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Recap of Chapter 17-

Legacies are fragile things.  Hezekiah had been King of Judah for nearly three decades. His reforms were sweeping, his achievements notable, his accolades many.  He is listed among the few who “did what was…right before the LORD His God.”  After his death, his son Manasseh ascended to the throne and unraveled his father’s spiritual heritage.  Manasseh’s reign marked a spiritual relapse from which the kingdom of Judah would not recover.  He made a mockery of Hezekiah’s faithful reign and did more evil than any of his predecessors.

King Manasseh set up altars in the LORD’s temple where worshipping the stars accompanied worship of God.  He filled Jerusalem with the blood of innocents and turned his own heart and his people’s hearts away from God.  Manasseh was eventually captured by the Assyrian king and led off to Babylon in utter humiliation.  At last, he turned to the LORD who had compassion on him and eventually allowed him to return to Jerusalem.  God re-enters the story to give ultimate forgiveness even to the worst of kings.

But God’s people would not return to Him.  They ignored the prophet’s warnings.  So God did what He said He would do—He sent foreign armies to raid Judah.  Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar laid three sieges against Judah and Jerusalem.  The first came against King Jehoiakim and the second against King Jehoiachin.  Nearly 10,000 Judeans were captured and taken away to Babylon.  The king, and the prophet, Ezekiel, were among their prisoners.

Ezekiel’s visions are some of the most colorful in all ancient literature and foretold of Jerusalem’s certain doom.  God commissioned Ezekiel to speak truth to the exiles who disregarded their guilt, even when faced with such stern judgment.  He refused to give up.  He called Jeremiah to alert the adulterous people that they must own up to their reckless sin.  And God also sent word that the worst was yet to come.

Zedekiah was Judah’s last and most pitiful king.  His government was controlled by Babylon, and he and the people rejected God, broke His Law and defiled His temple.  The time for judgment had come, so God arranged the final battle: King Nebuchadnezzar vs. King Zedekiah.  The outcome was certain.  An 18-month blockade left Jerusalem’s inhabitants weakened by famine.  Zedekiah made a last-ditch plea for help from the prophet Jeremiah, but no one much cared for Jeremiah’s response.  He reported that Jerusalem would not be saved, and he urged surrender as their only hope of survival.  Most regarded his claims as treasonous.

In 586 BC, the Babylonian army broke through the walls of Jerusalem. They demolished the city, looted the temple and led the people away to Babylon.  Jeremiah was among the few who were left behind.  He grieved the loss of his beloved city and mourned the sin of God’s people.  He knew that Judah could have been saved, but even in his sorrow, this weeping prophet stood firm on the sure promises of God.  He trusted that He would have compassion on the remnant who remained in Jerusalem.

It had been eight centuries since God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt.  Now they were exiles in Babylon. Hope vanished.  But God told Ezekiel that all was not lost.  He reminded His people that He would one day cleanse and restore them.  He assured their return to the homeland.  And He promised that He would be their God.

To illustrate His point, God showed Ezekiel a valley of dry bones and asked, “Can these bones live?” When Ezekiel spoke God’s message to the bones, they came to life and stood like a vast army. This astonishing demonstration confirmed that even exile in Babylon would not hinder God’s great Upper Story, and portended a future resurrection for the faithful. Life would return to Israel’s dried up bones. God would make them a nation again. He would bring them back to their land. Only He could.

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The New Covenant:  Hope for the Hopeless

Think for a moment of all the things that have become obsolete over the years.  The covered wagon and stage-coach became obsolete with the automobile.  Oil lamps used for millennia became obsolete with electric lighting.  Outhouses were replaced with indoor plumbing—something we are all thankful for in the winter months particularly.  And vinyl records, 8-track tapes, and cassette tapes have become obsolete with the CD and then the MP3 or iPod player.  Some people remember a time in their life that did NOT include personal computers.  No one at that time could imagine what benefit a home computer could provide.  People of that era were functional and comfortable in their past way of life that included using telephones, the postal service and Liquid Paper.  They were unaware of any need that was yet unmet.  Now, people feel frustrated, trapped, and panicked when our computer crashes or our email server goes down.  With the new, we are now acutely aware of our need when it goes unmet.  Do any of us long to return to the old and obsolete?  Never!  Why not?  Because the new is infinitely better than the old.

Israel was unaware of her own need for a new covenant.  But the three sieges against Judah and Jerusalem that led to Judah’s captivity in Babylon proved to the faithful remnant that people could not live up to the Old covenant standard.  Like in the days before computers, Judah could not imagine that God would have an outside-of-the-box answer for her problem.  He would make the Old Covenant obsolete by renewing it in Christ.

I.       The Function of the Covenant of the Law

A. The law served as a way that God’s people could demonstrate their allegiance and express their love for the LORD.  Obedience was always associated with turning to the LORD.  It was not so much a way to enter into a relationship with the LORD, but rather a means to express and maintain one’s already-established relationship with the LORD.

  1. Regulatory—to teach Israel to be a holy nation, separate from the pagan nations, and to respond to the LORD and to one another according to a holy standard.
  2. Revelatory—reveals the nature and character of a holy God and reveals sin
  3. Preparatory—prepared for the coming of Christ by its sacrifices and festivals; demonstrated the need for a Savior

B. The Law was NEVER a means of salvation—salvation has ALWAYS been by grace through faith.

II.       The Failure to Keep the Covenant of the Law

A. Israel had begun to transgress the Law while Moses was on the mountain for 40 days.  They were drawn to return to the gods of Egypt and built for themselves a golden calf.  Her history, as we have seen through The Story, is fraught with her continued failure to remain in covenant obedience to the Law.  Israel had a few bright spots to be sure, but the overall trend of the nation was to turn away from the Covenant and turn away from the LORD.

B. The patience and mercy—sometimes severe mercy–of the LORD compelled Him to send warnings to Israel to return to a covenant relationship with Him.  He revealed Himself through other nations and deliverance from enemies (as in the times of the Judges), through prophets (such as Elijah, Amos, Hosea and Isaiah), and through events like Elijah’s 3-year drought and consumed sacrifice.  Yet it was not enough to keep Israel obedient to the Covenant of the Law or the “Old Covenant.”

C. Approximately 850 years after the LORD gave Moses the Law, Judah went into captivity.  (Israel had already gone into captivity some 125 years before Judah.)  The redeemed nation in possession of the Promised Land was now expelled from the Land and under another foreign power by God’s doing.  Just as God had warned them through Moses before entering into the Promised Land, their failure to remain faithful to Him would result in expulsion from their Land and exile to a foreign land (Deut. 28:24-49, 30:1-5).  The exiles of the northern kingdom of Israel to Assyria and the southern kingdom of Judah to Babylon was due to their consistent failure to remain faithful to the Law (Old Covenant) and was by God’s sovereign design.

D. They were hopeless.  Exiled in foreign nations and spit out of the Land of their inheritance, Judah was hopeless. They had had every possible advantage to become holy and to live up to their high calling of the LORD as a nation.  They had been redeemed; they had seen and experienced the miracles and acts of the LORD; they had His written word; they had the Covenant of the Law.  Yet the sin nature reigned mightier than all these other things put together.  If Israel was hopeless to ever be holy or righteous with all these advantages, then what hope was there for anyone?  If this Covenant of God wasn’t enough, what would it take?

III.       The Future Hope of a New Covenant

A. The Upper Story of the LORD’s great plan of redemption is always one of hope and life.  At the lowest point in Israel’s “Lower Story” life, God revealed His great love for His people through the promise of a New Covenant in the future.  Judah was experiencing the discipline of the LORD for their failure to live by the Old Covenant when God promised a future covenant that would be everlasting.  Judah, only seeing her “lower story” circumstances needed to be shown that God’s “Upper Story” was not over!

B. In Jerusalem, God revealed the coming New Covenant through Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34).  It would be different from the Old covenant made at Sinai.  He would:

  1. Put His law in them, write it on their hearts
  2. Be their God, and they would be His people;
  3. No need for teaching because they will know the LORD
  4. Forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.

C. In Babylon, God revealed the New Covenant through Ezekiel (Ezek. 36:24-28).  Though “covenant” is not used in these verses, it is used in 34:25 and 37:26.  Notice the similarities in the promises.  The LORD said He would:

1. Gather Israel from the nations and return them to their Land

2. Cleanse them from their filth

3. Remove the heart of stone and give a heart of flesh

4. Put My Spirit in you to cause you to walk obediently.

IV.       The Foundation of the New Covenant—Jesus Christ

A. About 600 years after the promise of a New Covenant to Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Jesus inaugurated it on the night before He was betrayed.  3 of the 4 gospels record it (Matt. 26:26-28, Mk 14:22-24, Lu. 22:17-20)

  1. Luke 22:17-20.  And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Lu. 22:20)
  2. This was not new news to the disciples!  They knew their scriptures.  They knew of the failure of Israel and the hope promised in the New Covenant through Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  Notice that not one of the twelve disciples ever asks what Jesus meant by a “new covenant.”  They required no further explanation.

B. Paul described the difference between the old and the new when he wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 3)

Old

Written on tablets of stone

The letter of the law kills

It is a ministry of death engraved on stones

Ministry of condemnation has glory but fades

Old covenant is only removed in Christ

Fading away

New

Letter of Christ written with the Spirit of God

Tablets of human hearts

Paul was a servant of the new covenant

Spirit gives life

Ministry of the Spirit more glorious

It remains

C. The author of Hebrews describes the New Covenant as a better covenant and quotes from Jeremiah (Heb. 8:6-13).

  1. Jesus, the better high priest, is the mediator of the better covenant.
  2. The better covenant has better promises.
    1. The new covenant makes the old obsolete (Heb. 8:13)
    2. The old covenant was inaugurated by blood and so too was the New Covenant; without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Heb. 9:22).
    3. Other Old covenant sacrifices could never make anyone perfect (Heb. 10:1).  Rather they were a reminder of sin (10:2) and could not take away sin.  Can you imagine?  Every sacrifice was a reminder of one’s sin, a reminder that each person needs a Savior.  Their sin was always before them under the Old Covenant.
    4. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.  (10:14)  Again the Hebrews author quotes from Jeremiah that the hope found in the New Covenant is basically two-fold (10:15-18):

D. The New covenant puts the Law upon their heart.

  1. Under the Old covenant, people continually turned away from the Law.
  2. Now the Spirit that indwells believers gives us the ability to live holy lives.  It is no longer under our own strength that we have to obey God (like the Israelites), but through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

E. The New covenant actually forgives sin. The better covenant allows us to boldly come before God because we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus (10:19-23).

V.       Applications and Implications

A. When Israel was hopeless, God provided hope.  Even in my darkest, most hopeless moments, God is still there and His plan of redemption for me remains steadfast.

B. God’s sovereignty is amazing!  Only God can fulfill plans that span centuries.

C. The promise of the New Covenant reminds me afresh of the unfathomable grace of God.

D. What God does for Israel and what He does for me is for His name’s sake, not ours.  His holy reputation is at stake.

E. God showed His justice when He punished Israel for her sin; He shows His grace and faithfulness with the New Covenant promises.

F. God still shows His justice in the New Covenant by providing a substitute whose blood was shed; Jesus paid my penalty which displays the grace of God.

G. I am so grateful to be part of the New Covenant community of faith.

H. As a participant in the New Covenant, I have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to help me maintain a right relationship with the LORD first and with others second.

I. As a recipient of the New Covenant, I have a new heart.  I am freed from the old heart of my past.

J. I am forgiven!  The New Covenant has a provision for sin.  Sins under the Old Covenant resulted in curses (Deut. 28).  The LORD does not remember my sins—past, present or future—anymore!

K. The New Covenant is dependent upon what God did in Jesus Christ.  I do not have to “work” to be righteous.

L. Only the Spirit of God can bring true (eternal) life to “old, dried up bones.”

Clean House Dirty Hearts

It is the portion of the study that you will need to take out your Bible and reflect on or answer the following questions. If it would be of benefit to you, copy the text here and then paste it to a new document and then print it out. Please let me know if you have any questions.

“The Story”, chapter 17 covers the last one-hundred years of the Kingdom of Judah.  During that time period only one king pleased God consistently.  Josiah followed two of the most destructive and bloodthirsty reigns imaginable and he became king at eight years of age!  Jeremiah was his contemporary.  Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah probably prophesied at various times during his reign.  Yet when he began to restore the temple in Jerusalem, Huldah, wife of Shallum, advised him about his discovery.

I.  Josiah’s surprising discovery. 2 Kings 22:1-13; 2 Chronicles 34:1-22

1.  What kind of king was Joash? 2 Kings 22:2; 2 Chronicles 34:1-3

2.  How old was he when he decided to repair the temple?  2 Kings 22:3

3.  How do we know Josiah had been preparing to do this work for some time? 2 Chronicles 34:3-7, 9

4.  What did the priest, Hilkiah, find?  2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chronicles 34:24

5.  What did the king’s secretary, Shaphan, do in King Josiah’s presence? 2 Kings 22:10, 2 Chronicles 34:18

6.  What was the King’s response?  1 Kings 22:11, 2 Chronicles 34:19

7. What did he assume about God at this point?  2 Kings 22:13; 2 Chronicles 34:20

8.  Josiah was not only feared for himself, who else occupied his concerns? 2 Kings 22:13

II.  Huldah’s observations. 2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-28a

The reconstruction of the temple revealed that Josiah already had a heart for the things of God.  His ability to hear, discern, and act on the Word of God shows maturity beyond his years.  Josiah asked his advisers to ‘inquire of God’ and they went to a woman.

1.  Who was Huldah? 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22

2.  Where does Huldah get the information she shares with Josiah’s men? 2 Kings22:15; 2 Chronicles 34:23

3.  What does Huldah reveal about the future of Judah? 2 Kings 22:16-17; 2 Chronicles 34:23-25

4.  What does Huldah reveal about Josiah’s future?  2 Kings 22:19-20; 2 Chronicles 34: 26-28

5.  What words show that this is a personal revelation from God to Josiah?

6.  Point out Josiah’s attitudes and actions in the following passage.  Circle the words that indicate his heart attitude, underline the words that indicate his action.

“Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed, and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord.”                            2 Kings 22:19

 

III.  Josiah cleans house. 2 Kings 23:1-30;  2 Chronicles 34:29—35:19

Huldah’s words would have brought fear and comfort to the young King.  His fears for his people were grounded in reality.  The personal assurances from God validated Josiah’s desire to reclaim Judah’s religious heritage.  He went about the work with such a passion that they celebrated a Passover, the likes of which that had not been seen since the days of Samuel.

1. What did Josiah do in front of all the people? 2 Kings 23:1-2; 2 Chronicles 34:29-30

2.  Fill in the blanks from 2 Chronicles 34:32:

“Then _________   _____________ everyone in Jerusalem and Benjamin _____________

_________________ to it: the people of Jerusalem did this in accordance with the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.”

Did this pledge cause the people of Judah to change their hearts?

3. What did Josiah do about the worship of Baal, Asherah and the pagan priests? 2 Kings 23:4-5

4.  What did he do to Jeroboam’s altar? 2 Kings 23:15

5.  What did he do about mediums, spiritists, and household gods and idols? 2 Kings 23:24

6.  How is Josiah described after all this? 2 Kings 23:25

7.  What is God’s verdict regarding the people of Judah after all this?  2 Kings 23:26-27

IV. Wise people impart God’s Word.

We have unique opportunities to share God’s word.  Not only that, we have a responsibility to share the story.  While we can’t see into hearts, priorities and allegiances are revealed by lifestyle.  Like Huldah we must share the truth from God, even if the truth is convicting.

1.  Note our responsibilities regarding others from the following passages:

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:14

  • 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15-

  • Hebrews 3:12-14

  • Hebrews 10:23-25

Many godly individuals are burdened with concern for loved ones and friends.  Yet, when the Holy Spirit convicts our hearts through His word, we are afraid to warn, confront, or admonish.  We know that some may take offense, we may be repudiated or misunderstood.  Honestly, sometimes it is simple pride that stops us from acting when we should clearly be speaking.  Huldah knew what the Lord’s verdict for her own people was.  She was obliged to tell the truth.  So are we.

Key Question:  How will you speak God’s word into the heart of another when God asks you to?

 

For additional reflection.

There is a fine line between speaking God’s word into someone’s heart and meddling in someone’s life.

Consider the following passages from scripture to mark the boundaries of appropriate involvement in someone else’s life:

Proverbs 20:19-

2 Thessalonians 3:11-

Titus 2:1-5

Matthew 7:3-5

We often underestimate the spiritual understanding of young men and women.  While they may not have the experience of their elders, they do have the ability to read, discern, and act in a godly manner.  Like Josiah, many young people come to obedience.

What are the positives and negatives of youth leadership? Take examples from Scripture and your experiences today.

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