Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why the Incarnation Matters: The Fall of Judah

Immediately following the death of Hezekiah, one could be forgiven for assuming that the Kingdom of Judah was in great shape. The Kingdom of Samaria had ceased to exist. The Assyrians had been beaten back, and were beginning to crumble. When he finally passed, Hezekiah gave to his son a peaceful and one could even say flourishing Kingdom. Most importantly, the worship of the True God flourished under his reign. The young King Manasseh would also have the prophet Isaiah to guide him just as he guided his father.

All of these assumptions, while logical, ended up being tragically mistaken. Manasseh is now remembered as one of the worst kings in the Biblical record. Normally when the writer of Kings (whom many presume to be Jeremiah the Prophet) spoke of a wicked King, he speaks of their cruelty in as short of terms as possible, states they did “wicked in the sight of the Lord” and moves on. With Manasseh, he spends considerable time detailing what he did. This I believe would imply that even amongst bad kings (of which there were several) Manasseh outdid them by far:

  • Restore the High Places throughout Judah, eliminating the centrality of worship in Jerusalem according to the law.
  • Installed pagan altars within the temple, even in place of the altar where sacrifice to Yahweh was offered
  • Built a grove in his palace for the worship of idols
  • Offered his son as a human sacrifice to idols
  • Promoted heavy use of the occult (wizards, soothsayers, divniation, etc)
  • Built a giant idol in the court of the temple and commanded worship of it
  • Murdered those who supported his fathers reforms
  • Is traditionally held as the one who ordered the execution of the Prophet Isaiah, who died by being sawn in half
In the biblical accounts, Kings were condemned as “wicked” for far less. Because of these things, the Kingdom of Judah is sent on a course for which it will never recover. For because of his actions, the Kingdom of Judah would be destroyed. The first part of this involves the punishment of Manasseh directly. Assyria invades Judah (again), and this time they capture the King. We know from historical accounts that the Assyrians were particularly brutal towards Kings that they captured, and it can be implied that Manasseh was tortured grievously.

Eventually, Manasseh repents and begs for deliverance from the God he had done so much to profane. God accepts this repentance, and he is released from captivity and restored to the throne. The remainder of his rule is spent attempting to clean the mess he had propagated for decades. This did little in the end, since the people never turned their ways. Once he died (and he was buried in the same pagan grove he had installed in his own house), his son continued his father’s wicked reign, yet refused to repent.


Josiah’s reign is far different than his father or his grandfathers. At the young age of 16 (according to the biblical accounts) Josiah begins to worship God, and begins his program of reform. Most likely this was also the time he could assert the throne without (much) interference from regents. A decade later, he discovers the book of Deuteronomy and is stunned. Let us ponder that a bit.

One would think that even if they lacked the physical book, Jews should have known the laws prescribed in the book. One would think they would know about the Sabbath and all that entails. Even if they weren’t practiced perfectly throughout times, they were known. In the time of Hezekiah, these things were completely unknown to the King. An inference would be that the successive reigns of Manasseh and Amon were so thorough in their cleansing of the religion of God that there was almost no knowledge left of it. Even those who wanted to follow Yahweh would have had no little clue how.


Inspired by the law, Josiah undertakes a massive reform. Paganism is banned, the high places are destroyed, the prostitution cults are expelled from the Kingdom, and many festivals were celebrated for the first time in centuries during his reign, despite them being in the law as obligations to celebrate. He listened to the counsels of wise priests, and was greatly assisted by his strongest defender, the prophet Jeremiah.

Sadly, all he did was buy the Kingdom of Judah time. The regional situation was rapidly shifting, and successive Kings did away with almost all of Josiah’s reforms. Within 25 years, the Kingdom was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon.

I mention this history for the purposes of painting the general background of future installments. This is also mentioned to show the providence and mercy of God, paradoxical as it seems. As was the case all too often, sinful man chose to serve himself above God. Yet even with this situation, God provides a way for the people to turn to him. Whether it was righteous Kings or prophets, there would always be a way for the Jews to find their way back to God. This will be expanded upon later, as we begin to see the theology of the Incarnation start to take concrete form.

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