Jotham is the latest king of Judah. “And he built cities in Mount Judah, and in the forests he built palaces and towers (Chronicles II 27:4).” I chose this verse for honestly pretty roundabout reasons. I finally booked a ticket back to Israel for later this summer, and I can’t wait to get back home. However, while I’m aware that this is a ‘first world problem,’ over the years as I’ve gotten older, my trips to Israel have become less about exploration and more about meeting up with the friends and relatives that I love and miss when I’m away. No complaints, but it does mean that there’s less time to travel to new and different places in a country that has wonders around literally every corner. I was just talking to my sister about new archeological discoveries that I’d love to go see, but it may not happen this trip, given the time constraints and shifting priorities. So seeing this verse, about the ancient structures that the kings built, made me think about how much is still undiscovered out there in the deserts and the mountains, and how incredible it is that Israel has so much history to explore.
“And when he became strong, his heart became haughty until he became corrupt, and he trespassed against the Lord his God, and he came into the Temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense (Chronicles II 26:16).” Uzziah is the leader being referenced here, but the message is one that I think pretty much all leaders can take to heart. When we’re on top, it can be so easy to lose sight of things, and let humility fall by the wayside in favor of arrogance, and with that, corruption. We see it with people in positions of power all too often, and it’s incumbent upon all of us to actively ensure that we don’t fall prey to these same instincts. Power can corrupt, but it doesn’t have to, if we’re careful and mindful as we achieve success.
Amaziah is now king of Judah. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly (Chronicles II 25:2).” I’m fascinated by the inclusion of this verse because in my mind it begs the question – is action or intention more important? If Amaziah is doing what is right, are his actions enough to stand alone? Or if he’s doing it half-heartedly, without the right mindset or intentions behind it, does that mean it’s not being done correctly, even if the act itself is good? If we go through the motions, is that enough?
We hear more about corrupt kings, and volatile priests, and angry prophets. Typical for ancient Israel and Judah. Joash is the king being referenced in the verse that I chose for today. “And concerning his sons, and the many prophecies about him, an the foundation of the House of God – behold they are inscribed in the midrash of the book of the kings; and Amaziah his son reigned in his stead (Chronicles II 24:27).” What fascinated me about this verse is the reference to midrash. Midrash, for those who are unfamiliar, is a commentary or interpretation of the Torah written by the rabbis originally, which continues until today. It’s the lessons and stories that we take from the text but that go beyond the bare-bones words actually written in Tanakh. Some of it contains stories, a few of which have become so well-known it’s as if they’re canon themselves, and other parts are laws that stem from the words of Torah. It’s so interesting to see midrash being referenced within the actual text, because I always thought of it as something that came, if not much later, at least in a wholly different time period. But a quick Google search has informed me just how ancient midrash is, and it seems like a classic Jewish moment for me that the whole Torah hadn’t even been written yet when commentators were already adding their spins and ideas.
“And no one shall enter the House of the Lord, except the priests and the ministers of the Levites; they shall enter, because they are holy, and all the people shall keep the Lord’s watch (Chronicles II 23:6).” What does it mean for people to be holy? I don’t think holiness is something that should be designated for one group of people in particular, but is something that members of different groups can achieve through their actions and intentions. Like many, I’m familiar with the idea of the Jewish people being a holy nation, which I don’t dispute, but I think it’s important that we’re a holy nation rather than the holy nation. Because the success and flourishing of the world is dependent on individuals and groups from all backgrounds behaving in a way that is imbued with holiness and sacred intention and meaning. I’ve worked with my learners on visioning what it means to create a holy community, and I think it’s something that each person can achieve, if they so choose.
In our latest violent interlude, we meet Ahaziah and his mother, Athaliah. Ahaziah is killed in the factional warfare between Israel and Judah, and his mother kills the royal family of Judah in revenge. There’s a massive bloodbath, to say the least, and the chapter ends with a final note. “And he hid with them in the House of God for six years, and Athaliah reigned over the land (Chronicles II 22:12).” It doesn’t sound like she was a particularly nice woman, but it is cool to hear about an independent woman being empowered enough to rule the kingdom. Early feminism at its best – now all we need are more examples of women in power today to emulate!
This chapter is all about the reign of Jehoram, a wicked king of Judah who is so terrible in his actions that God curses his bowels. I don’t even want to think about that entails. By the end of the chapter, his evil and tragic interlude on the throne is over. “He was thirty=two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem for eight years, and he departed joyless, and they buried him in the City of David, but not in the graves of the kings (Chronicles II 21:20).” I’d like to use this as an example of how not to be in life. Not just on the big picture level of life and death situations, but in smaller scenarios too, I always strive to enter and depart with joy. To, wherever I can, leave things on a good note, both for others and for myself. It’s so easy to get caught up in negativity, and in the minutia that often leads to large-scale issues. But to enter and exit various interactions and stages with an attitude of joy is a game-changer in how we interact with the world, and it’s one that I want to actively pursue.
“Should evil come upon us, whether sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine, we shall stand before this House and before You, for Your name is in this House, and we shall cry out to You from our distress, and You will hear and save (Chronicles II 20:9).” This verse resonates with the undertone of accountability and commitment. There’s a responsibility on both sides in the relationship between God and the people, and it plays out in these interactions. The people have to trust that despite the evil that may come before them, if they call out to God from a place of both physical and mental holiness, He will intervene on their behalf and save them. It’s a simple and complex relationship, partially transactional, and partially based on a deep-seated loyalty and confidence. That combination, of basic and multilevel, is a classic balance when it comes to human/divine interactions, and it plays out directly in this verse.
Jehoshaphat is now the king of Judah, and he’s finished with his latest war. He returns home to Jerusalem in peace, despite currently being in God’s bad graces for having aided the wicked. However, in Jehoshaphat’s case, as opposed to for much of Tanakh, it’s not a zero-sum game. “Nevertheless there are good things found in you, for you have abolished the asheroth from the land, and you set your heart to seek God (Chronicles II 19:3).” I’m sure if I were a more altruistic person, I would say something lovely about how everyone has goodness inside them, and that one negative act doesn’t automatically make someone a bad person. But lately, there are so many man-made tragedies in the world, particularly those of a human-rights nature, that I don’t want to say nice things about bad acts not being what defines a person. Ultimately, we are defined by our actions, and people who regularly commit atrocities aren’t able to excuse that by unrelated moments of decency. It’s the sum of our actions, coupled with our intentions, that make us who we are, and acknowledging that is important, particularly today.
Full disclosure: my commentary today has literally nothing to do with the contents of this chapter. It barely has a tangential connection, and is probably borderline offensive in how much it skips over, but it’s the thing I was drawn to, so I’m going to roll with it. “And the battle withdrew on that day, an the king of Israel was standing in the chariot against the Arameans until evening, and he died at the time of the setting of the sun (Chronicles II 18:34).” The part that drew me in was the final clause, about the time of the setting of the sun. I spent this last week on vacation in Maine, and over the course of the week spent more time outside and in nature than I have in literally months, at least. I re-realized how much peace I derive from being outdoors, and one of the things that I want to bring from my ‘vacation self’ back to my ‘real life’ is a prioritization of being outside. Sunsets are one of my favorite things to watch, and I want to intentionally pause and appreciate them much more often. I just articulated this out loud, so seeing the reference pop up in today’s reading seemed like a very happy coincidence.