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Monday, April 11, 2016

When the world falls apart... again

Our study of prophets move forward this week into the reigns of the bad king Manasseh and the good king Josiah, via the prophet Zephaniah. At some point I'm going to have to update my tables of dates, people and events, but in the meantime I'll just keep reminding myself of which king is who, where, when and why... or something like that. Anyway, the world is falling apart again, and it's not clear even Josiah can put it back together.

(22) The Prophet Zephaniah

Hezekiah was a good king who made some bad mistakes. He was guided by the prophet Isaiah. He nearly died of a mysterious illness, or boils, and was healed then reigned a further 15 years.
1.       Read 2 Kings 20:20-21:1. On the surface, this means Manasseh wasn’t even born until after Hezekiah began his extra 15 years. In practice, Manasseh probably served as co-regent, starting when he came of age. He inherits an insecure kingdom in a changing world, and promptly allies with Assyria, where he is listed among the vassal kings presenting gifts and helping defeat Egypt. What alliances are we tempted to make?

2.       Read 2 Kings 21:2-6. There was no need for Manasseh to adopt Assyrian religion, though he clearly did, even to the extent of putting altars to foreign gods in God’s temple. What might have tempted him? When are we tempted to take on the trappings and sacrifices of secular ideas?

3.       It’s unclear whether the “child sacrifice” is sacrifice of a living child, or of one still-born. Either way, can we ever excuse ourselves by saying “At least we’re not as bad as...” or our society by saying “At least we don’t condone...”

4.       Read Hebrews 11:37. Jewish tradition says Manasseh had Isaiah sawn in two. What secular reasoning might have prompted him to kill his father’s prophet? What secular reasoning prompts generations to rebel against their parents’ rules.

5.       Read 2 Chronicles 33:10-13. Assyria ruled from Babylon and Nineveh at this point. According to Chronicles, Manasseh is taken prisoner to Babylon and calls on the Lord to save him. No one knows why Kings doesn’t record these events. How willingly did the early Christians accept Saul’s change of heart? How willing are we to believe that people change?

6.       Read 2 Chronicles 33:14-17. Is it wrong to worship God on “high places”? What about worshipping God in nature today?

7.       Read 2 Chronicles 33:19. The Prayer of Manasseh is included in the Ethiopian Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, some Orthodox services, and more. But it’s apocryphal in our Bibles. Why do you think that might be?

8.       Read 2 Kings 21:18-24. The next king doesn’t last very long. Judean society starts to crumble. How does the world’s falling apart affect our relationship with God?

9.       Meanwhile the Assyrian leader, Senacherib, is also assassinated. His successors conquer Egypt – an impressive feat. But Assyria starts to fail, perhaps because its leaders are better at conquering than ruling. As a result, the next king of Judah might be far more able to expand his territory and assert his independence. How might he feel to be given such opportunities?

10.   Read 2 Kings 22:1-2 What kind of leader is Josiah? Thinking of all that’s gone before, what kind of kingdom does he inherit, and what might he want to do about it?

Zephaniah probably spoke near the start of Josiah’s reign. His words often echo Isaiah’s.
1.       Read Zephaniah1:1-3, Isaiah 24:1-3. Who is Zephaniah (who is his great-grandfather, and, given early marraiges, is this possible?). What time are they talking about?

2.       Read Zephaniah 1:4-6, Isaiah 24:4-6. How is the earth defiled? What statutes have been defied? What is wrong with Judah’s religious practices?

3.       Read Zephaniah 1:12-13, Isaiah 24:7-13. What will God do? How might other societies view what God does? Is this a prophecy of past, present or future? And how might it apply to today?

4.       Read Zephaniah 1:15-16, Isaiah 24:21. How would Josiah feel, hearing this? How should we feel?

Josiah has the temple cleaned and cleared. He is a “good king.” Then the “Book of the Law” will be rediscovered. After checking that the book is valid (standard practice when reforming religious rules), Josiah will make lots of changes. Which book do you imagine might be found? How might a “new” book be tested today to make sure it’s valid?

Some traditions say Jeremiah was employed to transcribe the new book. Since many passages of Deuteronomy and Jeremiah use similarly phrases, it’s suggested this might have been the first copy of Deuteronomy.

1.       Read 2 Kings 22:3-5,8,11-14 How does Josiah’s response to the “new” discovery compare with modern obsessions with “lost” books of the Bible?

2.       Read 2 Kings 22:15-20. Would this be the answer Josiah and the priests wanted? Read Matthew 6:34. Remember how pleased Hezekia was that he wouldn’t see the destruction? How important is it to “worry” about the future our children will inherit?

3.       Read Zephaniah 2:1-3. Would you rather be hidden in the day of God’s anger, or be a tool to punish his enemies? What image does the media give of what Christians would like?
4.       Read Zephaniah 2:4-5 (Philistia – West),8-9 (Moab –East),12-13 (Egypt and Assyria – South and North). Babylon is rising and these nations are falling, in particular Assyria (though Nineveh doesn’t fall until 612BC, long after these prophecies were made). What modern nations might you imagine being named in this passage?

5.       Read Zephaniah 3:1-5. Who is “she”? Who might she be now, bearing in mind that nations and their gods are often viewed as one.

6.       Read Zephaniah 3:8. Is waiting easy? What was Josiah doing while waiting?

7.       Read Zephaniah 3:9. Does this remind you of the Tower of Babel?

8.       Read Zephaniah 3:14-15, Isaiah 26:1-4. Which king? Which Israel? When does this refer to?

9.       Read Zephaniah 3:20, Isaiah 27:13. Where Zephaniah sees Israel, Isaiah sees Gentiles redeemed. What do we see?

Josiah doesn’t just tidy up the temple. He cleanses all the other places of worship in the land. If you read 2 Kings 23 you’ll find a long list of things he has destroyed. Which ones surprise you most?

1.       Read 2 Kings 23:12. Did you remember how messed up worship was in “good” Judah?

2.       Read 2 Kings 23:13. Did you remember Solomon’s fall from faith?

3.       Read 2 Kings 23:15. How does the king of Judah get to tear down the altars of Israel? Did you remember where Bethel is?

4.       Read 2 Kings 23:17-18. Did you remember the good prophets? (1 Kings 13:1-2. The mention of Josiah by name is sometimes used—together with linguistic analysis and other tools—to suggest Jeremiah transcribed Deuteronomy, Samuel and Kings, and saw Josiah—at least until he died—as prophesy’s fulfilment)

5.       Read 2 Kings 23:20. Which priests would these be, given what’s been happening in Samaria?

6.       Read 2 Kings 23:22, 2 Chronicles 18. Didn’t Hezekiah do something similar? Why is Passover the important celebration again?

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