The Chronicles of Divine Justice: Why God Destroyed Judah
God’s Justice and Sour Grapes
“The fathers eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth fall out.” This saying appears to have been one of the ways that the final generation of independent Judahites, living during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, explained their predicament to themselves. They are God-fearing people; they did not sin. Their ancestors sinned and they, the children, pay the price. God is patient and calculating, punishing descendants for the sins of ancestors is legitimate, and the axe falls at unexpected times.
Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel push back against this view, with Ezekiel stating that it is not the way God operates, while Jeremiah suggests that in the ideal future, “in those days,” it will be inoperative:
א וַיְהִ֥י דְבַר יְ-הֹוָ֖ה אֵלַ֥י לֵאמֹֽר: ב מַה לָּכֶ֗ם אַתֶּם֙ מֹֽשְׁלִים֙ אֶת הַמָּשָׁ֣ל הַזֶּ֔ה עַל אַדְמַ֥ת יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר אָבוֹת֙ יֹ֣אכְלוּ בֹ֔סֶר וְשִׁנֵּ֥י הַבָּנִ֖ים תִקְהֶֽינָה: ג חַי אָ֕נִי נְאֻ֖ם אֲדֹנָ֣י יְ-הֹוִ֑ה אִם יִֽהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֜ם ע֗וֹד מְשֹׁ֛ל הַמָּשָׁ֥ל הַזֶּ֖ה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל: ד הֵ֤ן כָּל הַנְּפָשׁוֹת֙ לִ֣י הֵ֔נָּה כְּנֶ֧פֶשׁ הָאָ֛ב וּכְנֶ֥פֶשׁ הַבֵּ֖ן לִי הֵ֑נָּה הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַחֹטֵ֖את הִ֥יא תָמֽוּת:
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are blunted”? 3 As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.
כט בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֔ם לֹא יֹאמְר֣וּ ע֔וֹד אָב֖וֹת אָ֣כְלוּ בֹ֑סֶר וְשִׁנֵּ֥י בָנִ֖ים תִּקְהֶֽינָה: ל כִּ֛י אִם אִ֥ישׁ בַּעֲוֹנ֖וֹ יָמ֑וּת כָּל הָֽאָדָ֛ם הָאֹכֵ֥ל הַבֹּ֖סֶר תִּקְהֶ֥ינָה שִׁנָּֽיו:
29 In those days, they shall no longer say, “Parents have eaten sour grapes and children’s teeth are blunted.” 30 But every one shall die for his own sins: whosoever eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be blunted.
This debate between the people of Judah and these prophets represents two different conceptions of how God’s justice and providence work. Each of these views has support in other biblical texts. I refer here not only to abstract theological statements like those in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but to historical texts as well.
Two Biblical Accounts of Judah’s Demise
The great historiographical works in the Bible, Kings and Chronicles, each tell the story of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah from the period of the United Monarchy until the destruction of Judah (586 BCE). Each work tells the story in a different way, including different and often contradictory facts. Although sometimes these differences may reflect their use of different sources, many times the differences seem theological in nature. Since the Chronicler’s main source appears to have been (some form of) the book of Kings, this would mean that he adjusts the presentation of historical facts to fit his notion of what was theologically possible and what theologically impossible. (Not all the differences between the histories are theological in nature, but the focus in this piece is on theological differences.)
One of the main theological differences between Kings and Chronicles relates to the “sour grapes” debate described above. Can a great calamity befalling Israel/Judah, such as the destruction of the nation or of the Temple, be explained as God’s retribution for the sins of ancestors in generations past, or is this unfair and unworthy of a just God and instead the fault must be found in the generation that suffers the punishment? I would like to focus on this question, and use the destruction of Judah as the test case for the comparison of the treatment of this calamity in the two works.
Divine Justice in Kings: The Accumulation of Sin Theory
The Far Reaching Consequences of Manasseh’s Sins
According to the book of Kings (2 Kings 21), the kingdom of Judah fell (586 BCE) because of the sins of the evil King Manasseh (ca. 687-642 BCE), who lived almost a century before:
י וַיְדַבֵּ֧ר יְ-הֹוָ֛ה בְּיַד־עֲבָדָ֥יו הַנְּבִיאִ֖ים לֵאמֹֽר: יא יַעַן֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֜ה מְנַשֶּׁ֤ה מֶֽלֶךְ יְהוּדָה֙ הַתֹּעֵב֣וֹת הָאֵ֔לֶּה הֵרַ֕ע מִכֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר עָשׂ֥וּ הָאֱמֹרִ֖י אֲשֶׁ֣ר לְפָנָ֑יו וַיַּחֲטִ֥א גַֽם אֶת יְהוּדָ֖ה בְּגִלּוּלָֽיו: פ יב לָכֵ֗ן כֹּֽה אָמַ֤ר יְ-הֹוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הִנְנִי֙ מֵבִ֣יא רָעָ֔ה עַל יְרוּשָׁלִַ֖ם וִֽיהוּדָ֑ה אֲשֶׁר֙ כָּל שמעיו שֹׁ֣מְעָ֔הּ תִּצַּ֖לְנָה שְׁתֵּ֥י אָזְנָֽיו…
10 Therefore the Lord spoke through His servants the prophets: 11 “Because King Manasseh of Judah has done these abhorrent things—he has outdone in wickedness all that the Amorites did before his time—and because he led Judah to sin with his fetishes, 12 assuredly, thus said the Lord, the God of Israel: I am going to bring such a disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that both ears of everyone who hears about it will tingle….
Despite Manasseh’s sins being so great that they cause the destruction of Judah, he felt none of the negative effects of his actions during his entire 55 years of rule (2 Kings 21:1); these were saved for his great-great-grandchildren.
The Implications of this Ideology
The implications of this ideology are somewhat startling; it means that:
- If you sin, you may not be punished; instead, the punishment may fall to your descendants.
- If you are exemplary, you may still be punished due to the sins of your ancestors.
- Even if you repent your sins and the sins of your ancestors, it may not be enough to be absolved of your ancestors’ sins.
Josiah’s Insufficient Repentance
The book of Kings states this last point explicitly with regard to the repentance of Judah in the time of Josiah being insufficient to save them from God’s wrath against the (long dead) generation of Manasseh. After describing the greatness of Josiah and how much he accomplished in Judah to make the country’s practices in line with those of the Torah, 2 Kings 23 states:
כה וְכָמֹהוּ֩ לֹֽא הָיָ֨ה לְפָנָ֜יו מֶ֗לֶךְ אֲשֶׁר שָׁ֤ב אֶל י-הֹוָה֙ בְּכָל לְבָב֤וֹ וּבְכָל נַפְשׁוֹ֙ וּבְכָל מְאֹד֔וֹ כְּכֹ֖ל תּוֹרַ֣ת מֹשֶׁ֑ה וְאַחֲרָ֖יו לֹֽא קָ֥ם כָּמֹֽהוּ: כו אַ֣ךְ׀ לֹֽא שָׁ֣ב יְ-הֹוָ֗ה מֵחֲר֤וֹן אַפּוֹ֙ הַגָּד֔וֹל אֲשֶׁר חָרָ֥ה אַפּ֖וֹ בִּֽיהוּדָ֑ה עַ֚ל כָּל הַכְּעָסִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר הִכְעִיס֖וֹ מְנַשֶּֽׁה: כז וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְ-הֹוָ֗ה גַּ֤ם אֶת יְהוּדָה֙ אָסִיר֙ מֵעַ֣ל פָּנַ֔י כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הֲסִרֹ֖תִי אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּ֠מָאַסְתִּי אֶת הָעִ֨יר הַזֹּ֤את אֲשֶׁר בָּחַ֙רְתִּי֙ אֶת יְר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם וְאֶת הַבַּ֔יִת אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָמַ֔רְתִּי יִהְיֶ֥ה שְׁמִ֖י שָֽׁם:
25 There was no king like him before who turned back to the Lord with all his heart and soul and might, in full accord with the Teaching of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him. 26 However, the Lord did not turn away from His awesome wrath which had blazed up against Judah because of all the things Manasseh did to vex Him. 27 The Lord said, “I will also banish Judah from My presence as I banished Israel; and I will reject the city of Jerusalem which I chose and the House where I said My name would abide.”
Extra Punishments before the Destruction
Kings records other attacks upon the kingdom during the time of Jehoiakim (son of Josiah), and blames these on Manasseh as well. (2 Kings 24):
ב וַיְשַׁלַּ֣ח יְ-הֹוָ֣ה׀ בּ֡וֹ אֶת גְּדוּדֵ֣י כַשְׂדִּים֩ וְאֶת גְּדוּדֵ֨י אֲרָ֜ם וְאֵ֣ת׀ גְּדוּדֵ֣י מוֹאָ֗ב וְאֵת֙ גְּדוּדֵ֣י בְנֵֽי עַמּ֔וֹן וַיְשַׁלְּחֵ֥ם בִּֽיהוּדָ֖ה לְהַֽאֲבִיד֑וֹ כִּדְבַ֣ר יְ-הֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר דִּבֶּ֔ר בְּיַ֖ד עֲבָדָ֥יו הַנְּבִיאִֽים: ג אַ֣ךְ׀ עַל פִּ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֗ה הָֽיְתָה֙ בִּֽיהוּדָ֔ה לְהָסִ֖יר מֵעַ֣ל פָּנָ֑יו בְּחַטֹּ֣את מְנַשֶּׁ֔ה כְּכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָֽׂה:
2 And the Lord sent against him (Jehoiakim) bands of the Chaldeans, Arameans, Moabites, and Ammonites; He let them loose against Judah to destroy it, in accordance with the word that the Lord had spoken through His servants the prophets. 3 Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done.
Here, divine justice is meted out over time; sin accumulates and eventually some evil deed is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back, which results in God punishing Israel.
The Destruction of Judah as Divine Retribution for Manasseh’s Sins
In sum, according to the book of Kings, even though soon after Manasseh’s death, King Josiah initiated a golden age of great repentance and adherence to the Torah of Moses, the accumulation of sin was too great to overcome; the children must be punished for the sins of their fathers.
Divine Justice in Chronicles: The Fairness Theory
Chronicles, written after Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s ideas became more prevalent, takes great issue with the perception of Divine Justice expressed here in Kings. The Chronicler’s religious belief system could not fathom God acting in such an arbitrary manner. Punishment and reward had to be carried out during the relevant individual’s lifetime. Otherwise, God is behaving unfairly (as argued by the passages in Ezekiel and Jeremiah above). For this reason, the Chronicler adapts his telling of history. When compared to its source (Kings) we can see the following schematic:
- When a king transgresses, Chronicles adds a punishment.
- When a king displays piety, Chronicles adds a reward.
- When a king is hurt or killed, Chronicles adds a sin.
- When a king is successful, Chronicles adds a good deed.
According to Chronicles, each King starts with a clean slate and reward and punishment accrue on the basis of his behavior.
Destruction of Judah according to Chronicles
Returning to our main test case, according to the Chronicler it is impossible that Manasseh could have been the cause of the destruction of Judah and the Temple, for two reasons. First, if Manasseh had such a long prosperous rule, that must be a reward for good behavior, so how bad could he have been? Second, if Judah is destroyed in the time of Zedekiah it must have been his fault and the fault of that generation.
In both the cases of Manasseh and Zedekiah, the Chronicler believed that the author of Kings must have overlooked something crucial to understanding why God did what God did, and that caused the author of Kings to so “grossly” misunderstand the situation. Since the Chronicler was not shy to add detail when he deemed it necessary, he added in the relevant sin (Zedekiah) and mitzvah (Manasseh) to clarify.
The Repentance of Manasseh
For Manasseh, the Chronicler added in the famous episode of his repentance:
י וַיְדַבֵּ֧ר יְ-הֹוָ֛ה אֶל־מְנַשֶּׁ֥ה וְאֶל עַמּ֖וֹ וְלֹ֥א הִקְשִֽׁיבוּ: יא וַיָּבֵ֨א יְ-הֹוָ֜ה עֲלֵיהֶ֗ם אֶת שָׂרֵ֤י הַצָּבָא֙ אֲשֶׁר֙ לְמֶ֣לֶךְ אַשּׁ֔וּר וַיִּלְכְּד֥וּ אֶת מְנַשֶּׁ֖ה בַּחֹחִ֑ים וַיַּֽאַסְרֻ֙הוּ֙ בַּֽנְחֻשְׁתַּ֔יִם וַיּוֹלִיכֻ֖הוּ בָּבֶֽלָה:
10 The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not pay heed, 11 so the Lord brought against them the officers of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh captive in manacles, bound him in fetters, and led him off to Babylon.
יב וּכְהָצֵ֣ר ל֔וֹ חִלָּ֕ה אֶת פְּנֵ֖י יְ-הֹוָ֣ה אֱ-לֹהָ֑יו וַיִּכָּנַ֣ע מְאֹ֔ד מִלִּפְנֵ֖י אֱ-לֹהֵ֥י אֲבֹתָֽיו: יג וַיִּתְפַּלֵּ֣ל אֵלָ֗יו וַיֵּעָ֤תֶר לוֹ֙ וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע תְּחִנָּת֔וֹ וַיְשִׁיבֵ֥הוּ יְרוּשָׁלִַ֖ם לְמַלְכוּת֑וֹ וַיֵּ֣דַע מְנַשֶּׁ֔ה כִּ֥י יְ-הֹוָ֖ה ה֥וּא הָֽאֱ-לֹהִֽים:
12 In his distress, he entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 He prayed to Him, and He granted his prayer, heard his plea, and returned him to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord alone was God.
יד וְאַחֲרֵי כֵ֡ן בָּנָ֣ה חוֹמָ֣ה חִֽיצוֹנָ֣ה׀ לְעִיר דָּוִ֡יד מַעְרָבָה֩ לְגִיח֨וֹן בַּנַּ֜חַל וְלָב֨וֹא בְשַׁ֤עַר הַדָּגִים֙ וְסָבַ֣ב לָעֹ֔פֶל וַיַּגְבִּיהֶ֖הָ מְאֹ֑ד וַיָּ֧שֶׂם שָֽׂרֵי חַ֛יִל בְּכָל הֶעָרִ֥ים הַבְּצֻר֖וֹת בִּיהוּדָֽה:
14 Afterward he built the outer wall of the City of David west of Gihon in the wadi on the way to the Fish Gate, and it encircled Ophel; he raised it very high. He also placed army officers in all the fortified towns of Judah.
טו וַ֠יָּסַר אֶת אֱלֹהֵ֨י הַנֵּכָ֤ר וְאֶת הַסֶּ֙מֶל֙ מִבֵּ֣ית יְ-הֹוָ֔ה וְכָל הַֽמִּזְבְּח֗וֹת אֲשֶׁ֥ר בָּנָ֛ה בְּהַ֥ר בֵּית־יְ-הֹוָ֖ה וּבִירוּשָׁלִָ֑ם וַיַּשְׁלֵ֖ךְ ח֥וּצָה לָעִֽיר:
15 He removed the foreign gods and the image from the House of the Lord, as well as all the altars that he had built on the Mount of the House of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and dumped them outside the city.
טז ויכן וַיִּ֙בֶן֙ אֶת מִזְבַּ֣ח יְ-הֹוָ֔ה וַיִּזְבַּ֣ח עָלָ֔יו זִבְחֵ֥י שְׁלָמִ֖ים וְתוֹדָ֑ה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לִֽיהוּדָ֔ה לַעֲב֕וֹד אֶת יְ-הֹוָ֖ה אֱ-לֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: יז אֲבָל֙ ע֣וֹד הָעָ֔ם זֹבְחִ֖ים בַּבָּמ֑וֹת רַ֖ק לַי-הֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיהֶֽם:
16 He rebuilt the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of well-being and thanksgiving, and commanded the people of Judah to worship the Lord God of Israel. 17 To be sure, the people continued sacrificing at the shrines, but only to the Lord their God.
No wonder Manasseh ruled for so long; he received a deserving reward for such a repentant God-fearing man.
The Assassination of the Wicked Amon
As a historiographer, the Chronicler realized that adding this in creates a problem with the Josiah story: how is it that Josiah removes idolatry if Manasseh already did so? To the Chronicler, the answer was obvious. Manasseh’s son—Josiah’s father—Amon, who ruled only two years, is described as wicked, and was assassinated. If his reign was so short, he must have been one of the wickedest kings in all of history. To emphasize this point, and contrast him with his repentant father, Chronicles adds the following into his biography (I quote both the source and the Chronicles version here for easy comparison):
|King Amon in 2 Kings 21||King Amon in 2 Chronicles 33|
יט בֶּן עֶשְׂרִ֨ים וּשְׁתַּ֤יִם שָׁנָה֙ אָמ֣וֹן בְּמַלְכ֔וֹ וּשְׁתַּ֣יִם שָׁנִ֔ים מָלַ֖ךְ בִּירוּשָׁלִָ֑ם וְשֵׁ֣ם אִמּ֔וֹ מְשֻׁלֶּ֥מֶת בַּת חָר֖וּץ מִן־יָטְבָֽה: כ וַיַּ֥עַשׂ הָרַ֖ע בְּעֵינֵ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֑ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָׂ֖ה מְנַשֶּׁ֥ה אָבִֽיו: כא וַיֵּ֕לֶךְ בְּכָל הַדֶּ֖רֶךְ אֲשֶׁר הָלַ֣ךְ אָבִ֑יו וַֽיַּעֲבֹ֗ד אֶת הַגִּלֻּלִים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָבַ֣ד אָבִ֔יו וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ לָהֶֽם: כב וַיַּעֲזֹ֕ב אֶת־יְ-הֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֣י אֲבֹתָ֑יו וְלֹ֥א הָלַ֖ךְ בְּדֶ֥רֶךְ יְ-הֹוָֽה: כג וַיִּקְשְׁר֥וּ עַבְדֵֽי אָמ֖וֹן עָלָ֑יו וַיָּמִ֥יתוּ אֶת הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ בְּבֵיתֽוֹ: כד וַיַּךְ֙ עַם הָאָ֔רֶץ אֵ֥ת כָּל הַקֹּשְׁרִ֖ים עַל הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אָמ֑וֹן וַיַּמְלִ֧יכוּ עַם הָאָ֛רֶץ אֶת יֹאשִׁיָּ֥הוּ בְנ֖וֹ תַּחְתָּֽיו:
כא בֶּן עֶשְׂרִ֧ים וּשְׁתַּ֛יִם שָׁנָ֖ה אָמ֣וֹן בְּמָלְכ֑וֹ וּשְׁתַּ֣יִם שָׁנִ֔ים מָלַ֖ךְ בִּֽירוּשָׁלִָֽם: כב וַיַּ֤עַשׂ הָרַע֙ בְּעֵינֵ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֔ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָׂ֖ה מְנַשֶּׁ֣ה אָבִ֑יו וּֽלְכָל הַפְּסִילִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֤ר עָשָׂה֙ מְנַשֶּׁ֣ה אָבִ֔יו זִבַּ֥ח אָמ֖וֹן וַיַּֽעַבְדֵֽם: כג וְלֹ֤א נִכְנַע֙ מִלִּפְנֵ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֔ה כְּהִכָּנַ֖ע מְנַשֶּׁ֣ה אָבִ֑יו כִּ֛י ה֥וּא אָמ֖וֹן הִרְבָּ֥ה אַשְׁמָֽה: כד וַיִּקְשְׁר֤וּ עָלָיו֙ עֲבָדָ֔יו וַיְמִיתֻ֖הוּ בְּבֵיתֽוֹ: כה וַיַּכּוּ֙ עַם הָאָ֔רֶץ אֵ֥ת כָּל הַקֹּֽשְׁרִ֖ים עַל הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אָמ֑וֹן וַיַּמְלִ֧יכוּ עַם הָאָ֛רֶץ אֶת יֹאשִׁיָּ֥הוּ בְנ֖וֹ תַּחְתָּֽיו: פ
|19 Amon was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem; his mother’s name was Meshullemeth daughter of Haruz of Jotbah. 20 He did what was displeasing to the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done. 21 He walked in all the ways of his father, worshiping the fetishes which his father had worshiped and bowing down to them. 22 He forsook the Lord, the God of his fathers, and did not follow the way of the Lord. 23 Amon’s courtiers conspired against him; and they killed the king in his palace. 24 But the people of the land put to death all who had conspired against King Amon, and the people of the land made his son Josiah king in his stead.||21 Amon was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem. 22 He did what was displeasing to the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon sacrificed to all the idols that his father Manasseh had made and worshiped them. 23 He did not humble himself before the Lord, as his father Manasseh had humbled himself; instead, Amon incurred much guilt. 24 His courtiers conspired against him and killed him in his palace. 25 But the people of the land struck down all who had conspired against King Amon; and the people of the land made his son Josiah king in his stead.|
Both versions see Amon as a wicked king. In Kings, Amon simply continues the wickedness of his father, but in Chronicles he reintroduces idolatry after his father had already abolished it. Second, unlike Manasseh, Amon did not repent, leaving God no choice but to punish him.
The Sin of the Great King Josiah
Moving on to the next king, if Josiah really was so righteous, how can it be that he was killed in the prime of his life by the Egyptian army? It must be that he sinned. Thus, in Chronicles’ version of Josiah’s death, in addition to many other expansions, we have an added note about sin:
|Josiah’s Death in 2 Kings 23||Josiah’s Death in 2 Chronicles 35|
כט בְּיָמָ֡יו עָלָה֩ פַרְעֹ֨ה נְכֹ֧ה מֶֽלֶךְ מִצְרַ֛יִם עַל מֶ֥לֶךְ אַשּׁ֖וּר עַל נְהַר פְּרָ֑ת וַיֵּ֨לֶךְ הַמֶּ֤לֶךְ יֹאשִׁיָּ֙הוּ֙ לִקְרָאת֔וֹ וַיְמִיתֵ֙הוּ֙ בִּמְגִדּ֔וֹ כִּרְאֹת֖וֹ אֹתֽוֹ:
כ אַחֲרֵ֣י כָל זֹ֗את אֲשֶׁ֨ר הֵכִ֤ין יֹאשִׁיָּ֙הוּ֙ אֶת הַבַּ֔יִת עָלָ֞ה נְכ֧וֹ מֶֽלֶךְ מִצְרַ֛יִם לְהִלָּחֵ֥ם בְּכַרְכְּמִ֖ישׁ עַל פְּרָ֑ת וַיֵּצֵ֥א לִקְרָאת֖וֹ יֹאשִׁיָּֽהוּ: כא וַיִּשְׁלַ֣ח אֵלָ֣יו מַלְאָכִ֣ים׀ לֵאמֹר׀ מַה לִּ֨י וָלָ֜ךְ מֶ֣לֶךְ יְהוּדָ֗ה לֹא עָלֶ֨יךָ אַתָּ֤ה הַיּוֹם֙ כִּ֚י אֶל בֵּ֣ית מִלְחַמְתִּ֔י וֵאלֹהִ֖ים אָמַ֣ר לְבַֽהֲלֵ֑נִי חֲדַל לְךָ֛ מֵאֱלֹהִ֥ים אֲשֶׁר עִמִּ֖י וְאַל יַשְׁחִיתֶֽךָ: כב וְלֹֽא הֵסֵב֩ יֹאשִׁיָּ֨הוּ פָנָ֜יו מִמֶּ֗נּוּ כִּ֤י לְהִלָּחֵֽם בּוֹ֙ הִתְחַפֵּ֔שׂ וְלֹ֥א שָׁמַ֛ע אֶל דִּבְרֵ֥י נְכ֖וֹ מִפִּ֣י אֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיָּבֹ֕א לְהִלָּחֵ֖ם בְּבִקְעַ֥ת מְגִדּֽוֹ: כג וַיֹּרוּ֙ הַיֹּרִ֔ים לַמֶּ֖לֶךְ יֹאשִׁיָּ֑הוּ…
|29 In his days, Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, marched against the king of Assyria to the River Euphrates; King Josiah marched toward him, but when he confronted him at Megiddo, [Pharaoh Neco] slew him.||20 After all this furbishing of the Temple by Josiah, King Necho of Egypt came up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah went out against him. 21 [Necho] sent messengers to him, saying, “What have I to do with you, king of Judah? I do not march against you this day but against the kingdom that wars with me, and it is God’s will that I hurry. Refrain, then, from interfering with God who is with me, that He not destroy you.” 22 But Josiah would not let him alone; instead, he donned [his armor] to fight him, heedless of Necho’s words from the mouth of God; and he came to fight in the plain of Megiddo. 23 Archers shot King Josiah…|
Almost lost in the flurry of extra details in Chronicles is the surprising claim that Pharaoh Necho’s request for Josiah to stay out of his fight was from the mouth of Israel’s God. And thus, by ignoring Necho, Josiah essentially ignored God and needed to be punished. This is an odd sin, but nevertheless it fits the bill. The punishment of not listening to God when told to stay out of a battle is getting killed in that battle.
The Unfaithful Zedekiah and the Destruction of Judah
While Kings blames the destruction of Judah on King Manasseh, the Chronicler, who does not believe in intergenerational punishment, has no choice but to blame it on the last king, Zedekiah. Although Kings agrees that Zedekiah was a wicked king, he was only “run-of-the-mill” wicked, with his sins forming the last drops that burst the dam. This approach is insufficient for the Chronicler, since there must be a reason why his reign and no one else’s brought about the terrible destruction. Thus, the Chronicler adds more sins to the works of Zedekiah and his generation:
|Annotations||Zedekiah’s Sins (2 Chronicles 36)|
|1. Zedekiah ignores the word of God from a prophet.||
יב וַיַּ֣עַשׂ הָרַ֔ע בְּעֵינֵ֖י יְ-הֹוָ֣ה אֱ-לֹהָ֑יו לֹ֣א נִכְנַ֗ע מִלִּפְנֵ֛י יִרְמְיָ֥הוּ הַנָּבִ֖יא מִפִּ֥י יְ-הֹוָֽה:
|12 He did what was displeasing to the Lord his God; he did not humble himself before the prophet Jeremiah, who spoke for the Lord.|
|2. Zedekiah swore an oath in God’s name to be loyal to Nebuchadnezzar and then broke it.||
יג וְ֠גַם בַּמֶּ֤לֶךְ נְבֽוּכַדְנֶאצַּר֙ מָרָ֔ד אֲשֶׁ֥ר הִשְׁבִּיע֖וֹ בֵּֽא-לֹהִ֑ים
|13 He also rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who made him take an oath by God.|
|3. Third, he refused to repent.||
וַיֶּ֤קֶשׁ אֶת־עָרְפּוֹ֙ וַיְאַמֵּ֣ץ אֶת־לְבָב֔וֹ מִשּׁ֕וּב אֶל־יְ-הֹוָ֖ה אֱ-לֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
|He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart so as not to turn to the Lord God of Israel.|
|4. The priests and the people were sinners like the nations.||
יד גַּ֠ם כָּל־שָׂרֵ֨י הַכֹּהֲנִ֤ים וְהָעָם֙ הִרְבּ֣וּ למעול־לִמְעָל־מַ֔עַל כְּכֹ֖ל תֹּעֲב֣וֹת הַגּוֹיִ֑ם
|14 All the officers of the priests and the people committed many trespasses, following all the abominable practices of the nations.|
|5. They polluted the sanctuary.||
וַֽיְטַמְּאוּ֙ אֶת־בֵּ֣ית יְ-הֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר הִקְדִּ֖ישׁ בִּירוּשָׁלִָֽם:
|They polluted the House of the Lord, which He had consecrated in Jerusalem.|
|6. They more than ignored the incessant call of the prophets to repent; they actively mocked them.||
טו וַיִּשְׁלַ֡ח יְ-הֹוָה֩ אֱ-לֹהֵ֨י אֲבוֹתֵיהֶ֧ם עֲלֵיהֶ֛ם בְּיַ֥ד מַלְאָכָ֖יו הַשְׁכֵּ֣ם וְשָׁל֑וֹחַ כִּֽי חָמַ֥ל עַל־עַמּ֖וֹ וְעַל־מְעוֹנֽוֹ: טז וַיִּֽהְי֤וּ מַלְעִבִים֙ בְּמַלְאֲכֵ֣י הָאֱ-לֹהִ֔ים וּבוֹזִ֣ים דְּבָרָ֔יו וּמִֽתַּעְתְּעִ֖ים בִּנְבִאָ֑יו
|15 The Lord God of their fathers had sent word to them through His messengers daily without fail, for He had pity on His people and His dwelling-place. 16 But they mocked the messengers of God and disdained His words and taunted His prophets|
|7. This continued until it reached the point of no return.||
עַ֠ד עֲל֧וֹת חֲמַת יְ-הֹוָ֛ה בְּעַמּ֖וֹ עַד לְאֵ֥ין מַרְפֵּֽא:
|until the wrath of the Lord against His people grew beyond remedy.|
According to Chronicles, only after all this occurred in one generation did God act by sending Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. This whole “commentary” on the wickedness of priests and the people in addition to Zedekiah’s evilness, is absent in the Book of Kings.
An Alternative Theology – An Alternative History
This version of history is very different than that of Kings. In this version, God is extremely fair and everyone gets what they deserve. The only problem is, for Chronicles to get history to conform to his theology, he has to rewrite it. The texts cited above are just a handful of examples of over twenty accounts of reward and punishment not found in the book of Samuel or Kings that the Chronicler either adds omits or moves to recast history according to his worldview of divine justice.
Having been influenced by the same ethical thinking about God and divine justice that animated prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, the Chronicler proceeded to retell the history of Israel as it should have been, as it must have been. The dooms-day scenario of the Book of Kings would not do. Instead, the Chronicler wished to present an alternative vision of God and history to his people. He wished to clarify that God is just and fair, predictably so. Thus, he could assure the fragile Judean people that despite their political and military weakness in comparison with the might of the Persians and other great powers, if the Jews keep God’s laws, God would keep them safe from future destruction.
Although Chronicles is and was hardly studied within Judaism, it is a crucial book—both for its innovative and frequently constructive theology, and for the manner in which it foreshadows important developments, several centuries later, in Rabbinic Judaism. Despite our being more familiar with Kings than Chronicles, the theology of the latter predominates, and its echoes can be heard throughout Jewish literature, from the Talmud up to the present day.
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September 6, 2015
January 16, 2020
Hartley Koschitzky studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshiva University. He received his M.B.A. and B.S. in engineering from Columbia University and works in his family business.
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