If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
5 October. 2 Chronicles chapters 33-34
The tug-of-war between the monotheists and the polytheists or pagans is not over, although the triumphalism of yesterday’s account of Hezekiah’s reign may have made us think it was. Under his son Manasseh (not to be confused with the tribe of the same name) his reforms are reversed and paganism becomes the official religion again – at least for a time. An unexpected twist in the plot happens when the Assyrians attack again and take him captive. Without any detail, we are told that he humbles himself and is restored to country and throne, and in thankfulness restores the true religion of Israel. It all sounds too simplistic, and we are not told at what point in his 55-year reign this happens. But once again the reforms are not to last. His son Amon rebels again, but without repentance, and only reigns for two years.
The reforms of Josiah that we begin to hear about in chapter 34 are more lasting. In view of my comments yesterday about the different ways that people are brought to faith, we see an interesting growth into religious maturity here. Josiah was a boy-king, eight years old (and presumably under guardianship) when he inherits the throne on the death of his 24-year-old father (who was a rather young parent, do the maths yourself!) Presumably, like any child, he would have accepted unquestioningly the family’s religious beliefs and practices – in this case paganism. But at the age of 16 he “began to seek the God of his ancestor David” (34:3) – that is about the same age that I began to ask myself questions of religious belief. At the age of 20 – the age of radical students everywhere – he becomes an enthusiast for the faith, and like his grandfather Hezekiah tears down the pagan shrines and poles. But six years later, he enters a new phase of understanding, founded not on the emotionalism of religious ritual, but on the sober words of the written Law of Moses that are discovered in the Temple.
This journey from blind acceptance of other people’s faith, to independent enquiry as an adolescent, to the unquestioning fervour of the young adult, to a more mature outlook with respect for tradition and evidence, is typical of many people’s spiritual journey, including my own. We can encourage people at any age to embark on this journey, but trying to force it too soon or too quickly may result in rejection, or a short-lived passion that soon fades, or an emotional commitment that fails to stand the tests of life. In Jesus’ words, the seed that falls on hard, or dry, or thorny ground will not flourish, but that which falls on good soil will produce much fruit. Josiah was obviously planted in the right place.