Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book 2 Chronicles: Prophets, Priests, and Kings
What happens when the worship of the Lord is neglected? What becomes of a nation when Kings abuse their power to build self-exalting empires? What is the fate of a people who live in a land where truth is a scare commodity? These are some of the key questions addressed in 2 Chronicles as the slow decay of Judah is recounted. Inevitably, their faithlessness leads to conquest at the hands of Babylon. This is a story of a people turning from their God, but it is also a story of prophets, priests, and kings. This is a history of Judah, but the main players are prophets, priests, and kings, who all had a great role to play in preserving the faithfulness of the people of God. Prophets were charged with the mission of speaking the truth of God’s Word to those in power, even when the message was wildly unpopular. Priests were designated as the holy representatives of God to the people and of the people to God; they offered sacrifice and were responsible for the proper worship of the Lord and of the service of the temple. And of course, kings were to rule wisely and humbly over the nation, guiding them in the ways of the Lord.
In 2 Chronicles, we read of the calamitous consequences resulting from the failures of the leaders. In 2 Chronicles 18, we see four-hundred prophets simply telling the king what he wants to hear; it’s hinted that this has become commonplace in both Israel and Judah. The holy priesthood falters as well, allowing idol worship and unclean things even in the temple, in addition to failing to keep the holy feast days and observe Passover. Their wickedness is summed up in 2 Chronicles 36:14:
“All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the Lord that he had made holy in Jerusalem.”
While many prophets and priests are neglectful of their duties, the rulers of the people, the kings, display great acts of evil also. Manasseh burns his own children and many more are similarly violent and idolatrous. The picture is clear. God’s people have been deeply corrupted, starting with even the religious and national leaders.
Yet even amidst all of this chaos and rebellion, 2 Chronicles also presents us with several scattered stories throughout the book of flawed, yet courageous leaders who set their heart to do what was right despite being surrounded by wickedness.
In contrast to the lying prophets of 2 Chronicles 18, the prophet Micaiah responds with the difficult truth, proclaiming “As the Lord lives, what my God says, that I will speak” (18:14). Others like Shemaiah, Hanani, and Azariah confront kings by telling them to turn to God and to forsake their evil ways. They boldly proclaim God’s Word in places where the truth is hated. They offer a glimmer of hope and a call to obedience as they seek to right the course of the nation.
There are faithful priests too in 2 Chronicles. The priest Jehoiada is a striking example of courageous devotion to God. He rebels against the illegitimate Queen Athaliah and leads the people to restore young Joash as the rightful king. He then institutes sweeping reforms by cutting off Baal worship, by organizing the priests and Levites in their service, and by turning the people back to God:
“And Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the Lord’s people” (23:16).
All the days of his life, he led the king in the ways of the Lord; when Jehoiada died, Joash turned to wickedness. Jehoiada’s son, the priest Zechariah, is the lone force standing up to this evil:
“ Then the Spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, and he stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God, ‘Why do you break the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.’” But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord” (24:20-21).
Zechariah boldly stands up for the cause of holiness and truth and is stoned for it in the court of the house of the Lord. Even as the service and worship of the Lord is often tainted and tarnished and repudiated, men like Jehoiada and Zechariah risked their own lives to honor the Lord.
In addition to the prophets and priests, there are also several moments in 2 Chronicles of incredible humility and devotion to God from Judah’s kings. Despite most of these rulers swerving into idolatry and wickedness, there are periods of holy triumph. In 2 Chronicles 20, for instance, Jehoshaphat leads the people in prayer, fasting, and song, and he trusts totally in God to win a battle for them, demonstrating amazing humility in his prayer:
“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (20:12).
This faith of the king results in a time of rejoicing in victory and in the worship of the Lord. Another king, Hezekiah, guides the nation to celebrate Passover for the first time in decades, instructing the people to work around the clock to make preparations. Even wicked Manasseh at one point humbles himself before God in prayer. In 2 Chronicles, we get glimpses of the victory, the rejoicing, and the true worship that comes when a faithful king sets his heart to humbly serve God and shepherd the people. Amidst generations and generations of failure, there are flashes of hope. There are echoes of the beauty of faithfulness to God.
In the original Hebrew ordering of the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles was the last book in the canon. It served as a summation and repetition of the story of God’s people, a reminder of the road to destruction and captivity in Babylon. As ancient readers studied this book of God’s Word, perhaps they were struck by those glimmers of hope in the stories of those rare, courageous leaders. Perhaps they thought, “We need a unwavering, truth-telling prophet like Micaiah. We need to have a purifying, sacrificial priest like Zechariah or Jehoiada. We truly need a prayerful and humble king to serve like Jehoshaphat or Hezekiah or Asa or Josiah.” I believe the book of 2 Chronicles is designed to point us to the desperate need for faithful prophets, priests, and kings. God’s people need someone who will tell God’s truth no matter what. We need someone holy and pure to represent God and to go on our behalf to offer proper sacrifices. We need a king to shepherd us and guide us in humble obedience. Great things happen in 2 Chronicles when prophets, priests, and kings step up to the task and fulfill their divinely appointed role. Yet, even the best of these also failed. Even when we read of the most righteous kings, we also read of their stumbles, their pride, and their disobedience.
Therefore, 2 Chronicles reminds us that what we truly need is a perfect prophet, priest, and king. The Gospels present Jesus Christ as distinctly fulfilling all three of these roles. He is a
prophet and teacher, relentlessly calling the people and the religious leaders back to true faithfulness to God. He is the great High Priest, holy and pure as he cleanses the temple and offers the perfect sacrifice of himself on our behalf. He is the truly humble and prayerful king, relying totally on the Father as he rules and shepherds his people. Even our best leaders will falter at times, but Christ never wavers in truth, in purity, or in his kingly authority. He alone is the trustworthy leader. He is the better Zechariah. He is the superior Micaiah. He is the greater Jehoshaphat. Thanks be to God for a prophet, priest, and king who never fails his people!