Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting
February 17, 2010
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Well, good evening. As you can see from the bulletin my task this evening is to preach through sixty five chapters of the Old Testament. It would probably take an entire day for us to just read these two books of the Old Testament. As you can see my day got away from me with other things that came crowding in and I didn't get a title in, in time. And as I was musing just before six thirty this evening about what might be a suitable title, the words of Ezekiel 37 came to mind — “Can these bones live?” because in many ways these are historical books that to many people are like dead bones.
Jane Austen has a character called Catherine Morland, a fictional character called Catherine Morland, in Northanger Abbey, who at one point says, “I can read poetry and plays and things of that sort and I do not dislike,” she says, “travels, but history, real solemn history I cannot be interested in. Can you?”
Well, that's a fascinating question because there's a large section of the Old Testament that's precisely that — history. And these two books occur in our English Bible immediately after 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings but in the Hebrew Bible it comes right at the end after all the prophets. The last two books of the Hebrew Bible are 1 and 2 Chronicles in the section that otherwise would be known as the prophets, suggesting perhaps that there's something — may I use the word — preachy about 1 and 2 Chronicles. And there is. It isn't just history. It is history with a message. It is history shaped in order to drive the people of God to a living and abiding hope.
Now what can we read? Let's take a text — 2 Chronicles 7 and verse 14. 2 Chronicles 7 and verse 14 and I would surmise that it possibly is a favorite text of some of you. You suddenly know it. 2 Chronicles 7 and verse 14. It comes right after the dedication of the temple by Solomon and the magnificent prayer that Solomon prays at the time of the dedication of the temple. Before we read this verse let's look to God in prayer.
Father we thank You for the Scriptures. Thank You for these two books of the Bible and we pray that our time together in these two books tonight would prove to be profitable. And we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
“If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
In many ways that is the center, it is the heart, of 1 and 2 Chronicles. Now, 1 and 2 Chronicles is written somewhere between 450 and 400 BC. Now put your historical caps on for a minute. This is after the exile. This is after Ezra who rebuilds the temple. This is after Nehemiah who comes back seventy, eighty years after the first return from Babylon to ensure that the walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt. This is perhaps the third generation after the Babylonian exile. By the year 400 BC life in Judah, in Jerusalem, was pretty dull. There was a temple but it wasn't Solomon's city. There was a city but it wasn't David's city. There were institutions but they weren't the former institutions. They were under the authority of Persians. Nehemiah you remember served a Persian king, Artaxerxes. Where is the hope? Where is the big plan of God? Where is the promise God made to His people and to their land and to the coming of a king of the seed of David? Where is all of that? By 400 BC all of the initial excitement of the return from Babylon has probably gone, disappeared, and life by this third generation has now become mundane and dull and somewhat unexciting and perhaps even pessimistic.
So what do you do in a context like that? You tell the story, that's what you do. You tell the story of your people. You tell the story of who you are and why you are and what you can expect. You encourage hope. You tell the historical record so as to focus now on the hope, on the Gospel. But haven't we already got that story? I mean, couldn't they have said, “Go and read 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel and 1 Kings and 2 Kings”? Ligon reminded us last Wednesday that 1 and 2 Kings was like Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Do you remember? There's a quiz coming up in a minute. Do you remember how Ligon ended last Wednesday? I was taking notes. He ended by saying that last section of 2 Kings is all about the Fall. And you remember he really wanted to end on a good note but he couldn't find it in 1 and 2 Kings. He had to skip down all the way to Matthew. He had to come into the New Testament. But 2 Kings doesn't really do that. It tells the story but it ends pessimistically. So the Chronicler, whoever he may have been, retells the story.
How do you retell the story and end well? Well, you miss out some of the bad things. You skip over certain facts and records. You ignore, for example, the entire northern kingdom of Israel. They were just renegades anyway so let's ignore them. Let's tell the southern story, the story about Judah, little old Judah and Jerusalem and David and Solomon. You people should understand 1 and 2 Chronicles. (laughter)
Guess — this is the quiz. There are two questions, ten points each. First question — guess what story about David that's told in Samuel that 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles never mentions? Answer — Bathsheba. No mention of it in Chronicles. The biggest blot on David's character — no mention of it.
Guess what story about Solomon Chronicles never mentions? It's the story in 1 Kings 11 of Solomon's apostasy when he sets up worship centers for Ashtoreth and Molech and Chemosh all because of the women in his life. No mention of it in Chronicles. Solomon did not wholly follow the Lord, Kings tells us. Chronicles never mentions that.
What's going on here? We’re all familiar with this at least from one point of view. It's called historical revisionism. We've been familiar with it in the Twentieth Century. There have been rewritings of history done from, say, a Marxist perspective — the struggle of the workers against those in authority. That's the real message of history. Let's scrap all of the old history books, let's retell the story from a Marxist point of view. Lots and lots of historical revisionist books of that nature. We see it currently under the guise of post-modernity. Let's retell the story not singling out those moral truths because there are not moral truths. Is that what's going on in 1 and 2 Chronicles? No.
You know, that's what Gibbons was doing in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, because for Gibbon, Rome succumbed to the triumph of barbarism and religion. Because Gibbon was all for what he called civilization and rationalism, so he retells the story of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. There's a fascinating edition of — it's a riveting read — by a historian of the Nineteenth Century called Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland. It's a page turner. I'm kidding. It's by a historian called Edward Lecky. He's an Irish born historian and he's writing about Irish sympathy for independence from Britain in the 1780s. In the first edition he says there were eighty thousand sympathizers. Ten years later in the second edition h says there were sixty thousand. Thirty years later in the third edition he says there were forty thousand because he had changed his mind. The facts remained the same but he had revised history.
Is that what's going on in 1 and 2 Chronicles? No. It doesn't falsify data. It ignores certain data. It emphasizes other pieces of data, but it's not falsifying data. It's saying, “Let's look at all these facts and let's look at these facts this way. Let's tell the story to emphasize faith and covenant and yes failure, but also faithfulness. Let's include the material from Samuel and Kings but let's include material that Samuel and Kings never mentioned” because life in the fifth century BC had become a dreadfully dull affair. Assyria had obliterated Israel in the north, Babylon had decimated Jerusalem. The temple that they’re now worshipping in was not a match. It couldn't light a candle to Solomon's temple. And if you went into this temple there was no ark of the covenant. It had gone. It had disappeared. The symbol of the presence of God was no longer in the temple. The tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments, the part of the very foundation of Israel, were gone. And if you were a politician, my, in the fifth century BC you were just a lackey to the Persians. You needed hope. You needed a vision.
So let's do our summary. 1 Chronicles chapters 1 to 9 — it's a real page turner. It's a list of names: nine chapters, nine chapters of names. It would be a gargantuan task just to read the first nine chapters of Chronicles. You know, what do you want read at your funeral? Romans 8, Psalm 23, or the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles? Where does it start? Take a look at where it starts — with Adam. Oh, this is not just a little story about Judah. This is Judah's place in the grand history of all the earth, starting from Adam and ending with some obscure family in the fifth century.
But Judah you see is in the plot line that goes all the way back to Adam. If you had been in the fifth century you might have been excited when you came back from Babylon, you might have been excited when Cyrus gave his decree to return to Jerusalem, but life has slipped into something that's altogether mundane and temple worship was dull. And what was the point of it if the presence of God in the ark of the covenant was no longer there? Where was the hope of the nation of Israel? Where was the hope of the promise of the land God had given?
And so the historian begins with roots. Do you know where you stand, little old Judah in the grand history of things? You stand in the line of God's providential dealings from the time of creation itself. My, does that not make you feel important? Does that not warm the cockles of your heart that Judah, even in its diminished impoverished existence in the fifth century BC, was still part and parcel of the overwhelming plan and purpose and providence of Almighty God?
Then the rest of 1 Chronicles, chapters 10 through 29, is basically the story of David. And the first nine chapters of 2 Chronicles is basically the story of Solomon. You’re writing the history of Judah and you devote almost fifty percent of the material to David and Solomon, especially Solomon, and especially to Solomon's building of the first temple because I'm certain in the fifth century, especially by the priests, there was a need to motivate and encourage the people of God to engage in God centered, covenant keeping, promise exalting, hope enriching worship in this second temple, which may not be a match to the first temple, but it lies in continuity with that first temple.
You know, things haven't changed much have they? We still need to encourage one another in worship, I mean in gathered public worship according to the means of grace. And that's a part of what the telling of this story is all about.
Then from chapter ten to the end of 2 Chronicles it's all about the story of Judah, about the kings of Judah. It's about the identity — you must remember the list of names in the first nine chapters in the book of Chronicles — the identity that you must remember. It's about the place that you must love in that second section with its emphasis on Solomon and the temple. And thirdly, it is about the way you must go. The way you must go. It's the story of Judah after Solomon, after the catastrophic son, the inept son of Solomon, Rehoboam, the division of the land.
Let's ignore the northern kingdom, the rebels, the renegades. Let's just concentrate on what's really important here — Judah. This is where the promise lies. This is where continuity lies. The story of kings like Hezekiah whose reforms are treated in Kings in one verse, one verse: Kings just mentions it in one verse.
It takes three chapters in Chronicles because Chronicles wants to emphasize covenant life and covenant community and what it really means to follow the Lord with all of one's heart and what are the consequences of disobedience on the one hand and obedience on the other. What does life look like when you walk away from the Lord and when you walk with the Lord? And Chronicles is emphasizing — We need to walk with the Lord. We need to love God. We need to walk in His ways. We need to follow His commandments. We need to obey Him. Our lives must be so full of appreciation for what God has done for us that they burst forth with obedience and say “Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation day and night!”
Let's take this one, just this one example — the story of Manasseh. Turn to 2 Chronicles 33. This is just one example of what Chronicles does. Let's read the passage together.
“The Lord spoke to Manasseh” - verse 10 of 2 Chronicles 33…
“The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.”
Now, that part of the story Kings tells. Manasseh was taken to captivity in Babylon with hooks in his nose. That's what happens when you disobey. That's what happens when you flout God's covenant.
But what do you do if you want to instill hope? How do you tell the history of Manasseh if you want to instill encouragement in the fifth century? Well, you do what Chronicles does.
“And when he was in distress,” verse 12 “he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to Him, and God was moved by his entreaty.”
Now this is Manasseh. This is Hezekiah's son who becomes king when he's twelve and he reigns for fifty-five years. He was one of the most wicked, ungodly kings in Judah. The Babylonian exile can be placed entirely upon Manasseh's shoulders. He desecrated the temple; he sacrificed his own sons in the fire to heathen, pagan gods. That's Manasseh. Don't have any doubt about this man's wickedness.
But Chronicles says, “You know there's another story. Not just the story of ‘How did we ever get ourselves into exile? How did we ever get ourselves here?’ Kings tells that story. The answer to that is ‘wickedness.’ But there's another story. There is grace with God. There is mercy with God. Friends, there is hope with God — can I use a Bunyan phrase? — “for the chief of sinners” - for Manasseh. Manasseh prays to God. He's brought to his knees in his experience in captivity in Babylon and he cries to the Lord and God hears him. God hears him. He prays to Him and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into His kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. Kings doesn't tell that story. Chronicles wants you to know that part of the story. It wasn't important in the Kings story but it's vital now in the fifth century. Where can I find hope? Were can I find comfort? And my friends, if there's grace for the chief of sinners, a child murderer like Manasseh, there's hope for us all. There's hope for us all.
Turn with me right to the end of 2 Chronicles. Apart from the last two verses which are just a copy of the first two verses of the next book, Ezra, let's look at verses 17 through 21. It's actually a sermon. It's a beautiful sermon. It's a grand sermon by the Chronicler bringing the whole two books to a conclusion. And you notice in verse 20: “He 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” — right, right, right, right, right. Everybody in the fifth century knew that. I mean there's nothing new about that. That's where we've just come from. Our grandparents came back from Babylon. We know about Babylon, but look at verse 21 — “to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah.” The exile was all in God's plan. It was all in God's plan because the one thing that can never ever be taken away, the one thing that can never be destroyed, the one thing that you can always rely on is the Word of the Lord, the covenant of God, the promise that is a part of that covenant, the promise as Ligon was reminding us last week that leads all the way to Bethlehem and all the way to Calvary and to Pentecost and to the Second Coming and to the new heavens and the new earth of which prophets like Isaiah ended their prophecies with.
Do you see what the Chronicler is doing? He's telling the story, but he's telling the story with a twist. He's telling the story to produce hope and faith and commitment. He's saying again and again, “Look people, there are consequences if you deny the Lord, there are consequences if you flout God's covenant, there are consequences and you know what those consequences are, but there are also consequences, beautiful consequences, wonderful consequences if you continue in the ways of the Lord, if you persevere in the ways of the Lord.” In that respect Chronicles is a bit like the book of Hebrews. You know the emphasis on the book of Hebrews is perseverance, perseverance, perseverance — do not stop persevering. Keep on following the Lord. Trust in the Lord. Trust in His Word. Trust in His covenant. That's what the Chronicler is saying — trust in God's Word and it will never let you down.
Father, we thank You for these two extraordinary books in the Old Testament. We want to know them and love them more than we do. We thank You that You are a promise making and a promise keeping God. We also know that You are a God who threatens and who keeps Your threats. But tonight we want to be reminded to that You are a God of grace, grace for sinners, and that's what we are. Grace for those who get tired of the journey for that is often what we are. We pray that You would hide Your Word within our hearts for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand. Receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
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