Saturday, May 30, 2015

II Chronicles 35

II Chronicles 35 is about the Passover celebration under King Josiah of Judah, as well as Josiah’s death.

I have five items.

1.  II Chronicles 35:3 states: “And [Josiah] said unto the Levites that taught all Israel, which were holy unto the LORD, Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel did build; it shall not be a burden upon your shoulders: serve now the LORD your God, and his people Israel” (KJV).

Drawing from the MacArthur Study Bible, the Nelson Study Bible, and Rashi, the picture I got was that King Manasseh had displaced the Ark of the Covenant with the idol (probably an Asherah) that is mentioned in II Chronicles 33:7, 15, leaving the Ark with no place to rest.  King Josiah tells the Levites to return the Ark to the Temple, and then he says that the Ark will no longer be upon their shoulders.  According to Rashi, Josiah tells them that part about the Ark not being a burden on their shoulders to communicate to them that they should get going on their new responsibilities: they can now leave behind carrying the Ark for good, and they should now help out with the Passover celebration.

According to the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary, however, some ancient interpreters then had a question: Why did it take Josiah so long to return the Ark to the Temple?  Didn’t he start his reform long before his Passover?  Referring to Babylonian Talmud Yoma 52b, the Artscroll mentions the idea that the Levites were not taking the Ark to the Temple or the Holy of Holies, but rather were hiding it in a safe place, in light of the destruction that the prophetess Huldah predicted for the Temple in II Chronicles 34:24.  But does not II Chronicles 35:3 say that the Levites are to take the Ark to the house of the LORD?  The Artscroll explains that, according to this interpretation, the safe place for the Ark is the House of the LORD—-it is one of the few holy places around, after Kings Manasseh and Amon had defiled the Temple.  And why does Josiah tells the priests that they no longer have to carry the Ark, according to this interpretation?  Because they would have to grow accustomed to the Ark not being present with them, since they would be in Babylon.

2.  King Josiah donates animals for the Passover offerings.  The priests, Levites, and people offer Passover offerings for themselves.  Because the priests are also busy with the burnt offerings, the Levites prepare their own and the priests’ Passover offering.  The Levites ensure that things run smoothly.  According to v 12, the Levites give the burnt offerings to the families of the Israelite people, perhaps so the families can then present the burnt offerings themselves.  Is that much of a sacrifice on the people’s part, since they are presenting as a burnt offering an animal that was given to them, rather than their own animal?  I do not know.  I do see here, however, the lesson of worship being given to us as a gift, and yet we are still participants.  As a Christian, I think of Jesus dying on the cross to grant me the right to worship God, and to make possible any service that I offer to God.  Yet, I still participate by offering myself in worship and service.

3.  Rashi in his interpretation of II Chronicles 35:18 says that Jeremiah had returned the ten tribes of Israel to Israel by the time of Josiah.  So, according to this view, I assume, the ten tribes of Israel are not lost, for they were returned.

4.  In II Chronicles 35, King Necho of Egypt is going north to fight Carchemish by the Euphrates River, and Josiah tries to stop him.  According to many scholars, Necho was trying to assist the Assyrians, and Josiah wanted to stop Necho from doing this so that the Assyrians could be defeated and Josiah would no longer be under their thumb, allowing Josiah to regain glory for Judah.  Necho tells Josiah that this is not Josiah’s fight and that God was the one who commanded Necho to go north. Josiah disregards this message and dies.

Interpreters have debated what Necho meant when he said that God told him to go north.  The commentator on Chronicles in the Jewish Study Bible says that we see here an example of spontaneous prophecy: the Chronicler depicts God having spoken to this Gentile king.  I Esdras 1:28 states that Jeremiah the prophet warned Josiah.  Two Jewish views, which the Artscroll mentions, are that Necho had in mind Isaiah 19:2’s statement that God will set Egyptian against Egyptian (how that relates to Necho going north to help Assyria, I have no idea), and that Necho was told by an Egyptian god (elohim can be a term for a god) to go north.

In my post here, I refer to an article by Stanley Frost that notes that, in II Kings 18:25, the Assyrians besieging Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah claim that God told them to attack, and yet God delivered Jerusalem.  The Assyrians’ “Thus saith the LORD” seems to have carried no water; why, then, would one expect Josiah to listen to another Gentile king’s “Thus saith the LORD”?  I would say that one could ask a similar question about the other interpretations of Necho’s words: Why should Josiah care what an Egyptian god told an Egyptian king?  Or so what if Necho is following Isaiah?  The King of Assyria during Hezekiah’s reign could arguably claim to follow Isaiah, too, for God in Isaiah 10:5 calls the Assyrian the rod of his anger, and yet God still delivered Jerusalem from the Assyrians.  I Esdras went the route of saying that Jeremiah was delivering the prophecy, and that makes a degree of sense, for Jeremiah was a prophet whom Josiah may have known and trusted.  According to the commentator on Chronicles in the Jewish Study Bible, the Aramaic Targum says that “Josiah died because he did not seek instruction from the LORD.”

5.  II Chronicles 35:25 states: ” And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations” (KJV).

It is remarkable that, even up to the time of the Chronicler, people were weeping the death of Josiah, a righteous king who had a tragic death.  Josiah’s death had a lasting effect on the Jews’ consciousness.

II Chronicles 35:25 says that Jeremiah lamented for Josiah, and there is a rabbinic view in Tosefta Ta’anit 2:10 that part of Lamentations is about Josiah’s death (and, according to the Artscroll, the sages say that Lamentations 4 concerns Josiah). Ibn-Ezra disagreed, however, saying that Lamentations is about events after the time of Josiah, which is probably what most biblical scholars say.

Raymond Dillard in the Word Biblical Commentary says that, in Jeremiah 22:10, Jeremiah tries to discourage Judahites from continuing to weep for Josiah.  The verse states: “Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country” (KJV).  Jeremiah is probably saying this to tell the Judahites about the disaster that they will face if they do not repent.  They should not weep for Josiah, but for themselves, Jeremiah appears to be saying.  Moreover, in v 16, Jeremiah seems to appeal to how Josiah had shown that he knew God by judging the cause of the poor and needy, whereas Judahites now (when Jeremiah is making this prophecy) oppress others.  Jeremiah may be saying: Look, if you want to honor Josiah’s memory, don’t make lamentations; do what Josiah did.

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