The Bible in a Year – 4 October

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

4 October. 2 Chronicles chapters 30-32

Today we read of the triumphs (at least the religious ones) of king Hezekiah. Since the reign of Azariah in chapter 22 there has been a fundamental rift between the northern and southern kingdoms.  In chapter 30 Hezekiah attempts to heal this, not politically but religiously, as he encourages all the tribes once again to celebrate the Passover together as in days of old.  But apart from a few individuals, the northerners in Israel scoff at his messengers and fail to come to the feast.  Maybe that was in Jesus’ mind when he told the parable of a banquet to which those who were invited refused to come (Luke 14: I will be preaching on that at our Harvest Festival this Sunday).

Nevertheless, for those who do come, and for the people of Judah, this is a great feast – held a month late, but for two weeks instead of the usual one.  Many of those who attend have not carried out the required rituals of preparation, but Hezekiah wisely allows them to participate: “The good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness” (30:19).  That echoes the frequent debates heard in churches about who should be admitted to Holy Communion – only those baptised or confirmed as adults, or anyone baptised (even as an infant), or anyone who says they believe in Jesus?  Hezekiah would have been with the inclusive churches.

Many seem to have been ‘converted’ (or had their faith ‘refreshed’) at this Passover. Afterwards, they are inspired to go home and tear down the ‘high places’ – the remaining pagan shrines in their territory – and to make generous donations of animals and produce to the Temple.   It does tend to be at large gatherings, when religious fervour is stirred up, that people are moved to go and take action, change their lives, repent of practices they are now convinced are wrong, or share their faith with others.  The call to give sacrificially to the cause also tends to get a good response in such gatherings.

That is why ‘revivals’ are based on well advertised meetings in large venues with well known speakers or ‘miracle workers’, while quieter forms of evangelism are carried on week by week in small groups and one-to-one conversations.  Both are equally valid, and which one will “work” for an individual will depend as much on their own personality type as anything.  The only caution is that sometimes the religious fervour of the newly converted can spill over into insensitive pressurising of others to commit to the faith, something that really should be an unpressurised decision.

This religious triumph is followed in chapter 32 by a military challenge: the Assyrians under Sennacherib attack Judean towns and threaten Jerusalem itself.   But a combination of fervent prayer for deliverance led by the prophet Isaiah, and the wise tactical step of cutting off the invading army’ water supply, sends Sennacherib packing back to his homeland and to his death.  So with the country of Judah in the grip of a religious revival, and deliverance from the enemy, Hezekiah earns his places as one of the greatest kings of Judah.

The Bible in a Year – 26 June

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

26 June. Malachi chapters 1-4.

This is the last book of the Old Testament (at least in Protestant bibles). The reason for putting it last is that it contains so many references to a coming “messenger” who would put right all wrongs.  These verses have often been used in Christian writings and worship as referring to Jesus Christ: “I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (3:1); “for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings” (4:2); “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” (4:5).


As with all such application of the Old Testament to the New, we have to be aware of the context, which is God’s condemnation of those who seek privilege and recognition among his people but actually live selfishly, showing hypocrisy in their offerings and infidelity even in their marriages.  They no longer even aspired, let alone reached, the ideal of a leader of the faith community: “the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction” (2:7-8).


Understood this way, the main purpose of the coming of the Messiah would be to sweep away the Temple system for good, for it had been so abused. Given the issue this week of the report on the way the Church of England leaders protected a paedophile bishop rather than seeing justice done for his victims, this should be a reading to strike fear into the hearts of those responsible for leadership in the Church.


Another verse from Malachi that is loved by Christian preachers is this one: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse … see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (3:10).  It is often quoted to encourage people to give a fixed amount (ten, or even thirty, percent of their income) to the work of the Church.  But it should be seen in the context of a system in which the tithe of grain was actually the food for the workers in the temple, as part of the much wider laws of Moses.  Now that we are freed from that legalistic framework, the Christian principle of giving is that of the “cheerful giver”.  God’s blessing may indeed be felt more keenly by the one who gives a lot away, but that should not be out of a sense of duty, rather a response to being set free by Jesus to live more simply and without the cares of the world.  Not easy to achieve, but that should be what we seek.