THE KINGDOM OF
KINGDOMS OF JUDAH
2 Kings 18 -25; 2 Chronicles 29-36
This history of the kingdom of Judah, from the fall of Israel to its own fall, is found in II Kings, from the eighteenth chapter to the close, and in II Chronicles, from chapter twenty-nine to the close. Some of it is also found in the books of the prophets who wrote during that period, especially in those of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The time included was about 130 years, covering the reigns of eight kings. Of these two reigned only three months each, and one only two years. The first, Hezekiah, was a good king, the best who had reigned since the division of the kingdom. He was preceded, however, by two kings, Jotham and Ahaz, who were very wicked, and under their evil influence the people had become very corrupt. It was therefore with great difficulty that Hezekiah induced them once more to live according to the law of Moses. As a divine acknowledgment of his fidelity, his reign was signalized by one of the most remarkable deliverances which Israel at any time experienced. It was the miraculous destruction by night of a vast army under Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, who had invaded the land while prosecuting a war against Egypt, and demanded the surrender of Jerusalem.
In Hezekiah's reign, the public career of the prophet Isaiah came to an end. He was called to be a prophet in the year that King Uzziah died, and his earlier prophetic discourses were devoted to denouncing the wickedness of the people under the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz. These should be read in connection with what is said in Kings and Chronicles of these two kings. While the latter books give the political history, Isaiah lifts the curtain from the state of society among the people, and shows how hideous it was. He was the constant supporter and adviser of Hezekiah in all his good undertakings, and many chapters of his book, up to the thirty-ninth, are to be studied in connection with Hezekiah's reign. The last twenty-seven chapters look forward to the captivity of Judah, and the deliverance from it, while many passages in every part of the book look forward to the time of the Messiah.
Hezekiah's good reign was followed by that of Manasseh, the wickedest of all the kings that ever reigned in Jerusalem. His reign was a long one, continuing for fifty-five years. The true religion was utterly abolished, and all the forms of idolatry known among the surrounding nations were substituted. The temple of God was made the center of these abominations. A whole generation of Jews grew up to mature years, and some to old age, without a chance to know the true God or to gain any knowledge of the Scriptures. Amon, the son and successor of Manasseh, continued in the ways of his father, adding two more years to this period of apostasy. When Josiah, the next king, came to the throne, he was only eight years old, and twelve more years were added to the period of darkness before he reached an age to vigorously attempt a reformation.
By the providence of God, and perhaps through the agency of the prophet Zephaniah, he was at this time brought under such influences that he undertook to restore the true worship, and to abolish idolatry. In his eighteenth year, when the reign of darkness and ignorance had endured for seventy-five years, a copy of the law of God was found in the temple and from reading it both the king and the people were enabled to realize the terrifying sinfulness of themselves and their fathers. A heroic effort was made by the king to bring the people to repentance, and to restore them to the favor of God; and he appeared to be successful; but the prophet Jeremiah, who had begun to prophesy in the thirteenth year of Josiah, and who lent all of his influence as a prophet to the support of the king, publicly denounced the reformation of the people as being feigned and not from the heart. The first twenty chapters of his book should be studied in connection with the history of Josiah's reign, for they depict in most vivid colors the state of society and religion which had been and was still prevalent. He also predicted, again and again, the downfall of the kingdom in consequence of these sins. Josiah and Jeremiah were both young men when they began their joint labors for the salvation of the people, and no two young men ever fought a braver battle together with almost a whole nation combined against them.
Josiah was the last king of Judah who tried to avert the doom that was coming upon the nation according to the words of many prophets. His own fate was a tragic one, for he was slain in a battle against the king of Egypt, who was marching an army through his territory to make war upon Assyria with whom Josiah was in a friendly alliance. Only twenty-two years lay between his death and the beginning of the predicted captivity, and these were occupied by the reigns of three of his sons and one grandson, all four of whom rejected the counsel of God given through Jeremiah, and persisted in the wickedness which now characterized nearly all the people.
During the whole of this time, Jeremiah was the most conspicuous man in the nation, not as the counselor and supporter of the kings, as in the days of Josiah, but as the mouthpiece of God, crying out constantly against the wickedness of king and subjects. All of his book, from the twenty-first chapter to the close, should be carefully studied in connection with the reigns of these four kings. Unfortunately, these chapters are not arranged in chronological order in the book, but in the preface to almost every prophetic discourse he tells us under what king, and in what year of his reign it was delivered. No character depicted in the Bible was more heroic than that of Jeremiah, and the account of none is more thrillingly interesting. He has been called the weeping prophet, because of the deep distress which he felt for the woes which were coming upon his people, his predictions of which they would not believe. He also suffered much violence at their hands. The little book called Lamentations is an expression in the poetry of his sorrow over Jerusalem when it finally fell into the hands of the heathen.
Questions on Chapter 8
1. In what books is the story of the surviving kingdom of Judah told?
2. What was the character of the reign of (1) Jotham, (2) Ahaz, ( 3) Hezekiah, (4) Manasseh, (5) Josiah?
3. What may be said of the date and prophetic work of (1) Isaiah, (2) Jeremiah?
4. What were the occasion and character of the reformation under Josiah?
5. What was its success?