Let Them Come Home: 2 Chronicles 28 – 36

The End of the Second Pass.

He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword…

2 Chronicles 36:20a (NIV)

Let’s do a quick recap on 2 Chronicles to see where we are at:

King Asa did good in the eyes of the Lord, until he sinned by sending God’s money away, and he died from a disease of his feet.
King Jehoshaphat did good in the eyes of the Lord, and he died with honor.
King Jehoram did evil by murdering his own people, and he died from a disease of the bowels.
King Ahaziah did evil by following his wayward mother and died by execution by his enemies.
King Joash did evil by killing a priest’s son and died in retribution.
King Amaziah did good, but not wholeheartedly, and was killed by conspirers.
King Uzziah did good, but became prideful, and died with leprosy.

Then Jothanm (good) and Ahaz (evil) and Hezekiah (good) and Manasseh (evil). Then Amon (evil) and Josiah (good). And then Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jehoiachin (evil, worse, the worst). And finally, the end, at Zedekiah. Nebuchadnezzar swoops in, and God’s remaining people are exiled to Babylon, awaiting… something, some change, an invitation to return to their land.

This is quite the varied group, running the gamut from the horrifically evil to the completely righteous, but God remains a part of each of their reigns. And then, He exiles them. And then, he brings them back.

I assume this is because God refuses to allow the sins of mankind to derail His plan.

Or maybe it is because He remains loyal to us, in spite of our sins.

I don’t know.

But whatever the reason, He let’s them go home. Like prodigal children, they return to their land, when they do not deserve it.

There has been a small shift in the way I am approaching my reading. My attitude reading recently, particularly throughout the Law, was overwhelming negative, but do not think that it came that way without reason. In those moments, I lost the logical thread to the Bible, or to put it more pointedly, I lost all relatable connection to it. My reaction was anger – why would I ever believe in a God who ordains so-and-so and demands everything? No way.

So I decided to change my approach. Anger is not necessarily out of the question as an emotional response to any individual circumstance, but it should not be my immediate and first reaction. Like any good theatergoer knows, you must suspend your disbelief before entering a play or musical, or else you risk getting bogged down in the whole logic of it. Real people don’t act this way! Well duh, because real people do not have hundreds of people observing their actions.

That type of judgment cannot lead to growth, and frankly, it is no fun.

So I am buying in. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah screwed up, and God kept on saving them. So, they were exiled – and rightfully so – and God eventually let them go home – out of His eternal goodness. There. No arguments. Let’s see where that attitude gets me.

Loyalty to Loyalty: 2 Chronicles 19 – 27

Nevertheless, because of the covenant the Lord had made with David, the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David. He had promised to maintain a lamp for him and his descendants forever.

2 Chronicles 21:7 (NIV)

Leslie announced to my humanities class that she was a Wiccan, and I immediately grew suspicious. We would never be friends, because it would not work. I needed to make friends – I had just enrolled in public high school and had a scant few – but desperation could not be the guiding motivation in my quest. She stood on bold feet, never swaying in her stance both politically and physically. Her hair started black but transitioned into purple near the tips, and then there were the thumbholes chiseled into all her sweatshirt sleeves. Her look put me off as much as her personality. I was a strong Christian, with loyalty to God and my church friends, and she was a witch for Chrissake – No. No friendship was possible.

It turned out that we had most every class together – honors kids tended to travel in packs around from class to class – so, I had to be friendly. Soon, my church friends learned of my proximity to a true pagan and questioned me about it. Suddenly, my loyalty to God required me to make a connection with her, to be a good example, to minister to her. Sure, I said. Leslie participated in the theater club, and I had recently joined as well. That, plus the parallel schedules, and some of my new acquaintances crossed over with hers… Sure, I could strike up a friendship – as long as I maintained my loyalty.

It started at a mutual hang out, Apples to Apples and charades served up with soda and chips. Common ground was the best strategy – discuss theater… then talk about classes… move on to God. I mentioned my home life, my Mom, my Dad, my brother, my sister, and she chuckled. No siblings for her, divorced parents, and her father was now a woman. My tongue fell out of my mouth in awe. I had never known anyone like her. I invited her to church, and she said fuck no. She said God was probably a woman anyhow, and she could not be a Christian. You’re all homophobes who are probably gay and racists who lust after black people. I grew shy. She backed off. I backed off. And suddenly, we had lots to talk about.

I played my first game of strip poker with her, though no one in the group had the guts to go completely bare. We all ended at boxers and the equivalent and then redressed with our backs to the circle while others snuck glances. We could not get naked, because then, nothing would be left to do. And there was no alcohol, we did not drink together, so that was not a factor. I had to leave the party early to go to church the next day, so I did not stay for round two.

Months later, she invited me to her house – just the two of us. Hot tub and a movie. We ditched the plan early and made a better one. Let’s drive to the Jersey Shore for the night. So many reasons to say no – it was already midnight – driving curfews – low cash – over two hour drive. But we said yes.

The vacant boardwalk quaked from the lapping waves. We sat on the railing overlooking the ocean, deciding how to proceed. The stars poked brightly through relaxed clouds, and we had two different explanations for their existence. The same with the waves, the rhythm, the tides and the moon, contentment and torment. We argued about science and philosophy, and after minutes or hours, we decided it was both – and no, that was not impossible.

Let’s go fucking crazy. She threw her fist into my spine. Let’s sleep on the sand until the first signs of dawn. We wrestled on the beach. Then we’ll drive home like hungover college students. We shed clothes and swam but had forgotten towels. We’ll be totally blameless. We lasted 45 minutes before the gnats ate us alive and drove back home with the windows down to keep from falling asleep. I was fifteen minutes late for church and forewent coffee. I did not need it. My mind buzzed with the most immediate nostalgia. I longed for a time only two hours passed and feared I would never feel that way again.

I stopped inviting Leslie to church, and she did not mock my faith. The details no longer mattered, because we were so similar. Common ground stopped being a mission and grew from a loyalty between us.

Pastor Hank looked me in the eyes after the second praise break and gripped my hand too hard. Did you drink last night? I hadn’t drank and told him so, but he didn’t believe me but had no proof. He told me he would not tell my parents, and I needed to be careful from now on. I thanked him for his loyalty.

The Short Version: 2 Chronicles 10 – 18

Bad King. Good King. Godly King. Selfish King.

Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.

2 Chronicles 14:2 (NIV)

It is often best to go with the short version. Consider monumental life events, like weddings and funerals. We tend to opt out of a serious analysis and just focus on the good stuff. Buddy was a huge dick to me in college is a sentence you would never hear at an event like this, because it is both negative and too much information for the situation. We save that stuff for personal conversations, or even public declarations if we deem it necessary to bring someone down to size. But even those passing comments are probably still “the short version” – just on the negative end. It is difficult to fit it all in.

Simple is often best, because nuance takes an amount of energy that is just not realistic. The Bible is not without depth, but it certainly glosses over details in order to tell present its narrative. With 10,000 years of history within its pages, it is no wonder that certain stories appear curtailed. Because they are.

You have sensed my frustration no doubt. Go back and read my entries on Judah (Joseph’s less-than-amazing brother) or Pharaoh, and you will notice that I often take the side of the judged rather than the blameless. This is both the nature of close scrutiny, but it also points to my matter of mind. I believe in nuance and redemption.

Chronicles takes us back through the rulers of Judah, and since it covers centuries of leaders in only dozens of pages, it glosses over a few things. The writer has established a rhythm:

The determination of good or bad often relies on that particular leader’s affection towards false idols – the greatest single temptation of the ancient world. Never mind Solomon’s hundreds of wives or his obsession with extravagant things – he is a “good” leader up until he falls for false idols.

In the Bible, it really is that simple. Do you follow God – yes or no?

So, the short version is the correct version. Because nothing else really matters.

Pretty Little Things: 2 Chronicles 1 – 9

The Gift of Wisdom. To Build a Palace and Temple. The Ark Arrives. A Prayer. Wisdom: Tested and Proved.

Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. The king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue…

2 Chronicles 1:14-16b (NIV)

I named my pet turtle “Jupiter” after the street of my boyhood home. We moved a year after I was born, but since my parents were sentimentalists – always showing off photos and gesturing stories – I still felt a deep connection to the place. My first home. It did not matter that I had no memories of the place or that it existed only in the words of my family. It was still an affectionate piece of me: I could not explain the nostalgia.

Jupiter found his way to me through a co-worker of my father’s – a fellow parent who no longer wanted to take care of it. I had spent the better part of the year guilting him into a pet, since my brother had fish and my sister had a guinea pig. It’s only fair, I whined. I am old enough for a pet. Honest. So one day, he came home with a turtle in a tub and told me to pick some rocks from the nearby creek for its new home. We never sprung for the full on aquarium – no, Jupiter stayed holed up in that same blue dishwashing tub for the entirety of his life.

I had my little responsibilities. Each morning, I took five pellets of turtle food and placed them in different spots of the tub (so Jupiter would get exercise as he snacked). Then once a week, I sprayed down the tub with a hose, while Jupiter laid sullenly on my bedspread. About a year into his residence, my mother suggested adding a weekly lawn trot onto his regimen, “outdoors” time if you will, so Jupiter would not totally lose his animalistic nature. It seemed like an innocent suggestion, until I realized my mother’s true intentions. She hated the turtle. It smelled musty, and the tub was an eyesore. And Jupiter was the last surviving member of the children’s pets (the guinea pig developed a tumor, and an ill-placed crayfish ate all the fish). She was done with pets – Jupiter had to go – and I think my mother secretly hoped my carelessness would result in the turtle waddling away during rec time.

That summer, she put the kibosh in it. You’re going to take Jupiter, she instructed, and let him go into the pond. I cried over the loss like a child would mourn a pet’s death, because that was what it felt like to me. It was like capital punishment – but for a turtle – institutionalized banishment. It was sentimentality and the lingering nostalgia of my first home. Jupiter represented a piece of my youth, and I never liked change. You could have taken my toys and dumped them, tossed my computer or whatever. Take away all my things, my mass produced things, and leave me my memories and the tokens that represented them. Don’t take my turtle.

Jupiter would not go. I placed him on the edge of the pond, but he just sat there. Maybe the mud was too deep for him. So, I dropped him in the actual water, but no, he froze there too. Turtles needed water, right? What if the years of the tub-existence had drained him of his instincts? What if he stayed out in the sun and fried to death, all because we kept him contained in a plastic cage?

So I picked Jupiter up and with my best throw, pitched him out into the center of the 50-foot-pond.

My father recalled the story differently, laughing over dinner later with the rest of the family. He said I had skipped Jupiter across the top of the pond with a sharp flick of my wrist. I denied it. But the myth grew, and soon everyone knew about my turtle’s end. Tss-tss-tss, right across the surface, 15-odd skips until plop! into the center. Regardless of the way it happened, they knew as well as I did: that turtle was dead.

Solomon installs all of the God’s holy things, and it ends up being his most pertinent contribution to the Kingdom. As this is our second pass through this story, I will not reiterate the nature of these things, but recall that it is all extravagant, costing top dollar to buy and decades to build. In the end, we end up with a tip-top palace and a temple fit for the Ark of the Covenant.

Why such preciousness? We do not know. We do know that this God likes the first of the lambs to be sacrificed, the best offerings of crops and drinks, and well-fed priests with the most succulent portions. These things are important – a way of showing respect and dedication. God values them.

Years later as I approached pubescence, we drove by the pond where I parted with Jupiter. This was not an odd occurrence; we lived right up the road from the pond. But today it was different. The pond was bone dry, fizzled by a particularly dry summer. It reminded me of the turtle, and I wondered if maybe he survived the traumatic journey across the top of the water. My mother and I talked about him for a moment, both of us smiling. She recalled the “stone skip” myth, and we laughed about it with the relief of retrospection. But after the memory waned and my expression fell neutral, I noticed that my mother maintained her smile. What’s so funny? I asked her.

The name of my boyhood street… It was Juniper, not Jupiter. I had named the turtle incorrectly, based on a mis-memory of the street’s title. She thought the mistake was cute back then and never had to heart to tell me.