Lesson 30: “Come to the House of the Lord”
2 Chronicles 29-30; 32; 34
Purpose: To inspire each class member with an appreciation of the blessings that come from temple work and scripture study
[Before class, draw familiar chart on the board: line representing the united kingdom ruled by Saul, David and Solomon; branching into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (with “10 tribes” and “2 tribes” on appropriate lines); note Elijah and Elisha as prophets on Israel’s line, and Isaiah, Jonas, Amos, etc. on Judah’s line. Hang map of this region of the world]
[Situate the class in time and space by rapidly reviewing the chart, noting that whereas our recent lessons have focused on Israel’s 10 tribes to the north and their greatest prophets Elijah and Elisha, we are now shifting focus to Judah’s 2 tribes to the south. Note on map that the two greatest political threats to both kingdoms at this time were Assyria to the northeast in roughly modern day Iran, and Babylon to the southeast in roughly modern day Iraq. The events of today’s discussion fall roughly at 600-700 years before Christ.]
Generations have passed now since the days of the united kingdom under David and Solomon. In the southern kingdom of Judah, as in the northern kingdom of Israel, a series of kings has ruled for relatively short periods, leaving the kingdom unstable and the people unsure of the future. As in Israel, Judah has largely abandoned the worship of Jehovah and has turned to the false gods of Baal and Moloch. As a twist in their idol worship, some men of Judah have set up the brass serpent made by Moses, which has been kept all these generations as a sacred relic of God’s blessing during Isarel’s wandering in the wilderness, and have begun to worship it as an idol.
Just as the Lord has sent prophets like Elijah and Elisha to the northern kingdom, he has sent prophets to the southern kingdom to call them to repentance – men like Isaiah and Jonah and Amos and Joel. One of those prophets, Micah, tried to reason with them about God, contrasting what the false gods demanded with what the True God asked:
Wherewith shall I come before the Lord,” he said, “and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
But the people do not repent – not many, and not for long – and so the judgments of God begin to fall more heavily on Israel
In the years just before 700 B.C., Israel is ruled by King Ahaz. Ahaz was a notorious idol worshiper, setting up altars to Baal throughout the kingdom. When Israel is threatened by minor enemies outside its borders, Ahaz strikes a deal with Assyria: in return for Assyrian protection, and their promise not to conquer Judah completely, the people of Judah will pay a yearly tribute to the Assyrian king. This tribute involves not just money, but also large numbers of their daughters to be Assyrian concubines, their sons to be slaves, and also luxury goods like ivory and elephant skins acquired through trade. Peace is bought, but at what a price!
The northern kingdom of Israel is just as wicked as the southern kingdom of Judah, but they have not struck the bargain with Assyria to be vassals to that foreign power. In about 715 B.C., Assyria sweeps down and conquers the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians drive most of the people of Israel northwest to be slaves in Assyria. Because these people never return to Israel, they are known from then on as the “Lost Tribes.”
[Ask the class if they need a review of our earlier discussion on which tribes were lost and what we mean by “lost.” Be prepared, if needed, to go quickly through the development of the blood and land tribes:]
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, Benjamin
[Whether the class needs the full review or not, emphasize both that the tribes are “lost” only because Judah had no knowledge of their whereabouts, not because they are somehow spiritually lost; also, because of a persistent incorrect idea expressed in our ward that the lost tribes are living wholly in some secluded valleys in the general area of Armenia, refer to the constant migrations of peoples across Eurasia to the west, and the coming of the Aryans from India. Note that since most of the class members are of the tribe of Ephraim, they can grasp how widely the ten tribes were scattered by noting the various parts of the world – from through Europe to both American continents to Australia and the islands of the sea, and perhaps elsewhere – where Ephraim has been identified today.]
The Assyrians did not manage to round up every last Israelite – many remained in a scattered and primitive condition on the ground of their former kingdom, and several thousand of them apparently fled to Jerusalem in Judah for safety [note that archaeologists date the wall around the enlarged area of Jerusalem to this period]. But for all intents and purposes, the northern kingdom of Israel ceased to exist, and the majority of the tribes began to be scattered throughout the world, their identity unknown until patriarchs in this dispensation began to declare lineage through priesthood inspiration.
1. Hezekiah orders the house of the Lord to be cleansed.
Ahaz was succeeded as king by Hezekiah. Hezekiah was a completely different kind of king than Ahaz had been:
II Kings 18:3-4, 7; II Chron. 31:1:
And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord … He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it. Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin … until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his possession, into their own cities. And the Lord was with him; and he prospered withersoever he went forth; and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.
Let’s read what Hezekiah did in regard to the temple itself:
2 Chronicles 29:1-9
1 Hezekiah began to reign when he was five and twenty years old, and he reigned nine and twenty years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah.
2 And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done.
3 ¶ He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them.
4 And he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them together into the east street,
5 And said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place.
6 For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord our God, and have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their backs.
7 Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel.
8 Wherefore the wrath of the Lord was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes.
9 For, lo, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.
It may be hard for us to imagine a literal closing of the temples in our generation – but in what ways can individuals figuratively turn their backs on the temple and close up its doors?
Hezekiah noted that one of the consequences of ignoring temple worship was that the people’s sons and daughters and wives were in captivity – the people had sent their own families into Assyrian slavery as the price of peace with Assyria. When members of the Church today turn their backs on the temple, what are some of the consequences to their families?
After the cleansing of the temple, Hezekiah declared that a Passover would be celebrated and invited the people of Judah to come to the house of the Lord for that celebration. He even sent invitations to the remnants of the captured tribes, thinking that they would be glad to worship the Lord after all they had been through. Let’s read of their reaction:
2 Chronicles 30:6-20:
6 So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria.
7 And be not ye like your fathers, and like your brethren, which trespassed against the Lord God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation, as ye see.
8 Now be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you.
9 For if ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him.
10 So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto Zebulun: but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them.
11 Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem.
12 Also in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the word of the Lord.
13 ¶ And there assembled at Jerusalem much people to keep the feast of unleavened bread in the second month, a very great congregation.
14 And they arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and all the altars for incense took they away, and cast them into the brook Kidron.
15 Then they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the second month: and the priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought in the burnt offerings into the house of the Lord.
16 And they stood in their place after their manner, according to the law of Moses the man of God: the priests sprinkled the blood, which they received of the hand of the Levites.
17 For there were many in the congregation that were not sanctified: therefore the Levites had the charge of the killing of the passovers for every one that was not clean, to sanctify them unto the Lord.
18 For a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good Lord pardon every one
19 That prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.
20 And the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people.
And so we see from this account that while many of the people laughed at Hezekiah’s invitation to return to the Lord, many others accepted the invitation. Yet it had been so long since they had worshiped the Lord according to the ancient patterns that they had forgotten quite how to do it – even the priests were awkward in their service, and the people had forgotten how to prepare themselves properly.
If you have ever been inactive for a time, or if you have seen inactive people making their first steps back, what are some of the awkward words or behaviors that might be noted? What can we do to help such people feel more comfortable as they relearn what is expected of them as members of the Church? “But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God … and the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people.”
2. The Assyrians invade the kingdom of Judah. Isaiah and Hezekiah pray for help, and an angel of the Lord destroys much of the Assyrian army.
As part of his action as king of Judah, Hezekiah ceased to pay yearly tribute to the king of Assyria. Knowing that the Assyrians would see retaliation, Hezekiah began to prepare his people for the expected war. One of his greatest preparations was to have his people cut a tunnel through hundreds of feet of solid rock, so that the city’s water source could be brought under protection and the people could survive a siege without thirst or fear of poisoning. [Ask the class if anyone who has been to Israel has seen that tunnel, and ask for a report. If there are no personal accounts, describe the meeting of the groups working simultaneously from both ends of the tunnel, and the inscription that was placed at the place of meeting.]
The Assyrians did retaliate, by sending an army led by Sennacherib to attack Judah. Sennacherib laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. (You might remember the poem that many of us learned in high school: “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold, and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold …”) The people sought the protection of the Lord, and the army of Sennacherib was destroyed by the angel of God, its men dying in their sleep without need of the Israelites to risk their lives in an attack.
3. Josiah and his people covenant to serve the Lord
Despite his own desires to serve the Lord, Hezekiah’s own son and grandson, who ruled after him, were as idolatrous as any of the people of Israel had ever been, closing the temple that Hezekiah had reopened, and reinstalling the pagan idols in their groves and high places. The repentance and true worship of the people of Judah was short-lived as well, as they followed their kings into idol worship.
Then came a new king in Israel, Josiah, the great-grandson of Hezekiah, who was only eight years old when he ascended to the throne. Somehow, we are not told how – the child Josiah chose to follow the example of his ancestor Hezekiah. Let’s read what he did – and remember, he was just a boy, a teenager, when he began all this:
1 Chronicles 34: 3-8:
3 ¶ For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.
4 And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them.
5 And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem.
6 And so did he in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, with their mattocks round about.
7 And when he had broken down the altars and the groves, and had beaten the graven images into powder, and cut down all the idols throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem.
8 ¶ Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land, and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the Lord his God.
Considering the evil example of his culture and the priests and governors around him, and the fact that the temple was closed and had fallen into disrepair, how do you account for Josiah’s righteous heart and his awareness of what he needed to do? (Although the scriptures tell us nothing, it may be that he was taught through the spirit of the Lord, or that his mother or some wise counselor taught Josiah to do the same. We know there were many prophets in Judah in that day, despite the wickedness of the people as a whole.)
One measure of exactly how far the people of Judah had fallen away from the Lord occurred when the high priest Hilkiah made a discovery while cleaning out the temple – a copy of the book of Deuteronomy that had become completely unknown during the past few generations. Hilkiah seems not to have quite recognized the importance of his discovery, because instead of taking the book to Josiah himself, he handed it to a servant to take to the king, almost as a curiosity rather than as a great discovery.
2 Chronicles 30:14-19:
14 … Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses.
15 And Hilkiah … said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan.
16 And Shaphan carried the book to the king …
18 Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.
19 And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes.
Rending, or tearing, of one’s clothing was a sign of mourning or grief in ancient Israel. Why would Josiah be so saddened by hearing the law of the Lord read to him for the first time in his life?
Josiah asked the high priest and others belonging to the temple to determine what he should do next:
2 Chronicles 34:20-21:
20 And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king’s, saying,
21 Go, enquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this book.
For Josiah and his priests, “Go, enquire of the Lord” meant to seek the advice of a prophet who was in direct communication with the Lord. The high priest had several options – in this generation, he could have consulted Jeremiah. Or he could even have gone to Lehi, who was living in Jerusalem, or one of the other unnamed but numerous prophets that Lehi tells us were preaching repentance in Jerusalem. But of all their options, these emissaries of the king chose to call on Huldah, a prophetess, a woman recognized for her righteousness and her favor with the Lord.
We know almost nothing about Huldah the prophetess. We can assume that she could read, because she studied and authenticated the scroll of Deuteronomy that was brought to her. We can assume that she was treated with great respect, because the men went to her rather than summoning her to wait on the king. And we can assume that her response to the emissaries was trusted, because they did not look for a second opinion from a second prophet – they carried her words directly back to the king.
Huldah spoke with great authority when she prophesied for the high priest:
2 Chronicles 34:23-28:
23 ¶ And she answered them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me,
24 Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah:
25 Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and shall not be quenched.
26 And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard;
27 Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord.
28 Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again.
Josiah’s response to Huldah’s words is recorded in the next verses:
29 ¶ Then the king sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem.
30 And the king went up into the house of the Lord, and all the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the priests, and the Levites, and all the people, great and small: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the Lord.
31 And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book.
32 And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.
We would probably all like to think that the repentance of the people, and their turning again to the study and practice of the law would protect the people of Judah and cause the Lord to turn his wrath from them. Yet we know from all our sources – the Bible, the Book of Mormon, even secular history – that this was not to be the case. The people did not maintain their righteousness for long, and soon the judgments of God fell upon them. Lehi’s family was spared only by following the Lord’s command to flee into the desert. The infant son of the next king, Mulek, was carried to safety by a few followers and also eventually found their way to the New World. There may have been other such groups of whom we know nothing. But the kingdom of Judah itself was destroyed soon after Josiah’s death, it’s people carried away as slaves to Babylon. The work of one or two righteous kings, the presence of prophets and prophetesses, was not enough to spare Judah as a whole.
In our day, in this final dispensation, the Lord has assured us that he will not take the priesthood away from the earth, and that his Church will endure and accomplish the mission he has assigned to us. From that we can infer that temples, along with the Church itself, will survive. But just because the Church will endure, is that any kind of a guarantee that you and I as individuals will endure? Can there come a time in our individual lives when neglect of the temple and the law of the Lord can make it too late for us to return and be safe? Why or why not?
[Testimony and prayer that we will be faithful as a Church and as individuals to the laws of the Lord, including temple worship and increasing familiarity with the scriptures.]