facade above the door, or as massive as the Assyrian model below. In any case, alterations did take place that new materials needed to be shipped in to replace the old and add what Manasseh and Amon's specifications eliminated.

Nik Wheeler/CORBIS

The Temple of God had been through massive alteration and corruption that new “dressed stone, and timber for joists and beams” had to be purchased to replace the ones that “the kings of Judah had allowed to fall into ruin” (verse 11). In other words, King Josiah and his team of appointees were to undertake a great extreme makeover, spiritual edition. This was the juncture when God plays the father of the parable who runs to meet his homecoming son whom he thought he had lost forever (Luke 15:20). After an unremitting ten-year campaign that spiritually and socially sterilized Israel for God, He was about to perform His operation through a string of events that led to the rediscovery of an important artifact. Hidden somewhere in a cabinet or a niche or a chamber that had been bricked or boarded up, gathering layers of dust and forgotten in the long backslidden years, “the Book of the Law of the Lord that had been given through Moses” (verse 14) finally surfaces.

History views this episode as the most crucial point of Josiah’s campaign. There is, however, some controversy concerning how the Mosaic volumes were applied to the cultural revolution. According to 2 Chronicles 34:30, Josiah read the Law to “the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and Levites—all the people from the least to the greatest” and created a wave of reawakening throughout the entire nation. Israelites came from every corner of the kingdom with a compelling heart hunger for the word of God. But the word of God that Josiah read to them, according to some scholars, was actually a new version which he had revised to match the temper of his generation.

It is agreed that the Law of Moses was rediscovered at some secluded part of the Temple. Interpretations will arise, however, in the passage where the king’s secretary Shaphan “read from it in the presence of the king” (verse 18). Here, Josiah, understanding from the original manuscripts, decided to present God’s word and culture that his generation could easily understand. With the expertise of his priests and Scriptural specialists, the endeavor was blessed in the form of a book that later came to be known as the Book of Deuteronomy.

Burstein Collection/CORBIS
According to experts in Scripture history, there are four major narratives of the Old Testament; two of these are called the “J” and “E” documents. The “J” document is so named because the name “Jehovah” is used in every appearance of “God.” It is the oldest of all written documents, dating back to the ninth century B.C., during the time of Jeroboam, and was penned in the southern kingdom of Judah.

With the “E” document, God is referred to as “Elohim.” It was written in the eighth century B.C., this time in the northern kingdom of Israel, about a hundred years after the “J.” It is believed that the “E” was produced to rival the “J,” which was housed in the Temple in Jerusalem.

It was these two documents that Josiah saw the need to harmonize. If the “J” called God “Jehovah” and the “E” referred to Him as “Elohim,” Josiah’s new work formulated the new concept of a “Jehovah Elohim” for “Lord God,” thus creating the “JE” document. The king’s team also added their own expert interpretation on some portions of the document which they believed would boost new generation understanding. This may explain the fact that the passage in Deuteronomy 17:18 to 20 makes an uncanny reference to Josiah’s act and fueling principle:

“When [the king] takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left.”

National Geographic Society/Corbis
The late great Jewish historian Max I. Dimont noted the “good fortune” that brought the rise of Josiah in the hour of Judah’s most critical crisis [Jews, God and History, p.65]. Before he came into power at the age of eight, Judah had been immersed in fifty-seven straight years of religious apostasy which seemed to be irreversible. The spiritual and cultural amalgamation with its pagan neighbors had buried the Israelite religion deep beneath layers of defiance and corruption. King Manasseh and later his son King Amon had deliberately torn away the Jehovah from the kingdom’s culture and spliced in His place the Baals, Asherahs, “all the starry hosts” (2 Chronicles 33:5), “sorcery, divination and witchcraft” (verse 6). During this period, a generation was born knowing “neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). In this new age, the god they knew wore a pointy hat holding in one hand a slender tree that ended in a spearhead, a raised club in another, and a man dangling by his hair in another. The god they knew had a female consort who held in her hand a phallic scepter, the symbol of the life that allegedly issued from her, from her breasts where flowed eternal sustenance, and every time the three-armed god goes to bed with her—and every time meant all the time.

Werner Forman/CORBIS
In 722 B.C., Judah watched in silent horror as the Assyrians descended upon Israel and carried away whatever was left of its populace. During that time, the righteous king Hezekiah ruled the southern kingdom. For twenty-nine years, Judah depended on the Lord for protection from the threat and taunts of Sennacherib. It was a time of great fear, great obedience, and great miracles, including how an angel of God armed with a sword descended into the Assyrian siege camp and killed "a hundred and eighty-five thousand" soldiers (2 Kings 19:35), forcing the loud-mouthed Sennacherib to break camp and scamper back to Nineveh (verse 36). The Bible seems to draw some humor in this in that it even notes that he "stayed there." But it was for a reason. In the same way as he drew delight in humiliating God when he tried to bleach Hezekiah and Jerusalem with his murderous intimidations, God took His turn and determined the flow of event of his life:

Araldo de Luca/CORBIS
"One day, while he (Sennacherib) was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword" (verse 37).

But after Hezekiah died, his son Manasseh ruled the kingdom for fifty-five years corrupting the land with his idolatry. It could have been worse if his successor Amon was allowed to rule longer than two years; probably God saw how bleak the future was for the kingdom so He took him out.

In a generation that knew not God, a boy king arose who began to seek God in the years when teenage sexual curiosity was supposed to be consuming that stage of his youth. Instead, he thought that if the kingdom kept on going on its religious and cultural course the way it did from the days of his grandfather Manasseh, Judah would end up with the same judgment that befell the northern kingdom of Israel. And if someone like Josiah and any righteous prophet would view Judah by that time, he would doubt whether Israel was really exiled at all, or at least its spirit of uncleanness had spilled itself crazy upon the kingdom. God was gracious to David, to Jerusalem, to Judah that He provided the kingdom with a king like Josiah.

Josiah, the boy king who changed the course of Judah and provided the a new document for the coming generation of believers would understand and life according to: The Book of Deuteronomy.

[That was fun! All those modeling and remodeling and back to the old model. Well, didn't I tell you there was gonna be more? What disappoints me at this point is this large white space beside the last pic. Hope you don't mind, though. There's more to come, and it's gonna have more King Saul in it! Excited? You know I am! So, till then, stay tuned! Hey, that's new.]