Anger, Exile, and Mercy

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 24.20
20 It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence. 

Reflection: Anger, Exile, and Mercy
By  John Tillman

God put his name on the people so they could “image” him to the world. He promised to bless nations through them. He put his Spirit in the mouths of their prophets, priests, kings, and poets. His presence filled their Temple with glory.

Yet, they rejected him. They chose cursing, not blessing. They blasphemed God’s name by misrepresenting him with their actions.

Instead of lifting up the poor, caring for the outcast, and welcoming the foreigner, they crushed, oppressed, and denied justice. They tortured and killed God’s messengers, preferring uncritical voices. They despised the Lord’s presence by serving other gods and idols right in the very Temple that bore God’s name. They did all this with impunity, still considering themselves righteous.

Can we see ourselves in them? How is God’s name thought of because of us? Do people call us a blessing? What would the poor, outcast, and foreigners think of God’s love for them if they based it entirely on our treatment of them? Do we represent God faithfully?

God planned good things for Israel during captivity. This is what Jeremiah 29.11 is about. In exile, God would rebuild Israel. But to be remade into God’s image they had to be stripped of all they had relied on other than God.

The beautiful walled city? Not one brick left on another.
The newly restored Temple? Stripped of valuables. Razed to the ground.
The proud kings, noble families, and wealthy leaders? Stripped. Shaved. Enslaved. Some blinded. Some maimed. Many would have been castrated and made eunuchs. 

Do we feel destroyed or stripped or exiled or shamed or humiliated? Do we see failure and unrighteousness? If so, we can still turn to God. “I have plans to prosper you and not to harm you,” says the Lord. This was not spoken to “winners.” These words are meant for those who have lost a battle, seen their Temple fall, seen their kings carried off in chains, and admitted their sinfulness and corruption.

Not all misfortunes are judgments of God for sin. But whenever we feel crushed and hopeless, God tenderly reminds us that he has not forsaken us even if we have forsaken him. Even in exile, we do not need to despair but to repent, be restored, and be a blessing where God sends us.

His anger is only for a moment. His mercy endures forever. (Psalm 30.5)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Hallelujah! Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever. — Psalm 106.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 24 (Listen – 3:21)
Hebrews 6 (Listen – 2:58)

Read more about Have Mercy
Pray this pluralized version of Psalm 51 this week, confessing not only our individual sins but the sins of our communities, churches, and nations.

Read more about Hope for Mercy
Despite their errors, it is consistently “by faith” that they persevere through hardship.

The Cost of Repentance

Scripture Focus:  2 Kings 23.3
The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. (2 Kings 23.3)

Reflection: The Cost of Repentance
By Erin Newton

In the decade of being parents, disciplining our kids has been hard. Some punishments are too soft. Each kid responds differently. The message is missed. In all of our struggles to teach these little humans, we want them to understand the proper way of living before bad choices become unconscious habits.

As one of Judah’s most virtuous kings, the reign of Josiah is known for his religious reforms. Finally! The people had a leader who not only recognized sin but called it out, determined to live differently, and worked to get rid of it. The variety of statues, images, and structures destroyed reveals the wide-ranging idols the people worshipped. Their sin was not just in one area but in many. Fertility gods, gods of rain and weather, gods of the mysterious stars and planets, gods associated with death. The intensity of their sin can be seen in the vision given to one of the prophets (Ezekiel 8).

Removing these things was hard. It took time, incredible effort, and the cooperation of others. Can you imagine your way of life being uprooted? The Israelites were in error but they were comfortable in that state. Suddenly, change created a sense of uncertainty, shame, or fear. They began to let go of their idols. Instead of cultic prostitution and sexual gratification, they needed self-control. Instead of homes filled with shrines, their possessions were destroyed. Instead of working to produce idols or cultic objects, they had to start anew, doing work approved by God. It was good and right but equally difficult and hard.  

Jesus knew the price that must be paid to truly repent and avoid sin. “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” Matthew 5:30. I wonder how many one-handed people walked the streets of Israel during that time.  

How far will you go to remove sin in your life? Can you cut off your hand? What does that look like today? Maybe it is confessing sin to a trusted, mature believer. Removing facets of technology to prevent further struggles with pornography, lust, greed, or jealousy. Setting boundaries with contentious believers to protect the fragility of peace. Whatever it may be, the cost is worth it. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed. — Psalm 71.23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 23 (Listen – 7:43)
Hebrews 5 (Listen – 1:57)

Read more about Rumors or Repentance
When someone critiques you and calls you to repent, what will you do? Will you dismiss them with a rumor… with violence…or will you listen…?

Read more about A True Example of Repentance
Individuals, companies, leaders, and even industries wish…the benefits of repentance without the moral investment…the caché of repentance without the change it brings.

A Responsive Heart

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 22.13, 18-20
13 Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” 

18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 19 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’ ” 
So they took her answer back to the king. 

Reflection: A Responsive Heart
By John Tillman

Josiah was 18 years into his reign when he discovered that what he grew up with as normal was angering to the Lord.

Josiah wanted to worship God but he was ignorant of many of God’s commands. Josiah didn’t realize how badly Judah’s system of worship had been corrupted. He had begun collecting money for refurbishing the Temple. It was through this activity that the scroll (probably Deuteronomy) was found. The previous generations so poorly handled the word of God that even when a generation came along that wanted to serve the Lord, they were handicapped. 

Those who came before Josiah corrupted the system. Josiah hadn’t hidden or lost the scroll. He had not set up any of the idols within God’s Temple. Ahaz, Manasseh, and other kings had done so. He hadn’t built temples to other gods. Manasseh and other kings, going all the way back to Solomon built them.

Yet, Josiah humbled himself rather than deny his connection to past sins. He repented and confessed sins of past generations. He set out to redress the wrongs done by his forefathers. He tore down their statues, idols, and temples. He desecrated their places of worship and refused to allow “normal” practices of the past to remain acceptable.

Josiah’s revival was unlike anything seen before. No king ever repented and turned back to God like Josiah. The writer references the Shema when describing Josiah’s repentance; he turned to the Lord with all his heart, soul, and strength. (2 Kings 23.25) 

This individual and national revival started with something difficult—a willingness to change one’s behavior in light of new information. How many of us can say we are always willing to do that? Josiah had a responsive heart. Do we?

When something we call normal is revealed to be sinful, how will we respond? When the Bible calls us to holiness, will we double-down on our desires? 

When systems or organizations we have grown up with are shown to be corrupt, will we stand with righteousness and demand change? Or will we excuse the past and refuse to acknowledge our complicity? When leaders we have loved are proven to be wicked, will we continue in their practices and defend them? Or will we hold them accountable and provide justice for victims?

Revival is always possible. The Lord will always relent. But only if we have a responsive heart.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Wake up, my spirit; awake, lute and harp; I myself will waken the dawn. — Psalm 108.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 22 (Listen – 3:45)
Hebrews 4 (Listen – 2:43)

Read more about Choices and Hard Hearts
Untended, our hearts harden and lean away from God. Only by continual cultivation will the soil of our hearts remain soft.

Read more about Are There Ashtrays in Your Elevators?
Like ashtrays in elevators, there are always systemic, tangible, widespread, societal enablements of sins.

Hidden in Christ’s Tree

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 21.11-12, 16
11 “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. 12 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.

16 Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord. 

Hebrews 3.5-6

5 “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” a bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. 

Hebrews 11.37-38

37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—38 the world was not worthy of them.

Reflection: Hidden in Christ’s Tree

By John Tillman

Israelites continued Canaanite idol worship, including child sacrifice. Manasseh sacrificed his own son. If the king did it, we can be sure that many leaders and followers did as well.

Modern readers often focus on titillating and exotic-sounding sins. Child sacrifice and idol worship involving sex grabs headlines in any era. However, focusing on these exotic sins can distance us from scripture, allowing a smug sense of superiority over ancient idolaters.

The prophets take a wider scope. It is unlikely the “innocent blood” (1 Kings 21.16) Manassah shed refers exclusively to child sacrifice. This phrase consistently highlights the oppression of the poor and the killing of God’s prophets. (Isaiah 59.3; Jeremiah 2.34; 7.6-7; 22.17; Hosea 4.2) The prophets cut to the heart of the sins of our age as well—to the oppression of the poor and misuse of power.

The non-canonical book, Ascension of Isaiah, tells us Isaiah hid in the hollow of a cedar tree while fleeing Manasseh. Manasseh found him and sawed the tree in half with Isaiah still inside it. Bible commentators believe Hebrews 11.37, “sawed in two,” may refer to this story. True or not, this symbolism is consistent with much of the scripture

Trees are symbols of God’s blessing throughout the Bible and many times kings and kingdoms are represented as trees in which birds and animals find shelter. But Israel and Judah were not trees that brought harvests of righteousness. Bloodshed and injustice bloomed.

The problem with idols is not only that they insult the one true God but also the evil that we do in their service. God wants his people to bless, not curse. It is part of the Abrahamic promise and Mosaic covenant. Christians are grafted into this covenant and included in this promise. (Romans 11.17-20)

God is holy. If we serve him faithfully, we’ll bless people with tangible and spiritual blessings. Idols are unholy, serving selfish desires. Following idols, even with the best of intentions, causes spiritual and tangible damage to people. Trees are known by fruit and orthodoxy by orthopraxy.

Isaiah may have died hidden within a tree. We have been hidden in Christ who died on a tree. (Colossians 3.3)
Like Isaiah, may we admit our own and our culture’s uncleanness (Isaiah 6.5).
We die to ourselves upon Christ’s cross: “the hope in which we glory.” (Hebrews 3.6)
United with him, we will not be abandoned to the grave but will rise with healing for the nations.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

“Because the needy are oppressed, and the poor cry out in misery, I will rise up,” says the Lord, “And give them the help they long for.” — Psalm 12.5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings

2 Kings 21 (Listen – 4:06)
Hebrews 3 (Listen – 2:25)

Read more about Praying Through Ancient Hymns
It seems much of the most profound art in the church was originally intended for children. This hymn is one example…

Read more about A Hymn of the Oppressed
History might be very different if rather than idolizing the martyrs, we could study how not to become the oppressors.

False Promises and Threats

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 18.5-7, 28-32
5 Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook…

28 Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 
31 “Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 32 until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death!

Reflection: False Promises and Threats
By John Tillman

Hezekiah, king of Judah, is a breath of much-needed fresh air after the repeated depravity of the kings of Israel.

Hezekiah had the benefit of the counsel of some of the great prophets of the Bible. Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, and Amos all prophesied around this time. Isaiah even recorded his own version of the events of Sennacherib’s siege.

Sennacherib’s messenger promised that if Jerusalem surrendered they would eat “from their own vine and fig tree.” He was promising to bring the “good old days” back. The “vine and fig tree” quote originally refers to the golden years of Solomon’s rule (1 Kings 4.24) and is referenced by Micah in his prophecies (Micah 4.4). 

It is no mistake that Sennacherib’s silver-tongued messenger quotes the Hebrew scriptures to the people as he threatens them and attempts to entice them to surrender. Those who seek to manipulate us will often appeal to our nostalgia and our pride. “Don’t you remember how good life used to be?” “Don’t you remember how great your country was?” “All you have to do is surrender to our ideology and our interpretation of what God wants.”

The world co-opts the term of peace. But making peace with the world too often means surrendering our faith. Hezekiah took one of these threatening messages before God in the Temple and prayed over it. The next day the army withdrew, never to return. 

Pray this weekend, this prayer based on Hezekiah’s prayer in 1 Kings 19.14-17.

Lord, we are besieged with false promises and threats
They want us to join their parties, their factions, their empires.
They offer pacification instead of peace and retribution instead of righteousness.

We spread out their words before you…
“You’ll never have peace,” they say…
“Your faith is foolish,” they say…
“Your god is no different than any other god”…

We have no answer for them except to appeal to you.
We wish only to be worthy of your kingdom, rejecting all other kings.
To worship you, rejecting all other objects of worship.
Do not let your name be slandered.
Help us to stand amidst evil days holding out peace and righteousness.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant whose trust is in you. — Psalm 86.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 18 (Listen – 6:52)
Philemon (Listen – 2:52)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 19 (Listen – 6:11), Hebrews 1 (Listen – 2:15)
2 Kings 20 (Listen – 3:39), Hebrews 2 (Listen – 2:47)

Read more about Political Promises
Sennacherib’s commander assumes a binary choice—rely on Egypt or rely on Assyria.

Read more about A Tale of Two Kings
Petitioning for God’s help is not our last resort. It is the first one.