|THE WORST OF TIMES
2 CHRONICLES 36:17-23
Series: Kingdom & Exile - Part Seven
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
November 5, 2017
This morning we’re coming back to our series “Kingdom and Exile” - which is a part of what we’ve been looking at since January - when we started off in Genesis. A brief recap to help jog our memories.
In Genesis, God creates everything out of nothing and it’s all good. God creates Adam and Eve in His image. Then Adam - who represents all of us - Adam disobeys God - sins. Which is not good. Result being - each of us born in Adam’s image - each of us is born into sin and hopeless separation from God.
Which is where we live in the ugliness of what’s around us - people driving over people on sidewalks - and with what each of us personally struggles with. Which is a glimpse of worse things yet to come if something doesn’t get done about that.
We’ve been looking at what God - Who loves us - how God is dealing with what separates us from Him.
We’ve seen God working through real people in real time in real situations. Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses and Joshua and the judges.
been following God at work through history. God at work
in and through the lives of people - relentlessly
working to restore our relationship with Him that’s
been broken by sin.
All of what points to Jesus’ work on the cross.
Before we paused to celebrate the Reformation - we came to the part of history where God initiates the Kingdom in Israel and the family line of David that leads to Jesus. We looked at David as an example to us of what it means to live life with the living God - living in God’s kingdom. What does that look like in the real time of our lives?
Let’s be clear. God’s Kingdom is where and when God’s authority extends to. Meaning there’s no where or no when that God is not sovereign - The Potentate of His creation - in complete control and authority. Which is great mind blowing theology and a great study for another time. Some of which we looked at last Sunday. Who God is. What God does. To God alone be the glory.
What’s important for us to grab onto today - when God initiates the Kingdom of Israel - in one very real sense He’s taking all of that Divine sovereign “kingdomness” and bringing it - in a very real God is with us sense - bringing His kingdom into what’s going on with His people.
Like when Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God is as close as your hand” - which is really close. Yes?
Which should be encouraging for us to realize - the nearness of God and all of His Divine authority and sovereignty - all of what God has promised to do and is doing in history - to realize God’s nearness in the reality of where we live life.
What we’re looking at today is not just Old Testament history but about what God has for us today.
God chooses David to be king. David who’s a man in sync with God’s own heart - chooses David to lead God’s people in living rightly before God. And God sets up the kingdom under David.
And God tells David and God repeatedly tells God’s people: “If you live faithful and obedient to Me I will bless you. Your dwelling on this land will be protected and prosperous for you and your posterity. And I’m going to use you to demonstrate to the world what it means to live in relationship with the living God - to attract others to Me and what I desire to bless them with.”
We’re together? Live faithful and obedient. Be blessed. To God be the glory. Which they didn’t.
Which bring us up to speed for where we are today - 2 Chronicles 36 - looking at verse 17 to 23 - “The Worst of Times.” The first part of which deals with God’s Judgment.
2 Chronicles 36:17: Therefore [because they didn’t obey and remain faithful] Therefore He [God] brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans [think Babylon], who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels.
Some backfill on the “therefore.”
When David’s son Solomon dies - in 930 BC the Davidic kingdom is divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom called… Israel. And the southern kingdom called… Judah.
In the north - Israel - with the exception of a few good things that happen - every king of Israel is disobedient and unfaithful to God. As the king goes so goes the kingdom.
Meaning that - with very very few exceptions - the northern kingdom was messed up - spiritually - morally. If there was a way to be offensive - to rebel - to insult - to dishonor - to be faithless and disobedient to God - they were all in.
God sends prophet after prophet to call His people to turn back to Him. Which they didn’t. So God sends the Assyrians to come and take out Israel. In 722 BC - Israel is conquered and Sennacherib hauls off God’s people to Assyria. Think Iraq today.
Meanwhile in the south - in Judah - the kings and people of Judah - have a front row seat to watch all that sin and what God does about it. God is continually using Israel as a warning to Judah of what not to do.
And to make sure that Judah gets the point - over and over - God sends prophets to Judah - in no uncertain words - to tell His people: “I am serious about this. You all need to learn from their mistakes and turn from your sin and turn to Me.”
If we were to keep score of how Judah did. Good meaning… good - meaning faithful and obedient to God. Bad meaning… bad. How all that went… In Judah there were 8 good kings and 11 bad kings and one bad queen. The last 4 were all bad. And as the king goes so goes the kingdom.
Adding all that up - seemingly God’s people had learned nothing - nada - from watching what happened in the north. Meaning there were some revivals - some God honoring bright spots - but overall things were not good and things went really down hill at the end.
As a nation - in some outward ways they were going through the motions of being God’s people but at the heart level they’d rejected God.
The Bible tells us that in Judah they had as many gods as there were towns. They’d set up pagan altars in God’s Temple. There were fertility cults. Think religious prostitution - male and female. They were sacrificing their children on pagan altars - which involved roasting them alive.
There were prophets who claimed to speak for God who were leading people away from God. Twisting God’s law and word - making it into lies and distortions - and coming off as appearing really wise in the eyes of the people. Teaching what the people wanted to hear not what God was actually saying - what God was actually holding His people accountable for.
As a culture God’s people were corrupt, immoral, and unjust. They were greedy and dishonest. The rich exploited the poor. The poor exploited the poorer. They abused and made slaves of foreigners. Theft and murder were common. Marriage was a joke. The judicial system had broken down.
And the attitude of the people was that, except for a few things that could be better… “Well, we’re doing okay.”
If that sounds kind of familiar. If in your head your making comparisons to today. In many ways it was very similar.
Our society murders children, enslaves people, exploits foreigners, legislates by opinion, marriage is dishonored, immorality is celebrated, morality is relative, religion is exploited for profit - financial and political - and we could go on. Similar is not a stretch. The worst of times.
“Therefore” God sends judgment in the form of the Chaldeans - who were part of the Babylonian empire. Meaning that starting in the 600’s BC the Babylonians attack and oppress and conquer Judah.
In 586 BC the Babylonians ruthlessly killed young and old - men and women. Took what was left out of the Temple. Torched it. Torched the royal palace and the homes of the nobility. Tore down the walls of the city. Left the place in ruins. Hauled off whoever was left. Leaving behind the poorest of the poor to somehow go on living.
Which is the act of God’s judgment that’s recorded for us here in chapter 36. God takes seriously what it means to have a relationship with Him - both in what He commits to and what He expects of us.
Verse 20 introduces us to Jeremiah’s Prophecy
He [the Babylonian king] took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.
Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah from the town of Anathoth. Which was just north of Jerusalem. The Bible tells us that before Jeremiah was conceived God had chosen Jeremiah to be a prophet. When Jeremiah was young - probably less that 20 years old - a teenager - God came to Jeremiah in a vision and activated his calling as a prophet. What would have been 627 BC.
Jeremiah served as a prophet for about 40 years during this time of wars and conquest and new empires conquering old empires. He served in this tiny kingdom of Judah that was caught in the middle between the empires of the Egyptians and the Babylonians. Jeremiah had a front row seat as he watched his nation deteriorate - morally - culturally - spiritually. He was there through the worst of times. He was there at the end.
Maybe in some ways we can relate to that.
When Jeremiah told God’s people what God wanted said to them - the people laughed at Jeremiah. They hated him. Called him a traitor. Imprisoned him. Tortured him. Tried to have him killed. Tradition says that Jeremiah was stoned to death in Egypt by the Jews. When Alexander entered Egypt he rescued Jeremiah’s bones from obscurity and buried them in Alexandria.
Through all that Jeremiah remained faithful to God - obedient. Time after time he prophesied that God was going to punish Judah. That they’d broken their agreement with God to worship and serve only Him. Jeremiah said that they should surrender to the Babylonians that were acting as an instrument of God’s judgment. That they should let the Babylonians haul them away into exile in Babylon. That was all part of God’s judgment and plan.
In what must have been a great motivational vision - God tells Jeremiah no matter what you do the people aren’t going to listen to you. God tells Jeremiah to stop praying for His people. God has stopped listening to them. God tells Jeremiah to tell the people to stop wasting His - God’s - time with their sacrifices.
Point being that God’s people had rejected God’s message calling for repentance and turning back to God. They went right on crying out to God to help them - continuing in sin - and blaming God for not doing what they wanted.
Jeremiah writes that all that tore him up inside. He was angry. He was burdened with sorrow. He felt like he was living like stranger - a foreigner - in his own country. Where people were at spiritually and they way things had deteriorated so much that he couldn’t connect with those around him - even the religious leaders.
Maybe there’s something in that we can relate to ourselves.
In the midst of all that - the worst of times - God speaks through Jeremiah - Jeremiah 29:10 “For thus says the Lord: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.””
Which is “the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah” prophecy reference here in 2 Chronicles 36:21.
Those of you that are reading through the Bible canonically - Genesis to Revelation - who are now in Deuteronomy - who’ve survived Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. All those instructions and lists - names and numbers - God - in the Old Testament - uses real time people and real places and real events - uses all of that as illustrations to help us understand what God is doing and what He will do and what He expects of His people.
The more we read all that the more we begin to see how all this fits together and we can marvel at the greatness of God and what God does. Keep reading.
God takes very seriously His promises to His people and what He expects of His people.
Leviticus 25 - starting at verse 1 “The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you [the Promised Land], the land shall keep the Sabbath to the Lord.
Notice keeping the Sabbath is about the... land.
What that looks like is this - verse 3 - “For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord.” (Leviticus 25:1-7)
We’re together? Every 7th year no sowing and reaping - the land rests. Which is an act of faith in the God who promises that - if we faithfully obey Him - we will experience God’s blessing - His ongoing provision for the needs of our lives. Food being kind of important.
Leviticus 26:33 - God warns His people what He’ll do if they don’t: “And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. Then the land will enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.”
We’re together? For every year you don’t keep the Sabbath rest for the land God is going to send His people into their enemy’s land - into exile away from the land - until the land catches up on its rest.
A person could say, “What’s the big deal about the land? It’s just dirt.” Which it is. But respecting what God says about the land is about respecting God. It’s about God’s people being reminded of Who God is in their lives - the relationship they have with the living God because of the living God Who’s chosen them and provides for them in that relationship. Which is about obedience and faith in God that was seriously lacking in Jeremiah’s day.
All of which God takes very seriously. And which the people did not. They kept right on sowing and reaping even in the 7th Sabbath years. But, even though the people didn’t do what God required God still required it of them. Therefore 1 year of exile for each missed Sabbath or 70 years.
Ever give your child a time out? Ever get a time out? The exile is God giving His people a 70 year time out.
God gives His people a time out - to give the land a rest - and to get His people to think and learn. Why God is doing what God is doing and what they need to learn from all that - and change their attitude and behavior towards God.
Notice also there is a limit. 70 years. Jeremiah’s prophecy lets us know that God’s rejection isn’t final. There are limits placed on God’s discipline.
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up...’”
King Nebuchadnezzar - remember him? Book of Daniel? Nebuchadnezzar - writing in his official Babylonian records - records that he in 605 BC he entered Jerusalem for the first time. That’s an outside the Bible historical reference. God using real people in real time.
In 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar enters Jerusalem. Takes articles from God’s Temple - takes Jewish hostages - and takes them back to Babylon. That date - 605 - begins what is considered the beginning of Judah’s exile. God’s judgment.
Jumping forward in history. Daniel and the handwriting on the wall. Remember this? King Belshazzar - son or grandson of Nebuchadnezzar - and his feast for thousands. Belshazzar getting drunk using God’s Temple goblets - praising gods not THE God. The human hand writing on the wall God’s judgment. Daniel refusing the gifts and title knowing that that night the Babylonian Empire was history. (Daniel 5:1-31)
What happened that night? Belshazzar gests killed. The Persians took over Babylon. And Darius - also called Cyrus - the Persian became king. The year was 539 BC.
The prophet Isaiah - under God’s inspiration - Isaiah writing some 200 years earlier - before the exile began in 605 BC - before the Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC - Isaiah wrote that Cyrus - even gave his name 200 years earlier - Isaiah wrote that Cyrus would be used by God to shepherd God’s people back to Judah to rebuild the Temple - in order to demonstrate God’s own sovereignty over everything. (Isaiah 44:26-28; 45:1,13)
Within his first year as king - by 538 BC - Cyrus issues the decree that’s recorded here in verse 23 - ending the exile of God’s people. Which took place in 536 BC when about 50,000 Jews made it back to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel to rebuild the Temple - the house of God in Jerusalem.
Some of you are way ahead of me on this. But, let’s do the math.
Nebuchadnezzar began the exile in when? 605 BC. Subtract 70 gets us to 635 BC. If we allow for that being in the 70th year - meaning in the 69th year which is referred to as the 70th year - as opposed to having completed all of the 70th year - meaning 536 BC the year Zerubbabel and company returned to Jerusalem - the bottom line is that in the 70th year God’s word - Jeremiah’s prophecy - is fulfilled. The Sabbath rest is accomplished. Time out completed.
We need to be impressed that once again the sovereign God of creation has done exactly what He said He would do. There’s hope in that. Even in the worst of times.
Processing all that…
…to help us pull all that together we have short video from The Bible Project.
That chart is available on the Welcome Table next to the Life Group Study Guide.
We know where we live. The country and world we live in - politically - culturally - morally - spiritually. We know that the church here in the US is in serious trouble. Things are not good where we live. Things are not getting better. That these are the good old days is not a comforting thought.
And personally sometimes what goes on in our families or what goes on in our own thoughts and hearts and what we struggle with just within ourselves - that all can be really hard to deal with. Overwhelming at times.
Sometimes it is easy to default to despair mode - depression mode - to anxiousness and uncertainty - to fear - to wonder about what may come next. Maybe these are the worst of times. Maybe we can relate all too well to Jeremiah - his life and times and feelings.
Chronicles is a summary of Hebrew Scripture - Hebrew history - what God has been doing since Genesis and the Fall. Real time - real places - real people. What helps us to look back in order to look ahead. The past becomes a source of hope for the future.
Which is the incomplete sentence at the end. “Let him go up…”
The verb in Hebrew literally means… “to go up.” The verb is often used to describe ascending with anticipation - looking forward to being with God.
“Let him go up..” is the author’s way of saying that Israel’s Messianic hope isn’t fulfilled yet. The Messiah is yet to come and rebuild the Temple. Which is about Jesus - crucified - raised on the third day - rebuilding the Temple. Which is about us and our relationship with God.
Meaning the point of what we’re looking at isn’t about land and time outs and dates and prophecies and even what may the worst of times or what may seem like it. The bottom line is that even in the worst of our times - because God is God - we have hope.
Regardless of where we live life - God calls us to faithful obedience - to repent of what needs repenting of - and to go up - to look up - to turn to God - with anticipation to trust Him with our lives. He is our hope. The only hope.
Whoever is among us of all his people, may the Lord your God be with you. Let us go up...’”
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.