AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
Good King Hezekiah has died and dark times rapidly return to the land of Judah as his young son Manasseh takes the throne. Naturally Manasseh can’t do much at first—he’s only twelve years old. But as he grows older and begins to assert himself, the people are disturbed to discover that this young man seems determined to undo all the good that his father had done.
He did evil in the eyes of Yahweh, following the detestable practices of the nations Yahweh had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. (2 Chron. 33:2-3)
Manasseh worships every god he can get his hands on—every god except Yahweh, that is. And if you want gods to notice and bless you, you have to really pamper them. You have to make them some nice physical statues that their divine beings can come and inhabit. Manasseh sets to work making his own grotesque and lewd looking statues. And of course if you really want to treat your gods right, you’ll build fancy temples for their idols to dwell in. Ah, but there’s already such a magnificent Temple built in Jerusalem. Seems a shame to waste such a glorious House on dumb Yahweh. Manasseh eagerly sets to work stuffing God’s holy dwelling place with the idols of what he considers to be far superior gods.
He built altars in the Temple of Yahweh, of which Yahweh had said, “My Name shall be in Jerusalem forever.” In both courts of the Temple of Yahweh, he built altars to all the starry hosts. (2 Chron. 33:4-5)
He took the carved image of Asherah he had made and put it in the Temple, of which Yahweh had said to David and to his son Solomon, “In this Temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put My Name forever.” (2 Ki. 21:7)
To really appreciate what Manasseh is doing, let’s look at some pictures. Here is a model of what Solomon’s Temple looked like:
The Holy Place and Holy of Holies are out of sight in that little structure in the center of the inner courts. No one goes in there except a few priests. All the main activity is happening in the inner and outer courts where people come to worship and bring sacrifices to Yahweh. It is in these two courts that Manasseh stuffs all of his idols.
There were idols for various Baal gods, idols for the goddess Asherah, and idols for many different star and planet gods. Manasseh turns God’s holy House into an idol museum—everywhere you look, you’re staring at some grotesque or pornographic statue (Asherah was often depicted as a nude female gripping her breasts with her hands). Suppose you walked into a church on Sunday morning and found the sanctuary stuffed full of statues of naked women and grotesque monsters? What if all the walls were covered in posters of huge breasts and horrid looking beasts? And then you see your pastor and all the elders and deacons kissing these disgusting statues, bowing down to them, and tossing money into bowls at their feet? This is the kind of atmosphere Manasseh has created inside of Yahweh’s House, only people aren’t just bringing money—they’re also barbecuing animals and engaging in some very lewd worship rituals. Any soul who is sincerely seeking Yahweh would find all of this quite horrifying. Oh, but if anyone dares to complain and word gets back to the king, out come the swords. While he is shoving idol worship down everyone’s throat and making it impossible to focus on Yahweh in His own House, Manasseh is aggressively hunting down and slaughtering anyone who annoys him. Who do rebellious souls find most annoying? Souls who are pursuing righteousness. God’s people are the main victims in this ongoing slaughter within Jerusalem’s walls.
Manasseh shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of Yahweh. (2 Ki. 21:16)
What does God do when we are rebelling against Him? He convicts us our souls. What happens when we blow off that private conviction? He sends people to get in our faces. What happens when we don’t listen to His messengers? His patience with us comes to an end.
Yahweh said through His servants the prophets: “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies; they have done evil in My eyes and have aroused My anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until now.” (2 Ki. 21:10-15)
These are terrifying words. Samaria was mowed over by the Assyrians. Family lines are referred to as “houses” in these times, and everyone knows about how God exterminated Ahab’s house using Jehu (Lessons 15 & 18). God always uses examples that mean something to the people He is talking to, so even though He is referring to events that happened in the northern kingdom, they are events which the people living in Judah are well-informed about. Judah is going to be taken down for her willful defiance. Manasseh’s desecration of God’s Temple is the last straw.
Notice how God says that His people have aroused His anger since the day their ancestors came out of Egypt. After all the reading we’ve done, we understand what He means. Ever since the wilderness days in Period 2, these people have been worshiping every idol they come across—breaking their necks to build altars, and temples, and participate in all kinds of costly rituals while refusing to obey Yahweh’s far better system of laws. There is no sympathy for these little jerks. They fully deserve what’s coming to them. Yahweh has every right to be furious and all of our sympathy should be on His side.
Yahweh spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So Yahweh brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles, and took him to Babylon. (2 Chron. 33:10-11)
This hook in the nose thing is ugly business. It means just what it says: some buff soldier grabbed Manasseh and rammed a metallic hook through his sensitive nasal cartilage. We humans are a very sadistic lot, aren’t we? Today we pay to watch movies in which people scream and writhe as they’re being tortured. We come out and say, “What a good movie.” Then we might even buy it so we can re-watch those scenes in the comfort of our own home. Hm. Are we any better than the Assyrians and their nose hooks? Not hardly.
It’s a very long journey from Jerusalem to Babylon and we can be sure Manasseh was in agony with every step. Why is God doing this? He’s trying to break the little rebel and make him turn around. Even though Manasseh is such a little creep, God still loves him and He wants to have a positive relationship with him. But that relationship is only going to happen on God’s terms.
In his distress Manasseh sought the favor of Yahweh his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed to Him, Yahweh was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so He brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Yahweh is God. (2 Chron. 33:12-13)
What an awesome God we have to take us back even after we treat Him so abominably! But then again, we must be cautious. Many foolish souls today think they can spend a lifetime dishonoring God and then escape any eternal consequences for their sins through a deathbed repentance. But this isn’t how things work. Going to Hell is not the only negative consequence our sins have. God makes it clear that we Christians will still feel the impact of our bad choices even though God lets us into Heaven (see Will all Christians be equal in Heaven?). Manasseh has squandered a lot of valuable time on earth. We do not want to follow his example.
Because God is so kind, He frees Manasseh from his terrible situation as a prisoner in Babylon and allows him to return to his throne in Jerusalem. No doubt frightened by the recent attack, Manasseh sets right to work strengthening his military defenses. As if thicker walls can save him from God’s discipline…this king isn’t quite grasping the point. But never mind, at least he is finally doing something about the idols.
He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the Temple of Yahweh, as well as all the altars which he had built on the Temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of Yahweh and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve Yahweh, the God of Israel. The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to Yahweh their God. (2 Chron. 33:15-17)
It’s another partial reform—Manasseh throws out the idols, but he doesn’t spend the effort to destroy them. So now there’s a heap of fancy idols just waiting for someone to come along and set them up again. And someone will—Manasseh’s son, Amon. Manasseh’s laziness is going to have consequences. And this business of people sacrificing to Yahweh at various worship centers all over the countryside is a direct violation of God’s Laws. All sacrifices are supposed to be brought to one place: the Temple. So what we have here is partial obedience. How frustrating. Why can’t Yahweh ever get someone who really treats Him right?
Manasseh reigns in Jerusalem for fifty-five years. He was only twelve-years-old when he started. He is Hezekiah’s son. Remember back in Lesson 24 when Hezekiah became fatally ill and he had that little meltdown on his sickbed? He basically accused Yahweh of being unfair to someone who had served Him so faithfully. Yahweh had taken pity on Hezekiah and granted him another fifteen years of life. Manasseh was born during those last fifteen years. If Hezekiah had shown more respect for God’s wisdom, he would never have conceived such a rebel child, the Temple might not have been stuffed with idols, and the spiritual revival Hezekiah started might not have been so swiftly stomped out. Now of course we know that God is sovereign and He always gets His way. But still, it is interesting to ponder the consequences of Hezekiah’s decision. The next time God is refusing to give us something we really want, we would be wise to remember little monster Manasseh and realize that God’s first choice for us is always the best. Hezekiah could have died fifteen years earlier and gone off to be with God in Heaven. But instead of considering that God had his best in mind, Hezekiah acted like God was doing him some great disservice. We would be wise to remember that God numbers our days with great forethought. When He takes a loved one away, let’s not sit around pining over all the wonderful times we might have had with them or the great triumphs they might have made in the world. Obviously the God who knows the future didn’t see enough greatness to justify keeping them down here. What He did see made Him decide that their deaths were the best choice. Whose wisdom are we going to trust—His or ours?
AMON, King of Judah
After Manasseh dies, his twenty-two-year-old son Amon succeeds him.
He did evil in the eyes of Yahweh, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before Yahweh. Instead, Amon increased his guilt. (2 Chron. 33:23-24)
A son can only worship the idols his father had made if the father had left them intact for him. Once again we see the consequences of bad spiritual choices. Amon is a pill, and his servants quickly tire of him. So after two years, they kill him. And then other people come along and kill the servants and put Amon’s eight-year-old son on the throne in his place.
JOSIAH, King of Judah
Josiah was just a little tot when his grandfather Manasseh was making reforms in Judah. He obviously has some good role models in his life because he decides that he is going to go the route of David and serve only the one true God. As a teenager, he starts personally seeking God, and when he’s just twenty years old, he rolls up his sleeves and sets out to destroy all of the idols in Judah and Jerusalem. Simply tossing the statues out into the city dump isn’t good enough—Josiah orders the things to be smashed up, melted down, and ground into powder. And he doesn’t just sit back and relax on his throne while other people do the grunt work. He goes out himself to personally oversee that the job is done right. What a refreshing change this young monarch is!
In 2 Kings 23:4-18, we find a detailed description of all the work Josiah put into purging the land of idols. As we read through this passage, we also get more information about how bad the idol worship was at this time. Not only was Yahweh’s Temple full of idol worship paraphernalia, but previous Jewish kings had appointed priests to burn incense to many different idols in public worship sites all over Judah. Happily, Josiah kills all of these demon worshiping priests.
Getting it on with prostitutes was a common way of worshiping idol gods. Usually the prostitutes were women, but in Josiah’s time, male prostitutes were having homosexual relations with other men inside of God’s Temple. Josiah breaks down all of the prostitute businesses.
Judah was covered in worship sites to idol gods where priests were making sacrifices. Even one of the gates to the city of Jerusalem had shrines built around it. Josiah destroys all of these shrines.
In the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, there was a site named Topheth were child sacrifices were being practiced. Josiah destroys that site.
At the entrance to God’s Temple, there were horse statues and chariots which had been dedicated to a sun god. On the palace roof, different Jewish kings had built altars to idols. Josiah destroys all of these and smashes them the pieces.
Lastly, we’re told that there were still idol shrines and statues standing which King Solomon had built for the goddess Ashtoreth, as well as for Chemosh and Milcom—two gods who encouraged child sacrifice. Hezekiah had sounded so zealous in his attempts to turn Judah back in the right direction, and yet how is it that he never got around to tearing down King Solomon’s monstrosities? Solomon’s reign was around 978-938 BC. Josiah takes the throne around 638 BC—that’s three centuries later. So for three hundred years, there hasn’t been a single king of Judah who was bothered enough to take down Solomon’s idol shrines? This is very disturbing, yet it helps us realize how serious Yahweh is when He says that His people have never been faithful to Him. Certainly there have been a few individuals like David, Hezekiah, and our new friend, Josiah. But the majority of God’s chosen people have been openly despising Him for centuries.
It’s passages like these that remind us of how important it is to read the entire Bible. Sometimes we run across a character who the writers praise when they’re directly focused on him. It’s only much later on that we learn some extra information which changes our view of him. Jehu was a good example of this. He looked very loyal to Yahweh as he was chopping down idol worshipers in the land, but in Lesson 20 we learned that God was actually displeased with his motivations. If we just read Isaiah’s account of King Ahaz in Isaiah 7, we don’t understand why the prophet gets so angry when the king refuses to ask Yahweh for a sign. Yet when we read the rest of Ahaz’s story in Kings and Chronicles, we learn that the man is an idol worshiping yuck who has been disrespecting Yahweh since day one (see Lesson 22). This is why we need to read the whole story, and we need to understand chronological order before we can have a good understanding of what happened when. When we understand that Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos lived before the fall of the northern kingdom, it helps us better understand their messages. Pretty soon we’ll be meeting a new batch of prophets who will speak when there is only one kingdom of Israel left: the southern kingdom of Judah. These prophets will say some things which only make sense if we understand that they are speaking after the destruction of the northern kingdom. Understanding plot order is essential to understanding the Book.
THE ALTAR AT BETHEL
About three centuries have passed since Solomon’s death and the division of Israel into two warring kingdoms. Way back in Lesson 12, we learned about how Jeroboam made his hideous golden cow gods—an act which made Yahweh so angry that He promised to one day destroy the whole kingdom of Israel. At that time, He also made a specific prophecy about the cow god’s altar in Bethel. As King Jeroboam was leading a grand public ceremony to honor his new god, a prophet had barged in on the scene, walked brazenly up to the altar and said:
“Altar, altar, Yahweh says to you: ‘David’s family will have a son named Josiah. The priests for the places of worship now make their sacrifices on you, but Josiah will sacrifice those priests on you. Human bones will be burned on you.’” (1 Kings 13:2)
Well, three hundred years later, this prophecy is being fulfilled. Josiah has been born from David’s line, and here in 2 Kings 23:15-20 we read:
The king also tore down the altar at Bethel—the pagan shrine that Jeroboam son of Nebat had made when he caused Israel to sin. He burned down the shrine and ground it to dust, and he burned the Asherah pole. Then Josiah turned around and noticed several tombs in the side of the hill. He ordered that the bones be brought out, and he burned them on the altar at Bethel to desecrate it. (This happened just as the Lord had promised through the man of God when Jeroboam stood beside the altar at the festival.)
Then Josiah turned and looked up at the tomb of the man of God who had predicted these things. “What is that monument over there?” Josiah asked.
And the people of the town told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted the very things that you have just done to the altar at Bethel!”
Josiah replied, “Leave it alone. Don’t disturb his bones.” So they did not burn his bones or those of the old prophet from Samaria.
Back in Lesson 12 we learned that dead bodies were unclean things under Yahweh’s Law, and spreading death onto something was a way of making it super disgusting to everyone else. Today if someone spread foul smelling sewage all over a chair, you certainly wouldn’t want to sit on it or go anywhere near it. In Bible times, putting human bones on things had the same loathsome effect. It was also considered a great humiliation to have your bones pulled out of your grave and strewn all over the open ground. By burning human bones on these altars, Josiah is making sure no one will want to use them again.
GOD’S PROPHETIC STYLE
As we read about Josiah fulfilling God’s three hundred year old prophecy, we are reminded once again that God often takes His sweet time in following through with events that He predicts. There’s an important lesson here for all modern day prophets—not the pompous windbags, but the real guys. If God has put the prophetic calling on your life, then you definitely want to be well-versed in all the examples of prophecy He supplies for us in the Bible. Real prophets need to be prepared to boldly deliver messages that they will never personally see fulfilled. Watching Yahweh raise up prophet after prophet to deliver what appear to be empty threats to the people of their time teaches us a very important principle about what it means to serve God. Serving God well has nothing to do with seeing follow through or feeling like everyone else can see evidence that we did what He wanted. There are many times that we will be the only ones who know that we obeyed God in a particular moment—from where everyone else is sitting, it will look as though we disobeyed Him or at least misunderstood His orders. Being a prophet is no picnic—you must be ready to follow in the footsteps of men like Isaiah, Elijah, and that unnamed prophet who spoke to Jeroboam three hundred years ago. You can’t get your daily encouragement from seeing the fruits of your labors, because in the prophetic calling, those fruits are often completely hidden from your eyes.
Real prophets are frequently called upon to speak out against rebellion, and this guarantees that they aren’t going to be well liked by most people. With so many nitwits running around acting like being a prophet is some fun cake job that centers around speaking blessings into people’s futures and impressing everyone with your spiritual insights, it’s easy to think you’ve gone off track when God tells you to give some message in His Name which He then does nothing to back up. Yet as we learn in the Bible, this is often what God does. There is simply no way to predict how much time will pass between when God first says He will do something and when He will actually do it. Whether good, bad, or simply informative, God’s glimpses into the future can set us up for some major disillusionment if we let future knowledge become an idol in our lives. We must remember that knowing what God is planning to do next is never as important as knowing God Himself and staying aligned with Him in our hearts as we go through each day.
THE BOOK OF LAW IS FOUND
In the midst of cleaning out the Temple for Josiah, the high priest Hilkiah stumbles across a dusty set of scrolls that no one has seen for a very long time. On it are the words of Moses which describe Yahweh’s Covenant with His people. It’s called the Book of the Law—and a book in these times meant many sheets of writing material that had been sewn together in a long sheet which was then rolled up for easy storage and handling.
Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible—what we call the Pentateuch (penta=five, teuch= book). Four of these books (Exodus-Deuteronomy) explain Yahweh’s Covenant with Israel. As this hefty document is rolled out and read in the presence of Josiah, everyone realizes what a wretched job they’ve been doing of honoring God.
Now in 2 Kings, the author tells us that Josiah started his reforms and then found the Book of the Law. In 2 Chronicles, it’s suggested that finding of the Book of the Law came first and inspired many of Josiah’s reforms. Does it matter? No. What matters is that we have a king who is sincerely trying to honor God and lead the people back to righteousness. It is to this king that Yahweh reveals this scroll which He has mysteriously hidden away for so many years, no doubt to protect it from being torched by the likes of Amon and Manasseh.
THE PASSOVER IS REINSTATED
Back in Exodus (Period 2), Yahweh invented the tradition known as the Passover—a special meal which is eaten to commemorate Yahweh’s miraculous delivery of His people from bondage in Egypt. Since God’s people have spent most of their time worshiping other gods and even crediting those gods with saving them from Egypt, it’s no wonder that the Passover celebration keeps being ignored on their annual calendar of festivities. It was good King Hezekiah who revived the annual celebration of Passover in Judah, but Manasseh and Amon blew it off. Now Josiah brings it back once again, and with gusto.
“There had not been a Passover celebration like that since the time when the judges ruled in Israel, nor throughout all the years of the kings of Israel and Judah.” (2 Ki. 23:22)
Our Kings author then goes on to tell us that Josiah also got rid of all the mediums, psychics and household gods in his kingdom. This is very significant. This required knocking on doors, searching houses, and demanding that people throw out their idols. Josiah isn’t just going to be content with knocking down a few public shrines. He is demanding compliance from the people and he won’t take no for an answer.
Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to Yahweh with all of his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since. (2 Ki. 23:25)
Our Kings writer is a generous fellow when it comes to handing out the praise. He paid a similar compliment to Hezekiah—saying that he was an excellent king and that no one as good as him ever lived before or after. But then he comes to Josiah and makes him out to be the number one man, so we have to take these comments in the spirit in which they are intended and ignore the fact that there can only be one “greatest” king. Our author has several favorites.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
Even so, Yahweh did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath and His anger still burned against Judah because of all the wicked things Manasseh had done to provoke Him. He said, “I will also remove Judah from My sight just as I have removed Israel. And I will cast off My chosen city of Jerusalem and the Temple where My Name was to be honored.” (2 Ki. 23:26-27)
God’s patience has limits and even though Josiah has done all of these great things, Yahweh refuses to change His mind about destroying the land. Back when Nineveh heard the warnings God spoke through the prophet Jonah, the people repented and God decided not to annihilate the city. But Judah has used all of her chances. She’s going down, and no amount of reforming can save her now.
But still…doesn’t Yahweh have anything positive to say to His faithful king? Indeed, He does, but we have to flip over to 2 Chronicles to hear about it. Remember that God calls both men and women to be His prophets, and this time it’s a prophetess named Huldah who delivers His message to the king.
She said to them, “This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, ‘This is what Yahweh says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people—all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods and aroused My anger by all that their hands have made, My anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.’ Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of Yahweh, ‘This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what He spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before Me and tore your robes and wept in My Presence, I have heard you, declares Yahweh. Now I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here.’” (2 Chron. 34:23-28)
Whew! This is very good news for Josiah. Yahweh isn’t going to be merciful to the nation as a whole, but He does decide to shield His faithful servant from having to experience the horrors of His wrath. It’s yet another inspiring example of how gracious our God is, and how generously He responds to those who sincerely care about pleasing Him.
At the beginning of His speech above, Yahweh says that He is going to fulfill some curses that are written in the Book of the Law. Flipping back to the books of Period 2, we find a terrifying description of curses in Deuteronomy 28. Reading through this chilling passage reveals many truths about God that we are trying very hard to deny in many churches today. Let’s take a look:
“But it shall come about that if you do not obey Yahweh your God and obey all of His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, then all of these curses will come upon you and overtake you: Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.” (Deut. 28:15-19)
Today we often hear about God’s promises to bless Israel. When people talk like this, they are referring to promises made under the Old Covenant–a Covenant which is now null and void. As lame as it is for Israel and the Church to pretend that the Old Covenant is still in effect today, what’s even more absurd is how everyone is picking and choosing which parts of the Old Covenant they want to talk about. As a Christian, you’re taught to believe that the nation of Israel holds some special place in God’s heart, and that He has promised to bless the Jews simply because they are Jews. Well, no, God never made any such promise. Read through Deuteronomy 28 and you’ll discover that all of the blessings God speaks about must be earned by Israel’s total devotion to Him. If Israel chooses instead to spit in God’s face–which she does–then He promises to curse every aspect of her existence.
So what exactly does it mean to live under Yahweh’s curse? He started off this section in Deuteronomy 28 with a grim overview, saying that He’ll curse everyone’s daily movements. But now He’s going to launch into a very graphic picture of just how terrible their lives will become if they push Him too far with their willful defiance.
“Yahweh will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me. Yahweh will make the pestilence cling to you until He has consumed you from the land where you are entering to possess it. Yahweh will smite you with consumption and with fever and with inflammation and with fiery heat and with the sword and with blight and with mildew, and they will pursue you until you perish. The skies above will be as unyielding as bronze, and the earth beneath will be as hard as iron. Yahweh will change the rain that falls on your land into powder, and dust will pour down from the sky until you are destroyed.” (Deut. 28:20-24)
Now the picture is getting into focus and the people Moses is talking to are feeling scared. Remember that Yahweh is talking to an agricultural society. Farming and herding were essential ways of making a living in these times. Disease, drought, mildew, and war are serious threats. Fever, inflammation, and “fiery heat”? Have you ever had a bad flu and felt like you were burning up with fever? Yikes.
“Yahweh will cause you to be defeated by your enemies. You will attack your enemies from one direction, but you will scatter from them in seven! You will be an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. Your corpses will be food for all the scavenging birds and wild animals, and no one will be there to chase them away.” (Deut. 28:25-26)
God says that there is no victory in battle without His help. This is as true today as it was back then. In fact, this whole passage is a screaming reminder that every blessing we have comes from God. He is the One who makes our lives comfortable, peaceful, and pleasant. He is the One who gave us everything we have, and He can just as easily take it all away again. As the Creator of all things, Yahweh is intimately familiar with the human experience. He is the One keeping our delicate systems in balance.
“Yahweh will smite you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, the scab, the itch, from which you cannot be healed. Yahweh will strike you with madness, blindness, and panic.” (Deut. 28:27-28)
Notice how this list includes physical, emotional, and mental plagues. It’s so easy to forget that our own bodies and minds are all part of God’s domain. He rules over us with complete sovereignty. Without His blessing, our brains can’t function, our emotions can’t find peace, and our bodies can’t find rest. What is “the itch”? What is “the scab”? Just where on people’s bodies are the frightening tumors going to grow? They’ll grow wherever God wants them to, and these people will itch wherever He makes them itch. No one can find healing without God, and here He promises rebellious Jews that He will intentionally withhold healing from them. How terrifying!
“You will grope around in broad daylight like a blind person groping in the darkness, but you will not find your way. You will be oppressed and robbed continually, and no one will come to save you. You will be engaged to a woman, but another man will violate her. You will build a house, but someone else will live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will never enjoy its fruit. Your ox will be butchered before your eyes, but you will not eat a single bite of the meat. Your donkey will be taken from you, never to be returned. Your sheep and goats will be given to your enemies, and no one will be there to help you. You will watch as your sons and daughters are taken away as slaves. Your heart will break for them, but you won’t be able to help them. A foreign nation you have never heard about will eat the crops you worked so hard to grow. You will suffer under constant oppression and harsh treatment.” (Deut. 28:29-33)
Remember that God is speaking to Israelites in this passage, and He’s describing how He is going to retaliate if His chosen people refuse to honor Him. God is very gracious and kind and He thoroughly enjoys blessing us. But He isn’t a doormat. He has boundaries. He demands respect. Here under the Old Covenant, Yahweh is being very upfront with the Jews about the limits of His patience and the severity of His wrath.
“You will be driven mad because of all the tragedy you see around you. Yahweh will cover your knees and legs with incurable boils. In fact, you will be covered from head to foot.” (Deut. 28:34-35)
Here’s another reference to insanity brought on by intense emotional anguish. Boils result in incredibly intense nerve pain. To be covered with them all over your body—well, you’d just want someone to come along and kill you.
“Yahweh will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which Yahweh drives you.” (Deut. 28:36-37)
Living in terrible conditions in foreign lands—this is what Yahweh is already inflicting on the Jews who were hauled away in the north and this is what He’s going to do to those living in Judah.
“You will plant much but harvest little, for locusts will eat your crops. You will plant vineyards and care for them, but you will not drink the wine or eat the grapes, for worms will destroy the vines. You will grow olive trees throughout your land, but you will never use the olive oil, for the fruit will drop before it ripens. You will have sons and daughters, but you will lose them, for they will be led away into captivity. The cricket shall possess all your trees and the produce of your ground.” (Deut. 28:38-42)
Who keeps plants healthy and strong so they can bear fruit for us? God does. Who raises up swarms of bugs to destroy crops and inflict us with famine? God does. It’s all spelled out so clearly in the Book.
“The foreigners living among you will become stronger and stronger, while you become weaker and weaker. They will lend money to you, but you will not lend to them. They will be the head, and you will be the tail!” (Deut. 28:43-44)
Who controls the economies of nations and decides which countries will be able to ride roughshod over others? God does. We’re so foolish to think we can shape history all on our own. Without God, we can accomplish nothing.
“Because you did not serve Yahweh your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundant blessings you have received, you shall serve your enemies whom Yahweh will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.” (Deut. 28:47-48)
What about you? Are you revering God in your heart? Are you recognizing that all your blessings come from Him? We can never hope to give God as much gratitude as He deserves, but that’s okay. He isn’t sitting around measuring our praise against His gifts. He enjoys blessing us and He enjoys being generous. Don’t get so freaked out by these curses that you forget one of the main lessons of the Bible: GOD IS SO EASY TO PLEASE. He meets us where we are at, and He invites us to ask Him for anything we don’t have. A heart attitude of “Lord, please make me all that You want me to be,” is all that He is asking from us. It is SO EASY. As Jesus said, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light. God is not some angry Ogre who is just waiting to nail us for one wrong move. But given all of this, most of us are still refusing to truly submit to Him in our hearts. Most of us are delighting in defying Him. This is the attitude that brings frightening punishments down on our heads. God is so kind and wonderful, but He has boundaries. He is not a doormat.
“Yahweh will bring a distant nation against you from the end of the earth, and it will swoop down on you like an eagle. It is a nation whose language you do not understand, a fierce and heartless nation that shows no respect for the old and no pity for the young. Its armies will devour your livestock and crops, and you will be destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine, olive oil, calves, or lambs, and you will starve to death. They will besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land. They will besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which Yahweh your God has given you.” (Deut. 28:49-52)
The world will always be full of people who are wallowing in evil, and God is so good at using such rebels to spank others who are defying Him. Then He raises up more rebels to spank the first group of rebels, and on and on we go. No one gets away with defying God.
“The siege and terrible distress of the enemy’s attack will be so severe that you will eat the flesh of your own sons and daughters, whom Yahweh your God has given you. The most tenderhearted man among you will become hostile towards his own brother, his beloved wife, and his surviving children. He will refuse to share with them the flesh he is devouring—the flesh of one of his own children—because he has nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns. The most tender and delicate woman among you—so delicate she would not so much as touch the ground with her foot—will be hostile toward the husband she loves and toward her own son and daughter. She will hide from them the afterbirth and the new baby she has borne, so that she herself can secretly eat them. She will have nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns.” (Deut. 28:53-57)
Yuck! Gross! And yet this is not the time to change channels or close our eyes and pretend we can’t see the words on the page. GOD IS GRAPHIC. God is violent. If we are so brazen as to war against Him, He is going to come right back at us with way more than we are prepared to handle.
“If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome Name, Yahweh your God, then Yahweh will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants, even severe and lasting plagues, and miserable and chronic sicknesses. He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they will cling to you. Also every sickness and every plague which is not written in the book of this law Yahweh will bring on you until you are destroyed.” (Deut. 28:58-61)
Just when we can’t think of what else can go wrong, Yahweh reminds the Jews that He has many more ways of making them hurt that He hasn’t even mentioned.
“Then you who were once as numerous as the stars shall be few in number, because you did not obey Yahweh your God. Just as Yahweh found great pleasure in causing you to prosper and multiply, Yahweh will find great pleasure in destroying you.” (Deut. 28:62-63)
Now here is a critical passage—especially if you’ve been brainwashed into thinking that our good God never enjoys making people suffer. He most certainly does enjoy it under the right circumstances. So let’s not have any delusions about Jesus weeping over the souls who went to Hell. In the Bible, both Yahweh and Jesus teach that They thoroughly enjoy tormenting Their enemies. Hell didn’t just pop into existence one day all on its own. Hell wasn’t created by Satan and his demons. Hell was created by Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit for the express purpose of eternally torturing those who defy Them. What does this tell us about our three Creators? Clearly They’re a lot more than just love.
“You will be torn from the land you are about to enter and occupy. Yahweh will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. There among those nations you will find no peace or place to rest. And Yahweh will cause your heart to tremble, your eyesight to fail, and your soul to despair.” (Deut. 28:63-65)
Here’s another critical insight: Yahweh isn’t just a wellspring of good feelings. He causes bad feelings too. Who is filling the hearts of these people with fear and their souls with despair? God is. Today we like to go around saying that things like grief and depression are “of the devil.” But this is not what the God teaches. Yes, Satan is a downer who wants to rob our hope and beat us up with condemnation. But Satan can’t do anything without God’s permission. This means that God is the ultimate Source of all of our experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly. This means that when we are struggling in life, God is the first One we should look to for direction, insight, and hope.
Now should we always view illness as a form of Divine discipline? Certainly not. In this passage, Yahweh is threatening to bring on despair and fear as a means of punishing rebellious people. But when we read the whole Book, we learn that God inflicts emotional trials on the obedient as well. Job, Elijah, Moses, and Paul all had their suicidal moments. Jeremiah cursed the day that he was born because he was so miserable serving God and felt like the whole path of obedience was a big rip off. We’re human. We crack under pressure. God applies the pressure and makes us crack on purpose. But if our hearts are sincerely seeking Him, all trials will end up benefiting our souls—this is the hope that He gives us. But if we’re not sincerely seeking Him, then our trials are going to result in fear with no resolution and terror without end. This is because all peace comes from God, and when we are scorning God in our hearts, He will withdraw His peace from our lives.
”Your life will constantly hang in the balance. You will live night and day in fear, unsure if you will survive. In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were night!’ And in the evening you will say, ‘If only it were morning!’ For you will be terrified by the awful horrors you see around you. Then Yahweh will send you back to Egypt in ships, to a destination I promised you would never see again. There you will offer to sell yourselves to your enemies as slaves, but no one will buy you.” (Deut. 28:66-68)
These are the curses Yahweh is promising to fulfill when He speaks to Josiah through the mouth of His prophetess. It is terrifying to be on the wrong side of God. And yet He makes it so easy to stay on the right side of Him, so we don’t need to lay in bed at night terrified that God might suddenly flip out on us. This is what Satan tries to make us do by causing us to hyper-focus on certain passages of the Bible and ignore the rest of the story. Yet when we read the whole Book, we learn that towards those who are sincerely seeking Him, God is ever patient, kind, generous, and gentle. We never need to fear His anger unless we are intentionally provoking Him. If we are, then we can’t fear it enough.
Things are looking good in Jerusalem with Josiah on the throne. It appears that the whole nation has returned to God. But is this really the case? Are the worship sessions sincere or just a bunch of phony acts? As a new prophet rises up in Judah, we learn that things aren’t as really positive as they seem…
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 27: Jeremiah Begins
Click here to see all the lessons in this series.