Saturday, May 9, 2015

II Chronicles 32

II Chronicles 32 talks about King Sennacherib of Assyria’s unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah.  It also covers Hezekiah’s pride and death.

In preparation for Assyria’s invasion of Jerusalem, Hezekiah stopped up the water supply outside of the city so that the Assyrians would have nothing to drink, and he diverted water to Jerusalem, so that Jerusalem could withstand a siege.  Hezekiah also repaired walls, made a lot of darts and shields, and appointed captains over the people.  Hezekiah told the captains that God was with them to fight their battles.

Isaiah 22:9-11 was critical of Hezekiah for this, saying that the Judahites were not regarding or respecting God.  The Chronicler, however, does not seem to disapprove of Hezekiah’s policies.
The Chronicler ordinarily does not express disapproval of a Judahite king taking practical steps to fortify Judah and to wage war; according to more than one commentator I have read, the Chronicler actually viewed a Judahite king’s building projects and victories as signs of divine blessing on the righteous king.  The Chronicler, however, does disapprove of Judahite kings entering into alliances with other nations.  For the Chronicler, that is a sign of not trusting God (II Chronicles 16:7), and it is especially awful in God’s eyes when a Judahite king enters into an alliance with someone who is wicked (II Chronicles 19).

According to Raymond Dillard, the Chronicler omits the part of the story about Hezekiah awaiting help from the Egyptians (II Kings 18:20-25) because the Chronicler, overall, wants to depict Hezekiah as righteous, and Hezekiah being in an alliance with Egypt would make him less than righteous.  Granted, later in II Chronicles 32, Hezekiah does have some moral problems, specifically pride, and the Chronicler narrates that God was about to punish Hezekiah, Judah, and Jerusalem for that, but Hezekiah caused the punishment to be postponed through his repentance (which, in my opinion, is contrary to how the Chronicler’s ideology is usually stereotyped—-as supporting individual retribution rather than punishment being postponed to a future time).  In the case of Sennacherib’s invasion, however, God miraculously saved Jerusalem through an angel, who slaughtered Assyrian soldiers, and the Chronicler may have figured that God would not have done that had Hezekiah been less than righteous.

The Chronicler’s ideology has long confused me, specifically when the issue is reliance on God.  The Chronicler deems alliances as a sign of not trusting God, since the Judahite kings are seeking security in the alliances rather than God.  Yet, the Chronicler has no problems with kings taking practical steps to defend their nation—-fortifications, weapons, soldiers, wars.  Are not these things signs of distrusting God?  If God has one’s back, why should one take any practical steps?

Hezekiah believed that God had Jerusalem’s back, even while he was taking practical steps to defend Jerusalem.  He may have remembered that, while God sometimes unilaterally helps his people without them lifting a finger, there are also times when God blesses the efforts of the Judahites—-and yet they still had to make an effort.  This occurs more than once in Chronicles.  Perhaps Hezekiah did not want to put God to the test by doing nothing to protect Jerusalem; he still recognized that he needed God’s help, though, because his plans were not fool-proof.  The Assyrians were powerful, with a lot of men and resources.  Without God’s help, Jerusalem could fall, notwithstanding Hezekiah’s fortifications, weapons, and captains.  In the end, it seems, God delivered Jerusalem without the Judahites having to lift a finger; maybe the water supply helped the Jerusalemites during the siege, however.

The Chronicler may have a problem with alliances because they can lead to compromise.  A king fortifying his nation is one thing.  Relying on somebody else, who worships other gods, is another.  Alliances can also impose obligations on its members.  Would I say that the Chronicler is misanthropic?  I am not sure if I would go that far, but relationships can easily lead to compromise.  Yet, in my opinion, the larger counsel of the Bible is not that we should avoid relationships but should pursue and enjoy them, while being careful.

I would agree with the Chronicler that a good policy is for one to trust in God, while also taking action.  My dissertation won’t write itself.  To find work, I need to apply.  Yet, God can bless my efforts.  If there is anything of which the Chronicler disapproves in II Chronicles 32, however, it is pride, which was made evident when Hezekiah showed off his wealth to the visiting Babylonians.  In being proud, Hezekiah forgot that God was the source of his wealth, that he depended on God.  That can be dangerous territory.  Even if one is an atheist, a bit of humility is good, since so much wealth comes from factors beyond an individual’s control: intelligence, social skills, resources, opportunities, and sometimes just plain luck.

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