Backsliding

A constant problem for God’s people while they were living in the Promised Land was backsliding. The prophet Jeremiah declared “The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every  high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot” (Jeremiah 3:6) The Hebrew word translated backsliding , meshubah means backturning (4878), as in turning your back on someone. Another translation of meshubah is the word faithless. In other words, the people of Israel lacked faith. They did not believe in God and would not repent of their sins against him.

God used the northern kingdom of Israel as an example of his judgment when he sent them into captivity in 722 B.C. In spite of the fact that the northern kingdom ceased to exist after that, the southern kingdom of Judah followed down the same pathway to destruction. Jeremiah remarked, “And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole hart, but feignedly, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:10). The Hebrew word translated feignedly, sheqer (sheh´ – ker) refers to an untruth or sham (8267). Sheqer defines a way of life that goes contrary to the law of God. Sheqer is a relational term signifying ‘”one’s inability to keep faith” with what one has said or to respond positively to the faithfulness of another being.”

It could be said that Judah had become desensitized to sin. It no longer bothered the people when they made sacrifices to idols. They were like prostitutes that perform sex acts for money. It was just a way to earn a living. The LORD declared, “Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:20). The strong language used to describe Israel’s betrayal indicated that it was intentional act. The people treated God as if he were their enemy and could not be trusted with the truth. The people of Judah no longer considered themselves to be children of God, but instead were acting like children of the  foreign god Baal.

Even though the situation with Judah seemed hopeless, God did not intend to abandon them as he had the northern kingdom of Israel. God said to them, “Return ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings” (Jeremiah 3;22). In order to cure his rebellious children of their backsliding, God would turn them over to the Babylonians so that they could experience life apart from him. The objective of their Babylonian captivity was to remind God’s people of what slavery was like. It had been hundreds of years since the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt. Over the course of seventy years, God expected the people of Judah to come to a point where they would say:

We lie down in shame, and our confusion covereth us:  for we have sinned against  the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God. (Jeremiah 3:25)

Hidden

Within the framework of the Mosaic Law was a provision for God’s people to receive mercy if they would repent from their sins. Because they had taken advantage of this provision numerous times, there came a point when God basically said, that’s enough. You will have to be punished in order to learn your lesson. The way that God chose to discipline his children was to allow them to be taken into captivity by their enemies, the Babylonians. Before the end of their time in the Promised Land, God spoke to the people of Judah and warned them that the end was coming. In one last attempt to spare them from destruction, God sent the prophet Zephaniah to tell the people that “the great day of the LORD” was near (Zephaniah 1:14).

Zephaniah did not offer the people of Judah an opportunity to escape their punishment, but he did say there was a way they could escape death. He said, “Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger” (Zephaniah 2:3). Zephaniah told the people the way for them to be saved was through humility, asking the LORD’s help. The Hebrew word translated seek, baqash means to search out by any method, but specifically it refers to worship and prayer (1245). God’s ultimate goal was to restore his relationship with his people. It was only because they had turned away from him repeatedly that he was forced to discipline them.

The best way to understand the process of salvation was for Zephaniah to let the people know they were lost. Jesus often told parables about things being lost to illustrate God’s desire to reconcile with those people that had been separated from him by sin (Matthew 10:6, 15:24, 18:11). When Cain killed his brother Abel, he was sent out and prevented from ever seeing God’s face again (Genesis 4:14). In actuality, what happened was that Cain was hidden from God’s sight. In a sense, you could say he was invisible to God. The Israelites had committed so many sins while they was living in the Promised Land that God could no longer look at them. They were too disgusting for him to look at. The only way God could reconcile with them was to punish his children and force them to repent.

Zephaniah’s call to repentance included the possibility that God might still show mercy to those people that humbled themselves before him. In the same way that they had been hidden from God’s sight, Zephaniah suggested the people “seek righteousness, seek meekness; it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger (Zephaniah 2:3). In this instance, the word hid refers to someone hiding or sheltering a person from his enemies (5641). In other words, God could conceal the repentant sinner from the Babylonian army so that his life would be spared and he would be taken into captivity instead of killed. If God’s people remained alive, God promised he would allow them to return to Jerusalem when their captivity was over (Zephaniah 2:7).

The end

Josiah was the last king of Judah of which it was said, “he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:2). Josiah reigned from 640 to 609 B.C., during the time period when the Assyrian empire was coming to an end. During Josiah’s reign, you could say that Judah experienced a revival of sorts, but it may only have been a last ditch effort to spare the nation from God’s judgment. Josiah did everything he could to get Judah back on track, to the point where it was said of him, “like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to the law of Moses” (2 Kings 23:25).

The reforms enacted by Josiah that are recorded in the twenty third chapter of 2 Kings indicate that Josiah left no stone unturned in his effort to cleanse Judah of idolatry. The  only problem was it was too late to change the outcome of Judah’s fate. In particular, king Manasseh’s wickedness was identified as the reason God would not change his mind again. It says in 2 Kings 23:26, “Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal.” The Hebrew word translated provoked, ka’ac (kaw – as´) means to trouble or to grieve (3707). God was both angry and sad that the nation of Judah was beyond the reach of his mercy.

Josiah’s death in 609 B.C. was perhaps the greatest testament to his willingness to do whatever it took to try and change Judah’s fate. When Pharaoh-nechoh went to Assyria to assist with their fight against the Babylonians, king Josiah attempted to stop him and was killed in the battle. Josiah was killed at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29), the location where the battle of Armageddon will take place (Revelation 16:16). In the final battle that takes place on earth, God will bring an end to the kingdom of Satan. It says in Revelation 16:16-17, “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.”

The missing book

King Josiah, the grandson of Hezekiah, began to reign in Judah when he was only eight years old (2 Kings 22:1). His reign began in 640 B.C. and it says in 2 Kings 22:3 that in the eighteenth year of his reign, approximately 622 B.C., he launched a building project to restore the temple of God. A hundred years had passed since the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel and the Assyrian empire was on the verge of collapse. While the temple construction was going on, Hilkiah the high priest “found the book of the law in the house of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:8).

There is no mention in scripture of the book of the law being lost, nor any indication of when it had last been used in temple worship services. The last reference to the temple was at the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign. It says in 2 Chronicles 29:3, “He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the LORD, and repaired them.” That was in 715 B.C. It is possible the book was hidden during the reign of Queen Athaliah, along with Joash her grandson, in order to prevent the queen from destroying them around 840 B.C. (2 Chronicles 22:11-12).

Hilkiah the high priest gave the book to king Josiah’s scribe Shaphan. “And Shaphan the scribe shewed the king saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes” (2 Kings 22:10-11). We don’t know whether Shaphan read the entire book of the law known as the Pentateuch or just the sections dealing with God’s commandments, but it is likely Shaphan concluded with the book of Deuteronomy which specifies the blessings and curses associated with keeping the law.

Josiah’s reaction to hearing the law indicated he was aware Judah was in trouble. Typically, a person rent his clothes as a sign of mourning, such as when Job received the news that all his children were dead (Job 1:20). Josiah sent several men to inquire of the LORD and he received a message through the prophetess Huldah. She said, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to me, thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah read” (2 Kins 22:15-16).

The place God was referring to was Jerusalem. The holy city had been corrupted by idolatry and had reached the point where no one cared about the law anymore as evidenced by the high priest’s ignorance of the book of the law’s whereabouts. The good news for Josiah was God would spare him from going into captivity. God told him, “Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place” (2 Kings 22:20).

Crossing the line

King Hezekiah’s son Manasseh had the longest reign of any king of Judah. It says in 2 Kings 21:1, “Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem.” The first ten years of Manasseh’s reign were a co-regency with his father Hezekiah. This occurred during the extended period of Hezekiah’s life after God healed him of his sickness. Manasseh’s character was the complete opposite of his father Hezekiah’s during the early years of his reign. It says of Manasseh in 2 Kings 21:2, “he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.”

One explanation for Manasseh’s evil behavior was the attitude of Hezekiah after God healed him. The visit from Berodach-baladan showed that Hezekiah had become filled with pride and may have hardened his heart toward God after he was judged for his bad behavior. Another possibility was the influence of Manasseh’s mother. Her name, Hephzi-bah means my desire is in her (2657). Perhaps Manasseh was concerned with pleasing his mother and wanted to impress her with his outrageous behavior. Regardless of the source, it is clear that Manasseh’s behavior was the worst of any king of Judah.

The word used to describe Manasseh’s actions, abominations, is derived from the Hebrew word tâ‘ab (taw – ab´) which means to loathe (8681). Abominations refers to something morally disgusting, that which is detestable to God  because it is contrary to his nature. In a nutshell, Manasseh was a dangerous, sinister, and repulsive man. He crossed the line between moral and immoral behavior and did everything he could to break up what was good and desirable in Jerusalem. With regards to the people, it says in 2 Kings 21:9, “Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the children of Israel.” In other words, Manasseh intentionally led the people astray and caused them to sin against God.

In God’s economy, you reap what you sow. God’s response to Manasseh’s behavior is recorded in 2 Kings 21:11-15. This section of scripture begins with the statement, “Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done” (2 Kings 21:11) and concluded with the statement, “because they have done” (2 Kings 21:15) indicating God would hold the people accountable for their behavior also. The severity of God’s punishment is captured in 2 Kings 21:12. It says, “Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Behold, I  am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth it, both of his ears shall tingle.”

The phrase used in this verse, “both of his ears shall tingle” (2 Kings 21:12) refers to receiving shocking news. Each time it is used in the Bible, it is associated with destruction of a dramatic nature. In the case of Manasseh, it marked the end of God’s deliverance of his people. From that point forward, God would no longer defend Jerusalem from its enemies. In fact, God intended to do the opposite, deliver his people into the hands of their enemies. It says of the LORD in 2 Kings 21:14-15, “And I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hands of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; because they have done that which is evil in my sight, and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even unto this day.”

 

Pride

We know that king Hezekiah’s healing took place sometime between 703 – 701 B.C. because of a visit he received from messengers of Berodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon (2 Kings 20:12). Berodach-baladan reigned in Babylon from 721 – 710 B.C. After being defeated and forced into exile by Sargon II king of Assyria, he returned to the thrown for a brief period from 703 – 702 B.C. His visit to Hezekiah most likely took place during that time period. Berodach-baladan wanted to form an alliance with Hezekiah and probably asked for his help in fighting against their common enemy Assyria. Although God had promised to deliver Jerusalem out of the hand of the king of Assyria, Hezekiah was not at liberty to form an alliance with Babylon and should have sent Berodach-baladan’s men away without any acknowledgment from him. Instead, Hezekiah not only welcomed the messengers into his palace, but also treated them as if they were his faithful friends (2 Kings 20:13).

Hezekiah’s action was in principle a denial of the covenantal nature of his royal office that was probably motivated by pride. Similar to when king David took a census of the people of Israel and Judah (2 Samuel 24:1), king Hezekiah was acting independent of God’s will. David’s census represented an unwarranted glorying in and dependence on human power rather than the LORD.  It says in 2 Kings 20:13 that Hezekiah hearkened unto Berodach-baladan’s men “and shewed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.” Clearly, Hezekiah was boasting in his riches.

The Hebrew word translated dominion in 2 Kings 20:13 refers to rulership over a designated realm or kingdom. King Hezekiah was acting as if Jerusalem were his kingdom when in actuality it was God’s kingdom and all that it contained belonged to him. Although Hezekiah had responsibility for managing God’s kingdom, God was still the ultimate King and he had dominion over all its resources. After he made this mistake, Hezekiah received a message from God. “And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD, Behold, the  days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried unto Bablyon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD” (2 Kings 20:16-17).

 

True believers

Fasting and praying were common religious practices in the Israelite community that were associated with mourning and repentance. The first mention of these activities is in 2 Samuel 12:16 where it says that king David fasted and prayed because of his sick child. David wanted God to spare the child’s life, but his son died anyway.

Fasting was perceived to be a means of obtaining God’s mercy. As a form of spiritual intervention, it was effective in gaining God’s attention, although the desired result was not always obtained. Isaiah identified right and wrong types of fasting. One of the characteristics of the wrong type of fasting was an attitude of entitlement (Isaiah 58:3).

An indication that a person was fasting for the wrong reason was a desire for vengeance (Isaiah 58:4). The purpose of fasting was supposed to be to humble oneself before God (Isaiah 58:5). Speaking through Isaiah, the LORD declared, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6).

Fasting was designed to be a tool to break free from spiritual bondage. Instead of focusing on their own spiritual condition, the Israelites had turned fasting into a speed dial to access God’s power. What God wanted was a sincere search for sin in one’s own life. His expectation was, “When thou see the naked that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh” (Isaiah 58:7).

Evidence of genuine righteousness was important to God because he wanted his children to be an example for others. The LORD often referred to himself and his people as a light to the world. Regarding the practice of genuine righteousness, the LORD said, “then shall thy light break forth as the morning…then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:8,10).

Ultimately, God wanted his people to demonstrate the results of following his commands, but in the near term, the goal was to show the world that God’s promises were reliable. After the people of Judah were taken into captivity in Babylon, a remnant was to return and rebuild Jerusalem. The remnant was going to be a group of true believers that would pave the way for the birth of Israel’s Messiah.

During their time in Babylon, the Israelites would be tested to see who among God’s people were truly committed to him. Those who were merely religious would not survive. Isaiah said of these true believers:

And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and  like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in. (Isaiah 58:11-12)