November 19 – November 26, 2021

Friday, November 19

Luke 22:39-46: Luke’s version of the Agony is simplified. He does not, like Matthew and Mark, indicate that the agony lasted a long time. He includes no threefold reprimand to the Apostles, nor does he describe them as fleeing at the time of the Lord’s arrest, nor does he single out three of them as special witnesses to the event.

Indeed, Luke does not even say it happened in a garden. He describes Jesus’ prayer as being made, rather, on a hill, “the Mount of Olives.” In fact, the Garden of Gethsemani is found on the west side of the Mount of Olives, but it is significant that Luke mentions the hill, not the garden. In fact, Luke normally pictures Jesus as praying on hills (cf. 6:12; 9:28).?? Even though verses 43-44 are missing from some of our oldest and best manuscripts of Luke (including Papyrus Bodmer XIV), they were certainly original and should be preserved. It is fairly easy to explain how they might have been left out of copies of the original text, whereas it is virtually impossible to explain how they might later have been added.

In truth, these Lukan features appear so soon after his Gospel’s composition that it seems downright rash to claim they were not part of the “original” text.
For instance, about halfway through the second century, Justin Martyr wrote: “According to the Memoirs [apomnemonevmata—Justin’s common expression for the Gospels], which I say were composed by the Apostles and their followers, His sweat fell down like drops of blood while He was praying” (Dialogue With Trypho 103.8).
This citation, as old as any extant manuscript of Luke, shows that Justin was familiar with the disputed verses. Shortly after Justin, moreover, Irenaeus of Lyons also wrote of the bloody sweat (Adversus Haereses 3.22.2), as did Hippolytus of Rome, who mentioned, as well, the angel who strengthened Jesus (Fragments on Psalms 1 [2.7]). Later, Epiphanius of Cyprus (Ancoratus 31:4-5) and others followed suit.
For these reasons, and because this passage has long been received in the Church as integral to the Lukan text, my comments on these verses will presume Luke’s authorship of them. Let us consider more closely, then, the Lord’s bloody sweat and the angel who strengthened Him.
First, there is the sweat of blood, a condition called hematidrosis, which results from an extreme dilation of the subcutaneous capillaries, causing them to burst through the sweat glands. This symptom, mentioned as early as Aristotle (Historia Animalium 3.19), is well known to the history of medicine, which sometimes associates it with intense fear. It is not without interest, surely, that only the evangelist that was also a physician mentions this phenomenon.
Unlike Mark (14:34) and Matthew (26:38), Luke does not speak of Jesus’ sadness in the garden scene, but of an inner struggle, an agonia, in which the Lord “prayed more earnestly.” The theological significance of this feature in Luke is that the Jesus’ internal conflict causes the first bloodshed in the Passion.
Second, there is the angel sent to strengthen the Lord during His trial. Luke, in his earlier temptation scene, had omitted the angelic ministry, of which Matthew (4:11) and Mark (1:13) spoke on that occasion. When Luke did describe that period of temptation, however, he remarked that the devil, having failed to bring about Jesus’ downfall, “departed from Him until an opportune time” (4:13). Now, in the garden, that time has come, and Jesus receives the ministry of an angel to strengthen Him for the task.
This is one of those angels of whom Jesus asks Peter in the Gospel of Matthew, “Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (26:53) This angelic ministry was ever available to Him, but now Jesus is in special need of it.
In Luke’s literary structure, this ministering angel stands parallel to Gabriel at the beginning of the Gospel. In the earlier case an angel introduces the Incarnation; in the present case an angel introduces the Passion. Very shortly angels will introduce the Resurrection (24:4).

Saturday, November 20

2 Chronicles 29: We come now to the reign of King Hezekiah (716-687), a period to which the Chronicler, regarding Hezekiah as one of Judah’s greatest monarchs, will devote four whole chapters of his work. In particular the Chronicler’s treatment of Hezekiah lays the groundwork for the understanding of the later efforts of King Josiah and the deuteronomic reformers.

This latter point is significant, because the reign of Hezekiah can hardly be understood except in the context of the social prophetic movement of the eighth century, chiefly the influence of Isaiah and Micah. What Jeremiah would later be to the period of Josiah, Isaiah was to the time of Hezekiah. This king, then, provides a link between two periods of biblical prophecy.

Hezekiah, because of the relatively short life of his father, was only twenty five when he assumed the throne in 716 (verse 1; 2 Kings 18:2). Some historians speculate that he was as young as fifteen. Perhaps his youth and inexperience are what disposed Hezekiah to rely on the counsel and influence of the priests and Levites older than himself, a trait of which the Chronicler, needless to say, heartily approved (verses 4-5). There is an irony, nonetheless, in the young king’s addressing these men as “my sons” (verse 11).

Hezekiah began his rule by purging the Temple of pagan “rubbish” (verse 5) with a view to restoring the authentic Temple liturgy, so woefully neglected during the reign of his father, Ahaz (verses 6-9,19; 28:24).

The priests and Levites, in response to the royal summons, began to purge the Temple of everything that defiled it, evidently the instruments and apparatus of pagan worship (verses 12-16). This process required two weeks for completion (verse 17).

Unlike his faithless father, Hezekiah was aware of the spiritual origin of Judah’s political problems. Hard times had befallen the people, he was convinced, because Judah, and especially Judah’s king, had strayed from the path of righteousness (verse 8). We recall that King Ahaz had sought to deal with the national crisis by playing geopolitical games, seeking help from Assyria to deal with enemies closer to hand. This approach had simply gained him a larger and more serious enemy. Indeed, the most significant crisis in Hezekiah’s reign, the Assyrian invasion near the end of the eighth century, was the direct result of the efforts of King Ahaz to alter the power politics of the region.

Hezekiah, for his part, would have none of this. He was determined to deal with spiritual problems as spiritual problems, and not something else. Indeed, Hezekiah programmatic reform maintained the proper priority indicated by our Lord’s mandate that we “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. Nothing else in Judah’s national life, Hezekiah believed, would be correctly ordered if anything but the Kingdom of God was put in first place. What was first must be placed first, not second or somewhere else down the line.

Sunday, November 21

Revelation 9.1-21: The first four trumpets produced plagues that resembled the seventh, first, and ninth plagues of Egypt (Exodus 9:22-26; 7:20-21; 10:21). These plagues, prompted by the trumpets, affect only the physical and astrophysical world, not human beings—at least not directly. The final three, described by the heavenly eagle as “woes,” afflict mankind directly (8:13).

The image of a fallen star already appeared in 8:10-11. Now another star falls in response to the fifth trumpet (verse 1; cf. Isaiah 14:12-20). This star opens the bottomless pit, from which arises a hellish smoke (verse 2; cf. 8:12) that contrasts with the incense smoke of prayer. The abyss represents existence without the worship of God — the theological term for which is “hell.” As John watches, a massive swarm of locusts takes form within that hellish cloud (verse 3), reminiscent of Egypt’s eighth plague (Exodus 10:12-15). Unlike those former locusts, however, these locusts attack men themselves, not plant life (verse 4). Their activity is limited to five months, which is roughly the normal life span of locusts.

Indeed, this may be the only feature in which these particular locusts in Revelation resemble any other locusts in the world. These are not your usual, run-of-the-mill locusts (verses 8-10). They are satanic locusts, denizens of the abyss, who afflict men with despair. They deceptively have human faces (verse 7), but they represent a worse than human evil. Their king is called “Abaddon,” which is the Old Testament’s personification of the underworld, or grave. It literally means “destruction” (cf. Job 26:6; 31:12). John translates this name into Greek as Apollyon, meaning “destroyer” (verse 11).

It is possible that John intends here a word play on the name “’Apollo,” which name, according to Aeschylus (Agamemnon 1082), comes from the verb apoluein, “to destroy.” We may bear in mind, in this respect, that the Emperor Domitian, not a man easily outdone, it must be said, with respect to a high self-opinion, proclaimed himself a manifestation of Apollo. (There is simply no evil as evil as official, government-sanctioned evil.) The torture inflicted by these followers of Abaddon is spiritual, not physical, and the Christians, sealed with the sign of the Living God, are exempt from it.

To the citizens of the Roman Empire the Euphrates River was a symbol analogous to the “Iron Curtain” of the Cold War era, that is, a border beyond which the enemy world lay massively in menace (verse 14). The enemy in their case was the Parthian army, whose most memorable feature was its cavalry of archers. Guiding their mounts with their knees, and thus leaving both hands free, those fearsome Parthian horsemen could shoot arrows very quickly in all directions, including to the rear. This is perhaps the point of reference for John’s image of horses that bite with both their mouths and their tails (verse 19). By such means, says John, God will further chastise those who persecute His people.

Many details of this vision evoked by the sixth trumpet have striking parallels in Ezekiel 38-39. Fierce as it was, however, the Parthian army was never as fearsome as that described by John (verses 17-18). This is the army of hell, whose immense reserves are superior to all merely human forces. The number given by John, “two hundred million” (verse 16), would certainly constitute the largest army ever assembled. To gain something of its magnitude, we may bear in mind that Alexander the Great captured everything from the Danube to the Indus with an army of a hundred thousand.

The army that John sees, like the army of locusts summoned by the previous trumpet, comes right out of hell. Both these invaders, the locusts and the horsemen, are sent to encourage men to repentance, but men’s hearts, like the heart of Pharaoh, are hardened. The idolatries listed in verse 20 are the root of the other moral evils listed in verse 21. This relationship of idolatry to moral evil is identical to that in Romans 1:21-32 and Ephesians 5:6.

Monday, November 22

Luke 23.1-12: Alone among the four Evangelists, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ judicial appearance before Herod Antipas on the day of the Crucifixion (verses 6-12). This is the same Herod whom Luke mentions closer to the beginning of his Gospel, at the inauguration of the ministry of John the Baptist (3:1). Thus, in Luke’s literary construction, these two references to Herod Antipas serve to frame Jesus’ public ministry, which, as that evangelist was careful to note, extended “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21-22).

Luke also tells how the animosity of Herod Antipas toward Jesus (cf. Luke 13:31) was later directed against Jesus’ disciples (cf. Acts 12:1, 11). Indeed, Luke regarded the collusion of Antipas and Pontius Pilate, which was sealed at Jesus’ trial (Luke 23:12), as the fulfillment of David’s prophecy (Psalm 2:1ø2) of the gathering of the world’s leaders “against the LORD and against His Christ” (Acts 4:25-27). ??It is significant that Luke, when he tells us of Jesus’ appearance before Antipas on Good Friday, does more than state the bare event. He goes into some detail about how “Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate” (23:11). This description implies that Luke had access to an eyewitness account of the event, an event at which, as far as we know, no Christian disciple was present. The historian rightly inquires how Luke knew all this.

Moreover, in addition to these external items of the narrative, Luke even addresses the motive and internal dispositions of Antipas, saying that “he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him” (23:8). Once again the historian properly wonders how Luke was privy to these sentiments. What was his source for this material, a source apparently not available to the other evangelists?

Luke himself provides a hint toward answering this historical question when he mentions a certain Chuza, described as a “steward” of Herod Antipas. The underlying Greek noun here is epitropos, the same word that refers to the vineyard foreman in Matthew 20:8, but in the Lukan context it more likely points to a high political office, such as a chief of staff.

It does not tax belief to imagine that such a person would be present at Jesus’ arraignment before Herod Antipas. Indeed, this would be exactly the sort of person we would expect to be present on that occasion, when Herod was in Jerusalem to observe the Passover. Furthermore, Chuza is also the sort of person we would expect to be familiar with Herod’s own thoughts, sentiments, and motives with respect to Jesus. ??And how did Chuza’s information come to Luke? Most certainly through Chuza’s wife, Joanna, whom Luke includes among the Galilean women who traveled with Jesus and the Apostles, providing for Him “from their substance” (Luke 8:3).

Joanna, whom Luke is the only evangelist to mention by name, was surely his special channel of information that only he, among the evangelists, seems to have had. Married to a well-placed political figure in the Galilean court, Joanna was apparently a lady of some means, who used her resources to provide for the traveling ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. Acting in this capacity, she must have been very well known among the earliest Christians. Only Luke, however, speaks of her by name, a fact that seems to indicate that he had interviewed her in the composition of his Gospel.

Tuesday, November 24

2 Chronicles 32: Six years or so before Hezekiah came to the throne of Judah, Sargon II became the Emperor of Assyria (721-705). As so often was the case when a new emperor came to power, various disgruntled elements in the empire, sensing that the political transition was their chance for rebellion and a new political order, chose the moment to foment insurgencies. This was a common pattern, and when a new emperor had to deal with more than one insurrection at a time, he could have his hands full for several years. This is exactly what transpired when Sargon took the throne in 721.

First, there was a rebellion of the Babylonians, led by their king, Merodach-baladan, who will appear in the next chapter of Chronicles. Then, on the northwest corner of the empire King Midas of Phrygia stirred an insurrection among the Syrians in 717. Meanwhile, a barbarous Indo-Aryan group called the Cimmerians was moving south from the Caucusas and threatening several northern sections of the Assyrian Empire. Finally, on the empire’s southwestern border, the border closest to the Holy Land, the Ethiopians were effectively taking effective charge of Egypt and would, in 710, create Egypt’s Twenty-fifth Dynasty.

With so many problems facing the new emperor, some of the smaller nations within the empire were prompted to contemplate a little rebelliousness on their own. As the Phrygians had encouraged an uprising among the Syrians, so Egypt fostered an impulse toward rebellion in the Holy Land.

The first to act on this impulse were the Philistines, who began to rebel in 714, at the very time when Hezekiah was initiating his reforms in Judah. Because Egypt promised military aid to whoever would join in that uprising, the temptation was strong for Edom, Moab, and Judah to throw in their lot with the Philistines. Both 2 Kings and Isaiah testify to the extraordinary geopolitical pressure brought to bear on the smaller kingdoms of Palestine during this period.

Isaiah himself strongly opposed this rebellion against Assyria. Not only did he distrust Egypt’s intentions in the region; he perceived that Egyptian and Philistine foreign policy was something quite distinct from the will of God. He urged Hezekiah and Judah not to take part in the rebellion inspired by the political machinations of Ethiopia and Egypt (Isaiah 18—19).

Early in 712 Hezekiah pleaded with Hezekiah not to become involved. Later that very year, when Sargon invaded the Holy Land to deal with the Philistines, Hezekiah could be glad that he had hearkened to the counsel of Isaiah (Isaiah 20). In the Assyrian’s eyes, of course, Hezekiah was already compromised by his destruction of the Assyrian altars in the Holy Land, but at least he had not joined the open rebellion of the Philistines, and in 712 Judah was spared the destruction inflicted on the latter, thanks to the prophetic counsel of Isaiah.

Everything changed, however, in 705, when Sargon II was killed in a battle with the Cimmerians that had invaded Asia Minor. The Assyrian Empire was once again agitated by various insurrections, rendered more serious and volatile by the fact that the emperor had perished so far from the center of political power at Nineveh. The new emperor, Sennacherib (704-681), faced trouble on all sides. For example, the Babylonians immediately revolted, as they would continue to do periodically until they were strong enough to conquer Assyria itself a century later.

Hezekiah, concluding that the time had arrived for Judah’s independence, joined a general revolt that was taking shape on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, largely under the leadership of Phoenicia. Indeed, it seems that Hezekiah himself brought pressure to bear on some of the Philistine cities in order to bring them into the coalition (2 Kings 18:8). He further saw to the fortifications of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32:3-5) and the digging of the underground aqueduct (32:30).

Meanwhile, Hezekiah also sent delegates to Egypt, sent a delegation to Egypt, seeking assistance in the rebellion. Isaiah thoroughly denounced all these efforts (Isaiah 30:1-7), but the king apparently paid him no mind.

Sennacherib needed nearly three years to fight Babylon to a standstill, but by 701 he was ready to move against the rebels in the west. He went straight for the strongest among them, Phoenicia, replacing the king of Tyre, who sought refuge on Cyprus. Indeed, this crushing of the Phoenician uprising in 701 led to the serious demise of Phoenicians as the great maritime power of the Mediterranean. In due course they would be replaced by their own colonies, such as Carthage, and also, of course, by the Greeks.

Once the Phoenicians fell, Hezekiah realized that the game was up and sued for terms of peace. Sennacherib, destroying forty-six walled cities of Judah and deported their populations, was not interested in dragging out the campaign, agreed to peace terms but made them severe. Hezekiah was obliged to strip the Temple of its gold and empty the royal treasury. The whole adventure, taken up over the objections of Isaiah, proved to be very expensive.

Wednesday, November 2

Psalms 69: It is appropriate that we should be praying this psalm as we are currently studying Luke’s account of the Lord’s Passion. This is the prayer of Him “who, in the days of His flesh . . . offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death” (Heb. 5:7). The Christian Church has ever been persuaded that Psalm 68 expresses the sentiments of that soul “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). In this psalm we are given a vision into the very heart of Christ in the circumstances of His Passion: “Deliver me from those that hate me, and from the depths of the waters. Let not the flood of water submerge me, nor the depth swallow me down, nor the mouth of the pit close over me.”

This is the Christ who in dereliction sought in vain the human companionship of His closest friends during the vigil prior to His arrest: “What? Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Matt. 26:40). Psalm 68 speaks of this disappointment as well: “My heart waited for contempt and misery; I hoped for someone to share my sorrow, but there was no one; someone to console me, but I found none.”

From the very beginning the Christian reading of Psalm 69 has uniformly interpreted this prayer in the context of the Lord’s suffering and death. “Save me, O God, for the waters have come even unto my soul. . . . I have come to the depths of the sea, and the flood has submerged me,” prays the Man of sorrows who described His approaching Passion as the baptism with which He must be baptized (cf. Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50; Rom. 6:3).

This same Sufferer goes on to pray: “Zeal for Your house has consumed me,” a verse explicitly cited in the New Testament with respect to the Lord’s purging of the temple (John 2:17). In the context this consuming of the Lord was a reference to His coming Passion; He went on to say to those who were plotting to kill Him: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In saying this, the evangelist noted, “He was speaking of the temple of His body” (vv. 19, 21).

The very next line says: “The reproaches of those who reproached You have fallen on me,” a verse later cited in Romans as bearing on the sufferings of the Lord. The apostle’s lapidary and understated comment was that “even Christ did not please Himself” (15:3). In this passage St. Paul could obviously presume a common Christian understanding of Psalm 69, even in a congregation that he had not yet visited.

Still later in our psalm stands the line: “Let their dwelling be deserted and let no one live in their tabernacles.” Even prior to the Pentecostal outpouring, the Church knew this verse for a reference to Judas Iscariot (cf. Acts 1:20), that dark and tragic figure who guided the enemies of Jesus and betrayed his Lord with a kiss.

According to all four Gospels, the dying Christ was offered some sort of bitter beverage, oxsos, a sour wine or vinegar, as He hung on the Cross. This is the very word used at the end of the following verse of Psalm 69: “And for my food they laid out gall, and for my drink they gave me vinegar.”

But there is another dimension to the Passion of the Lord—the resolve of His victory. Even as He was being arrested, His enemies were unable to stand upright in His presence (cf. John 18:6). This was the Christ, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). No man takes the Lord’s life from Him, for He has power to lay it down and to take it up again (cf. John 10:18). This is the Christ whom death could not hold, who descended a very conqueror into hell to loose the bonds of them that sat in darkness, and who “went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:19).

This sense of Christ’s victory also dominates the final lines of Psalm 69: “I am poor and distressed, but the salvation of Your face, O God, has upheld me. I will praise the name of God with song; and I will magnify Him with praise.”

The victory of Christ is the foundation of the Church, those described when our psalm says, “Let the poor see and rejoice. Seek God, and your soul will live. . . . For the Lord will save Zion, and the cities of Judah will be built, and they shall dwell there and hold it by inheritance, and the seed of His servants will possess it.”

Thursday, November 25

2 Chronicles 34: Josiah’s chronology seems pretty well established for us. Reasonably placing the beginning of his reign (under a regency, of course) in 640, we surmise he was born in 648 (verse 1), fathered by the 16-year-old Amon (cf. 33:21). Josiah himself became a father at age 16 (cf. 36:2). It was 632, and he had a serious religious conversion that same year (verse 3). Fathering children and getting serious about God often go together.

On reaching age 20 in the year 628, Josiah took the kingdom in hand and initiated a religious reform of the nation (verses 3-7). There are five things noticeable about this reform.

First, Josiah got rid of only Canaanite gods (verses 3-4). Evidently the Assyrian gods had already been purged by the repentant Manasseh (33:15).

Second, in the pursuit of this reform Josiah ignored his northern border (verse 6). He could afford to do this, because the recently weakened Assyrian warrior would never again show his face at the walls of Jerusalem. The last of the great Assyrian emperors, Asshurbanapal (668-633) had lately died, and none of his feeble successors could ever again threaten the western end of the Fertile Crescent. The Assyrian Empire was already in grievous decline, and the Babylonian king, Nabopolassar (626-605) would soon be in full revolt against it. Asshur would fall to the Babylonians in 614, Nineveh in 612, Haran in 610, and the dreaded Assyrian would be no more.

Third, only the Chronicler notes that the Levites were charged with the financial oversight of the refurbishing of the Temple (verses 11b-13). This is not only the kind of detail we expect in Chronicles, but it also ties the Levites to the discovery of the scroll in the Temple. In the next chapter it will be obvious that the priests and Levites were very much involved in Josiah’s project of reform.

Fourth, Josiah’s reform was seconded by the prophet Jeremiah. Apparently born in 640, the very year of Josiah’s succession, Jeremiah received his prophetic call in 627 (Jeremiah 1:2), five years before the discovery of the scroll in the Temple. Thus, Jeremiah was only 18 when the scroll was discovered. Josiah’s reform seems to have been something of a youth movement. In 627 Jeremiah complained, in fact, that he was still a mere boy (Jeremiah 1:6).

Fifth, Josiah’s reform involved the refurbishing of the Temple, and as preparations were being made for it in 622 a mysterious scroll was discovered there (verse 8). Except for the mention of the Levites, the Chronicler (verses 9-11a,14-18) describes this discovery pretty much as it is described in 2 Kings 22:3-7. The scroll is described as containing “the law of the Lord given through Moses,” and biblical scholars since patristic times have suspected that it was either the Book of Deuteronomy or a significant portion thereof.

On hearing the scroll read and learning its content, Josiah was horrified, realizing how woefully he and the people had failed to observe the Law (verse 19). Even his extensive reforms, which have been in progress for several years, did not measure up. The king had a sense of impending doom by reason of the nation’s accumulated sins over many generations, so he sent his companions to seek prophetic guidance on the matter (verses 20-21).

They consulted the prophetess Huldah (verse 22), who did the them kindness of telling them the worst. The accumulation of evil was already too great, she said, to evade its inevitable results. The scales were already overbalanced to the point of a relentless crash, and there was no way to stop the forces of history unleashed by so much sin. The nation would soon perish because of its chronic infidelities (verses 23-25). Only thus, remarked Josephus, could the Lord vindicate the warnings of the prophets (Antiquities 10.4.2).

The sole consolation held out by Huldah was the guarantee that the punishment of the nation would not come to pass during the lifetime of the present godly king (verses 26-28). Since Josiah was a relatively young man at the time, perhaps there were those who took comfort in the thought that they too would be spared the vision of the impending punishment. Alas, they did not know how little time Josiah had left in this world. The king would be dead in thirteen years.

Josiah took this prophecy of Huldah in the same spirit of humility that he displayed when the Law was first read to him. Resolving that whatever time was left would be spent in the pure service of God, he caused the book of the Law to be read aloud in the presence of the national leaders and whoever else could join them (verses 29-30). He would not spare them the bad news. He would not permit them to walk blindly into the future or put their hopes on a vain sense of security. Their days were numbered, after all, and Josiah thought it a mercy that they should know it. God was still God, and man still owed Him pure service (verse 31). Josiah would continue to love God “with all his heart and all his soul,” an expression that he had recently learned from reading the Sacred Text of Deuteronomy!

Friday, November 26

2 Chronicles 35: Although 2 Kings 23:21-23 tells of the Passover observed in Jerusalem in the year that the scroll was discovered, the account of that same celebration here in Chronicles is far more ample and detailed. Indeed, verses 2-18 of the present chapter are peculiar to the Chronicler.

Josiah entrusted the organization and preparation for this feast to the ever-reliable Levites, who were especially charged with the actual slaying of the paschal lambs (verses 3-5). At each part of the ritual the Levites performed their sundry duties as assistants, musicians, and doorkeepers (verses 10-15).

So great was Josiah’s celebration of Passover that the Chronicler’s mind was forced back to the time of Samuel to find its equal (verse 18). For two reasons this high estimate is unexpected. First, it makes Josiah’s celebration of Passover eclipse notable Passover celebrations of David, Solomon, and Hezekiah. Second, it suggests a liturgical standard in the pre-monarchical period, a time about which, as we have seen, the Chronicler had fairly little to say at the beginning of the book. These considerations render the Chronicler’s assessment very surprising.

The Chronicler is careful to note that this Passover celebration involved “all Judah and Israel” (verse 18). Josiah’s ability to bring together the entire Chosen People, all the descendents of those who celebrated that first Passover on the night before the Exodus, indicates the recent political changes in the Fertile Crescent. Obviously no one was any longer afraid of what the Assyrians might think.

It is very significant of Josiah’s thinking, moreover, that the remnants of the northern tribes were invited to the feast, as Hezekiah had done in the previous century. The Passover was not just any feast. It was the feast in which Israel was separated from all other peoples of the earth. It was the feast that rendered Israel God’s Chosen People. Therefore, it was preeminently the feast of the unity of the People of God.

Being restricted to Jerusalem, Josiah’s celebration of the feast, we observe, corresponded to the prescription of Deuteronomy, which we believe to have formed, at least in part, the scroll so recently discovered. In that text it was commanded, “You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, but at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice” (Deuteronomy 16:5-6 ESV).

Perhaps more than any other feast in the liturgical calendar, Passover roots Israel’s worship in the concrete, documented facts of history. The annual feast itself is part of the historical continuity inaugurated by the events remembered on that holiest of nights. Israel represents, in this respect, a religious adherence profoundly different from that of the religions of India, which involve various efforts to escape from history into some kind of experience transcendent to history. Israel’s worship does not endeavor to escape the flow of history but to place the worshippers into the People’s historical identity established by historical events. Those who keep this feast become one with those who have always kept it, including those who stood to eat the Passover on that first night, protected by the sprinkled blood of the paschal lambs.

The proper celebration of the Passover, however, is more than a “then and now.” The “then and now” forms only the two extremes of the greater continuity. The full continuity is also important, because this feast is essentially an inherited feast, and the inheritance is received, not simply from the distant past, but from the more immediate past of the previous generation of worshippers.
What was true of Israel’s celebration of the paschal feast is, of course, likewise true of that new Pascha celebrated by Christians (in the identical historical continuity, for those Israelites were our own forefathers!). This is how we should understand the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians at Passover season, “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
The closing verses (20-27) of this chapter bring us to the year 609, when the final remnants of the Assyrian army were destroyed at the Battle of Carcemish. Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, had fallen to the allied forces of the Medes and Babylonians three years earlier in 612 (to the great joy of the prophet Nahum, who made this the theme of his book). In 610 the vestigial, refugee government of Assyria were driven out of Haran, at the top of the Fertile Crescent. The Assyrian situation had become desperate.
To the new pharaoh who took the throne of Egypt that very year, Neco II (610-594), this was not a good development. He felt certain that the Babylonians, after they finished off the Assyrians, would begin to cast its gaze down toward the southwestern border of the Fertile Crescent. Deciding to cast in his lot with the remaining forces of Assyria, Neco marched his army northwards along the coastal road through the Carmel range, heading toward a rendezvous with the Assyrians at Carchemish on Euphrates River, with the hope that with joined forces they might stop the march of the Babylonians and the Medes.
This road lay, of course, right through the territory of Judah, and Josiah was forced to make some determination about the matter. Perhaps recalling that his great-grandfather Hezekiah had been friendly toward Babylon (32:31), and certainly remembering all that the Holy Land had suffered at the hands of the Assyrians, Josiah determined to throw in his lot with Babylon and resolved to march counter to Pharaoh Neco and stop him from reaching Carchemish. When their two armies met at a crossroads on the plain beneath Armageddon, the “hill of Megiddo,” King Josiah perished in the battle.
Whereas in 2 Kings this story is told in two and a half verses (23:28-30a), the Chronicler provides a longer, more detailed, more colorful account. According to this account Pharaoh Neco tried to dissuade Josiah from fighting him, claiming even the will, protection, and providence of God for the side of the Egyptians (verse 21). What is important here is not the nature of Neco’s claim, but the fact that the Chronicler apparently agreed with it (verse 22). In the narrator’s eyes, this was one more occasion when a king of Judah refused to pay heed to a message from on high, with disastrous results for the kingdom. He will summarize this theme in the next chapter (36:15-16).