Yeshayahu One: Prophecy

Starting things off right away here, we are introduced to Isaiah. He’s the son of Amoz, and he has a vision regarding Judah and Jerusalem. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord has spoken; Children I have raised and exalted, yet they have rebelled against Me (Isaiah 1:2).” It seems that this vision is taking place alongside many of the events that I read about in Melachim. But now, instead of hearing the facts on the ground, we’re hearing directly from someone in contact with God about His reaction to the events – more of the why than the what. God believes that the people are ungrateful to Him as their creator and protector, and therefore they have sinned and corrupted future generations through their actions. The situation has become pretty dire, and still the people don’t stop. “Your land is desolate; your cities burnt with fire. Your land – in your presence, strangers devour it; and it is desolate as that turned over to strangers (Isaiah 1:7).” The people seem incredibly childlike, in the worst way possible. They know they’re doing wrong, and yet they have no self control to stop it.

The people are still sacrificing, but without the actions to back it up, it’s all in vain. I feel like that message can be heard in so many situations. So many people are terrible all year, and then once or twice they atone, either to God on Yom Kippur, or families on the various days designated for them, or on staff appreciation days at work. What really counts isn’t the empty gestures of one day, but the unsung actions on all of the others. “Learn to do good, seek justice, strengthen the robbed, perform justice for the orphan, plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17).” Unlike so many commandments which seem weird to me, this one makes total sense. Do good in the world. Done.

I already like how this chapter made me think and reflect much more than nearly all of Melachim did. I’m excited to see how this continues.

Melachim II Twenty-Five: Nebuchadnezzar

This chapter marks the end of the two books of Kings. It’s been a long haul, and it’s the end of a stage of Tanakh. Up until now, the text has mostly been narrative. With the start of the next part of Prophets, it’s about to become much more lyrical, which will definitely be a new challenge. The books also become much longer, meaning the benchmarks of success in this study experience will be fewer and farther between. It’ll be interesting to see how my study is impacted by this change, and if it’s more enlightening now that things are getting more poetic, or if it’ll be harder to keep on track and understand what’s going on.

But before all that starts, last chapter of Kings! “And the city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah (Kings II 25:2).” Zedekiah is reigning in Jerusalem, and Nebuchadnezzar is attacking the city. There’s a famine at the same time, and Jerusalem is basically screwed. There’s no food, and the city is attacked. The king escapes, but he’s captured outside of Jericho, defenseless without his army. The torture that Zedekiah undergoes is horrible. His sons are killed in front of him, then he’s blinded and brought to Babylon in chains. Jerusalem is meanwhile burnt and the population decimated.

“Now the chief executioner left over some of the poorest of the land as vine-dressers and farmers (Kings II 25:12).” The Temple is destroyed, and its riches are sent to Babylon. The priests are exiled and murdered, and most of Judea is ultimately sent into exile as well. Nebuchadnezzar appoints Gedaliah son of Ahikam to rule over the people who remain in Judah. He is killed pretty quickly though, by Ishmael son of Nethaniah.

“And it was in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, that Evil-merodach king of Babylonia, in the year of his coronation, lifted up the head of Jehoiachin, king of Judah and released him from prison (Kings II 25:27).” It seems that he’s largely restored, and with that the chapter (and the book) end. I haven’t loved this book. It’s been very repetitive, and often hard to keep up with where we are in the chronology of the various monarchies. I’m excited for the next step, and the new challenge that it brings. 595 chapters to go! Being under 600 chapters is an exciting mark to have reached. It means I’ve read over 300, which to me is an impressive dent towards my overall goal. Excited to keep it going tomorrow!

Melachim II Twenty-Four: Nebuchadnezzar

“In his days, Nebuchadnezzar went up, and Jehoiakim was his vassal for three years, then he turned and rebelled against him (Kings II 24:1).” Drama! God basically causes Nebuchadnezzar to attack the Judeans because of all of the sins of the kings and the people. Jehoiakim dies, and his son Jehoiachin takes the throne. Nothing like unique and not at all confusing names to keep things interesting! He’s 18 when he takes the throne, and he reigns three months in Jerusalem. Following the pattern, he does evil, and at the same time, Nebuchadnezzar’s followers attack Jerusalem. He ends up capturing King Jehoiachin and his mother and his servants, and basically all of his retinue. He takes the treasures from the palace and the Temple, and sends almost all of the Jerusalemites into exile in Babylon.

With this we begin the story of the Babylonian exile, a tragic time for the Jewish people. “And the king of Babylonia crowned Mattaniah his uncle in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah (Kings II 24:17).” Zedekiah reigns in Jerusalem for 11 years. He’s evil too, and God’s wrath turns towards Jerusalem again. In spite of the special relationship that God has with Jerusalem, it’s clearly not an unconditional one, and it’s been beaten away over the years by the actions of the people.

Melachim II Twenty-Three: King Josiah

“And the king summoned, and they assembled before him all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem (Kings II 23:1).” The king went to the Temple, and along with the Judeans and the people of Jerusalem, he read the scroll that had been found. It’s referred to here as the scroll of the covenant, so as the king reads it aloud, he reaffirms the covenant between the people and God, and the commitment to observing the commandments. The king has the priests take all of the pagan ritual objects out of the Temple and destroy them outside of Jerusalem. “And he abolished the pagan priests whom the king of Judah had appointed and who had burnt incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and the environs of Jerusalem, and those who burnt incense to the Baal, to the sun, to the moon, and to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven (Kings II 23:5).” All of the statues and pagan altars are demolished.

“However, the priests of the high places would not go up to the Lord’s altar in Jerusalem, but they would eat unleavened cakes among their brethren (Kings II 23:9).” Clearly, there’s some dissension in the ranks. The king keeps doing good though, turning the land back from the sin of paganism. This leads to the slaughter of the pagan priests, in addition to the destruction of property. In this case, the loss of life isn’t seen as a bad thing. Josiah returns to Jerusalem in triumph.

“And the king commanded all the people, saying, ‘Perform a Passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, as it is written in this scroll of the covenant (Kings II 23:21).'” Now this is all starting to become more impressive in its scope. The people had been so corrupted over the years that they had forgotten the covenant completely, and hadn’t observedPassover since the time of the judges. By rediscovering the scroll, Josiah recovered a form of Judaism that had essentially died out. Josiah seems like a champion, a truly incredible leader. But God still can’t forgive the transgressions of the previous kings, particularly Manasseh, in spite of Josiah’s actions. Josiah is eventually killed in battle against the Egyptian pharaoh, but he is buried in Jerusalem, and his son Jehoahaz takes over the throne of Judah.

Jehoahaz immediately starts to do evil, instead of following the good example set for hi by his father. He ends up being imprisoned by Pharaoh so that he won’t reign in Jerusalem, and the people are subject to a steep fine. Another one of Josiah’s sons, Eliakim, is crowned instead. He takes the name Jehoiakim for some reason, and like his brother and most of his ancestry, he too turns to evil.

Melachim II Twenty-Two: King Josiah

“Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath (Kings II 22:1).” Josiah is a good king, and God approves of his actions. He seems to stick to the middle of the road, not aligning with either the right or the left. Ten years into his reign, Josiah sends a messenger to the Temple to ask that the high priest gather up all of the silver that has been given to God’s house. “And let them give it into the hands of the foremen of the work, who are appointed in the house of the Lord, and let them give it to the workers who are in the house of the Lord, to repair the damage of the Temple (Kings II 22:5).”

The workers are paid. “And Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, ‘Hilkiah the priest gave me a scroll,’ And Shaphan read it before the king (Kings II 22:10).” The king tears his clothes upon hearing the words in the scroll. I’m not quite clear on what the scroll says that merits this reaction, but the king springs into action, commanding the priests. It turns out that the scroll indicates that God will bring further destruction to the people because of their pagan tendencies. However, because Josiah is a good and just king, He will wait until he dies naturally to bring this calamity, so that he isn’t forced to see it.

Melachim II Twenty-One: Manasseh

Hezekiah is dead, and his son Manasseh becomes king at the young age of twelve. He’ll end up having a long reign of 55 years. “And he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord; like the abominations of the nations that the Lord had driven out from before the children of Israel (Kings II 21:2).” So not only does he not particularly take after his father, but he also actively undoes his father’s work by reestablishing pagan altars. He even builds foreign altars in the Temple, God’s house, and passes his son through fire. This is a phrase used several times in Tanakh, which indicates having children participate in cultish rites, or even child sacrifice. It’s unforgivable in the eyes of God and the ancient Israelites, as is a lot of what Manasseh does.

God talks to the prophets about Manasseh. “Therefore, has the Lord God of Israel said, ‘Behold I bring calamity on Jerusalem and Judah, concerning which the two ears of all those who hear it will tingle (Kings II 21:12).'” God is fed up, to the point that He no longer feels loyalty to the people, and has no problem giving them to their enemies. On top of all of this, Manasseh sheds a great deal of innocent blood. Finally though, he dies, and his son Amon takes the throne at the age of 22. This king only reigns for two years though, before he is assassinated by his own servants in his palace. The chapter ends with Josiah, his son, taking the throne.

Melachim II Twenty: Hezekiah’s Illness

Hezekiah gets very sick, and Isaiah comes to visit him. The prophecy that Isaiah comes to deliver isn’t a happy one, but it is practical. Hezekiah is going to die, so he is instructed to get his household in order to prepare for his death. This sad news isn’t immediately accepted. Instead, Hezekiah prays for a change in his fate. “Please, O Lord, remember now, how I walked before You truly and wholeheartedly, and I did what is good in Your eyes.’ And Hezekiah wept profusely (Kings II 20:3).” It appears that his plea is sincere, because God instructs Isaiah to let him know that his prayer has been heard and he will be cured. This is a nice story that portrays God as merciful, and open to the petitions of the people. Hezekiah gets off pretty well: he has 15 years added to his life, in addition to a guarantee of victory over Assyria and the protection of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, news has spread about Hezekiah’s illness, and the king of Babylonia sends get well gifts. Hezekiah receives the Babylonian messengers gracefully, and shows them all the riches of his palace. But Isaiah predicts negative fallout from this gesture. “Behold a time will come when everything in your palace and what your forefathers have stored up, will be carried off to Babylonia; nothing shall remain,’ said the Lord (Kings II 20:17).” This is the first that we hear about the Babylonian exile, which will be a time of great upheaval for the people. But for now, Hezekiah dies, and his son takes over the throne.

Melachim II Nineteen: Hezekiah and Assyria

“And it was when King Hezekiah heard that he rent his garments, and covered himself with sackcloth, and came to the house of the Lord (Kings II 19:1).” He’s devastated, so he sends for Isaiah, the prophet. He sends his most trusted servants as emissaries, begging for advice from the prophet. “And Isaiah said to them, ‘So shall you say to your master, So has the Lord said, ‘Have no fear of the words that you have heard, that the servants of the king of Assyria blasphemed Me (Kings II 19:6).'” He prophecies that the Assyrian king will fall in battle. When the servants return, they find that the king is fighting a war against Libnah.

Meanwhile, Hezekiah goes and prays to God. “And now, O Lord our God, please deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God alone (Kings II 19:19).” Isaiah sends messages to the king, letting him know of God’s anger and disappointment. But we also find out that the Assyrian king will not be able to enter Jerusalem, and that God will protect His city.

The chapter has a dramatic end. First, an angel of God kills 185,000 Assyrians. Then, the king retreats and goes home to Nineveh. And finally, as he is praying in one of his temples, his sons kill him. Quite the series of events! The angel killing the Assyrians is a particularly confounding, abstract concept. I’ve been thinking about what my next Jewish studies project will be, and this is one of the portions of Tanakh that makes me want to reread it all again, with commentaries. It goes to show why this kind of studying takes a lifetime of pursuit, and is never truly over. There’s still plenty of time to go with this project, and so many other things I want to do all at the same time!

Melachim II Eighteen: Hezekiah

“And it was in the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, the king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz the king of Judah, became king (Kings II 18:1).” Personal anecdote: I have serious issues with Hezekiah. For those of you who’ve been to Israel, you may have gone to Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem. That’s where I discovered that I’m a bit claustrophobic, and let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant experience. So not my favorite king.

Anyway, he seems to be a good king, especially compared to those that came before him. He takes on idolatry amongst the people, destroying the high places and smashing idols. “He trusted in the God of Israel there was none like him among all the kings of Judah who were after him, nor were there before him (Kings II 18:5).” God is clearly a fan of Hezekiah, and it’s under his rule that the people regain their independence from the Assyrians. The Israelites are still besieged by Assyria though, and Samaria eventually falls to them. So Judah retains its independence, but Israel is sent back to Assyria. The Assyrians keep trying to conquer Judah too, and eventually Hezekiah begins sending them tribute to keep them at bay. He even takes treasures from the Temple in order to pay them off. The Assyrians are undeterred though, and seek to discredit the king among his people.

Melachim II Seventeen: Assyrian Exile

Ok. Long chapter, late night. Let’s get started!

Hoshea is now the king of Israel. “And he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord, though not like the kings of Israel who had preceded him (Kings II 17:2).” He basically gets taken over by the king of Assyria, and pays tribute to him. But apparently he’s also conspiring against the king, so he’s thrown in prison and Samaria is attacked. The Israelites are exiled to Assyria. If this isn’t bad enough, the people turn to idolatry and evil deeds. “And they followed the statutes of the nations whom the Lord had driven out from before the children of Israel, and the kings of Israel that they practiced (Kings II 17:8).” The people keep worshipping idols, in spite of prophets begging them to turn back towards God.

“And they forsook all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves two molten calves, and they made an asherah, and they prostrated themselves before the entire host of the heavens, and they worshipped the Baal (Kings II 17:16).” They do everything that they’ve specifically been told not to do. They practice divination, put their children through fire, and essentially do everything possible to piss God off. The Judeans follow the path of the Israelites, so God hates all of the people at this point. Things deteriorate even further. With the Israelites in Assyria, new people move into Samaria. They’re evil too, and God sends lions to eat them. This is definitely not a part of the Torah that we covered in Hebrew School.

One of the priests starts to teach the people about God again, and it starts to work. “And they feared the Lord, and they made some of them priests of the high places, and they would practice their [rites] in the temple of the high places (Kings II 17:32).” They basically integrate God and paganism, worshipping God and their own gods too. This isn’t good enough, of course, but the people don’t stop. I think there’s something to be said about the fact that the people keep reverting to idolatry. There must be something extremely appealing about it that draws the people in, regardless of the continual consequences.