Names in the Bible often have significance, and that is why I’ve found reaching the end of 2 Chronicles (and therefore the end of the Old Testament in the Hebrew order) fascinating.
The last King of Judah to achieve anything is Josiah (whose name sounds something like: May Yahweh give, or perhaps ‘may Yahweh heal’ according to a different dictionary), who reforms Judah’s worship, rebuilds the temple and rediscovers the book of the Law as he follows Yahweh wholeheartedly. Yet even these reforms do not accomplish anything lasting, the kings after him do not follow his ways, and the people return to their idolatry.
2 Chronicles 36 lists these final kings, and it was their names that caught my attention as I read. There is Jehoahaz – which sounds something like ‘Yahweh is strong’ or ‘Yahweh gives strength’, but he only lasts 3 months before the King of Egypt deposes him and takes him off to Egypt. He is replaced by his brother: Jehoiakim, which sounds something like ‘Yahweh exalts’, but after 11 years of his reign Nebuchadnezzar invades and takes him into exile, replacing Jehoiakim with his son Jehoiachin. Jehoiachin’s name sounds something like ‘Yahweh establishes’, but he only lasts 3 months, enough time to do evil in the eyes of Yahweh, and then be replaced by Zedekiah whose name sounds like ‘Yahweh is righteous’. Despite the promising name Zedekiah too does evil and after 11 years of his reign Babylon invades once more, and the survivors of the population are taken off to Babylon in exile.
It is striking that as Judah goes on the downhill route to exile because of their continued rebellion against God their kings have names that should remind everyone of who is really in control. It is possible to conceive that even while rebelling against Yahweh, and worshipping other gods, that the royal family is still determined to sound like it is doing the right thing. Perhaps they are among those who say ‘this is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD’ in Jeremiah 7, and who follow the deceiving prophets that Jeremiah has to contend with who say ‘peace, peace’ but there is no peace. They can say the right things, and yet reject God in their hearts.
And yet even if these kings are named out of a false show of piety they testify to the reality of what is going on behind the scenes. Behind the scenes God is still the one who gives strength. God is the one who lifts up and brings low, God is the one who establishes and God is the one who is ultimately righteous. The Babylonians were the instrument of his judgment – yet behind them he was already raising up the Persians who would allow the Judeans to return, as the end of 2 Chronicles testifies.
The book of Daniel points to the rise and fall of many empires on the world stage, but in the midst of these empires rising and falling there is rock not built with human hands. There is one like a son of man in the midst of beastly empires. His reign and rule will be established by God. And he will reign in righteousness for ever.
The encouragement for the believer in a 2 Chronicles 36 type world where God’s people seem under pressure, and in decline, is that God’s character remains the same. He continues to make strong and to build up. He is righteous, and his righteous kingdom will know no end. In such a world he simply calls for faithfulness.
Josiah’s reforms didn’t achieve very much. Within 3 decades Jerusalem was overturned and had fallen – his reforms did not last beyond his lifetime. And yet he was faithful, and was commended for his faithfulness. Sometimes our faithfulness will be like that. Sometimes we won’t achieve very much. But the call is the same. Keep on seeking to do God’s will God’s way, and trust him with the results.
Doing God’s work his way does go into a bigger picture. Josiah’s reforms at least meant the book of the Law was rediscovered, and when the people went back to the land they could build on God’s Word rather than making it up. The reforms were too late to save the kingdom, but they sowed the seeds for the next stage of God’s plan. We don’t always get to see that plan. Josiah didn’t see that plan. We simply have to act, as Josiah did, in obedience, one step at a time, to our faithful God and leave the outcome in his hands.
As we do that we know that the outcome is secure, that Christ’s kingdom will come in all its fullness, that we may not see reasons right now, or understand why obedience is necessary – but it will one day be worth it when the righteous King takes his throne for ever and he establishes and lifts up, when he puts right what is wrong. That gives us strength not to listen to the false prophets of peace, and not to follow the paths of idolatry away from our God. On that final day we will see and know the one we hope and trust in now, and we will see and know that the difficulty of following now was worth it.