By Josiah Blake Tidwell
The Kingdom of Judah.
II K. 18-25; II Chron. 28-36.
Note: This period covers the time from the fail of Israel to the fall of Judah. It begins in the sixth year of the reign of Hezekiah, whose name is given as the first king of the period since most of his reign was in this instead of the former period.
The Kings of this Period.
The Principal Events of the Period. Among the more important events of this period the following should be noticed. (1) The reforms of Hezekiah who attempted to restore the whole Mosaic order. (2) The invasion of Judah by Sennacherib, king of Assyria who at first humiliated Hezekiah, but later, was destroyed by divine intervention and Jerusalem saved. (3) The wicked reign of Manasseh, who sought to destroy all true worship and established idolatrous worship in its stead. (4) His captivity in Babylon and release and attempted reform. (5) The good reign of Josiah, who destroyed the altars of idolatry, repaired the temple and caused the book of the law to be read-all of which resulted in a very thorough-going revival of true worship. (6) The conflicts with their enemies which finally resulted in the downfall of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people. This captivity was completely accomplished through three invasions of the hosts of Nebuchadnezzar, (a) In the reign of Jehoiakim at which time he carried away captive Daniel and his friends; (b) In the reign of Jehoiachin or Jeconiah, when he carried to Babylon the treasures of Jerusalem and the skilled workmen as well as the officers of the court; (c) In the reign of Zedekiah, when the city and temple and walls and principal houses were destroyed and large numbers carried into captivity.
The Prophets of the Period and Their Messages. Of all the periods this is signalized by the greatest prophetic activity. There was constant need both on the part of the king and on the part of the people for the warnings and rebukes of the people. Some prophets delivered part of their message in one period and the rest in another. No doubt Isaiah and Micah did part of their service during the former period and Jeremiah performed a part of his in the next. But they are all put down here because this is the period of their greatest activity. The other prophets of the period are Joel, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Obadiah. The messages of these prophets should be carefully read following outlines given in "The Bible Book by Book."
The Teachings of the Prophets. It is difficult to put down in brief form the various teachings announced and implied in the writings of the prophets. Their sermons covered a wide range of subjects, religious, political, commercial and social. They touch upon matters that are national and also those that are personal. The following may be regarded as among their most important teachings. (1) That Jehovah is a moral being-holy, just, wise and good. (2) That Jehovah was the God not only of Judah and of Israel but off all nations. (3) That no man, no set of men and no nation can thwart the plans of God. (4) That God's judgments were certain to overtake the sinful. (5) That religion was not separate from life, but the very central factor of it-that religion and ethics are so blended that "to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly before his God" is shown to be man's whole duty. (6) That religion is a personal spiritual relation between God and man. This is especially the contribution of Jeremiah and lays the foundation for all true faith and is a basal principle of our Christianity.
The False Prophets, Through all the history of Israel false prophets were a source of great trouble. Among those of earlier times may be noted: (1) An old prophet of Bethel, 1 K. 13:11. (2) 400 prophets with a lying spirit, 1 K. 22:6-8. 22-23. (3) 450 prophets of Baal, 1 K. 18:19, 22, 40. (4) 400 prophets of Asherah. 1 K. 18:19. A study of these will show that some are idolatrous prophets and others are perverted worshipers of Jehovah, who did not really prophesy at all. Some were no doubt deliberate deceivers of the people while others were perhaps self-deceived.
During the years immediately preceding the Babylonian captivity false prophets played a prominent role and their pernicious influence upon Judah's history can hardly be overestimated. They lured the people to their ruin and undermined the influence of the true prophets. Isaiah talks about the prophet that teaches lies (Is. 9:15). Jeremiah talks of prophets of lies, who prophesy, not having been sent of Jehovah (Jer. 14:13-15; 23:21-22). Micah tells of the prophets who make the people err (Mi. 3:5). Jeremiah was openly opposed by Hananiah (Jer. Ch. 28). These prophets destroyed confidence in the message of true prophets and brought about a time when the voice of these messengers of God ceased to be heard in Israel.
The Great Religious Revivals of this Period. The whole history of the kingdom of Judah is marked by periods of religious decline and revival. The most striking of these are indicated by the following outline. (1) A decline under the reign of Rehoboam. (2) A revival begun under Asa and made complete under the reign of Jehoshaphat; (3) A decline begun in the reign of Jehoram and continued until the reign of Ahaz where the lowest spiritual state was reached. (4) A new revival under Hezekiah, who introduced sweeping social and religious changes. (5) A decline under Manasseh who reared images to Baal, defiled the temple and overthrew the good work of his father Hezekiah. (6) A revival under Josiah, grandson of Manasseh, whose piety began to manifest itself at the age of sixteen. He began his reforms at the age of twenty and spent six years in hewing down the altars and images of idolatry. The temple was repaired, the law found and enjoined upon the people and the Passover celebrated. (7) A final decline that carried Judah on downward until her glory was destroyed and she was led away into Babylon as captive.
The study of these successive efforts at returning to the true worship of Jehovah and their quick collapse indicate that the kindlings of spiritual life which they seem to manifest were not real spiritual revivals. Many people did no doubt turn in truth to God. but the rapidity with which each effort was followed by a return to deeper depths of immorality, such as those indicated by Amos 5:l6, 7:17, 8:6; Is. 1:23, 10:1; and Hos. 9:15 give evidence of the abounding wickedness of the period.
The Wealth and Luxury. There is much in the discourses to indicate that wealth abounded and that kings and other influential men lived in luxury. The upper classes indulged in all the follies of the idle rich and showed the usual heartlessness toward the poor. The following list of scriptures will indicate some of the things which they possessed and which they did: Amos 5:11, 3:15, 6:4; Jer. 22:14; Is. 5:ll-12, 3:18-23, 21:7. To this list the student by comparison and reference can add many others.
Contemporary Nations. No study of this period would be complete without a knowledge of the other nations that influenced this time. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media, Phoenicia, Carthage, Greece and Rome all influenced Judah. From the Bible narratives and from secular history the student should become acquainted with the leading events in the history of this period of each of these nations.
Lessons of the Period. It is most difficult to put down the permanent lessons or teachings of this period. To the teachings of the prophets given above the following are well worth preserving as lessons for our day as well as theirs. (1) All reformation must begin at the house of God and in connection with his worship-witness the reform work of Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Hezekiah and Josiah. (2) Religion must set the standards for the conduct of national affairs. (3) Sin is infidelity to love, or spiritual adultery. It not only breaks law but cruelly wounds love. (4) Sin blinds men to their best interests, turns them against their best friends and issues in their ruin. (5) The political sentiment or the politician that neglects or attacks God, or the national recognition of him is perilous to the nation. (6) The loss of the sense or vision of God leads to "degraded ideals, deadened consciences and defeated purposes." (7) True love: (a) is not blind to the sins of the one loved; (b) does not try to cover up the faults but tries to turn one from them; (c) does not desert one when calamity comes because of persistence in sin. See the attitude of Jeremiah to Judah before and after the captivity.
For Study and Discussion. (1) Study each of the teachings of the prophets given above: (a) Try to find scripture basis for it; (b) Discuss it as a universal principle. (2) Study each of the scriptures referred to in the discussion above on false prophets: (a) From references collect other passages on the subject; (b) Make a list of their prophecies and tell how to determine whether a prophet is false. (3) From the scriptures given above on wealth and luxury and from others to be pointed out: (a) List the evidences of wealth; (b) Compare the conditions then and now. (4) Following the instructions for study in the paragraph above on contemporaneous nations prepare a list of facts concerning each, especially of matters that affected Judah. (5) Name the kings of this period. Tell (a) how each came into office, (b) how long he reigned, (c) how his career ended, (d) what prophet preached to each and the nature of the prophecy. (6) Hezekiah's sickness, 2 King 20:1-11; 2 Chron. 32;24-26; (7) His song of thanksgiving, Is. 38:10-20. Carefully analyze it. (8) Sennacherib's invasion, 2 K. 18:14-19 end; Is. 14:24-27; 36:1-37:10; 2 Chron. 32:1-23. (a) The object of the expedition; (b) The conference with Hezekiah; (c) The outcome. (9) Josiah's reformations. (10) The three invasions of Nebuchadnezzar.