(33) When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes – 2 Chronicles 34:19

After all the success of King Hezekiah’s reign, his last years sowed the seeds of Judah’s final destruction. He became sick and was close to death and Isaiah sent him a word from God to “Put your house in order, because you are going to die” (2 Kings 20:1). But after Hezekiah prayed, the Lord gave him another 15 years.

Unfortunately, he did not use these years well.

The King of Babylon sent him a letter and a gift after his recovery and Hezekiah showed his envoys all his wealth. This brought a rebuke from God through Isaiah who told him that it would be the Babylonians, not the Assyrians, who would take Judah into exile. The other thing that happened during his last 15 years was the birth of his son Manasseh. While it seems unlikely that he didn’t already have sons, it was Manasseh who, at the age of twelve, became king when Hezekiah died and he was the worst king of Judah, reigning for 55 years.

Manasseh oversaw a revival of Baal worship in Judah. He rebuilt pagan altars on the high places around the country and in the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem. He used fortune tellers and mediums to advise him and he burned his own son as an offering to Baal. The writer of Kings concludes by telling us that “Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end – besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 21:16). This man was a long way from what a king was supposed to be as a shepherd of God’s people. In response, God sent word through the prophets that, “I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle” (2 Kings 21:12).

God sent the Assyrians against Judah and they captured Manasseh and took him to Babylon in chains. This humbled him and he turned to God, who, in his mercy, allowed him to return to Jerusalem as a man who “knew that the Lord is God” (2 Chronicles 33:13). In his latter years he started to restore worship of God, but it was too late to bring about a full restoration.

When Manasseh died, his son Amon came to the throne at the age of twenty-two. His reign was so bad that his servants killed him after two years and his son Josiah became king at the age of eight. At the age of sixteen, Josiah “began to seek the God of his father David” (2 Chronicles 34:3) and set out to obliterate the altars and idols of Ball and Asherah. Later he started to repair the temple and, during the renovations, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law, the five books of Moses. (It is a sign of how bad things had got in Judah under Manasseh that even the priests and the king didn’t have access to the law.)

The chronicler tells us that “when the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes” (2 Chronicles 34:19), a sign of his distress at the state of the nation which had ignored God’s law for so long. But when Josiah consulted Huldah, the prophetess, God sent word through her that it was too late to undo the evil that Manasseh had unleashed in the nation. Judah, like Israel, would go into exile. In response to Josiah’s humility, the Lord told him that it would not happen in his lifetime, but after he died God’s people would reap the consequences of the evil they had done.

Josiah responded by calling all the people together to commit themselves to the Lord and celebrate the Passover. The Chronicler notes that “The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel” (2 Chronicles 35:18) which was four centuries earlier. This was one of the few high points of the history of Israel during the time of the kings.

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