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3 October. 2 Chronicles 28-29
Yesterday’s reading covered the reigns of Amaziah, Uzziah, and Jotham who were all somewhat half-hearted in their attitude to God – generally supportive of Temple worship, but sinful in other ways. In their time the split between Judah and the rest of Israel was deepened by unnecessary and pointless conflict.
Under the next king of Judah, Ahaz, things get even worse. He seems not to make even a pretence of following inherited tradition but openly embraces paganism and shuts down the Temple. In his day, too, both Israel and their common enemies Aram and Assyria attack Judah; the army Israel even carries its people away as slaves, until the little known prophet Oded, plus a few tribal leaders, condemn them for taking captive those who should be their compatriots. The Biblical account leaves no doubt that the apostasy of the king is the direct cause of these defeats.
Hezekiah, as a young man, must have been appalled and frustrated at his father’s behaviour, for the very first act of his reign, within days of his coronation, is to begin restoring the Temple and its worship, to show that he intended to be different, and to revert to the historic patterns of life in Judah.
This sudden swing between a king who follows the Mosaic laws and one who does not, or vice-versa, is a pattern we have seen throughout the history of Israel. Often it seems to have been accompanied by the persecution of the “other side”, much as in Britain in the 16th and 17th centuries there was much blood shed in the alternation of Catholic and Protestant monarchs. That, and the almost unforeseeable genocides that have taken place in countries such as Rwanda and Serbia in our own lifetime, remind us that the link between religion and violence (or ethnicity and violence) is one that will not go away. The peaceful and tolerant practice of religion is never to be taken for granted.