Chapter 17 begins with the reign of an unrighteous king and ends with the complete destruction of Jerusalem. We have the portrait of kings: some bad, some not so bad, that leads to God’s wrath toward his people. But this chapter also shows God’s mercy and love. We are once again shown the cycles that are produced within the lives of God’s people, and we are directed to the idea of legacy.
Manasseh became king and reversed the good that his father, Hezekiah, had done. He brought back the detestable worship of idols and profaned the name of the Lord. The people of Israel refused to listen to the Lord. It was only under great duress that Manasseh repented and turned to God. Manasseh’s son, Amon, turned his back on God as well, followed by the spiritual renewal of Josiah. Josiah’s God-centered reign gave way to Jehoahaz, and shortly thereafter Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim’s son Johoiachin, became king and followed in his father’s wicked ways. Last but not least was Zedekiah, who continued the evil precedent left to him by his forefathers. The cycle of good king, bad king had completely taken its toll. Israel was crushed by a number of outside forces.
It’s not as if Israel had not had warning that this outcome was to happen. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel had their ministries during this time period. Their message was clear; repent and turn back to the Lord or face destruction, but God’s people refused to listen. It is always advisable to heed wise counsel.
The Christian life can often be viewed much like that of the Israelites during this time. Although we don’t like to look at it this way, we often wander from the presence of God seeking other things to focus our life on. The job, school and family are all good things, but they can become too much of a focus and rob God of the attention he deserves. So events in life begin to point us back to God. We repent, redouble our efforts towards God, only to end up in the same situation somewhere down the road. It turns out our lives are not so very different from the Israelites. So how do we end the cycle of falling away and returning to God and find the rest only he can provide? By spending time with him. By listening to him. By following his word. Doing all of these things on a consistent basis. Only then does the cycle cease to control our lives as we live as children of God.
Chapter 17 also makes one think about the concept of “legacy.” Each one of these kings had the opportunity to pass on a legacy to his successor. Whether it was a father or prophet, each king had someone in his life pointing back to God. It was up to the king to choose if he would follow God or not, but the option was always there.
As Christians we have this ability also. There are people in our lives that we influence, be it family, friends or co-workers, who see just how we react in everyday situations. Do we get frustrated and go our own way, or do we react in a way that honors our Heavenly Father? Do we act this way on a consistent basis? The people around us watch us a little more closely when we say we follow Jesus. Over time our collective actions begin to form a legacy. It is how we are remembered for what we do and not just what we say.
Whether we live in the cycle or not, we still leave a legacy. It can be good or bad. We can choose to pass on our beliefs and convictions to those around us or we can stay silent. We can lead those whom God has surrounded us with for him or we can become followers in the world around us. We can break the seemingly never-ending cycle and begin to live a life with a legacy worth following.