Recently I have been reading 2 Chronicles and the following jumped out at me:
- Manasseh’s Unprecedented Repentance.
In short, did anyone sin worse that Manasseh? His father reformed Israelite religion and he apostatized and destroyed all of his father’s progress. God rightly had him imprisoned and when he hit rock bottom he repented, was returned to power, and he himself initiated the beginnings of what would be Josiah’s reforms. I am grateful that the Orthodox consider Manasseh’s prayer canonical. It is probably my second favorite prayer ever (behind David’s at the Temple’s dedication.)
The lesson: Anyone can repent and be saved.
- The Discovery of the Old Testament.
In Josiah’s time the Mosaic Law was rediscovered and as a result the Passover was held correctly for the first time since the days of Samuel (the implication being that after Samuel the Law was lost.) This curious detail may lead us to believe that Josiah’s men forged the Law or reconstituted it. I mean, it is suspicious that Josiah’s religious reforms were buttressed by documents that were unknown for centuries, including kings like David and Solomon. But, this is not a big deal. Even Saint Irenaeus (AH, Book 3, Chap 21, Par 2) believes that Ezra wrote the whole Old Testament (and if we look at the parallels in writing style between 1-2 Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, this is not a big stretch.) 2 Macc 2:14 asserts that Judas Maccaebeus “collected all the books that had been lost on account of the war.” So, there appears to be crucial times of “rediscovery” and recompiling of Biblical books and despite 19th century fundamentalism, this appears something that the Church was comfortable with for centuries.
Nevertheless, I am not going to dwell on textual criticism. Rather, I’d like to point out how the Scriptures appear to teach here that even having the Scriptures is not an absolute necessity. Surely, it does not say its good to not have them, but they are not absolutely necessary. It took centuries for countries even as big as Russia to have the whole of Scripture translated into their own language. So, this seems to be a problem (but not a huge one) that has persisted during the history of God’s people.
- The Prophecy of Josiah’s Death.
One of the things I love about the Scriptures is that they are honest. Take the following prophecy by Huldah given to Josiah: “Behold, I will gather you to your fathers and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace” (2 Chron 34:28). Yet, Josiah is killed in battle at Megiddo battling Pharaoh Neco in 2 Chron 35. If someone were to be falsifying a Scripture, never would such a passage have made the final editing cut. But, ultimately man did not write the Scriptures, God did.
For those wondering, my way of reconciling the passages is that Josiah died “in peace”
because he did not live to see the destruction of Israel as prophesied by Isaiah in Hezekiah’s time in 2 Kings 20.
- God’s Refusal To Turn From His Wrath.
The LXX preserves us a very important passage in 2 Chron 35:21-22 (the LXX has four additional verses and so this passage does not line up with the Masoretic text found in Protestant Bibles). The passage essentially restates 2 Kings 23:25-26. The LXX states:
There was no one like him [Josiah] him who turned towards the Lord with all his heart and all his soul and all his strength in all the law of Moses. No one arose like him afterward. But the Lord did not turn from the anger of His great wrath with which the Lord was enraged against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Mannaseh provoked Him.
The ramifications of this are huge. Manasseh was forgiven, even though he was a great sinner. Soon afterwards, the most righteous king there ever was, Josiah, reigned. Yet, this did not turn God’s wrath against Israel and he punished the nation for Mannaseh’s sin.
Now, the point of this is not to say that God punishes sons for the sins of their fathers in the sense we read about in Ezek 18. However, God does revisit sins of the fathers and sons to the third or fourth generation (Deut 5:9). From this we must draw two lessons: first, that sins in of themselves can be forgiven, but their effects set into motion a course of events that cannot be changed. For example, King Amon, who followed his father Manasseh as king, lived most of his childhood during Manasseh’s idolatrous days. Yet, the younger brother, Josiah, perhaps seeing the example of Manasseh’s repentance during his formative years, was given the foundation to seek the Lord. Hence, both kings lived very differently. Nevertheless, most of Israel would have been inculcated in Manasseh’s old ways and this could not easily be undone by Josiah–even if Josiah did his best to remove all the sacred pillars, institute the liturgical calendar, and etcetera. A wicked psychology still was in the minds of the men of Judah and for this reason they easily revert back to paganism.
The second lesson is that we can sin past the point where God will bless our repentance with additional grace. Judas felt sorrow and threw back the thirty pieces of silver, but was not forgiven. Pharaoh for periods of time looked like he would really let the Jews go, but then his heart would be hardened and he would change his mind. Granted, if we want a theological rationale of what is going on, God is letting the hearts of the wicked be left to their own devices. So, in effect, He is merely withholding the grace of repentance from these men as punishment.
The question would be “why?” It is best not to question God. If we wanted to, we can easily reason that we would be liable to far greater sin later (heart to fathom for Judas, but possible–he could have betrayed the Apostles next or something) and so God did not give us additional grace repent at an earlier point in time. But, these theological justifications are besides the point. The simpler idea is that God simply is not obligated to forgive everyone after they feel bad when they are guilty of some great sin. He is both gracious and just, obligated by His nature to forgive and to punish. The will of God is inscrutable and so when He firmly decides that the time of repentance is over, then woe to those who did not repent beforehand.